by Kerry Song: Three advancements that will impact humanity in a big way…
From artificial intelligence to genome mapping – the world of tech and biotech is exploding, adding new levels of efficiency and opportunity to the world. In many ways, we’re starting to live in the future we’ve always envisioned; just think, self-driving cars are already hitting the roads. But even amidst this ocean of innovation, there are some technological advancements that stand apart from the rest. Because these innovations aren’t just breaking technology barriers, they’re literally changing the world and giving mankind a new lease on life.
STEM CELL TREATMENT
Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. And about 140,000 of those victims will lose their life. For those that survive, however, long-term disability is a serious risk. Depending on the severity of the stroke and the damage it creates on the brain, some individuals are left without the ability to walk or even speak. But breakthrough innovations in stem cell research are giving hope to this grim situation.
A clinical trial out of the Stanford University School of Medicine, led by professor and chair of neurology at Stanford, Dr. Gary Steinberg, looked at 18 individuals whom had all suffered their first and only stroke 6 months to 3 years from the time of the trial. All participants in the study had lost motor function abilities as a result of their stroke – some were unable to move their arm, while others were unable to walk.
Each patient underwent stem cell transplantation – which involved injecting modified, human, adult stem cells directly into the stroke-damaged areas of the brain.
After the transplantation, each patient was closely monitored and within just a month of the procedure, the researchers saw discernible signs of recovery and improvement that continued and have been sustained for at least a year. One participant regained sensation in both her right arm and leg following the surgery.
Researchers believe that this treatment not only carries great weight for stroke victims, but for those who suffer from a number of brain-related issues, from traumatic brain injury to neurodegenerative disorders. This could mean that a diagnosis for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) is not a life sentence. In fact, a current trial at Cedars-Sinai Medical center has recently begun recruiting patients who suffer from ALS to undergo a unique approach to stem cell treatment.
There is a massive shortage of organs available for lifesaving transplants. In the U.S. alone, someone is added to the national transplant waiting list every 20 minutes. And with more than 120,000 people on the list, an estimated 20 people die each day while waiting for their number to be called.
But what if there was a way to prevent people from dying needlessly? What if we could even find a way to make the transplant list a thing of the past? That’s the idea behind bio-printing – an emerging technology that allows three-dimensional printers to create living tissue and even entire organs.
The printer is loaded with cartridges of living cells called “bio-ink.” The bio-ink is then dispensed from the printer, along with a dissolvable gel designed to support and protect the cells during the printing process. Once the architecture is set, the cells have the internal programming to create the final tissue and will automatically fuse together forming a solid piece of living tissue.
Today, one of the pioneers of bio-printing is the San Diego-based Organovo, where scientists have already made substantial headway building human tissue. While this is indeed a major step towards building entire organs, it also has an immediate value prop. With lab-grown tissue, researchers would be able to test pharmaceuticals and cosmetics on functional human tissues, which is vastly more effective, more accurate and more ethical than animal trials. Lab-grown tissues could also be used to help repair or replace damaged or diseased tissues on the human body.
Harvesting fossil fuels is not only costly, but dangerous. The fracking method, which is used for 60% of all new oil and gas wells, consumes large amounts of water, then subsequently contaminates the water so severely that it cannot even be cleaned in a treatment plant. Stray gas (including carcinogenic chemicals like methane) from fracking wells also have the ability to cause serious health concerns for those nearby. Oil spills and leaks are also too frequent and too devastating to take lightly (just recently, the Keystone Pipeline spilled about 210,000 gallons in South Dakota). Then, when we burn fossil fuels we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which raises the planet’s average temperature. This has a number of implications from melting polar ice caps to sea level rise to changes in rainfall patterns.
This is just the tip of the iceberg (so to speak) of why sustainable clean energy is so paramount. And one of the most exciting and promising sources of renewable energy comes from the ocean.
There are 22 major ocean currents that flow for massive distances around the world. These currents move massive amounts of water in a relatively consistent way. Since water is more than 800 times denser than air, water moving 12 miles per hour exerts the same amount of force as a constant 110 mph wind. This type of force can be harnessed and converted into a massive amount of energy. It’s clean, reliable, predictable power.
The biggest challenges to this point has been building sustainable hardware out at sea and finding more cost-efficient methods of maintenance. The technology is still in early stages of development. But there have been a substantial number of innovations involving tidal current turbines. In fact, just last year Nova innovation launched the “Shetland Tidal Array” – the world’s first set of tidal turbines, which were connected to the electricity grid in the United Kingdom. Another company, Ocean Power Technologies, has deployed their “PowerBuoy” that converts wave energy into electrical energy.
The need for an innovative solution for renewables is so important that the US Department of Energy launched the OPEN 2018, which will support America’s top innovators with $100 million. The fund will back early-stage research and development projects, and marine energy is sure to be a key player involved.