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STAR TREK – Back To The Future Medicines

Many fiction movies today are inspired by science and technological advancements around them. But is this always the case? Not if you consider how a number of fiction movies, specifically Sci-Fi, have inspired the world of science and encouraged our capacity for innovation.

Sci-Fi movies have predicted and shaped our lives more than you could imagine. Yet, one series seemed to have stood out just by the sheer number of ways it keeps inspiring our innovations even today – that series is Star Trek.

A lot of things predicted in this movie have been created, with many more underway.

Perhaps the most outstanding of these predictions have to do with the world of medicines and how we treat illnesses.

When the original series of Star Trek began in September 1966, a whole lot of people were marveled by the bold predictions. Many were inspired and many more found the ideas preposterous.

Just as was announced in its voice-over introduction, it was clear that this series would challenge man “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Now, humans have taken giant leaps within the last few decades to bring us the technological advancements that we now enjoy freely today.

To understand how ridiculous these ideas sounded when the original series was produced, remember that its first episode was aired in 1966.

The story was set somewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy towards the close of the 23rd century. A group of scientists in a spaceship went out to explore the galaxy and discover more about things around them.

A lot of technologies displayed in the series were simply stunning for the average mind. Even the high-class literate people such as doctors and professors were wowed by these technologies.

Star Trek would go on to become the most inspiring series in the world of medicine and would herald the birth of remarkable advancements today.

Tricorder

Tricorder

For example, in Star Trek, one of the most controversial devices featured was the Tricorder.

The Tricorder, an abbreviation of “TRI-function reCORDER”, is a device with a sensor scanner which helps in scanning, analyzing and recording data. It comes in three major variants, even though there are a few others for special use.

There is the standard, general-purpose tricorder that is used for scouting areas that are unfamiliar, examining living things and recording technical data.

There is also the engineering tricorder that is used specifically for engineering tasks within the starship.

The medical tricorder is the one that stunned a lot of people. The medical tricorder helps the doctors in diagnosing diseases and collecting information about the patient’s body, all through the sensor, thereby requiring little professional help.

No cuts, no lacerations – just advanced technology packaged into a portable, hand-held device!

Imagine a device available to everyday consumers, with which you can perform self-diagnosis of a number of medical seconds and even take a few basic vital measurements, all within seconds.

That was the marvel that Star Trek displayed to the world. While it seemed really impossible then, we are getting closer to this actualization by the day.

In 1966, NBC released an iconic but short-lived series that would inspire generations of inventors to bring about changes in our daily live.

Already we now have CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds. These are non-invasive technologies that help discover things going on in the body without having to cut the organs open.

These would have sounded like fantasy back when Star Trek was released.

But we didn’t stop there. Note that there have been many scanners in the past which usually focused on diagnosing one condition or take specific health measurements.

But, just like the medical tricorder, this was expected to cover more grounds.

With the help of Qualcomm, a global competition known as X Prize was launched in 2012 with the singular aim to create a device that looks as much like the medical tricorder as possible.

The inducement prize was $10,000,000! As you would expect, hundreds of companies from 30 countries took on the challenge.

The device that was to be built should be lightweight, portable, handheld, non-invasive and able to diagnose up to 13 medical conditions, ranging from sore throat to colon cancer.

Then, the final product would be tested on 30 people with the conditions within 3 days. This competition spurred innovation in a way that was unprecedented. The diagnosis was expected to be generated within 24 hours.

Test subject trying out Final Frontier’s Dexter.

At the end, a team called the Final Frontier Medical Device finally emerged victorious when they built DxtER.

This device is built on a complex, custom-built AI that allows it to successfully up to 34 conditions long before the 24 hours elapses.

With the development, we can expect to be able to get this marvelous device for around $500 soon. Now, the Tricorder is closer to us than ever!

Geordi’s VISOR

One of the most remarkable devices shown on Star Trek is Geordi’s VISOR. The VISOR is an acronym for Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement.

Because Geordi LaForge was born blind, he had to rely on this device to “see”.

This device sends visual signals straight to his brain, helping him see all the electromagnetic spectrum.

Lieutenant Geordi La Forge standing in front of the USS Enterprise-D’s warp core in 2365. (TNG-R: “Time Squared”) Pictured is LeVar Burton.

This would have looked pretty far-fetched to the people of that time, but now we have devices that are capable of something similar.

In 2005, some scientists from Stanford University developed a chip that can be implanted at the back of the retinas of blind patients.

Patients with this implant would wear a pair of glasses equipped with a special camera.

The image captured by the camera is then transmitted to the chip, which would then go through the process of passing the signal to the visual cortex of the brain.

While the result might not produce perfect 20/20 eyesight, it is good enough to move around without the need of a walking stick.

An even more recent device was the one created in Israel by a team of scientists led by Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Dr. Amir Amedi.

This device gathers the visual data and translates it to sound, which is then fed into the visual cortex to trigger different parts of the brain.

Studying the brain activity of blind people, scientists are challenging the standard view of how the human brain specializes to perform different kinds of tasks

This is so remarkable that blind patients can “see” objects, people, postures and even written words.

Hypospray

Not many people love getting needles inserted into their body during vaccination or plain medical injection.

No one ever likes the feeling, but it was seen as a necessary evil. Then Star Trek showed us hypospray. The job of this device is to replace needles entirely.

It works by pushing the fluid straight into your skin in under a millisecond, without the need of a needle.

This is possible because of how fast the pressure pushes the liquid (a stunning 340 meters per second) and how thin the ampoule is (as thin as a mosquito’s proboscis).

Admittedly, the hypospray works on a technology that isn’t so new. In fact, it is older than Star Trek.

The technology is called jet injection. However, all the devices that tried implementing the technology in the past lacked fine control.

MIT creates a Star Trek hypospray to replace needles

Now, the MIT injector has solved that problem and stands a chance of finally replacing our needle and syringe. Not only is it faster and safer; it is also less painful.

The Sickbay

One other medical advancement to be noticed in Star Trek is the sickbay. This sickbay is way ahead of the sickbays that could be found in the 60s.

From this bed, it is easy to diagnose illnesses with the aid of machines.

Now, such advancements are now real. A sickbay has been unveiled at a British hospital, which uses outstanding technologies that could only be described as space-age to diagnose a wide range of diseases and health conditions, from stomach ache to cancer.

This works in a non-invasive way by gathering data based on the sight, smell, and feel of the condition for analysis and diagnosis. It even has equipment that would be very useful as a probe on a mission to Mars. Talk about Star Trek happening in real life!

While these are more directly relevant in the medical world, there are even more technologies that were inspired by the movie. The handheld communicators inspired the flip phones. In fact, in 1996, Motorola named the first flip phone “StarTAC.”

The same can be said of the touch-based control panels called PADDs (personal access display devices). They would later inspire our iPads today. Also, remember the giant silver earpiece worn by Uhura while sitting at the communications station. This is a clear inspiration for today’s Bluetooth earpiece.

Mobile storage devices like floppy disk drives and USB storage devices got their inspiration from Star Trek. Even GPS came 30 years after it has been predicted in Star Trek.

Now, the question is how this one series could inspire us so many and shape the world of medicine and technology as a whole. In fact, it remains one of the most culturally-influential media franchises till date. Some would be suspect that this might have been inspired by some alien technology not disclosed to the public.

While we can’t prove this, one thing is certain: The mind behind this series will continue to inspire our advancements in science, medicine, and technology for a long time.

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Science & Technology

10 robotic dogs pull truck along in new video

Image Credit: YouTube / Boston Dynamics

The robots seemed to have no problem hauling the truck.

A small army of Boston Dynamics’ dog-like robots have been filmed hauling a truck through a parking lot.

Known as SpotMini, this four-legged contraption has become something of a celebrity in recent years thanks to videos showing it performing a wide range of tasks and balancing acts.

This latest footage shows more of the robots than ever before – ten of them to be exact – all working together to haul a large truck through the parking lot outside Boston Dynamics’ headquarters.

Each robot is 0.84 meters tall and can carry a payload of around 14kg.

What’s interesting is that these robots will actually be available for companies to purchase in the near future, meaning that they are no longer just a work-in-progress.

“It only takes 10 Spotpower (SP) to haul a truck across the Boston Dynamics parking lot,” the firm wrote in the caption for the video on YouTube.

“These Spot robots are coming off the production line now and will be available for a range of applications soon.”

Source: Evening Standard

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Science & Technology

New CRISPR Tech Could Cure Herpes

Hunter-Seeker

Gene hacking techniques that were recently used in human cells for the first time could someday let doctors shred up and destroy viruses like herpes or hepatitis B inside human cells, scientists say.

The new technique is called CRISPR-Cas3 — usually, when you hear about CRISPR tech, it’s the Cas9 variety — and Cornell researchers believe it could be used to cure viral diseases, according to a university-published press release.

DNA Shredder

The scientists used Cas3 to identify and shred long stretches of human DNA, according to research published in the journal Molecular Cell last week. The new gene-hacking tool makes more and broader cuts in genetic material than CRISPR-Cas9, meaning it could let scientists quickly learn what specific, long stretches of genetic information do and how they interact with certain diseases.

It also means that the gene-hacking tool could attack and shred viral DNA.

“My lab spent the past ten years figuring out how CRISPR-Cas3 works. I am thrilled that my colleagues and I finally demonstrated its genome editing activity in human cells,” said Cornell molecular biologist Ailong Ke. “Our tools can be made to target these viruses very specifically and then erase them very efficiently. In theory, it could provide a cure for these viral diseases.”

READ MORE: CRISPR-Cas3 innovation holds promise for disease cures, advancing science [Cornell Chronicle]

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Scientists Put Human Brain Genes in Monkeys and Made Them Smarter

It’s time for the latest edition of “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”, the game show that pits seemingly unethical science against potentially catastrophic predictions. In today’s competition, scientists in China (one point already for the catastrophic team) announce they used gene-editing to place human brain genes in rhesus macaque monkeys and it made their brains smarter. Cue the music from every “Planet of the Apes” movie and let the game begin!

“The presented data represents the first attempt to experimentally interrogate the genetic basis of human brain origin using a transgenic monkey model, and it values the use of nonhuman primates in understanding human unique traits.”

If the opening paragraph of the new study, “Transgenic rhesus monkeys carrying the human MCPH1 gene copies show human-like neoteny of brain development,” published recently in the journal National Science Review, is any indication, scientists are learning from lawyers how to protect their clients/experiments by hiding them in clouds of big, confusing words and phrases. Experimentally interrogate?

This is interesting.

China Daily reports that researchers from the Beijing-based National Science Review, the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of North Carolina (that’s in the U.S. – looks like it’s playing for the Seemingly Unethicals) edited human MCPH1 genes – a gene that is critical in fetal brain development because it controls brain size and rate of growth – and created 11 transgenic (a cloud word meaning “artificially carrying DNA from an unrelated organism”) monkeys. Eight of those monkeys were first-generation and three were second-generation, obliterating the ‘artificial’ part of ‘transgenic’ by getting their human genes from their monkey parents.

“According to the research article, brain imaging and tissue section analysis showed an altered pattern of neuron differentiation and a delayed maturation of the neural system, which is similar to the developmental delay (neoteny) in humans.”

In other words, the monkeys showed the human trait of slow brain development (neoteny) rather than the rapid growth of normal monkey brains. What was the benefit of this slow growth?

“The study also found that the transgenic monkeys exhibited better short-term memory and shorter reaction time compared to wild rhesus monkeys in the control group.”

To put it bluntly — even the monkeys could understand the results because the human genes made them smarter!

Ding-ding-ding! That bell means it’s time to play the lightning “What could possibly go wrong?” round.

Time-out called by the Potentially Catastrophics. In a shocking and somewhat honorable display of conscience, Martin Styner, a University of North Carolina computer scientist and coauthor of the Chinese report, told the MIT Technology Review that his role was merely to train Chinese student on how to extract brain volume data from MRI images and, after learning the true purpose, considered removing his name from the paper, which he claims could not find a publisher in the West. Styner then throws his “What could possibly go wrong?” pitch:

“I don’t think that is a good direction. Now we have created this animal which is different than it is supposed to be. When we do experiments, we have to have a good understanding of what we are trying to learn, to help society, and that is not the case here.”

Is this going to be a sequel to Planet of the Apes or Flowers for Algernon?

Unfortunately, that pitch didn’t strike out Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the research. He told the MIT Technology Review he is planning to create more smart monkeys and is planning to test another gene — SRGAP2C – which has been called the “humanity switch” and the “missing genetic link” because it appeared about two million years ago when Australopithecus (the Southern Ape) was being replaced by the smarter Homo habilis.

Putting the “humanity switch” in a monkey? What could possibly go wrong? This game isn’t over … it’s barely starting. Is this progress … or an unethical march down the field to unforeseen consequences?

If we’ve learned anything from “Planet of the Apes,” it’s that if this game goes into overtime, it won’t be a sudden death.

Source: Mysterious Universe

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