Archive for July, 2012
Thanks to the Web and smartphones, we’re used to getting the data we need in the snap of a finger.
In the real world, that means you can be driving through a remote stretch of highway and find out who won the 1960 Olympic gold medal in fencing before the next song starts playing on the radio. You can download a high-def movie, complete with surround sound, in only a few minutes. You can ask a question of a colleague in Australia and hear back in seconds.
But when it comes to medical tests, the scene is still best described as “hurry up and wait.”
Even in our fast-paced, high-tech society, it can take several days to find out if you have the markers for cancer or a stroke. Or a deadly disease, for that matter.
That leaves many patients waiting, worrying, and wondering for days or even weeks. In some cases, lives are lost because of that lag.
That’s why I’m happy to report that a key U.S. research lab has developed a breakthrough medical testing device that can speed up the results of your lab tests. You’ll get results before you leave the doctor’s office.
It’s called SpinDx and it’s the brain child of Sandia National Laboratories. As the name implies, the system uses a spinning disk inside a portable instrument – much like a CD player – to manipulate blood samples. Researchers say it can measure a patient’s white blood cell count, analyze key protein markers, and process up to 64 tests from a single sample.
And all in a few short minutes…
Call it the Battle of the Jellyfish Breakthroughs…
A couple weeks back, in a piece for our sister publication Money Morning, I talked about a Pentagon-funded robotic jellyfish that uses hydrogen as its power source; heat transfer gets the bot to move like the real thing. Military experts see this robofish as capable of helping in underwater rescues (or spy missions).
Turns out that wasn’t the only big advance inspired by this primitive sea creature…
Just this week, we learned that a crack research team has created something incredible called Medusoid. That’s their nickname for an artificial jellyfish they made from rat heart cells and a silicone polymer. This bioengineered creature swims by squeezing its muscles, the same way a real jellyfish does.
More to the point, Medusoid could become a great model for testing new drugs. It also could lead the way to advances in artificial hearts and other human organs.
As I see it, these two breakthroughs coming so close together proves that the Era of Radical Change is here. Cutting-edge high tech really is moving at warp speed, with new advances coming faster than any one person can track.
Indeed, there was plenty of fodder for my fascinations of the month.
Take a look…
Never heard of them? You will.
They are set to become huge change agents in the high-tech world of the very near future.
Some of you may have already heard the recent news that doctors believe they can use these compounds to help fight the flu. The major media was all over this angle. And no doubt, it’s an important advance.
Each year, in the U.S. alone, 200,000 people get so sick from the flu they have to go to the hospital. U.S. health officials say as many as 50,000 people die.
The version of synthetic protein that can boost your immune system to help fight the flu is called EP67. Earlier this month, a team from San Diego State University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center tested the substance on mice – with great results. In a paper that ran in the journal PLoS One, they said mice given a lethal dose of the flu survived after getting an injection of the protein. And it could be used to guard against other diseases, as well.
“Since EP67 works by stimulating local innate immunity, it should prove effective against viral, bacterial and fungal diseases,” said Joy Phillips, the study’s lead author. She noted said they still need to test the protein on larger mammals and humans.
There’s a catch – you have to get a dose of EP67 within 24 hours of exposure to the bug for it to be effective.
Still, clearly, synthetic proteins could have a huge impact on public health.
Yet I believe the media missed the real story.
With a hot new field of science known as “directed evolution,” scientists will do far more than treat disease.
They may just redesign our digital universe.
Forget about using a keyboard to type in your question on Google or Bing. Ditto for voice control on your smart phone.
Soon you’ll be able to control your computer or mobile device just by moving your eyes.
A British research team did just that with a new system that costs less than $100 – all with parts they could simply pull off a shelf.
In a moment, I’ll give you all the details. But first, let’s put this breakthrough in context.
You see, for most of us surfing the Web, writing emails or sending texts is so routine we don’t even give it a second thought. In fact, it sometimes seems that mobile phones, in particular, have become part of our bodies. (Just try telling my teenagers to stop texting at the dinner table.)
And yet, millions around the world simply cannot join the digital age for a simple reason.
Their bodies won’t let them, either because of disease or severe injuries.
That covers a wide range of problems from adults with lost limbs or broken spinal cords to kids who have muscular dystrophy, an illness that causes the muscles to wither away.
But all that is about to change…
A lot of people think the Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) fiasco means the market for IPOs is dead. Story over, right?
Well, not so fast.
Sure, the IPO market has slowed in the last couple of months, after thousands lost money on Facebook’s poorly managed debut in mid-May. But the market remains far from dead.
Even in this kind of weak, choppy climate we see right now, innovation always comes to the top. America is still brimming with lots of entrepreneurs who want to change the world around them. And help line the pockets of some savvy investors.
Winning IPOs keep the tech sector moving forward. That, in turn builds the base for the next round of startups with big ideas looking to go public someday.
And when you look at the most successful tech IPOs of 2012, you can see, these ideas are big.
Imagine a new system that cuts air pollution at a coal-fired plant while the flame is still burning – providing cleaner output for any type of fuel.
Or consider a platform that gives viewers the ability to watch any TV show they want, anytime, anywhere, on any device, from a laptop to a smart phone, all with one simple login.
And if you can take a known drug and tweak a little bit so it fights depression, well, that will be a godsend for millions of Americans.
I mention these cutting-edge breakthroughs because they represent the tech behind stocks that have gone public this year with big gains for investors. By the way, I’m calculating the “best” returns based on one simple stat – how much the price has risen since the stock began trading through the market close on Friday, July 13.
Let’s take a look…
Sugar gets a bad rap.
It’s just a simple carbohydrate that dissolves easily in water. But in human consumption, that means it hits the blood stream quickly and can spike blood-sugar levels to dangerous heights.
You could forgive doctors for declaring a “war” on sugar. After all, billions of people around the world consume more of this sweetener than they should almost every day. Research reveals that sugar abuse is a major factor behind America’s growing epidemic of obesity. Not only that, but many experts believe this tiny molecule is powering an explosion in cases of diabetes, too.
Some politicians have even jumped on the anti-sugar bandwagon. In the most recent case, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg caused a firestorm of protest when he said he wants a city-wide ban on sugary drinks bigger than 16 ounces.
But the “battle of the bulge” here in the U.S. misses a key fact about sugar…
It could become a major fuel driving the biotech revolution.
Take the case of the new brain implant that runs on glucose, a form of sugar that is the key source of energy for the human body. An MIT research team recently said these new neural devices could help paralyzed patients move their arms and legs once again.
And all without the need for batteries.
This alone is a major breakthrough. Fact is, no matter what fuel they use – lithium ion or lead acid – sooner or later, conventional batteries run out of juice.
That’s a big challenge keeping the use of brain chips at bay.
Neural implants can capture thought signals and turn them into real movements, so there’s great potential use for therapeutic purposes. Some patients are receiving them today. Yet they face the prospect of needing to have the chip replaced in as little as a few months. Moreover, doctors worry about what would happen to their patients should one of these devices start to leak the chemicals that power them.
Enter MIT’s sugar-driven implants. To provide the current that runs the chips, team members created a new type of fuel cell, a device that converts chemical energy into electricity.
This is just sheer genius. The fuel cellstrips electrons from glucose molecules to create a small electric current that powers the implant.
And it gets better…
A new breed of robotic “fish” is on track to play a key role in protecting one of Earth’s most precious resources…
This breakthrough is crucial for a simple reason: Without the oceans, there would be no human race. You see, oceans are the source of life on our planet and account for more than 70% of the earth’s surface. And the fish that live there rank as the main source of protein for nearly one billion people.
Yet the world’s population and economies are growing much faster than the oceans can sustain.
Vast regions of the world are subject to overfishing; studies have shown that the variety of marine species in many parts of the world has dropped by as much as 50% in the past 50 years.
Not only that, but run-off from farms carries high amounts of chemicals that first hit streams and rivers. Once all that deadly water flows into the seas, it can kill plankton – the tiny floating creatures that serve as the bedrock for much of the world’s food chain.
What’s more, oceans are under constant threat from pollution far beyond that – of the rare major oil spill.
Surely you remember BP’s massive explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Nearly five million barrels of crude spewed out into the water, causing extensive – still unknown – damage to the wildlife and marine habitats there. Two years later, fishermen are finding eyeless shrimp and other mutant marine creatures around the site of the spill.
Fact is, polluted coastal waters cost the world some $16 billion a year in death and disease. The yearly impact of hepatitis from tainted seafood alone costs a staggering $7.2 billion.
If only there was a better way to monitor the rivers, ports, and coastal areas. Something in place to give us a heads up when pollution threatens plants and wild life.
Thanks to the Era of Radical Change, there is.
A research group in Europe is in the midst of testing a school of robofish (robots designed to look and act just like real fish) at a port in Spain. About 3.5 feet long, the robots work together to spot threats and report back to researchers. This new generation of advanced robotic fish could have a huge impact in fighting water pollution – and related disease – around the world’s oceans.
As of now, most of the world’s water bots look like unmanned machines or boats. But researchers from this project known as SHOAL say they chose to mimic fish instead because the animals offer both a better shape and function.
For one thing, the robot fish have a very small turning radius. This allows them to react quickly in ports, not only to find pollution, but to also avoid ships, small boats, anchors, chains, and propellers. Plus, they don’t make much noise, so they don’t disturb people or other fish.
They use sonar (underwater sound waves) to “see.” They also have an array of sensors to measure their positions, headings, and speed. They augment these with other onboard data such as maps and infrared devices that give them a complete picture of the world around them – a picture they can relay back to the base station.
And let’s not forget chemical sensors. These devices allow the robofish to detect and measure pollution nearly in real time. They report back to the SHOAL research team, which can then alert authorities about any new source of pollution.
Talk about radical change…
To Ed Lu, the threat from killer asteroids is evident.
It’s like I told you Tuesday: Worst-case scenario, a large rock traveling at high speeds could wipe out most of the life on our planet. That remains a remote chance. But this fact is clear: Even a small space rock could cause widespread damage. It could kill thousands, or perhaps millions, if it were to strike a heavily populated urban area.
That’s why Lu figured the world’s governments would have to come together to protect Earth.
Then again, he is a former NASA astronaut. So he’s used to seeing government agencies invest billions in space missions of all kinds.
In 2001, Ed Lu and several colleagues formed the B612 Foundation. The non-profit is dedicated to protecting the Earth from asteroids and helping to spur interest in mapping the most threatening of these killer space rocks. The goal is to locate most of the ones that could devastate the human race and make plans to deflect them off course.
Given that the technology to do so already exists, it sounded like a no-brainer that the world’s political leaders to climb on board.
But over time, it became clear that budget-strapped governments had no stomach for the huge project. That left him two choices – quit the field outright…
Or start thinking like an entrepreneur.
In May, I wrote to tell you about a team of experts that has launched a new company to mine precious metals from asteroids near Earth. Planetary Resources plans to extract ore and other resources from orbiting space rocks.
Not long ago, of course, this was the stuff of sci-fi.
It smacks of the 1998 movie Armageddon, in which a team of roughnecks lands on an asteroid on a collision course with Earth in order to blow it out of the sky.
As it turns out, there is a real-life asteroid hunter who is doing something even more exciting.
Dr. Ed Lu is a former NASA astronaut and veteran of three space flights, and he has just announced a new mission – find the asteroids that pose a threat to our planet and eradicate them. His work is more vital than you might think.
You see, near-Earth asteroids are a double-edged sword.
No doubt, thousands of them contain valuable metals and other physical assets that will open up a whole new paradigm of resource discovery and make some savvy investors rich.
On the other hand…
We’re surrounded by a belt of them that could strike Earth. Under the worst-case scenario, a large rock traveling at high speeds could wipe out most of the life on our planet. That remains a remote chance. But this fact is clear: Even a small space rock could cause widespread damage. It could kill thousands, or perhaps millions, if it were to strike a heavily populated urban area.
This is not the stuff of theory.
Earth has been hit by asteroids before – big ones…