Futuristic Medicine: Stem Cells

Brenda Cooper @ 30-06-2011

So…last month I did a bit of a rant on climate change. I decided maybe I’d do something a bit more hopeful this time, and focus on future medicine. Medicine is one of the areas where the network effect works wonders and the speed of change is pretty phenomenal. Continue reading “Futuristic Medicine: Stem Cells”


Body Area Networks: medical monitoring on the move

Paul Raven @ 11-10-2010

The Body Area Network shouldn’t be an entirely new idea to regular readers, but for those of you new to the term, it does what it says on the tin, i.e. networks together an assortment of gadgets and devices located on or in the human body. Those devices can be pretty much anything that produces or processes a signal… so as well as the potential for augmenting yourself into a Stephensonian gargoyle, you can also turn the electronic eye inwards by rigging up systems to monitor your internal organs and send the data to your phone:

Dubbed the Human++ BAN platform, the system converts IMEC’s ultra-low-power electrocardiogram sensors into wireless nodes in a short-range network, transmitting physiological data to a hub – the patient’s cellphone. From there, the readings can be forwarded to doctors via a Wi-Fi or 3G connection. They can also be displayed on the phone or sound an alarm when things are about to go wrong, giving patients like me a chance to try to slow our heart rates and avoid an unnecessary shock.

Julien Penders, who developed the system, says it can also work with other low-power medical sensors, such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor neurological conditions or electromyograms to detect neuromuscular diseases. Besides helping those already diagnosed with chronic conditions, BANs could be used by people at risk of developing medical problems – the so-called “worried well” – or by fitness enthusiasts and athletes who want to keep tabs on their physiological processes during training.

Lots of street uses, too, once this stuff gets cheap (which shouldn’t take long). For instance, we humans tend to get competitive about pretty much anything that can be measured and recorded, so perhaps we’ll get forums devoted to people pushing their bodies to extremes – be it through drug use, extreme sports or even epic-scale lassitude – and posting the evidence. Whole lot of new (and weird) categories for the Guinness Book of Records coming down the pipeline…


Doom du jour: the drugs don’t work

Paul Raven @ 12-08-2010

The increase in human longevity is due, in at least a significant part, to the invention of the antibiotic. But the age of the antibiotic may nearly be over, as we become victims of their success:

Last September, Walsh published details of a gene he had discovered, called NDM 1, which passes easily between types of bacteria called enterobacteriaceae such as E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae and makes them resistant to almost all of the powerful, last-line group of antibiotics called carbapenems. Yesterday’s paper revealed that NDM 1 is widespread in India and has arrived here as a result of global travel and medical tourism for, among other things, transplants, pregnancy care and cosmetic surgery.

“In many ways, this is it,” Walsh tells me. “This is potentially the end. There are no antibiotics in the pipeline that have activity against NDM 1-producing enterobacteriaceae. We have a bleak window of maybe 10 years, where we are going to have to use the antibiotics we have very wisely, but also grapple with the reality that we have nothing to treat these infections with.”

And this is the optimistic view – based on the assumption that drug companies can and will get moving on discovering new antibiotics to throw at the bacterial enemy.

It’s not just infectious diseases that will become a big problem again, either; without effective antibiotics, you can effectively rule out organ transplantation, and a whole raft of other stuff. Will that ten-year window be wide enough for us to develop some sort of blood-cleaning nanotech?

Speaking of drugs, those wacky chappies at the Pentagon are looking for new ways to stockpile vaccines against the possibility of global pandemics, and one plan that caught their eye was from a Canadian firm with the idea of gene-modding tobacco plants to produce a flu vaccine. I always thought “Canadian tobacco” was euphemistic street slang… y’know, “hey dude, where can I score some Canadian tobacco?*”

[ * Apologies to my Canuck readership for this woeful stereotype. If it makes any difference, I only rib you lot because you’re less easily offended than your brethren to the south. 😉 ]


Geek sickness: can social rejection make you ill?

Paul Raven @ 04-08-2010

A UCLA experiment suggests that “social stress and rejection are related to the release of certain inflammatory chemicals in the body; these chemicals have been linked to several medical conditions, including asthma, arthritis, and some kinds of cancer. Ars Technica has the low-down:

In the study, a group of researchers recruited a bunch of students at UCLA and subjected them to socially stressful situations. The students were asked write a speech and then read it to a pair of evaluators, who then acted as if the speech were abhorrently subpar. After that, they had to perform mental arithmetic for a proctor who would appear impatient with them and urge them to go faster. A subset of the participants were also made to play a game of “Cyberball” with two other people, who were asked to socially exclude them.

Throughout these socially stressful experiences, researchers took mouth swabs of the students and monitored their activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain known to process rejection-related distress. (It’s possible that the swabbing added to the stress.) The two measures showed that greater activity in this area of the brain correlated with a rise in two inflammatory chemicals that are known to play a role in the onset or progress of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, depression, and various types of cancer.

Correlation is not causation, of course… or, as Ars more bluntly puts it, it’s unclear whether “being a nerd begets asthma, or if asthma begets a nerd”.


Of vapor and violence: Do gasoline fumes fuel aggression?

Tom Marcinko @ 24-11-2009

gastoonHere’s the agenda for this item: I distinctly remember that when I was a kid, sometimes–not always–the smell of gasoline would get me what one would today call high. It’s been a long time since it had that effect on me, but I also remember looking forward to those visits to the gas station.

So for obvious reasons this post fascinated me:

A new study, published in the open access journal BMC Physiology, has shown that rats exposed to fumes from leaded and unleaded gasoline become more aggressive.

Amal Kinawy, from Cairo University, Egypt, examined the emotionally incendiary properties of gasoline in three groups of male rats, each exposed to either leaded-gas fumes, unleaded-gas fumes or clean air. As well as observing the animals’ behavior, she studied any resulting neurological and physiological changes. She said, “Millions of people every day are exposed to gasoline fumes while refuelling their cars. Exposure can also come from exhaust fumes and, particularly in the developing world, deliberate gasoline sniffing as a means of getting high”.

The research demonstrates that rats exposed to either kind of fuel vapor showed increased aggressive behavior, such as more time spent in belligerent postures and increased numbers of actual attacks, in comparison to the clean air group.

Can’t recall either of my parents remarking on any strange behavior on my part. Not because of that, anyway. The ever-traditional more research is needed to rush to assumptions about gasoline vapor’s effect on humans, but it’s one more thing to worry about.

(Leather in shoe stores, too, gave me a distinct high, but that’s another fetish) (Call me) (Airplane glue, not so much)

[Cartoon: Richard Masoner]


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