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Monthly Archives: November 2013

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Eat Nuts, Live Longer? Study Says Yes

To live longer and healthier, the best current advice is exercise, maintain healthy weight and eat dark leafy greens. But we're likely to increasingly see eating nuts included in that list. Those who ate nuts nearly every day were 20 percent less likely to die in the course of two 30-year cohort studies. Nut eaters were almost 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease and more than 10 percent less likely to die of cancer than those who never at them.

FDA Approves Brain Implant to Monitor and Autonomously Respond to Epileptic Seizures

In recent years, brain implants have been used to control tremors from Parkinson’s Disease and help quadriplegics move robotic arms. We can now add epilepsy to the list—a brain implant for patients suffering epileptic seizures was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA Tells 23andMe to Stop Marketing DNA Sequencing Service

The FDA told 23andMe on Monday that it must stop marketing its hallmark personal DNA sequencing kit. The agency informed the company that it considers its 2012 petition for approval withdrawn because it has not received the information that it required.

NASA’s Next Frontier: Growing Plants On The Moon

A small team at NASA’s Ames Research Center has set out to “boldly grow where no man has grown before” – and they’re doing it with the help of thousands of children, a robot,...

Fleets of Robots Take To the Sea, Autonomously Collecting Data

Autonomous robots are plumbing the ocean’s depths with increasing regularity. This hurricane season, a research project called GliderPalooza 2013 deployed some twelve sea drones to take a snapshot of the mid-Atlantic ocean. Ocean-going robots can go where humans can’t, are cheaper than ships, and easier to maintain than buoys. Combined traditional data sources, scientists are piecing together an increasingly complex map of the ocean.

Spain Considers Release Of Genetically Modified Fruit Flies, Controversy Simmers

Medical uses of genetic technology are well received. But agricultural uses are a different story, generating controversy at every turn. In the United States, where genetically modified strains dominate the most common crops, fights have...

Chefs, Guitar Heroes, Even Doctors Now On Demand With Google Helpouts

Telemedicine and online education aim to connect great teachers and skilled doctors to thousands or millions using video. Google’s latest experiment expands that list to place experts, from chefs to yoga teachers, on call for anyone, anytime.

Jason Silva and Barry Ptolemy Collaborate on New Series, ‘The Future of Us’

Future of Us on AOL. Silva told us the new stuff will be recognizable to those who’ve seen Shots of Awe or his philosophical espresso shots. Sponsorship by Chevrolet came with creative freedom and the funds to improve the end product.

Smartphone Physicals Are Taking Off With Explosion of Apps, Attachments

Last month in a Ted Talk, Shiv Gaglani showed that a standard physical exam can now be done using only smartphone apps and attachments. From blood pressure cuff to stethoscope and otoscope — the thing the doctor uses to look in your ears — all of the doctor’s basic instruments are now available in “smart” format. The work has generated a lot of interest and will likely become the basis for a company.

Sensors Embedded in Clothing? Check Out Sensoria Smart Socks

The first wave of self-tracking devices—Fitbit, Fuel, XX—has washed ashore and perhaps receded somewhat. No one device went viral; none are must-have. Even so, market watchers predict strong growth in wearables, and more specifically, sports and activity trackers make up some 61% of the market. Most of these strap to your wrist to record heart rate with a traditional monitor or count steps with an accelerometer. But a more recent example, Sensoria, may better exemplify the market direction—that is, instead of discrete devices, more sensors will be invisibly embedded in clothing or attached to the skin.

Bionic Eye Implant Will Become Available in U.S. in Coming Weeks

The Argus II retinal implant looks like computing goggles such as Google Glass, but it sends the images the eyeglass-mounted visual processing unit detects to a tiny electrode array that’s been implanted in the user’s retina. Electrical stimulation sends visual information up the optic nerve to the visual cortex of the user’s brain, allowing him or her to see. You could call it a bionic eye, and average Americans will gain access to it before the end of 2013.

With Flexible Circuits, Wearable Electronics Gain Uses

Boston-based electronics company MC10's skullcap that measures head trauma will be spotlighted at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There are lots of wearable products out there. Most are small and clip easily onto clothing, but they're as rigid and fragile as electronics ever were. Few if any other wearable devices could withstand a football game attached to one of the players, but MC10 is proof that more will come.

Small, Fast and Cheap, Theranos Is the Poster Child of Med Tech — and It’s in Walgreen’s

A number of startups are selling portable diagnostic laboratories that require just a drop of the patient’s blood, made possible by advances in the field of microfluidics. But perhaps an equally important part of making lab tests faster, easier and more accurate is a turn-of-the-last century technology: automation.That’s the bet the Silicon Valley company Theranos is making, and the company recently sealed a deal with Walgreen’s Pharmacy to deliver on-site laboratory services to many of its stores.

New Surgery Promises Cyborg Bladder

A study published recently in Science Translational Medicine suggests that it may be possible to give paralyzed patients control over their bladders while avoiding both catheterization. Instead, doctors could craft insulated packets of nerves and connect them to an electrical probe that allows patients to urinate with the touch of a button, according to the study.

After Bubble and Crash, Volatile Virtual Currency Bitcoin Marks New Highs

You may tune into Real Housewives of Miami for drama. Me? I search “bitcoin” on Google. The virtual currency’s a vortex of intrigue and high adventure—not to mention volatile and high-flying returns. Some think it might be the future of money.

California Startup, Tribogenics, Develops Smart Phone Sized Portable X-ray Machines

A Southern California startup called Tribogenics is using a new method of producing X-rays, fleshed out by Darpa-funded research at UCLA, to make X-ray machines more robust and portable.

DNA Sequencing Is Moving to the Cloud

In October, an ambitious, collaborative genetic research program based at Baylor University became the largest cloud-based genomic research project to date, by its own account. As part of Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology, or CHARGE, the sequencing endeavored to link the risk of particular diseases with particular genetic variants — a task that checks off two variables that mean big data: population research and whole genome sequencing.

Monkeys Control Coordinated Arms Using Brain-Machine Interface

Duke University researchers Miguel Nicolelis and Peter Ifft managed to create a two-handed brain-machine interface using monkeys in a study recently published in Science Translational Medicine.

New Chip to Detect Gestures in Front of Tiny Wearable Screens

It has proven difficult to design a rich, easy-to-use interface for devices whose screens are only a few finger widths across. But for every problem there's a startup, and this one's no exception. A fledgling company, Chirp Microsystems is developing a gesture-based operating system to work with a new chip that uses sound, rather than vision, to track the user's movements.

Causes of Cancer Likely Found in ‘Junk’ DNA, Study Says

Even as whole-genome sequencing has become much cheaper, genetic research has continued to focus on the exome, or the tiny fraction of human DNA that codes the proteins that make up our physical structures. But according to a recent study published in Science, the sources of cancer most often lie in the rest of the genome, once referred to as junk DNA. Cancer is, in other words, a very important needle in a very large haystack. The study also helpfully provides a roadmap to the spots in the genetic haystack that are most likely to give rise to cancer.

Fetal DNA Sequencing Experiencing Revolution With New Non-invasive Testing. Goodbye Amnio?

Those who are bullish on DNA are also betting on pregnancy to take sequencing to the masses. And they just got a big bump this month when California’s prenatal screening program began including fetal DNA testing for women whose pregnancies carry a higher risk of genetic abnormalities.

Second Life Founder, Philip Rosedale, Is Quietly Creating a Next-Generation Virtual World

In Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, humanity escapes a gritty dystopia by donning VR goggles and entering a virtual world called OASIS. Back here in a comparatively rosy 2013, we don’t have a fully immersive virtual experience—yet. But virtual reality is undergoing a renaissance. And while Oculus develops a consumer-ready virtual reality headset, Second Life creator, Philip Rosedale, and his latest startup, High Fidelity, are hard at work constructing a next-generation global virtual world.

CleverCap Pill Bottle Connects to Wifi, Dispenses Only as Directed, Uploads To The Cloud

About half of all medication prescribed in the United States is not taken as directed. Some have proposed stomach acid-activated microchips. CleverCap is a less sci-fi fix: a cap that fits on standard pill bottles. It includes an alarm that tells patients when it’s time to take their medications and it only dispenses the prescribed amount.

Student Dyson Award Winners Build Titan Arm Exoskeleton for Just $2,000

Exoskeletons are fusing man and machine to reduce workplace injuries and restore freedom to the disabled or infirm—but they have yet to escape the lab, and worse, only a few folks could realistically afford one even if they did. A group of University of Pennsylvania students hope their Titan Arm exoskeleton, winner of the 2013 James Dyson Award, might change that.

New York City to Replace 250,000 Street Lights With LEDs by 2017

By 2017, the streets of New York will be bathed in the glow of microchips, Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently announced. The city plans to replace 250,000 high-pressure sodium street lights with LEDs. Bloomberg called the move a “no-brainer.”

Mobile Med-Tech Revolution Hits Hospitals

Go to a hospital intensive care unit and what you'll see are bulky machines not very different from what you saw on ER in the 1990s. But mobile vital sign monitors are at last making inroads inside the hospital walls. Sotera Wireless's ViSi mobile monitor, recently adopted a San Diego hospital and a few other sites, takes the functions of those enormous beeping bedside machines and puts them in a smartphone-sized oval the patient wears on his or her wrist.

The End of Antibiotics?

The most recent series of alarms about antibiotic resistance come in response to a growing number of bacteria, such as Klebsiella pneumoniae, that are resistant to Carbapenem antibiotics, which have long been a last line of defense for doctors against resistant bugs. Just how serious are these warnings and what developments are on the way that could quell them?

Leading Research Hospital Spins Out a For-Profit Company to Bring Gene Therapy To Market

No gene therapy treatment has yet been approved for general use in the United States and just one has been approved in Europe. But the winds may be shifting for commercial gene therapy. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has placed a $50-million bet on a spinoff company called Spark Therapeutics that will take over the testing, and hopefully marketing, of several treatments developed there.

Doctors Faced With Rare or Difficult Cancers Can Just ‘Google’ Genetic Treatments

Sequencing cancer genes has become easy and cheap, but information on which drugs might or might not work on particular mutations remains buried in PDF files and in a range of medical journals. So twin researchers Malachi and Obi Griffith, of Washington University in St. Louis, recently launched a drug-gene interaction database that makes the emerging research about as easy to find as a plane reservation on

Robotics Investors Can Now Buy the Market With New Nasdaq ETF

Investing in emerging technologies can be a risky endeavor. Of the hundreds or thousands of “revolutionary” ideas out there, a significant fraction will fail. For most of us, it’s probably wisest to cheer from the sidelines. But Frank Tobe, founder and editor of the Robot Report, wanted to get in on the action without getting too caught up in the details of every company he owned—that is, he wanted to diversify by investing in the robotics market as a whole.

Google’s Motorola and Dutch Designer Developing Open Source, Modular Smartphone Hardware

Google's Motorola recently joined forces with viral sensation, Phonebloks, to develop open source, modular devices. They hope to provide a single universally compatible base (or endoskeleton) onto which every other component, from battery to camera, attaches and can be easily swapped out. Components may be made by a giant corporation or a maker on a shoestring budget—users will be free to choose.

Tesla’s Rapidly Expanding Network of Charging Stations Form Unbroken Chain up the West Coast

Tesla Motors manufactures electric cars. There's just one small item missing—charging stations. You can travel anywhere in the US and never be further than a tank of gas from the next gas station. Tesla wants the same for electric cars, and they can't afford to wait for someone else to make it happen. So, they're building their own charging network.

RoboKind’s Expressive ZENO R25 Robot Brings Prices Down, But Is It Enough?

Developers of social robots believe their creations will one day help educate and entertain. The robots are coming, but so far, they’re damn expensive—which is where the new ZENO R25 Kickstarter comes in. In the words of its maker, robotics firm, RoboKind, ZENO is “the first affordable advanced social robot.”

Pacemaker Okayed in Europe Is One-Tenth the Size of Those Used Now

Developed by Silicon Valley startup Nanostim, a device about the size of a AAA battery, or one-tenth the size of a conventional pacemaker, was recently approved for use in Europe. It is installed through a catheter in the femoral vein in a minimally invasive procedure. Then, for about 10 years it sits inside the ventricle of the heart and delivers its regulatory electrical pulses wirelessly.

Flying Spherical Robot Gimball Collides With Objects, But Keeps On Flying

The simplest solution tends to be the best solution. As sensors and microchips get smaller, cheaper, and more powerful—it’s tempting to use them for everything. But instead of stereoscopic cameras, radar, and complicated algorithms, an EPFL team equipped their latest flying robot, GimBall, with the equivalent of a seeing-eye cane to help it navigate tight, cluttered spaces.

Power Storage, Missing Link in Path to Renewables, Gets a Mandate in California

The inability to store electrical power has become more important as the developed world has begun to try to adopt cleaner energy sources, such as solar and wind power. The sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing, but people and factories always need electricity. But energy storage is getting its mainstream debut in California. The state has mandated that by 2024, its major utilities provide 1,325 megawatts of storage, which is slightly more than what a single major power plant produces and about a fifth of a percent of what the state used on average per day, according to the most recent state statistics.

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