The X PRIZE Foundation and Nokia have announced the launch of the Nokia Sensing X CHALLENGE – a $2.25 million global competition aimed at developing a new generation of health sensors and sensing technologies that can drastically improve the quality, accuracy and ease of monitoring a person’s health.
Improvements in these technologies will empower individuals to effortlessly monitor and collect their own real-time health data, providing both consumers and healthcare providers convenient access to critical information whenever and wherever they need it.
The announcement was made by X PRIZE Foundation Chairman and CEO Dr. Peter Diamandis and Nokia Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Henry Tirri during their keynote address at the Wireless Health Convergence Summit in San Diego.
“Partnering with Nokia is a natural fit for this competition. Health sensing technologies enabled by artificial intelligence, lab-on-a-chip, and digital imaging are advancing exponentially and will ultimately integrate with your phone. We need to expand sensor and sensing technology beyond disease management to areas such as public health and fitness,” said Dr. Diamandis.
“The Nokia Sensing X CHALLENGE will bring about radical innovation in health sensors and sensing technologies, which paves the way for better choices in when, where, and how individuals receive care. Ultimately, healthcare will be more convenient, affordable, and accessible to consumers worldwide through these integrated digital health solutions.”
The inefficiencies and total cost of the U.S. healthcare system (and healthcare systems around the globe) has been a pressing social and political issue for many years. In the U.S., the total spent annually on the healthcare system is more than $2 trillion, which accounts for more than 15 percent of the nation’s GDP. Health sensors have the capacity to stem this trend. Consumer use of sensors and sensing solutions has the potential to improve, extend and ease delivery of healthcare services, as well as reduce costs to the benefit of health providers and patients.
“Nokia engages in Open Innovation on many different levels; this type of ‘grand challenge’ is not only a unique method of driving significant progress in a short space of time, but one which can also help to create an entire ecosystem,” said Dr. Tirri.
“This competition will enable us to realize the full potential of mobile sensing devices, leading to advances in sensing technology which can play a major role in transforming the lives of billions of people around the world.”
“It’s in their genes” is a common refrain from scientists when asked what factors allow people to reach the age of 100 and beyond. Until now, research has focused on genetic variations that offer a physiological advantage like high levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
But in a new study, researchers have found that personality traits – like being outgoing, optimistic, easygoing and enjoying laughter, as well as staying engaged in activities – may also help to produce extreme longevity.
The findings are published in the journal Aging, and come from Einstein’s Longevity Genes Project. This studied 500 Ashkenazi Jews, aged from 95 to 122, and their 700 offspring. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews were selected because they are genetically homogeneous – making it easier to spot genetic differences within the group.
Previous studies have shown that personality arises from underlying genetic mechanisms directly affecting health. This new study was aimed at detecting genetically-based personality characteristics by developing a measure called the Personality Outlook Profile Scale (POPS).
“When I started working with centenarians, I thought we’d find they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery,” said Nir Barzilai, director of Einstein’s Institute for Aging Research. “But when we assessed the personalities … we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life. Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing. They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up.”
In addition, the centenarians had lower scores for displaying neurotic personality and higher scores for being conscientious, compared with a representative sample of the U.S. population.
“Some evidence indicates that personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so we don’t know whether our centenarians have maintained their personality traits across their entire lifespans,” continued Dr. Barzilai. “Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity.”
As the summer travel season gets underway, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has announced new initiatives to improve customer service for passengers at the region’s busiest airports.
More than 106 million passengers use the agency’s three major airports each year, which in addition to LaGuardia and Newark includes John F. Kennedy International Airport. The enhancements will provide immediate results just as air travel starts to increase during the busiest time of the year. These initiatives are the direct result of a customer survey conducted by the Port Authority of more than 10,000 air passengers who evaluated their experience.
Among the new initiatives will be a 20 percent increase in the number of Customer Care Representatives during peak hours, with 70 new agents. Currently, 350 customer care agents provide valuable information to help customers navigate the airport and public transportation options. They staff the airport’s welcome centres and other high-volume terminal areas like checkpoint entry and exit areas, and are easily identifiable by their red jackets.
Given the huge volumes of international travellers, the Customer Service Representatives speak a total of 27 different languages, with English and Spanish most prevalent.
To expand on the program, the Port Authority has created an innovative pilot plan that will see five “virtual” customer care representatives. These will be computerised, hologram-like avatars providing automated information to travellers in LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building, Newark Liberty’s Terminal B and JFK’s Terminal 5 when they are installed in early July, at a cost of $180,000.
The avatars are not interactive, but Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye is quoted as saying he “hopes a future iteration of the talking machines will hold conversations with passengers.”
The technology has already been used in France and elsewhere, but this will be the first time it has appeared in North America.
Getting a shot at your doctor’s office may become less painful in the not-too-distant future.
MIT researchers have engineered a device that delivers a tiny, high-pressure jet of medicine through the skin without the use of a hypodermic needle. The device can be programmed to deliver a range of doses to various depths — an improvement over similar jet-injection systems that are now commercially available.
The researchers say that among other benefits, the technology may help reduce the potential for needle-stick injuries; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that hospital-based health care workers accidentally prick themselves with needles 385,000 times each year. A needleless device may also help improve compliance among patients who might otherwise avoid the discomfort of injecting themselves with drugs such as insulin.
“If you are afraid of needles and have to frequently self-inject, compliance can be an issue,” says Catherine Hogan, a scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and a member of the research team. “We think this kind of technology … gets around some of the phobias that people may have about needles.”
NASA’s call to scientists and engineers to help plan a new strategy to explore Mars has resulted in almost double the amount of expected submissions, with many unique and bold ideas.
About 400 concepts or abstracts were submitted to the Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration Workshop in Houston, which was organised to gather input for the reformulation of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. Submissions came from individuals and teams that included professional researchers, undergraduate and graduate students, NASA centres, federal laboratories, industry, and international partner organisations.
NASA is reformulating the Mars Exploration Program, to be responsive to high-priority science goals and President Obama’s challenge of sending humans to Mars in the early 2030s.
“This strong response sends a clear message that exploring Mars is important to future exploration,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The challenge now will be to select the best ideas for the next phase.”
Selected abstracts will be presented during a workshop, from 12-14 June, hosted by the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. Selectees are now being invited to present and discuss concepts, options, capabilities and innovations to advance Mars exploration. Workshop discussion will help to formulate a strategy for long-term exploration.
The Global Space Exploration Conference is taking place this week in Washington DC. The heads of space agencies for Europe, Canada and Russia – along with senior representatives from the Indian and Japanese space agencies – are meeting to discuss the benefits of international collaboration.
Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos, yesterday stated Russia’s commitment to pursuing extensive, long-term operations on the Moon’s surface: “We’re not talking about repeating what mankind achieved 40 years ago,” he said. “We’re talking about establishing permanent bases.”
Similarly, JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency, issued a clear statement about targeting the Moon. “We are looking at the Moon as our next target for human exploration,” said Yuichi Yamaura, an associate executive director.
Interestingly, NASA administrator Charles Bolden was absent from the conference. This is because he was in Florida, watching the launch of Falcon 9 to the International Space Station.
Recent evidence of water at the Lunar poles has increased interest in the Moon. Polar colonies could also avoid the problem of long Lunar nights (about 354 hours, a little more than two weeks) and take advantage of the Sun continuously.
Israeli scientists have turned skin cells from heart failure patients into new, healthy heart muscle cells.
The study, which was published in the European Heart Journal, took skin cells from patients and re-programmed them to become stem cells capable of becoming heart muscle. They were then shown to integrate with existing heart tissue in rats.
This opens up the possibility of literally mending broken hearts. Since the reprogrammed cells would be obtained directly from the patients themselves, it could also avoid the problem of their immune systems rejecting the cells as “foreign.”
Professor Lior Gepstein, who led the research, said: “What is new and exciting about our research is that we have shown that it’s possible to take skin cells from an elderly patient with advanced heart failure and end up with his own beating cells in a laboratory dish that are healthy and young – the equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when he was just born.”
However, the team warns that there are a number of obstacles to overcome before it would be possible to use stem cells in humans in this way, and it could take 5-10 years before clinical trials begin.
This is nevertheless an important breakthrough, and the procedure may eventually help countless people who survive heart attacks but are severely debilitated by damage to the organ.
2011 witnessed the final Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and the subsequent retirement of the fleet. Two private companies – SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation – were selected to provide cargo delivery services to the station until 2015, under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
SpaceX developed the Falcon 9 – a medium-lift rocket with payload capacity of 10,450 kilograms (23,000 lb). Today, it became the first 100% commercially developed launcher to deliver a payload to the International Space Station.
NASA’s administrator Charles Bolden said: “Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration… The significance of this day cannot be overstated; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to a good start.”
In 2013, SpaceX is planning to test a much larger rocket, with over twice the capacity of the Space Shuttle – the Falcon Heavy.
• We are consuming 50 per cent more natural resources than our planet can sustainably produce
Ever-growing demand for resources is putting huge pressure on the Earth’s biodiversity, threatening our future security and well-being, according to the Living Planet Report 2012, released yesterday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
The biennial survey of the Earth’s health, produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Global Footprint Network, was launched from the International Space Station by WWF Ambassador and Dutch Astronaut, André Kuipers.
“We only have one Earth. From up here I can see humanity’s footprint, including forest fires, air pollution and erosion – challenges which are reflected in this edition of the Living Planet Report,” said Kuipers from his European Space Agency mission. “While there are unsustainable pressures on the planet, we have the ability to save our home, not only for our benefit, but for generations to come.”
Among the report’s key findings:
• The global Living Planet Index (LPI) has declined by up to 30% since 1970.
• It is currently taking 1.5 years for the Earth to absorb the CO2 and regenerate the renewable resources that people use within one year
• 2.7 billion people live in areas which have severe water shortages for at least one month of the year
• The per capita “ecological footprint” of a high income country such as the USA is currently six times greater than a low income country such as Indonesia
• The UK has risen four places from 31st to 27th place in the report’s global consumption ranking
• The top 10 countries with the biggest ecological footprint per person are: Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, the USA, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Netherlands and Ireland
According to the global Living Planet Index, declines in biodiversity are highest in low income countries – demonstrating how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are suffering the impacts of wealthier countries’ lifestyles and resource demands.
David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK: “In the UK, rather like the calm at the eye of a storm, we don’t yet see much of the impact of our daily lives on the environment. But we can’t ignore the damage being done elsewhere in the world by the whirlwind consumerism of wealthy countries.
“We’re now in the danger zone, exceeding the planetary boundaries for natural capital. If we continue to use up our planet’s resources faster than it can replace them, soon we’ll have exploited every available corner of the Earth.”
Jonathan Baillie, conservation programme director with the Zoological Society of London said: “This report is like a planetary check-up and the results indicate we have a very sick planet. Ignoring this diagnosis will have major implications for humanity.”
In 1992, world leaders came together to put in place systems to ensure that we tackled climate change and addressed falling biodiversity levels. Twenty years on from the last Earth Summit, this meeting is a key opportunity for global leaders to renew their commitment to creating a sustainable future.
“With every day of inaction, we limit the choices for future generations,” said David Nussbaum. “If we keep running down the stock of natural capital, we’ll hand them a world less able to sustain life and absorb environmental shocks. Since the original Earth Summit, we’ve taken some steps forward, but the pace is glacial. So Rio+20 needs to elevate the urgency of action on the scale needed: now is our chance to reflect whether the future we’re creating for our planet is the legacy we want to leave for future generations.”
WWF is calling on the public to show that they care about the planet’s future in advance of Rio+20. To join in with the campaign, visit: www.earthbook2012.org
Next month, people around the globe will have a chance to witness one of the rarest astronomical events – a transit of Venus.
This phenomenon occurs when Venus passes directly between the Sun and Earth, becoming visible against (and hence obscuring a small portion of) the solar disk. During a transit, Venus can be seen from Earth as a small black disk moving across the face of the Sun.
A transit is similar to a solar eclipse by the Moon. While the diameter of Venus is almost four times that of the Moon, it appears smaller and travels more slowly across the face of the Sun, because it is obviously much farther away from Earth.
The most recent transit was on 8th June 2004, and before that, 6th December 1882. After the 5th June 2012 transit, the next one will not occur until 11th December 2117.
Studies have shown it is possible to lengthen the average lifespan of many species, including mammals, by acting on specific genes. To date, however, this has meant altering genes permanently from the embryonic stage – an approach impracticable in humans.
Now, researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), led by its director María Blasco, have demonstrated that the mouse lifespan can be extended in adult life by a single treatment acting directly on the animal’s genes. And they have done so using gene therapy, a strategy never before employed to combat aging. This therapy has been found to be safe and effective in mice.
The results are published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. The CNIO team, in collaboration with scientists from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), treated adult (one year old) and aged (two year old) mice, with gene therapy delivering a “rejuvenating” effect in both cases, according to the authors.
Mice treated at the age of one lived longer by 24% on average, and those treated at the age of two, by 13%. Furthermore, the therapy produced a significant improvement in the animals’ health – delaying the onset of age-related diseases like osteoporosis and insulin resistance – and improving their neuromuscular coordination.
The gene therapy itself treated mice with a DNA-modified virus, the viral genes replaced by those of a telomerase enzyme with a key role in aging. Telomerase repairs the tips of chromosomes, known as telomeres, and in doing so slows the cell’s and therefore the body’s biological clock. When the animal is infected, the virus acts as a vehicle depositing the telomerase gene in the cells.
This study proves “it is possible to develop a telomerase-based anti-aging gene therapy without increasing the incidence of cancer,” the authors affirm. “Aged organisms accumulate damage in their DNA due to telomere shortening. [This study] finds that a gene therapy based on telomerase production can repair or delay this kind of damage,” they add.
Telomeres are the “caps” that protect the end of chromosomes, but they cannot do so indefinitely: each time the cell divides the telomeres get shorter, until they are so short that they lose all functionality. The cell, as a result, stops dividing and ages or dies. Telomerase gets around this by preventing telomeres from shortening or even rebuilding them. What it does, in essence, is stop or reset the cell’s biological clock.
But in most cells the telomerase gene is only active before birth; the cells of an adult organism, with few exceptions, have no telomerase. The exceptions in question are adult stem cells and cancer cells, which divide limitlessly and are therefore immortal – several studies have, in fact, shown that telomerase expression is the key to the immortality of tumour cells.
It is precisely this risk of tumour development that has set back the investigation of telomerase-based anti-aging therapies.
In 2007, Blasco’s group demonstrated that it was feasible to prolong the lives of transgenic mice, whose genome had been permanently altered at the embryonic stage, by causing their cells to express telomerase and extra copies of cancer-resistant genes. These animals lived 40% longer, without developing cancer.
Mice given the new gene therapy now under test are likewise free of cancer. Researchers believe this is because the therapy begins when the animals are adult, so do not have time to accumulate sufficient numbers of abnormal divisions for tumours to appear.
Bosch also states: “Because the vector we use expresses the target gene (telomerase) over a long period, we were able to apply a single treatment. This might be the only practical solution for an anti-aging therapy, since other strategies would require the drug to be administered over the patient’s lifetime, multiplying the risk of adverse effects.”
The goal – trillions in riches from asteroids – has now been verified. But what obstacles and milestones stand along our 20 year path? In this video, astronomer and sci-fi author David Brin lays out some preliminary points to consider.
Quantum teleportation is the transmission of information from one particle to another, without a physical link, using quantum physics. Einstein famously described this as “spooky action at a distance”.
The process was first demonstrated by Austrian scientists in 1997, when the quantum state of a single photon was teleported across a table top. This was followed in 2004 by successful transmission over 600m (1968ft) from one side of the River Danube to the other. Another breakthrough was made in 2010, when scientists at China’s University of Science and Technology sent photons over a distance of 10 miles (16 km).
Now, the same team has used quantum teleportation to send photons between two optical free-space links over a distance of 60 miles (97 km). The particles were beamed across Qinghai Lake, the largest lake in China.
In the future, perhaps a global network of satellite-based quantum cryptography will be developed, for ultra-secure communications. Using this method, it would be literally impossible for data to be intercepted en route. We may also witness teleportation of the first complex organic molecules (such as DNA and proteins), according to Michio Kaku.
Human teleportation is still a long, long way off however – if such a transportation method is even possible at all. According to a study by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the information processing and transfer technology required may become possible in around 250 years, based on current trends.
The full report by the University of Science and Technology of China is available here.
Scientists are reporting successful development and testing of the first self-propelled “microsubmarines” designed to pick up droplets of oil from contaminated waters and transport them to collection facilities. The report concludes that these tiny machines could play an important role in cleaning up oil spills, like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico.
Different types of microengines are being developed, including devices that could transport medications through the bloodstream to diseased parts of the body. But no one has ever shown that these devices — 10 times thinner than a human hair — could help clean up oil spills. There is an urgent need for better ways of separating oil from water in the oceans and inside factories to avoid spreading oil-contaminated water into the environment.
The team developed so-called microsubmarines, which require very little fuel and move ultrafast, to see whether these small engines could help clean up oil. Tests showed that the cone-shaped microsubmarines can collect droplets of olive oil and motor oil in water and transport them through the water. The microsubs have a special surface coating, which makes them “superhydrophobic,” or extremely water-repellent and oil-absorbent.
“These results demonstrate the potential of the superhydrophobic-modified microsubmarines for facile, rapid and highly efficient collection of oils in oil-contaminated water samples,” say the researchers. The full report appears in the journal ACS Nano.
Energomash – a Russian power and engineering firm – is reportedly developing a new type of rocket engine that could revolutionise space travel. By using acetylene and ammonia as fuel, it will be almost 20 times cheaper than a typical hydrogen-powered rocket. The engine will also be 30% more efficient than current designs.
In addition, the fuel components could be easily stored and transported, whereas hydrogen requires special storage and transportation conditions.
Energomash officials believe rockets could be launched with the new engine in 2017-2018.
In mammals, there are two types of fat cells – brown and white. Brown fat expends energy, white fat stores it. The latter increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and the danger is especially linked to visceral fat. Visceral fat is the build-up of fat around the organs in the belly. So in the battle against obesity, brown fat appears to be our friend and white fat our foe.
Now a team of scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School has discovered how to turn foe into friend. By manipulating the metabolic pathways in the body responsible for converting vitamin A – or retinol – into retinoic acid, they have essentially made white fat take on characteristics of brown fat.
The researchers found that inhibiting the Aldh1a1 gene by injecting antisense molecules into mice (made fat by diet) resulted in less visceral fat, less weight gain, and lower glucose levels compared to control mice.
Their findings bring science a step closer to developing potential new treatments for obesity. The full results of the study are published in Nature Medicine.
Samsung has announced its third generation Galaxy smartphone, the Galaxy S3. A direct competitor to the iPhone, the device will launch in Europe on 29th May and in America some time in June.
The S3 is Samsung’s first quad-core smartphone, with four 1.4 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processors and Mali-400 MP GPU. It boasts a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display with 1280 x 720 pixel resolution for ultra-sharp 1080p video playback. Alongside this, it has an 8-megapixel camera and 3.3fps burst mode capable of 20 shots.
Available in two colours – marble white and pebble blue – the S3 has numerous new software features and hardware accessories. These include Smart Stay (the screen remains on when the user looks at the screen, otherwise it sleeps), Direct Call (which allows the user to call a person whose text is currently on screen by simply raising the phone to the ear), Pop Up Play (allows a video and other activities to simultaneously occupy the screen), S Voice intelligence, Buddy Photo Sharing, Allcast Share Dongle, Group Cast (documents collaboration), wireless charging, S Pebble MP3 player (a portable music controller), dock/charger, C-Pen, slimline case, and a car mount.
The phone comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB variants. This is expandable by an additional 32GB thanks to a microSD card slot, for a massive 96GB of total storage. Furthermore, an additional 50GB of space is offered via the online Dropbox service for purchasers of the device for two years (doubling rival HTC’s 25GB of storage for the same duration).
Samsung has now overtaken Nokia to become the world’s largest maker of mobile phones. You can read more about the S3 at the official website.
Scientists have rejuvenated aged hematopoietic stem cells to be functionally younger, offering intriguing clues into how medicine might one day prevent some aspects of old age.
Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Ulm University Medicine in Germany report their findings online in the journal Cell Stem Cell. This study overturns what used to be a broad consensus – that the aging of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) was locked in by nature and impossible to reverse.
HSCs are stem cells that originate in the bone marrow and generate all of the body’s red and white blood cells and platelets. They are an essential support mechanism of blood cells and the immune system. As humans and other species age, HSCs become more numerous, but less effective at regenerating blood cells and immune cells. This makes older people more susceptible to infections and disease, including leukemia.
Researchers in the current study determined a protein that regulates cell signaling – Cdc42 – also controls a molecular process that causes HSCs from mice to age. Inhibition of Cdc42 reversed HSC aging and restored function similar to that of young stem cells according to Hartmut Geiger, the study’s lead investigator.
“Aging is interesting, in part because we still don’t understand how we age,” Geiger said. “Our findings suggest a novel and important role for Cdc42 and identify its activity as a target for ameliorating natural HSC aging. We know the aging of HSCs reduces in part the response of the immune system response in older people, which contributes to diseases such as anemia, and may be the cause of tissue attrition in certain systems of the body.”
The findings are early and involve lab manipulation of mouse cells, so it remains to be seen what direct application they may have for human beings. Still, the study expands what is known about the molecular and cellular mechanisms of aging – a necessary step on the long road to defeating the process.
These images of flouresced cells (which illuminate structural and functional components) illustrate the difference between young and aged hematopoietic stem cells. Younger cells have proteins grouped together in a concentrated and organised fashion, while the components of aged cells are more disorganised and scattered.