Studying our natural internal bacteria could help doctors cure diseases that affect millions
By Virginia Hughes
Posted 03.07.2011 at 12:00 pm 7 Comments
When Jake Harvey visits the clinical center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, he is usually dirty, itchy and wheezing—not the happiest state of affairs for a 14-year-old boy. But his doctors require that for 24 hours prior to each visit, he refrain from bathing, or using the inhaler that soothes his asthma, or applying the ointment that softens his eczema. In order to study his illness, they need him to be in as close to his natural state as possible.
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Weill Cornell Medical College have found a new means to hunt viruses the old fashioned way: by luring them in for the kill. Using artificial, protocellular “honey pots,” the researchers have devised a way to trap deadly human viruses and terminate them with extreme prejudice.
Tiny-fingered researchers at the University of Michigan have created this computer, the world's first complete millimeter-scale computing system. It is a prototype designed to be implanted in a human eye, to monitor internal pressure there for signs of glaucoma.
In 2003, scientists with the Human Genome Project announced the completion of their 13-year effort to identify the three billion base pairs that form the chemical rungs in DNA’s signature twisted-ladder shape. This first attempt to create a comprehensive map of a human biological system was more than just a breakthrough for geneticists, though. It also marked the launch of a new era of “-omic”-based research, in which biologists began shifting their attention from the individual parts within a system to studying the system itself.
Medical detectives National Institutes of Health have just cracked their first case wide open, a result they hope to repeat with a slew of other uncharacterized illnesses and conditions. The Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP), a sleuthing agency set up within the NIH in 2008 to connect the dots between cases of undiagnosable illnesses, has traced the source of an extremely rare vascular disorder back to its genetic roots, notching the first closed case for the UDP and another victory for diagnosis genomics.
Yeah, you’ve been thinking about getting that thing checked out, but it’s just a mole right? Such is the problem with melanoma; it’s tough to know which spots on the skin are benign and which could be the hallmark of early-stage skin cancer.
For people with memory-degrading conditions like Alzheimer’s, it’s not always easy, or even possible, to remember to take one’s medicine. Yet forgetting to take your meds—or perhaps worse, forgetting that you already took them and doubling up—can derail a dosage schedule and in worse cases be detrimental to your health. So a couple of University of Texas students have come up with a smart digital system that helps the forgetful among us remember to pop our pills and verifies visually that we’ve done so.
In 2000, Tal Golesworthy, a British engineer, was told that he suffers from Marfan syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue that often causes rupturing of the aorta. The only solution then available was the pairing of a mechanical valve and a highly risky blood thinner. To an engineer like Golesworthy, that just wasn't good enough. So he constructed his own implant that does the job better than the existing solution--and became the first patient to try it.
Surgical robots might allow precise operation in tiny places our unwieldy human hands can't go, but using those robots removes the surgeon's valuable sense of touch. At the University of Washington, a group of engineering students decided to use a hacked Microsoft Kinect to give that sense back.
It is said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and a group of researchers at Emory University and the University of Chicago are putting that mantra to the test in an effort to develop the “holy grail” of flu vaccines.
Proponents of genetic medicine say DNA sequencing is the future of medicine and that soon every truly sick person will have his or her genome sequenced. Critics cite privacy concerns and note that genetic mutations and variations don’t necessarily lead to medical outcomes. Whatever the position, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t good news: the first child – plagued by undiagnosable illness – has been saved by DNA sequencing.
Google has mapped just about every traffic artery you could ever want to locate on Google Maps, but what if the thruway you’re looking for isn’t on any road atlas? To help you tell your axillary artery from your common carotid, Google has created a G-Maps-like search-able guide for the human body that lets you zoom, scroll, and search for every muscle, gland, nerve, bone, or organ in our common physiology.
Russian authorities have approved the first xenotransplantation treatment – the implanting of animal cells into the human body – for sale in that country, marking the first time such a treatment has been appoved anywhere. The type 1 diabetes treatment involves inserting insulin-producing pig cells coated in seaweed into the human pancreas to replace native cells that have been depleted there.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.