Digital Life Science

Tomorrow’s Sci-Fi Tech Excites Us … and Scares Us

(Image via Shutterstock)

For all the technological change Americans have witnessed in recent decades, from space travel to smartphones, we know much more is coming. And we’re only happy about some of it. A study by the Pew Research Center released last week finds that while Americans are generally optimistic about science and technology in the long term, we’re more pessimistic about in the short term. The report culled data from a survey of 1,001 adults, with questions that attempted to get at the heart of attitudes toward closer-term advances—like bioengineering and robotics—and longer-term possibilities like space colonization and teleportation.   More

Digital Life Science

63 Companies Bent on Transforming Healthcare

StartUp Health co-founder Unity Stoakes.

When serial entrepreneurs Unity Stoakes and Steven Krein set out to build a digital health company, they quickly discovered that entrepreneurs in the healthcare sector face a unique set of challenges: daunting regulations, privacy issues, long sales cycles, and industry-wide resistance to change. So they shifted their attention to creating a platform that lets healthcare entrepreneurs innovate more easily. With support from former Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin and other high-powered investors including Esther Dyson and Mark Cuban, in partnership with Steve Case’s Startup America, and with applause from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Stoakes and Krein established StartUp Health in 2011. Stoakes describes the company as part community, part knowledge base, and part academy offering a structured curriculum to help CEOs and founders, calling his audience “Healthcare Transformers.”   More

Life Science

How You Are Hurt by FDA Genetic Test Restrictions

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These are boom times for progress in genetic testing, but restrictions limiting access are delaying benefits we could all be experiencing right now. The National Institutes of Health maintains a Genetic Testing Registry, which currently lists some 15,000 available genetic tests. Together, they can single out 2,800 genes for some 4,000 medical conditions—and that’s not factoring in the rapidly growing exome or genome sequencing tests that look at all known genes. With so many tests out there, there’s a good chance that one exists to scan for whatever diseases may run in your family. But you may not be able to get those tests. Direct consumer access has always been tricky in U.S. medicine, and the FDA’s crackdown on consumer genetic testing firm 23andMe last year has providers running scared.   More

Digital Life Science

Can Mobile Apps Heal American Healthcare?

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What do smartphones have to do with medical care? Ask any doctor who has called in pharmacy prescriptions from a golf course, reviewed brain-imaging results in a taxi, or video-chatted with emergency room physicians in another city. Or ask PointClear Solutions, an Atlanta-headquartered custom healthcare software development company that recently acquired NYC-based app developer, Worry Free Labs (profiled here last summer). We did, when we spoke with PointClear CEO David Karabinos about the acquisition and the future of mobile apps for patient care.   More

Life Science

FDA Approves Medical Device for Reversing Opioid Overdose

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When mobster wife Mrs. Mia Wallace overdoses on heroin, hit man Vincent Vega brings her screaming out of a comatose state by jabbing an adrenaline-filled syringe into her heart. Had the talking medical device that the FDA gave fast-track approval to last week existed 20 years ago, that Pulp Fiction scene between Uma Thurman and John Travolta might not have been so dramatic. The new pocket-sized naloxone hydrochloride auto-injector, called Evzio, coaches a user through the procedure of administering the opioid-O.D.-reversing drug into a victim's muscle.   More

Government Jobs Life Science

Techonomic Top 5: Federal Inefficiency, Chromosome Breakthrough, Virtual Employers, and More

Andrew Hessel (l) with Stewart Brand and Eri Gentry at Techonomy 2013 in Tucson, Ariz.

Every week we spotlight techonomic happenings on the Web and beyond, picking people, companies, and trends that exemplify tech’s ever-growing role in business and society. Here’s what’s got our attention.   More

Life Science

NYU Scientists Lead Synthetic Chromosome Breakthrough

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Another huge milestone has been reached in synthetic biology. Scientists have created a working chromosome and inserted it into a living cell. The cell continued to act normally—what scientists consider a key measure of success. While chromosomes have already been created for bacteria, accomplishing the feat with a brewer's yeast cell, a more complex organism, is a major accomplishment. Jeff Boeke, director of NYU's Institute for System's Genetics and the leader of the research team, was quoted as saying, "We have made of 50,000 changes to the DNA code in the chromosome and our yeast is still alive. That is remarkable… It is the most extensively altered chromosome ever built." The potential efficiencies created by these synthetic strains of yeast open doors to remarkable medical and biofuel opportunities, to name just a couple.   More

Analytics & Data Life Science

Forensics’ Next Frontier: Translating DNA into a Mug Shot

Claes P, Liberton DK, Daniels K, Rosana KM, Quillen EE, et al. (2014) Modeling 3D Facial Shape from DNA. PLoS Genet 10(3): e1004224. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004224

Anthropological genomics researcher Mark Shriver at Penn State has teamed up with scientists in the university's forensics department to leverage big data, DNA, and 3D imaging to translate a drop of blood into a facial recognition tool. Shriver's lab conducts various studies using a method known as "admixture mapping," which helps them identify ancestral genes linked to facial traits, combined with population genomics to understand those genes' evolutionary histories.   More

Digital Life Science

Using Software to Program the Building Blocks of Life

Andrew Hessel (l) with Stewart Brand and Eri Gentry at Techonomy 2013 in Tucson, Ariz.

“What’s beautiful about software is that it makes complex jobs easy,” opines Andrew Hessel, a distinguished researcher at Autodesk, the software company best known for the design software, AutoCAD. What’s really beautiful about what Hessel and others at Autodesk are working on is what they’re building new design tools for—life itself. Hessel, who spoke at Techonomy’s November conferences in 2011 and 2013, sees the work Autodesk is involved in as a way to create greater access to the burgeoning field of synthetic biology and, along the way, turbocharge fields like energy and food production, manufacturing, and hopefully developing personalized, genetic-level tools for fighting, maybe even curing, things like cancer.   More

Life Science Manufacturing

This Manufacturing Technique Will Make 3D Printing Seem Old-School

Cell image via Shutterstock

Getting living organisms to do our manufacturing work for us may be the next big shift in materials science. This Quartz article explains how it becomes not inconceivable that in the nearish future we will have biological materials helping us assemble solar panels, for example, or possibly helping work with a variety of different non-biological materials. The ability of living cells to help assemble non-living ones is a big breakthrough the article reports on. It suggests that future capabilities might even include things like tape that repairs itself biologically if it detects that its adhesive is weakening. Wow.   More

Life Science

Talking with the Government’s $1,000 Genome Man

(Photo courtesy NHGRI)

There’s been a lot of attention paid to the tremendous progress in making DNA sequencing so cheap that scanning a person’s genome could cost just $1,000. This pricing free-fall has occurred markedly faster than with comparable drops for other technologies, such as computers. Most people would assume that credit is due mostly to the progress made by companies, but in reality the man most responsible for approaching the $1,000 genome is Jeffery Schloss, an unassuming federal employee who works as a program director for the National Human Genome Research Institute.   More

Analytics & Data Life Science

How IBM’s Watson Will Advise Oncologists on Patient Care

Director of Computational Biology Ajay Royyuru points to a drawing of the chemical formula for DNA at IBM Research headquarters in Yorktown Heights, NY. (Courtesy IBM Research)

Scientists at the New York Genome Center announced Wednesday that they would collaborate with IBM to test "a unique Watson prototype designed specifically for genomic research" that has been under development for the past decade in IBM’s Computational Biology Center at IBM Research. Will oncologists trust IBM Watson's cognitive abilities enough to rely on it as an advisor? It's likely they will if the supercomputer proves it can produce in seconds actionable information about an individual's cancer that would take a dozen doctors weeks or months to discover.   More

Life Science

Your Garden Is About to Go Bionic

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Imagine shrubs monitoring pollution levels, weeds storing electronic devices, and flowers detecting explosives and chemical weapons. Sounds like science fiction, but bionic plant life is not as far-fetched as you might think, according to new research from M.I.T. In the emerging field of plant nanobiotics, researchers are studying plants' potential as technology platforms. By embedding various nanomaterials within plant cell structures, research shows, run-of-the-mill plant life can be transformed into high-tech sensors, monitors, and energy producers. "The potential is really endless," M.I.T. researcher Michael Strano told M.I.T. News.   More

Energy & Green Tech Government Life Science

Techonomic Top 5: Reanimating the Woolly Mammoth, Facebook Drones, and more

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The passenger pigeon became extinct in 1914, though not long before it flew in flocks that could number in the billions (yes, with a "b"). But a group of scientists has teamed up with tech visionary Stewart Brand in spearheading an effort to bring the species back to life. The so-called de-extinction project could reanimate long-lost species like the woolly mammoth and even mitigate environmental threats like melting permafrost, according to some.   More

Life Science

DNA Diagnosis Works, But It’s Not Likely to Cure You Soon

(Photo courtesy of UC San Francisco)

At a recent scientific meeting for researchers working with DNA sequencing tools, Joe DeRisi from the University of California, San Francisco, gave a riveting presentation about the medical case of a young boy with acute encephalitis. The talk offered a glimpse into the tremendous clinical potential for DNA sequencing—and simultaneously highlighted just how far this technology still is from the mainstream. DeRisi is known for a major coup in 2003 when he led the first American team to identify SARS. At the time, the coronavirus was still an unknown terror sweeping across Asia. His lab focuses on identifying pathogens, which is how DeRisi got involved in the case of the young boy with encephalitis.   More

Life Science

Will Doctors Finally Accept Technology? Yes. Here’s How.

In 1968, the American health economist Victor R. Fuchs wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine: “Medical tradition emphasizes giving the best care that is technically possible; the only legitimate and explicitly recognized constraint is the state of the art.” Nearly half a century later his words still ring true. But the medical profession is often slow to adopt the state of the art. Witness the industry’s slow uptake of innovations such as telemedicine and electronic medical records. The 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act created financial incentives and penalties to encourage health care providers to implement electronic records by 2015. Still, providers are lagging.   More

Digital Life Science

Gadgets for Surviving Six More Weeks of Winter

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Here at Techonomy’s home in New York City, we, like so many across the United States, are enduring one of the snowiest winters on record. Being snowbound at home, the office, and on mass transit has given us plenty of time to think about tools and technologies that could help us make this season a bit less unpleasant. Since the groundhogs agree that we’re facing six more weeks of cold, here’s a list of gadgets you’ll need to get by. We've grouped them by cold-weather personality type.   More

Life Science

Prosthetic Bionics Give Danish Amputee the Power of Touch

(Photo: École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) / YouTube)

New bionic technology is making it possible for amputees to feel again. It’s a scientific breakthrough, and Dennis Aabo Sørenson became the first in the world to experience it when he took a chance on a clinical trial that ended up paying off—big-time. Sørenson, from Denmark, had lost his left hand in a fireworks accident nine years earlier, when he decided to take part in the 2013 trial. The study’s groundbreaking technology connected surgically implanted electrodes to a bionic prosthetic hand, and after nearly a decade of living without touch sensory, Sørenson could feel again.   More

Life Science

Life Sciences: What to Expect in 2014

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Now that we have recapped the major trends of 2013, let's look ahead to what will be exciting in 2014 in life sciences. In the past couple years, scientists have gone from the first proof it was possible to sequence the genome of a fetus using cells from a mother’s blood, to doing it a number of successful ways. Ethical considerations aside, this is a remarkable scientific achievement that has major implications for clinical utility.   More

Learning Life Science Video

Microsoft’s Mundie: Governments Impede Progress in Health and Education

With technology making transformative strides in business, communications, transportation, space, and beyond, why do two of society's most important sectors, healthcare and education, continue to lag so far behind? According to Microsoft's Craig Mundie—who as senior advisor to the CEO has spent years speaking with global leaders on the company's behalf—government may be the root of the problem. "The reason these two sectors have been resistant to change is because in almost every country [they] are controlled by the government," Mundie said in an interview at our Techonomy 2013 conference.   More