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March 27, 2014

Zuckerberg, Musk and Kutcher Invest in Artificial Intelligence Firm

(Time) – Billionaire tech entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, along with actor Ashton Kutcher, have joined forces to make a $40 million investment in the artificial intelligence firm Vicarious FPC. The firm hopes to build a system capable of replicating the functions of the neocortex of the human brain, the part that controls body movement, vision, understands language and does math, The Wall Street Journal reports. One day, the company hopes to build a “computer that thinks like a person,” Vicarious co-founder Scott Phoenix says. “except it doesn’t have to eat or sleep.”

Easing Epilepsy with Battery Power

(New York Times) – Cases of intractable epilepsy rarely have happy endings, but today Mr. Ramsey is seizure-free. A novel battery-powered device implanted in his skull, its wires threaded into his brain, tracks its electrical activity and quells impending seizures. At night, he holds a sort of wand to his head and downloads brain data from the device to a laptop for his doctors to review.

Multiplex Parenting: In vitro Gametogenesis and the Generations to Come

(BMJ Blogs) – Recent biotechnology breakthroughs suggest that functional human gametes could soon be created in vitro.  While the ethical debate on the uses of in vitro generated gametes (IVG) was originally constrained by the fact that they could be derived only from embryonic stem cell lines, the advent of induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (hiPSC) creates the possibility that somatic cells may be used to generate gametes.  This means that in the future it might be possible to generate human sperm and oocytes from male cells, and oocytes from female cells.  (So far it has not been possible to derive sperm from female cells.)

March 26, 2014

Optical Tweezers Grab Nanometre-Sized Objects

(Nanotechnology Now) – Optical “nanotweezers” that can grasp and move objects just a few tens of nanometres in size have been created by researchers in Spain and Australia. The new tool is gentle enough to grasp tiny objects such as viruses without destroying them, and works in biologically-friendly media such as water. The nanotweezers could find a range of uses, from helping us to understand the biological mechanisms underlying diseases to assembling tiny machines.

The Machine: Director Interview

(The Telegraph) – Caity Lotz is an artificial intelligence in the process of coming alive. There are guns and disasters throughout her turn in new release The Machine, yet she’s optimistic about a future where the robots live among us. “I think artificial intelligence is not just possible, but inevitable. I don’t think there will be robots like my character straight away, but rather humans will slowly start to merge with computers and technology cyborg style,” she says.

March 21, 2014

A New Edition of Journal of Law and the Biosciences is Available

Journal of Law and the Biosciences (Volume 1, No. 1, March 2014) is now available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “Towards an ethics safe harbor for global biomedical research” by Edward S. Dove, et al.
  • “Public preferences and the challenge to genetic research policy” by Rebecca Dresser
  • “The regulation of cognitive enhancement devices: extending the medical model” by Hannah Maslen, et al.
  • “A review of the key issues associated with the commercialization of biobanks” by Timothy Caulfield, et al.

A New Edition of British Medical Bulletin is Available

British Medical Bulletin (Volume 109, No. 1, March 2014) is now available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “Implementing tissue engineering and regenerative medicine solutions in medical implants” by Dongxia Ye and Antonio Peramo
  • “A review and update on the current status of retinal prostheses (bionic eye)” by Yvonne H.-L. Luo and Lyndon da Cruz
  • “Neuroendocrinology of obesity” by Benjamin C. T. Field

Mugshots Built from DNA Data

(Nature) – Leaving a hair at a crime scene could one day be as damning as leaving a photograph of your face. Researchers have developed a computer program that can create a crude three-dimensional (3D) model of a face from a DNA sample. Using genes to predict eye and hair colour is relatively easy. But the complex structure of the face makes it more valuable as a forensic tool — and more difficult to connect to genetic variation, says anthropologist Mark Shriver of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, who led the work, published today in PLOS Genetics.

March 20, 2014

IBM’s Watson Attempts to Tackle the Genomics of Brain Cancer

(Forbes) – This morning, IBM and the New York Genome Center announced a partnership to test whether Watson, the computer that won on Jeopardy, can sift through the genomes of cancer patients and help doctors pick drugs. This effort could hold the key to making DNA sequencing for cancer affordable, but there is a vast amount of work to do that will take years at a minimum.

March 19, 2014

Neuroscience: Tuning the Brain

(Nature) – Until now, such data have been accessible only when a patient’s brain is exposed briefly during surgery. But being able to make long-term neural recordings from human patients may become increasingly important — especially because researchers are experimenting with using DBS as a treatment for many other neurological conditions, including depression, obsessive–compulsive disorder and Tourette’s syndrome. The networks involved in such disorders are even less well understood than those involved in Parkinson’s disease, says Helen Mayberg, a neurologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Next Big Thing You Missed: 3-D Printing Promises Better Bionic Limbs for the War-Wounded

(Wired) – But at the famed MIT Media Lab, the 27-year-old doctoral student is now using 3-D printing and advanced math to create a new kind of artificial limb he believes can significantly improve the lives of amputees in Sierra Leone and across the rest of the world. Sengeh relies on data-backed digital models to fashion prosthetics that he says better match the contours of the human body. And because these prosthetics are fabricated by 3-D printers, he says, they become far easier to produce.

March 18, 2014

3-D Printer Saves Toddler Struggling to Breathe

(CNN) – After doing a CT scan of Garrett’s trachea and bronchi, Hollister used a 3-D printer to create a splint out of a biopolymer called polycaprolactone. On January 31, Ohye sewed the splint around Garrett’s right and left bronchi to expand his airway. The doctors say the splint will be absorbed by Garrett’s body during the next three years as his airways grow stronger. In the meantime, Garrett is breathing easier and needs less help from the ventilator.

Nanomedicine: New Solutions or New Problems?

(Nanowerk) – A new report from Health Care Without Harm (“Nanomedicine: new solutions or new problems?”) gives an overview of nanomedicine in general with particular emphasis on environmental and human health risks, as well as raising regulatory issues that need to be addressed in order for nanomedicine to deliver on its promises without unduly introducing new risks.

Nanotechnology So Good You Can Eat It

(The Guardian) – In the last few years, the idea of electronics that can be literally eaten – or at least can safely dissolve in the body or in the environment – has unexpectedly evaded the science fiction realm, mostly thanks to advances in nanotechnology. In 2010, a group led by Siegfried Bauer – a physicist at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Germany – built a prototype of a transistor fully made of edible materials. “Polymers were made from corn, dielectric materials from sugar-like substances, semiconductors from carrot components and electrodes from thin layers of gold – that have an E number in Europe, that is, they can be taken in as food,” says Bauer.

March 17, 2014

Cryoablation and Nanoparticle-encapsulated Anticancer Drug Combined to Destroy Cancer Stem-like Cells

(Medical News Today) – Combining nanodrug-based chemotherapy and cryoablation provides an effective strategy to eliminate cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) the root of cancer resistance and metastasis, which will help to improve the safety and efficacy of treating malignancies that are refractory to conventional therapies.

March 14, 2014

Health data boom heralds new era of personalised medicine

(BBC) – We are moving from a world where we treat illnesses to one where we predict and prevent them, advised by mobile doctors in our pockets. This new era of medicine is being driven by an explosion in health-related data from a growing range of public and private sources, analysed by increasingly powerful number-crunching computers. And now that sequencing human genomes is getting faster and cheaper, the days of truly personalised healthcare are drawing closer.

Genetic languages guide the design of synthetic biological systems

( – Researchers at Virginia Tech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have used a computer-aided design tool to create genetic languages to guide the design of biological systems. Known as GenoCAD, the open-source software was developed by researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech to help synthetic biologists capture biological rules to engineer organisms that produce useful products or health-care solutions from inexpensive, renewable materials.

March 12, 2014

Pioneering 3D printing reshapes patient’s face in Wales

(BBC) – A survivor of a serious motorbike accident has had pioneering surgery to reconstruct his face using a series of 3D printed parts. Stephen Power from Cardiff is thought to be one of the first trauma patients in the world to have 3D printing used at every stage of the procedure. Doctors at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, had to break his cheekbones again before rebuilding his face.

Lose weight by ballooning up with new pill

(ABC News) – A new diet pill called the Obalon inflates inside your stomach to mimic the results of weight loss surgery. Once you swallow the pill, the device can stay in your stomach up to three months before it is removed. The pill’s maker, Obalon Therapeutics, claims overweight and obese patients can lose up to 20 pounds in three months because it helps you feel full, so you eat less. You can swallow up to three balloons in a 12-week period to speed up weight loss, according to the company.

Smartphones to diagnose diseases in real time

(Medical News Today) – A team from the US is developing a disease diagnostic system based on nanotechnology that will only require a smartphone and a $20 lens attachment to read results. While there are still some challenges to overcome, they are hopeful the end result will be an affordable diagnostic tool that can be used in the field.

March 11, 2014

Synthetic biologists shine light on genetic circuit analysis

(R & D) – In a significant advance for the growing field of synthetic biology, Rice Univ. bioengineers have created a toolkit of genes and hardware that uses colored lights and engineered bacteria to bring both mathematical predictability and cut-and-paste simplicity to the world of genetic circuit design.


The Bioethics Poll
Should individuals and/or institutions be allowed to patent human genes?
Yes, with some qualifications

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Which area of research should more money be invested in:
Animal-Human Hybrids
Gene Therapy
Reproductive Technology
Stem Cell Research
"Therapeutic" Cloning
None of the above

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