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Cyborg Parts: bionic ear with integrated electronics

earPrinceton researchers, using a 3-D printer, have built a bionic ear with integrated electronics. lab-made organs could do more than just serve as ready options for patients in need: with the right blend of biology and materials science, they might even be able to endow people with superhuman abilities.

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Nanoparticles Could Be Planted Under Our Skin for Glucose Monitoring

In collaborative work between researchers at MIT and Northeastern University in Boston, MA a comparatively long and hollow nanoparticle has been developed that could be implanted under the skin and remain anchored at its original location to monitor levels of glucose or salt or other targets over time.

Source: IEEE Spectrum.

Synthetic biology: Harbinger of an uncertain future?

However, a split in the industry appeared when two of the leading firms — DNA2.0 in the U.S. and Geneart in Germany — proposed to minimize the second phase of security screening, i.e. using a human expert, and to rely almost entirely on the first phase of screening, i.e. using only computers. Because a mainly computerized system would not require the time consuming and expensive work of an expert, it could be implemented quickly and cheaply. However, removing the detailed human expert examination obviously increases the possibility that dangerous orders could get through the screening, as the computer screening process is only as good as the databases it calls upon. Debates and divisions continue within the industry as to the best approach.

Source: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Market overview: adult stem cell therapies

Even as regulatory agencies express abundant caution, adult stem cell therapies are moving steadily toward the clinic and through development for multiple applications. Investors have become more sophisticated about distinguishing between adult stem cell therapies and embryonic stem cell therapies as well as the potential risks, complications, and costs involved in each.

Source: Genetic Engineering News.

The following companies are mentioned: Osiris, TCA Cellular Therapy, Athersys, StemCells, Cytori Therapeutics, Celgene, Rodman & Renshaw, Genzyme, JCR Pharmaceuticals, Boston Scientific, Pfizer, Angiotech, GE Healthcare, Green Hospital Supply and Olympus.

UPDATE: “Game over for stem-cell clinic”, New Scientist.

Synthetic biology breakthrough: first living artificial cell created

Scientists in the US have succeeded in developing the first synthetic living cell.

The advance, published in Science, has been hailed as a scientific landmark, but critics (“Synthia is Alive and Breeding: Panacea or Pandora’s Box?” from the ETC Group) say there are dangers posed by synthetic organisms. The researchers hope eventually to design bacterial cells that will produce medicines and fuels and even absorb greenhouse gases.

The team was led by Dr Craig Venter of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Maryland and California. He and his colleagues had previously made a synthetic bacterial genome, and transplanted the genome of one bacterium into another.

Now, the scientists have put both methods together, to create what they call a “synthetic cell”, although only its genome is truly synthetic. Dr Venter likened the advance to making new software for the cell.

Read the entire article on BBC. Read “Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome” in Science (PDF). The press release is found here.

Also see “Life after the synthetic cell” in Nature (PDF) and “Scientists Bring Back Artificial Life — and Our Fear of Frankenstein” in Huffington Post.

Building organs block by block

Tissue engineering has long held promise for building new organs to replace damaged livers, blood vessels and other body parts. However, one major obstacle is getting cells grown in a lab dish to form 3-D shapes instead of flat layers.

Researchers at the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) have come up with a new way to overcome that challenge, by encapsulating living cells in cubes and arranging them into 3-D structures, just as a child would construct buildings out of blocks.

Source: MIT News.

Cyborgs in Space

In 1960, Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline published an essay in Astronautics titled “Cyborgs in Space.” Comparing man in space to a fish out of water, they noted that even if you could bring everything you need on your space explorations, “the bubble all too easily bursts.”

However, if the human body were altered to adapt to the conditions of space, astronauts would be free to explore the universe without limitation.

“Solving the many technical problems involved in manned space flight by adapting man to his environment, rather than vice versa, will not only mark a significant step forward in man’s scientific progress, but may well provide a new and larger dimension for man’s spirit as well,” the authors write.

The Clynes & Kline paper coined the term “cyborg,” and NASA followed up on their suggestions, commissioning a study on the topic. “The Cyborg Study: Engineering Man for Space” was released in 1963, and it reviewed the possibility of organ replacement, as well as how drugs and hibernation could be used to make space travel less stressful. The report concluded that replacing the heart, lungs and kidneys – the organs most stressed by space travel – was not feasible with the technology available at the time.

Source: Astrobiology Magazine. Also see “Where are the Cyborgs in Cybernetics?” by Ronald Kline.

Restoring eyesight with retinal implants

Experimental trials of retinal implants are showing promising results. Three companies are getting closer to commercial availability of retinal implants, that restore some sight to blind people. When these implants get more advanced they would probably have applications for people with normal sight. Enhanced vision capabilities, like geotracking apps and HUDs  could become a reality in the coming decade.

Retinal Implant AG from Reutlingen, Germany has announced the results of the first human trial of its subretinal implant. Eleven patients who lost their sight due to retinitis pigmentosa received the implant through surgical transchoroidal implantation. Energy was delivered to the implant via a retroauricular plug.

Source: medGadget.

Just a few months after receiving $42 million from the Australian government, Bionic Vision Australia (BVA) unveils its prototype bionic eye, which researchers hope will enable users to perceive points of light that the brain can reconstruct into images. Announced this week at the University of Melbourne, the wide-view neurostimulator concept was developed by researchers at BVA and the University of New South Wales for patients with vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa or macular degeneration.

Source: CNet. Also  see the US company Second Sight.

Also see “Making the blind see: Gene therapy restores vision in mice” about progress with gene therapy from EurekAlert.

(c) Copyright Plausible Futures Newsletter 2013