Bio & Life Sciences

Will Even a Cholesterol Test Help Identify Cancer?

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Early detection is one of the most effective ways to beat cancer. That’s why some recent studies, in which scientists detected it in people long before symptoms began, have cancer researchers so excited. The coolest part? These scientists weren’t even looking for signs of cancer. DNA-based detection tools have gotten sensitive enough that it now appears possible to identify precancerous cells. This ability to spot precancerous cells could become pivotal in oncology. It could also be problematic.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Government

For Genome Editing, Self-Regulation Beats a Government Ban

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A breakthrough method that makes editing the genes of living beings relatively easy, called CRISPR, is much in the news these days. So are the many implications—both terrifying and promising—associated with it. The seemingly endless possibilities of genome editing have even the scientific community on edge, and it’s stirring up heated debate about where the ethical limits are. At the moment, most of the calls for restraint in the use of CRISPR are coming directly from scientists, but it won’t be long before government officials or candidates hoping to be elected start airing their opinions about how this field should be regulated. It’s worth taking a moment to consider how different modes of oversight could affect the opportunities afforded us by genome editing.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Internet of Things

Latin American Entrepreneurs Pioneer Healthcare Tech

Conceived during the depths of the economic recession, MassChallenge is a startup accelerator that supports early-stage entrepreneurs. At last month's WEF Latin America event in Mexico, MassChallenge founder and CEO John Harthorne talked with Techonomy partner Hub Culture, explaining the accelerator's work to shift more of the economy toward startup efforts, creating "more pie" for entrepreneurs rather than forcing them to "fight each other over slices of pie."   More

Bio & Life Sciences

National Academy of Sciences Wades into CRISPR-Cas9 Debate

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In response to growing concerns about the potential application of CRISPR-Cas9 technology, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine are convening an international summit this fall to “explore the scientific, ethical, and policy issues associated with human gene-editing research." If you think of a genome as a manuscript, full of extraneous, unnecessary, sometimes flat-out harmful material, the CRISPR-Cas9 technique can be likened to an incredibly useful editing tool. In biological circles, the conversation is heated. Some see remarkable opportunities to prevent the kinds of genetic diseases that impact millions of people a year, things like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, hemophilia, and more. Others see yet another Pandora’s box that could lead to things like designer babies or the unintended genetic mutations that lead to unimaginable consequences.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

Why Genetic Tests May Call For a Second Opinion

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When you get your cholesterol levels after a blood test, you may grumble about the new diet your doctor recommends or the statins you have to take—but you probably don’t wonder whether the levels were wrong. We know clinical lab results are tightly regulated, so we take their accuracy as a given. Assuming the same thing about lab results from a genetic test, however, could be a mistake.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

Could a Microbe Transplant Make You Thinner? (And Other Amazing Things About Bacteria and Antibiotics)

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We are in the earliest days of understanding the human microbiome—the communities of microbes that live in and on our bodies—but already scientists are getting a sense of the incredible complexity of this ecosystem and its interaction with us. These advances were made possible just in the past decade by the latest DNA sequencers and other technologies that can scan and analyze huge numbers of microbes at a time. This understanding may enable radical new techniques for weight control, among other revolutionary implications.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Techonomy Events Video

Great Short “Bio” Videos from Techonomy’s Chief Program Officer

As we wrapped our second Techonomy Bio conference a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking about how many interesting “bio” related 180s we've produced in recent years. Our “180° Talks” are three-minute presentations in which the speaker aims to change the audience’s mind about a generally accepted paradigm, or tells us about something they’ve reversed their thinking about. My all time favourite is from Techonomy 2011. Andrew Hessel, then at Singularity University and now at Autodesk, spoke about biotech, procreation, computer-assisted genetic design, and his decision to get a vasectomy.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

Your Next Prescription Could Be a Genome Sequence

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At Advances in Genome Biology and Technology, a conference for genomic scientists held earlier this year, one speaker told attendees that the use of genome sequencing to improve patient care is no longer a far-off goal—it’s happening today. While you won’t encounter genome sequencing on an average visit to the ER, there are certain clinical areas where this technology has indeed become routine: cancer, pediatric care, the diagnosis and treatment of ultra rare diseases, and a few others.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Healthcare Techonomy Events

How Techonomy Bio Inspired My Southeast Asian Healthcare Journey

A sign for a Thai pharmacy. (Photo by Will Greene)

Last year, I watched the inaugural Techonomy Bio conference from a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. At the time, I was working on my first healthcare consulting project—a market research study for German medical device manufacturers interested in Vietnam. I spent my days interviewing suppliers, distributors, purchasers, regulators, and other stakeholders, trying to make sense of the snarled Vietnamese healthcare system. Due to the time difference between Vietnam and America, I couldn’t catch the live webcast of the conference, but in the week after the event, I ended each day by kicking up my feet and watching video footage of the 2014 conference sessions on my laptop. Watching those videos hammered home the fact that in both developed and developing countries, much of modern healthcare is fundamentally broken.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Techonomy Events

Meat Without Animals and Sequencing the Planet at Techonomy Bio

(Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

The over 200 people who descended on the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley last week for the second annual Techonomy Bio event learned we were heading toward growing meat, cell phones, and houses. They learned as well that we are in a renaissance of progress in human health. But they also heard thoughts on why we have more allergies and worries about how the public thinks about science. The daylong program ranged from stem cells and bio-architecture to venture capital and public opinion about science, but the common thread was the intersection of progress in the dual realms of life science and information technology. As speakers noted throughout the day, the intersection of big data and biology has helped create a field ripe for breakthroughs.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Partner Insights Techonomy Events

Five Points to Improve Public Discourse on Science

At Techonomy Bio 2015, attendees watch panelists (from left) Theral Timpson, Erika Check Hayden, Kristen Bole, Ryan Bethencourt, and Ellen Jorgensen speak at a session entitled "Science, Fear, and the Communication Game." (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

Innovation in science and technology is moving at an unprecedented pace. Five years ago, how many of us had conceived of bones that grow themselves, self-driving cars, or "mental prosthetics"? These advancements bring tremendous promise, but many also bring daunting potential threats. Questions about unethical use, accidents, privacy/security breaches, and safety all rightly raise concern. But clear, open-minded public debate around technological and scientific topics is sorely lacking. Large gaps in knowledge and unchecked emotions are keeping us from rational conversations about merits and risks.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Techonomy Events

As Consumers Access Health Data, a New Market Emerges

From left, Stephanie Lee, Jennifer Tye, Walter De Brouwer, Ajay Royyuru, and Steve Axelrod. (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

Whether by gathering data from your gut, your womb, or your head, new digital devices are designed to track wellness in ways that could transform how individuals manage their own health. Four leaders of the emerging “Internet of Bio Things” market joined Buzzfeed News reporter Stephanie Lee on stage at Techonomy Bio 2015 for a discussion about how they aim to improve consumer access to health data, and what will render that data more than just a curiosity, and truly useful.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Techonomy Events

Marc Benioff and Gates Foundation’s Desmond-Hellmann Agree: Digital Health So Far Is Pitiful

Marc Benioff and Sue Desmond-Hellman appear onstage together at Techonomy Bio 2015. (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

For an onstage conversation at Techonomy Bio 2015 about how science is advancing human progress around the world and where the greatest challenges still remain, Susan Desmond-Hellmann and Marc Benioff might seem an unlikely pair. She’s an oncologist accomplished in biotech, academia, and, now, the nonprofit sector as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Benioff is chairman of the customer relationship management software company Salesforce.com. But, as the two agreed here on Wednesday, more crossover between his sector—information technology—and hers—healthcare—are exactly what’s needed for great leaps forward in life sciences.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Techonomy Events

Predicting a Future Where Products Are Parented

From left, David Kirkpatrick, Chris Waller, David Glazer, Steve Jurvetson, and Drew Endy. (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

Waving his smartphone at the audience, Stanford bioengineer Drew Endy said, “I’m trying to grow one of these.” Let the day of mindblowing conversations about the future of biology begin. Endy joined Google Director of Engineering David Glazer, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, and Merck Director of Scientific Modeling Platforms Chris Waller for the TE Bio 15 opening panel, “You Say You Want a Revolution.” Techonomy CEO David Kirkpatrick moderated the discussion about how innovations at the intersection of IT and biology will transform industries and products beyond life sciences.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

Next Week’s Techonomy Bio: A Focus on Systems of Life

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At last year's Techonomy Bio, we put venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson on a panel of investors. In his enthusiasm for the unbridled potential of innovation in the life sciences to transform society, Jurvetson at one point said "we're sitting on a can of miracles." Why a can? He did not say, but his observation became a kind of touchstone for us at Techonomy for why we continue to build this event. "Sitting on a Can of Miracles" is what we're calling this year's session on investing in bio-progress. Jurvetson himself we have promoted to our opening panel, which our Director of Programs Alex Cudaback christened "You Say You Want a Revolution?" Here we ask where we'll see the most impact from life sciences innovation, and how information technology is driving bio-progress.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Startup Culture

The New Biohackers: How (and Where) They Work

Larry Melnick, left, and Andy Berks chat over lunch in the common kitchen area of Brooklyn-based community biolab Genspace. (Image via Ellen Jorgensen)

In a laboratory in New York City, molecular biologist Roy Buchanan is finishing up at the bench for the day. It is eight o’clock in the evening, and while late night work is a familiar scenario for most scientists, the presence of Buchanan’s two young sons playing a game in the common area outside the lab is not. “My wife let me work on this project only if I promised to continue sharing the child care responsibilities,” he explains. A computer programmer by day, Buchanan pursues a self-funded genome editing project in his spare time, enabled by the shared facilities and low price point of Genspace, a community biolab in Brooklyn. Buchanan is not alone. The economic downturn has resulted in a surfeit of unemployed and underemployed scientific experts itching to get back into the lab and flex their underused intellectual muscles.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

A Glowing Plant: the First Fruit of “Digitized” Genetic Engineering

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Synthetic biology is entering an exciting new phase. An ecosystem of companies is now developing services to enable faster, cheaper, and better genetic engineering. They are, in effect, "digitizing" genetic engineering through relatively inexpensive cloud-based and robotic laboratories that bring capabilities that were once the exclusive domain of large corporations to academic groups and small startups. To use an old computing analogy, this is biotech’s PC moment: Digitization allows those without technical expertise to operate at higher, more abstract levels. The digital keys to synthetic biology—reproducibility and protocol sharing—could make biological apps as easy to develop as mobile apps are today.   More

Analytics & Data Bio & Life Sciences

How to Get and Protect Your Genetic Data

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Maybe it was the Jolie effect. Or you want to find out if you’re carrying a silent genetic mutation that could be passed on to a child. Or perhaps you’re just really hoping you can blame your DNA for how awful cilantro tastes. Whatever the reason, you’re interested in finding out something about your genome. Now what? Though consumer genetic testing and personal genome sequencing are still nascent fields, every indication suggests that the public will have a virtually insatiable appetite for genetic data. And as scientists get better at establishing links between DNA and diseases or specific traits, that demand will only increase. But are we ready for this data?   More

Bio & Life Sciences

How Biotech Can Help Feed the Planet

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It's going to be a big global challenge to feed our growing population without destroying the environment. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that worldwide food supply must increase by 70 percent by 2050. We don't just need calories; we need nutritious calories that reduce the risk of disease. Chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes impair quality of life and burden the global healthcare system.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Healthcare Internet of Things

The IoT of Health: Big Data Can Make Us Healthier

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The Internet of Things (IoT) has a lot to offer in the medical realm, but such connectivity lags far behind what's happening with other consumer goods and electronics. A few early glimpses of possibilities in this field show there are tremendous advantages to be had if we can get past these current hurdles and establish a bio-based IoT. (A session entitled "The Internet of (Bio)things" at the upcoming Techonomy Bio conference on March 25 in Mountain View explores this question.)   More