GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – DECEMBER 2018

Mad Scientists Consider Alerting Aliens To Our Presence

Although it’s a great idea for science fiction, I consider the idea of deliberately trying to tell aliens that we exist to be extreme folly.

But a new MIT studyoutlines a way to use existing or near-future tech to build a kind of laser lighthouse to signal to our cosmic neighbours.  According to the study a high-powered laser used as a beacon could do just that. Any such device would need to be strong enough to outshine the Sun and be detectable from a fairly long distance.

This would be a challenging project but not an impossible one,” says James Clark, author of the study. “The kinds of lasers and telescopes that are being built today can produce a detectable signal, so that an astronomer could take one look at our star and immediately see something unusual about its spectrum. I don’t know if intelligent creatures around the Sun would be their first guess but it would certainly attract further attention.”

The study found two setups that produced the best results: a 2-megawatt laser pointed through a 30-m (98-ft) telescope, and a 1 megawatt laser directed through a 45-m (148-ft) telescope.

Other Mad Scientists Want To Create Insects That Carry Viruses

 Scientists at The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plan to produce millions of insects carrying virusesthat can descend upon crops and then genetically modify them to withstand droughts, floods and foreign attacks, ensuring a permanently secure food supply.

But in a warning published in the journal Science, a group of independent scientists and lawyers objected to the research, which has not yet moved out of the lab. They argue that the endeavour is not so different from designing biological weapons — banned under international law since 1975 — that could swarm and destroy acres of crops.

The dispute is the latest episode in an ongoing international debate over the pursuit of what is called dual-use research: technological discoveries that can be beneficial or pose threats to human welfare. As gene-editing tools become increasingly accessible, scientists, ethicists and policymakers are weighing the good pivotal discoveries could do for humanity against their nefarious potential.

Can Stem Cells Repair Damaged Spine Nerves?

 Spinal injuries can be like downed power lines – even if everything on either side of the injury is perfectly functional, the break can effectively shut down the whole system.

Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have designed a device that could link everything back together again. A silicone guide, covered in 3D-printed neuronal stem cells, can be implanted into the injury site, where it grows new connections between remaining nerves to let patients regain some motor control.

A damaged spinal cord is a difficult injury to patch up, but there are treatments in development. Gene therapy could help break down scar tissue and regenerate nerve cells. In other cases the injury site is bypassed altogether, rerouting messages from the brain through computers or sending the signals wirelessly to a device implanted in the lower part of the body.

The new treatment could be a mix of both approaches. The Minnesota team started by collecting induced pluripotent stem cells – a type of stem cell that’s derived from adult cells like skin and blood. Once these were bioengineered into neuronal stem cells, the researchers were able to 3D print a device made up of alternating layers of silicone scaffold and neuronal stem cells.

Robots Making Things In Space

Space Tango has announced that it is developing an autonomous, robotic orbital platformto use microgravity in the production of items for various industries.

Set to launch sometime in the middle of the next decade, the ST-42 platform takes advantage of new techniques developed on the International Space Station (ISS) and more affordable launch systems.

According to the company, the unmanned ST-42 will be used on a series of missions to orbit and then return to Earth. Early missions will be used to study technology applications and materials production, but later biomedical missions will adhere to the US FDA Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations governing items made for patient therapeutics.

Is This The Alzheimer’s Vaccine We Have Been Waiting For?

Researchers may be one step closer to finding the holy grail of potential Alzheimer’s treatments – a single-dose vaccine that prevents the onset of the disease.

A new study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has revealed a novel DNA vaccine has been shown to successfully reduce the accumulation of two toxic proteins associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The latest study to be published for this new DNA vaccine reports the most positive results to date, revealing a significant reduction in both amyloid and tau levels in mouse models.

The study reveals the vaccine does not induce negative inflammatory effects and, most excitingly, it is the first antibody or vaccine treatment to target both amyloid and tau pathologies at the same time.

Have You Had Your Dog’s DNA Sequenced Yet?

When Mars Petcare launched its first DNA test for dogs in 2007, the service was only available through a vet. But veterinarians, it turned out, weren’t so keen on new-fangled DNA tests then.

Now pet DNA tests are availabledirectly to consumers and it’s becoming big business.  Embark, DNA My Dog, and Paw Print Genetics are just a few of the other companies eager to ship a cheek swab straight to your door. If the story sounds familiar, it’s because dog-DNA companies are following in the footsteps of 23andMe.

The various dog tests offer breed mixes and, in some cases, risk estimates for more than 150 health conditions. And now, to bring it full circle, dog owners are going to vets with DNA reports in hand.

Smartphone ECG Proves Almost As Good As Hospital ECG

The accuracy of a new smartphone 2-lead ECG system was recently tested on 204 patients suffering acute chest pain. All the subjects received both a traditional 12-lead ECG and the new two-lead smartphone ECG. The study found the small app-based system wasalmost as effective as a traditional ECGin distinguishing between STEMI and non-STEMI heart attacks.

Alongside the dual ECG lead, the system utilizes the previously established smartphone app AliveCor. Available as an approved medical diagnostic system for several years now, the AliveCor app has been effective in using single ECG leads to monitor cardiovascular systems in patients.

It’s unclear how close to commercial availability this new smartphone system is, but the researchers are hopeful it will help make ECG diagnostic data not only quicker to access for those who think they may be suffering from a heart attack, but also more accessible to doctors in countries where ECG machines are difficult to access.

Transparent Window Coating Reflects 70% Heat

Air conditioning systems use huge amount of power.  So it’s heartening to report that MIT engineers have created a see-through coating for windows that’s reported to reflect up to 70 percentof heat coming in from the sun.

MIT says that air conditioners account for some 6 percent of all electricity produced in the US, costing billions of dollars. The team estimates that its heat-rejecting film could reduce a building’s aircon (and energy) costs by as much as 10 percent if all exterior-facing windows were coated with the film.

Thanks to microparticles embedded within, the film remains pretty much see-through up to temperatures of 32° C (89° F), but anything above that will result in the phase-changing material shrinking to give the film a frosted glass look, limiting the amount of heat allowed through.

Plane Flies With No Moving Parts

 The first ever “solid state” plane, with no moving partsin its propulsion system, has successfully flown for a distance of 60 metres, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers.

The flight represents a breakthrough in “ionic wind” technology, which uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust.

In the prototype plane, wires at the leading edge of the wing have 600 watts of electrical power pumped through them at 40,000 volts. This is enough to induce “electron cascades”, ultimately charging air molecules near the wire. Those charged molecules then flow along the electrical field towards a second wire at the back of the wing, bumping into neutral air molecules on the way, and imparting energy to them. Those neutral air molecules then stream out of the back of the plane, providing thrust.

The end result is a propulsion system that is entirely electrically powered, almost silent, and with a thrust-to-power ratio comparable to that achieved by conventional systems such as jet engines

MRI Scan Can Now Predict Alzheimer’s Three Years Ahead

An exciting new study suggests a single MRI scan can accurately predict whether a person will developdementia up to three years before any cognitive symptoms are detectable. It’s hoped the prospective diagnostic tool will be able to better identify at-risk patients so preventative measures can be deployed to slow the onset of neurodegeneration.

A team of scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California, San Francisco has revealed the new dementia-detecting method that uses commonly accessible MRI imaging technology.

The novel method uses a technique called diffusion tensor imaging. This technique can scan a person’s brain, identifying signs of damage to their white matter.