GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – OCTOBER 2019

Scientists Reverse Human Ageing

 Scientists might be able to reverse process of ageing, a new study suggests.

Volunteers who were given a cocktail of drugs for a year actually “aged backwards”, losing an average of 2.5 years from their biological ages, according to the new study. The research showed that the marks on their genomes that represent their “epigenetic clock”, as well as their immune systems, actually improved despite the passing of time.

The scientists involved in the study were shocked by the results.

“I’d expected to see slowing down of the clock, but not a reversal,” researcher Steve Horvath from the University of California, Los Angeles told Nature, which first reported the findings. “That felt kind of futuristic.”

Scientists caution that the study was done with a very limited number of participants: only nine people took the drug cocktail, and there was no control group. But if it is confirmed by further research it could have huge impacts on healthcare, the treatment of disease and how people think about ageing.

In the study, participants were given a growth hormone and two diabetes medications. Scientists then monitored the test subjects’ epigenetic clocks, to understand the effect on how they aged.

Google First To Make A Working Quantum Computer

A draft research paper erroneously uploaded to Nasa’s website accidentally tipped the world off that Google had reached a quantum computing milestone: quantum supremacy.

It’s a goal that Google – and its competitors – has had in their sights for years. In 2017, the firm predicted it would reach quantum supremacy by the end of that year, but that deadline came and went without any breakthrough. In the intervening years IBM and Intel nipped at Google’s heels, testing quantum computers with ever increasing numbers of qubits – the units of information that are the reason that quantum computers are so potentially powerful.

Now it appears that Google has reached this particular milestone ahead of its competitors. The draft paper details how Google researchers used a quantum processor called Sycamore containing 53 functioning qubits to solve a random sampling problem that would have taken the world’s best supercomputers 10,000 years to work out. It took Sycamore just three minutes and 20 seconds. Google, which partnered with Nasa for this project, did not respond to requests for comment.

But this breakthrough doesn’t mean that useful quantum computers are just around the corner. Not by a long shot. Instead, Google has just kicked open the door to the next era of quantum computing. And that’s where things start to get really interesting

Facebook Launches Video Messaging In Europe

 People who’ve used Portal, a new video calling product from Facebook, claim it’s an immersive way to connect with friends and loved ones, even when miles apart.

Recently Facebook has expanded the Portal family of home video-calling devices with three new models: Portal, Portal Mini and Portal TV. The company is also introducing a new way to make calls using WhatsApp and bringing Portal to more countries.

In addition to the US and Canada, the Portal line-up is coming to the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Portal is now available to pre-order in the US, Canada and Europe from portal.facebook.com and select retail locations. Portal and Portal Mini begin shipping October 15 and Portal TV begins shipping November 5. Portal Mini is $129 USD, Portal is $179 USD and Portal TV is $149 USD or bundle any two Portal devices for $50 off.

Diagnosing Dementia Types By How You Walk

 A fascinating new study suggests clinicians may be able to accurately diagnose whether cognitively impaired patients are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy body dementia by studying their unique walking patterns. The research offers a unique way to distinguish the two conditions, which are notoriously difficult to differentiate in early-stage patients.

Lewy body dementia is thought to be the second most common form of dementia, behind Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is often misdiagnosed in its early stages due to the shared nature of many of its symptoms. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, pathologically identified by toxic accumulations of amyloid and tau proteins in the brain, Lewy body dementia involves abnormal clumps of alpha-synuclein proteins. Lewy body dementia can be a sign of Lewy body disease, or Parkinson’s disease.

“Correctly identifying what type of dementia someone has is important for clinicians and researchers as it allows patients to be given the most appropriate treatment for their needs as soon as possible,” explains Ríona McArdle, from Newcastle University and lead researcher on the study.

The new research was based on the hypothesis that different forms of neurodegeneration and dementia can result in identifiable gait markers. In order to study those gait differences, the researchers recruited 110 people: 45 Lewy body dementia subjects, 35 Alzheimer’s subjects, and 29 cognitively healthy older subjects. All subjects completed a comprehensive gait assessment involving walking across a long walkway with a number of sensors tracking 16 different walking characteristics, including pace, variability, rhythm and asymmetry.

This Algae Processor Can Soak Up CO2 Like A Whole Acre Of Trees

 When it comes to organic processes that we can leverage to tackle the runaway problem of climate change, the carbon-absorbing abilities of algae may be one of the most potent tools at our disposal. For years, scientists have been studying this natural phenomena in hope of tackling greenhouse gas emissions and producing eco-friendly biofuels, and now US company Hypergiant Industries has packaged the tech up into a box-shaped machine that can soak up as much carbon from the atmosphere as an acre of trees.

Through the process of photosynthesis, the aquatic plant algae soaks up carbon dioxide, water and sunlight to produce energy. Naturally, the plant will use this energy to multiply and grow, but scientists have been experimenting with ways to capture it and convert it into biofuels instead, with some promising results.

The newly announced Eos Bioreactor might look like someone left a giant Xbox in the garden, but Hypergiant Industries isn’t looking to play games here. The reactor measures 3 x 3 x 7 ft (90 x 90 x 210 cm) and is designed to be installed in urban environments where it captures and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and produces clean bio-fuels that could be used to further reduce a building’s carbon footprint.

 Germany And France Resist Facebook’s Libra

 France and Germany have formed a united front against Libra, Facebook’s proposed digital currency.

In a joint statement issued after a meeting of eurozone finance ministers, France and Germany said that Facebook’s plan for Libra “fails to convince” them that risks related to security, investor protection, money laundering and terrorist financing, and “monetary sovereignty” will be adequately dealt with.

“We believe that no private entity can claim monetary power, which is inherent to the sovereignty of nations,” the statement reads.

Facebook’s bold plan to issue global digital currency next year has been met with significant scepticism and resistance from policymakers in the US, including the president. Facebook has responded by bolstering its lobbying forces in Washington, DC. This joint statement suggests that the political challenges Libra faces in Europe could be more serious.

Strong Link Between Gum Disease And Hypertension

 A new metastudy has affirmed the link between gum disease and hypertension, finding the worse a person’s oral health the greater their risk of suffering from high blood pressure. The direction of the relationship remains unclear with researchers unsure whether improved dental treatment can directly influence blood pressure.

The meta-analysis gathered data from 81 studies spanning 26 countries, and the conclusions confirmed what a great deal of prior work had suggested. A positive linear relationship was detected between periodontitis, or gum disease, and risk of high blood pressure. While moderate periodontitis could be associated with a 22 percent greater risk of hypertension, severe periodontitis was linked to a 49 percent greater chance of the condition.

“We observed a linear association – the more severe periodontitis is, the higher the probability of hypertension,” explains senior author Francesco D’Aiuto, from University College London. “There seems to be a continuum between oral health and blood pressure which exists in healthy and diseased states.”

While the metastudy’s conclusions are reasonably definitive, a number of questions remain unanswered surrounding exactly what mechanism is underpinning this association, and whether actively treating periodontitis can result in blood pressure reductions.

At Last! Can We Cure The Common Cold?

As common as the common cold is, it’s been notoriously difficult to actually cure. That’s largely because there are so many different viruses in the same family, and they can mutate quickly to get around our best efforts. Now, a new study shows that disabling a single protein in human cells could render the cold virus ineffective.

Viruses, like those that cause colds and flu, are some of the fastest-evolving forms of life on Earth. That’s why there are no permanent cures for these common illnesses. Any time scientists come up with a vaccine, it doesn’t affect all strains of the virus and even those that are inhibited by it can evolve resistance to the drug pretty quickly.

While many researchers are experimenting with the biology of the viruses themselves to find new weaknesses, a new study by scientists at Stanford and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) may have found a target on the cells they infect instead.

Many of the viruses that cause colds belong to the rhinovirus family, which in turn are types of enteroviruses. These viruses infect human cells by taking advantage of different proteins in the cell. So the researchers investigated which of those proteins the viruses were using, and set out to block those.

FDA Finally Grants Approval For Blood Pressure Watch

The FDA has granted Biobeat, an Israeli firm, clearance for the company’s wrist watch and patch that measure blood oxygenation, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Both Apple and Samsung have been trying to gain FDA approval for blood pressure measurement functions in their watches for years, but without success.

Not relying on a traditional cuff allows for long-term monitoring of blood pressure, particularly in patients who have difficulty keeping track of their health parameters on their own. Moreover, it can help to identify abnormal blood pressure in situations when a cuff-based meter is not appropriate or simply unavailable.

“This is the first cuffless blood pressure solution to be cleared by the FDA—no more need for an inflating cuff,” said Arik Ben Ishay, Founder and CEO of Biobeat. “This clearance opens tremendous opportunities for remote monitoring of vital signs of patients and we are excited that we can now also offer this in the US market”.

The Biobeat devices are intended for use in clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities, as well as by independent patients at home.

The underlying technology within the Biobeat devices is based on reflective plethysmography, an optical technique that is normally used to detect blood volume changes within tissues. A number of LED light sources emit various wavelengths of light into the tissue, while an algorithm analyses the reflected light that returns. Thanks to the new signal processing system that the team built, they can effectively clean out most of the background noise in the signal and obtain the relevant data hiding within.

3D-Printed House Built In 12 Hours

The widespread adoption of 3D-printed construction seems more a case of when rather than if, and so far we’ve seen houses, a castle, and even a military barracks created using the promising tech. The latest notable development comes from S-Squared 3D Printers (SQ3D), which 3D-printed a basic prototype home in an estimated 12 hours.

The unnamed 500-sq-ft (46-sq-m) structure was built using the same method as other 3D-printed projects and involved a nozzle extruding a cement mixture in layers to create a house shape, though the printer itself does have some refinements over standard off-the-shelf models. Indeed, in addition to its construction work under the name SQ4D, SQ3D sells 3D printers for hobbyists, prototyping and educational uses.

“Our machine is a simple gantry style Cartesian printer, but we have patented features that separate us from the pack,” the firm explains. “We are using a rotating (tangential) nozzle with a rectangle output to extrude a controlled ribbon, among a few other functions that we are experimenting with.”

 

 

 

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