Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells – Unknown Possibilities in the Smallest of Packages

You may have read recently that scientists finally succeeded in taking skin cells from heart failure patients and getting them to differentiate in to healthy heart tissue. This is a very promising development on the route to one day finding a treatment for heart failure. Scientists have for some time now known that some non-mammal vertebrates are capable of regenerating beating heart tissue after it’ s being damaged. Zebrafish are able to repair their hearts even when up to 20% of their ventricle has been removed. What has proved elusive is how to replicate that process in humans. In a paper published in volume 464 issue 7288 of Nature, Jopling et al. showed that the regenerative properties found in the zebrafish is due to the proliferation of differentiated cardiomyocytes, something that humans do not posses. To date, the most significant step made in replication the process found in zebrafish, is the creation of cardiomyocytes from Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) Cells. Unlike Embryonic Stem Cells, iPS cells start as differentiated somatic cells, such as skin cells, which are manipulated so that they possesses similar attributes to Embryonic Stem Cells, such as the ability to develop in to fully differentiated tissues. This new development really takes it two steps further. What these scientists did was to form healthy cardiomyocytes from iPS cells induced from patients with heart failure, get them to successfully form and beat together with healthy cardiomyocytes in vitro, and then get them to successfully begin to join existing tissue when implanted in to the hearts of healthy rats. This is very similar to what is happening in zebrafish. So, while we are still some years away from this being considered a viable treatment plan for human patients, this breakthrough is evidence of the power and possibilities that lie within stem cells.

Education, Meet the 21st Century

Image of historical university libraryLast Wednesday, Harvard and MIT announced their partnership in a venture called edX, an organization they have established to offer free open-source technology based distance learning courses. This is a real step forward for open- source education because it provides access to high-level academics to those who may not be best served by the traditional higher education system. It also represents a paradigm shift in the way institutions service the need for education. Higher education has gone too long without disruption. While many of these schools are using technology in the classroom, these technologies have just become part of the existing system. In other words, implementing technology in classrooms has, to date, only replaced the slide rule with the laptop. EdX represents an entirely new way of implementing technology that actually addresses a social need: open access to high quality education. This couldn’t have come at a better time. As more and more individuals are realizing their potentials through their entrepreneurial spirit, the role of the outdated higher education system becomes les sensible. What we need, and what edX is delivering, is the opportunity for those who are self-motivated to gain the information and skills they require. There was a time when graduating from a top university meant everything, but going to college is cost prohibitive and creates a system where education becomes a luxury. Open-source, free courses democratize education and free up information. As more institutions start moving down this path, we will see a new generation of self-starters who, instead of wasting their money and energies chasing a piece of paper, are equipped with the knowledge and the financial capacity to achieve their goals. As we begin to realize this new paradigm it can finally be said that higher education has begun to enter the 21st century.

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Think Conservation Will Fix Our Sustainability Crisis? Think Again.

April 22 is Earth Day, a day each year when we focus on the need to preserve our natural environment. Besides being encouraged to gather at pro-environment rallies, such as the one that takes place each year on the National Mall in Washington DC, people are urged to take small, yet positive actions to help save the earth. Today, social media and Internet technologies have taken environmental advocacy to another level.

The Earth Day Network website, for example, (http://act.earthday.org) enables individuals to collectively perform “One Billion Acts of Green”– each person committing to one “Green” act, whether that means biking to work instead of driving, planting a garden, or turning off the water when brushing your teeth.

While I do believe these acts are commendable, I also hope that they don’t lead people to sit back with great pride and self-adoration, thinking they’ve done their part. I firmly believe that conservation alone will do little to save our planet!

Why? Sheer numbers for one. While our planet’s resources are finite, there are more of us than ever before. Last October, the United Nations estimated that the world’s population had reached roughly seven billion, and said that the number is projected to continue to soar to 8 billion by 2027.

At current population levels, we already face near-and long-term shortages in critical, life-sustaining resources such as potable water, oil, food, basic commodities and medications, not to mention the looming climate crisis. Soon there will be an additional one billion people who need access to clean water, one billion more people who need medication, and one billion more people who will require fuels to cook, heat their homes and transport themselves. One billion more people who, if they live like the average American does today, will produce 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of garbage a day, or roughly 1,600 pounds (726 kg) a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This does not include industrial waste either. All the conservation efforts in the world will have difficulty denting that.

I also see human nature itself as an obstacle. The moment that we humans gave up our hunter-gatherer existences for more settled communities, we began a quest to make our lives better and more comfortable, and we’ve been sucking precious and finite resources from our environment ever since.

To point out just a few examples, the Romans deforested much of Europe and the Middle East in their efforts to expand their empire. And archeologists believe that Native Americans who lived in cave dwellings in what is now New Mexico, centuries before it was settled by the Spanish, abandoned their dwellings after the land they chose to cultivate could no longer support their numbers.  Indeed, few human civilizations appear to have had the foresight to preserve their surroundings in their drive to be the most successful species on this planet.

If this appears to be a dark view of humankind, so be it. However, I do also believe that there is an enormous opportunity to tap into another deeply engrained human instinct to fix the very serious environmental and natural resource crises that we face today. And that instinct lies squarely around our deep-seeded urge to innovate.

Whether it was building the wheel, discovering how to make fire, inventing the printing press or finding a vaccine for polio, humans have always used their intelligence and creativity to improve our existence.

I believe that in this drive to innovate, which some may say has led to the very crises we face today, we can also find the solutions to address our planet’s most serious issues.  That could mean focusing on how we can turn our ocean waters into new sources of fresh water through desalination, development of synthetic bacteria to help clean up pollution or looking at ways to exploit potential resources from the moon.  The moon could also provide a location for astronauts to explore and prepare for deeper missions into space, where we could discover other resources for our planet.

While humans are creative, not all of us are entrepreneurs. Many people have good ideas, but only a small percentage of us have a vision and then execute on ideas that can propel us forward. That’s why I believe we need to put in place mechanisms to encourage our brightest minds to put their best efforts towards helping save our planet.

That’s one reason I serve as a trustee on the board and Co-Chairman of Education and Global Development of the X PRIZE Foundation, a US-based non-profit organization whose mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs in the areas of education, poverty, agriculture, health, and clean water.  “Somewhere in the world, someone will have the solution” is our motto. At X PRIZE, we believe in tapping into the human spirit of competition to drive advances, creating and managing large-scale, incentivized prize competitions to stimulate research and development in education & global development, energy & environment, life sciences and ocean and deep space exploration.

I sincerely believe that putting our collective financial, mental and ingenuity resources and into these efforts will bring us forward in addressing our environmental and finite resource concerns.  I say, go ahead and do your part to contribute on Earth Day.  And sure, turn off the water as you brush your teeth. Why not? But without seriously investing in our spirit of innovation to put solutions in place that directly solve the sustainability problems we face, I believe the long-term future of our planet is bleak at best.

What do you think?

International Women’s Day- Celebrating Women’s Accomplishments

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. This day has been observed for over 100 years as a way to celebrate the successes and achievements of women around the world and to promote awareness of gender issues that still exist. Thousands of events are being held globally today to celebrate and recognize women’s achievements now and in the past.

While walls (and ceilings) have been broken down in some countries with women serving as astronauts, politicians and prime ministers, there is still a ways to go, especially internationally, in achieving gender equality.

According to one article, here are five reasons you should care about International Women’s Day:

  1. Violence Against Women is Rife Worldwide
  2. Women Are Under-Represented in Politics
  3. Women Are Disproportionately Affected by Conflict
  4. Women Are More Likely to Suffer from Poverty and Lack of Education
  5. Double Standards Exist on How Our Societies Perceive, Value, and Judge Men and Women

Let’s all celebrate women’s accomplishments and take action to advocate for gender equality.

Social Entrepreneurship Still Thriving

I continue to see stories on the topic of social entrepreneurship in the news. In a time when people are as concerned with the social impact of their spending as they are with what they are spending on, social entrepreneurship is the way that all can benefit. And there are so many examples of great socially focused companies. One company that many people are familiar with is Toms shoes. For every pair of shoes purchased from them they donate a pair of shoes to someone in need. Samasource is another great example. They provide outsourced computer work to women and children in some of the highest poverty areas of the world.

What these companies all have in common is their unwillingness to separate the good of society from their own goals. This is going to be the future of entrepreneurship and the way we will solve many of the world’s problems. By relying on our society’s most innovative people, we will be able to help those around the world who need it while we also strengthen our economies.

A passion of mine is finding ways to use technology to impact billions in poor parts of the world. My hope is to use artificial intelligence software that can be deployed on an android tablet. This device can be used by a normal village person to diagnosis common diseases. That’s why I chose to fund the Digital Doctor X PRIZE Challenge. A video of my vision for project is here, and this article gives further insight.

 

What is the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE?

I encourage all of you to read about the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE. This X PRIZE encourages entrepreneurs and innovators to build a device that can allow a user to make diagnoses without having to visit a doctor or hospital. Imagine a portable, wireless device that can diagnose diseases in remote areas of the world.

Read the full description below, which comes from the official website:

The Prize: Empowering Personal Healthcare

The Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE is a $10 million global competition to stimulate innovation and integration of precision diagnostic technologies, making reliable health diagnoses available directly to “health consumers” in their homes.

The dire need for improvements in health and healthcare in the U.S. has captured the attention of government, industry, and private citizens for years. But a viable solution has yet evaded one of the most technologically advanced, educated and prosperous nations on the globe. Integrated diagnostic technology, once available on a consumer mobile device that is easy to use, will allow individuals to incorporate health knowledge and decision-making into their daily lives.

Advances in fields such as artificial intelligence, wireless sensing, imaging diagnostics, lab-on-a-chip, and molecular biology will enable better choices in when, where, and how individuals receive care, thus making healthcare more convenient, affordable, and accessible. The winner will be the team whose technology most accurately diagnoses a set of diseases independent of a healthcare professional or facility, and that provides the best consumer user experience with their device.

The Instrument Itself

As envisioned for this competition, the device will be a tool capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases. Metrics for health could include such elements as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. Ultimately, this tool will collect large volumes of data from ongoing measurement of health states through a combination of wireless sensors, imaging technologies, and portable, non-invasive laboratory replacements.

Given that each team will take its own approach to design and functionality, the device’s physical appearance and functionality may vary immensely from team to team. Indeed, the only stated limit on form is that the mass of its components together must be no greater than five pounds. But because an important part of the qualifying round will be evaluating consumer experience in using it, the limitations set by this competition will force teams to make choices. Teams will have to consider tradeoffs amongst weight, functionality, power requirements, battery life, screen resolution, AI engine location, diagnosis capability, end consumer cost, and so on.

Beyond the weight requirement, there is no limit as to how many discrete components constitute a viable solution. For example, teams may use sensors that are attached to a phone-like control unit, fastened individually to the consumer, or kept apart and reserved for occasional use or home monitoring. Similarly, teams may create a tool that has a large screen, a small screen, or perhaps even no screen (audio only). Systems must include a way for consumers to store and share their information, which must be accessible remotely via the Internet. Additionally, teams are expected to follow guidelines and protocols that help ensure that consumer safety is held in the highest regard. This includes avoiding harm from electrical energy, thermal energy, chemical exposures, needles, lancets, and infection.

The Need for the Prize

In virtually every industry, end consumer needs drive advances and improvements. Except in healthcare. Very few methods exist for consumers to receive direct medical care without seeing a healthcare professional at a clinic or hospital, creating an access bottleneck. Despite substantial investment to improve the status quo, even average levels of service, efficiency, affordability, accessibility, and satisfaction remain out of reach for many whom the system was intended to help. A prize is thus sorely needed.

In response to this widespread need, the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE will:

  • Address the dual challenge of a) transforming healthcare by turning the “art” of medicine into a science, and b) making health a willing part of individuals’ daily lives.
  • Tackle needed breakthroughs in sensing technologies, technological integration, regulatory acceptance, and the perception that healthcare should be controlled by only a few skilled parties.
  • Incentivize teams to focus on a) precision diagnosis and measurement that is independent of healthcare institutions/professionals and on b) consumer needs/adoption.
  • Facilitate necessary partnerships and regulatory pathways required for this major transformation.
  • Inspire a future where consumers demand the tools to assess and manage their health independent of a hospital or doctor’s office.
  • Spark the creation of markets and products that offer medical detection, prevention, and management, as well as more complete diagnostics.

 

Your Personal Gene Map for Just $1,000

In 1990 the U.S. government launched  The Human Genome Project. In 2007 the first commercial reading of it became available. Now, a new scientific and entrepreneurial development lets you map your genes for just $1,000.

With this technology, a person’s genetic code could be used to prevent and treat diseases. You can find out your risks of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health issues. Imagine what it will do for diagnostic and drug testing.

The California-based genomics company, Life Technologies Corp. plans to make genome mapping machine available by the end of 2012.

Read the WSJ article here.

Neuroscience’s Most Perplexing Riddle: Consciousness

Every day in the US 60,000 patients go undergo general anesthesia, but what happens to the brain during this process is somewhat a mystery. Neuroscientists are digging deeper into understanding consciousness and they hope their findings will transform anesthesia from a solely clinical tool into a powerful instrument for studying the most basic questions about the brain.

Understanding what happens to the brain under anesthetic drugs could lead to novel treatments for coma and other brain conditions—and to insights into fundamental questions in neuroscience, including the nature of consciousness itself.

Read more here.

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Social Media and the Trust Continuum: The Haves and Want-Nots

There is a growing dichotomy of social media users today. In one camp, sit those who consume social media voraciously. They check in via FourSquare, tweet ravenously, have more than 1,000 Facebook friends and indeed, their Klout scores are a source of great pride. In the other camp, sit those who avoid social outlets at all costs. They don’t want people to know where they are nor what they are doing and they certainly do not want to put their name online for others to abuse with reckless abandon. The driving force in both of these communities – and those in between – is trust.

The explosion of data coupled with an abundance of user-generated content is creating new issues of trust and unchecked culpability. While social media has enriched millions of lives and entrenched itself throughout much of our society, there is an even larger group of individuals who feel overwhelmed, confused and in many cases frightened by the potential prospects of sharing too much about themselves online.

Driven by the omnipresence of social media and an abundance of data shared by others, individuals are often led to believe that there is little they can do to manage what is said about them online, much less counter or rectify inaccurate information. In many respects, social media has become both a blessing and a curse. It fosters tremendous interconnectivity, relationships and constant communications, but also presents some difficult challenges. Therein lies the trust continuum.

The hard truth is: If you are not managing your online identity, someone else can and will. Regardless of one’s proclivity to be heavily engaged in social media or sit on the sidelines, we all deserve an online reputation that matches our true self. We need to empower individuals with the information and tools they need to make personal and professional decisions with peace of mind.

As individuals are given greater control over how they are presented online, the balance of power shifts greatly in their favor, and their trust in social outlets is likely to increase. Society has changed dramatically as the majority of our relationships are now built and fostered online. It’s up to each of us to take the power back.

Here’s an Idea: Fuel Innovation and Entrepreneurialism With Incentivized Pricing

We need to begin taking meaningful actions to spur economic growth in this country. The heart of the American development and economic prosperity lies squarely in our ability to innovate.

However, the truth is that the process by which innovation occurs can be risky, expensive and often fruitless. Often, the inside view of executives, developers and marketing professionals can be completely myopic, devoid of the creative, breakthrough (and yes, executable) thinking that a company needs to make a difference.

The most efficient, cost-effective way to innovate is through incentivized pricing – a process by which payment is offered following the development of the breakthrough idea. There is no challenge too large for the world’s great minds to create a solution to rectify it. So why not pose today’s great challenges to the world’s great minds? Certainly, there is someone in Slovenia or Serbia, Memphis or Malaysia, who can create the next big idea to solve many of today’s most vexing problems – from hunger and disease diagnosis to environmental sustainability and educational breakthroughs.

By incentivizing people around the world to execute on big ideas, we can foster innovation and drive advancements that will boost economic activity throughout the United States.

There are no barriers to incentivized pricing, and yet most businesses rarely look outside their workforce for solutions to their biggest problems. There is something to be said about being on the outside, looking in. We can positively expand our outlook on many fronts by incentivizing others to truly come up with something special, regardless of their status, location or resources.

Incentivized pricing is entrepreneurialism in action and I am thrilled to see this type of entrepreneurial thinking on display at this week’s D.C. Entrepreneurship Week. We can empower people all around the world – particularly those who don’t sit within the glass walls of today’s traditional enterprises – to innovate and create solutions for big problems. As entrepreneurs, we want to knock down these invisible, unnecessary barriers and involve countless individuals and teams that can contribute a great deal.