…University and is a recent graduate of the FutureMed program at Singularity University. As a passionate outdoor enthusiast, Laurie also serves…
In cancer diagnosis, earlier is better—treatments are more effective and so survival is more likely too. Some forms, like skin or breast cancer, lend themselves to early detection with regular checkups as they can be found by sight or touch.
Others, however, are much more difficult to detect and therefore far more deadly.
Pancreatic cancer falls into the latter category. The pancreas is hidden deep in the body where tumors can’t be discovered in routine exams. By the time noticeable symptoms do occur, the cancer is usually in an advanced stage and has often moved into other organs. Some 40,000 people die of pancreatic cancer in the US each year.
A new MIT study, however, offers a ray of hope—pancreatic cancers may be detectable years before a diagnosis would ordinarily be made using traditional methods.
After analyzing the blood of 1,500 long-term health study participants, the researchers found those with a flood of particular amino acids were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer later on.
In collaboration with the Broad Institute, the researchers tested the levels of over 100 different metabolic molecules in the blood, including proteins and sugars, hoping to find the telltale signs, or biomarkers, of the disease.
“What we found was that this really interesting signature fell out as predicting pancreatic cancer diagnosis, which was elevation in these three branched chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine,” says MIT’s Matthew Vander Heiden, a senior author on the paper, associate professor of biology, and member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.
Patients with elevated levels of these three amino acids—among the body’s 20 protein building blocks—were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer as early as a year after they’d given blood while other diagnoses ranged up to ten years later.
To further test their hypothesis, the scientists ran a study in mice and were able to reproduce the same metabolic changes in the disease’s earliest stages.
“What happens is, as people or mice develop pancreatic cancer, at the very earliest stages, it causes the body to enter this altered metabolic state where it starts breaking down protein in distant tissues,” Vander Heiden explains.
Similar metabolic changes have not been noted in other cancers. But in the case of pancreatic cancer, the team believes the tumors themselves may be responsible—calling in amino acids to help construct additional cancerous cells.
In fact, better understanding of this process might seed future treatments by aiming to cut off the tumor’s supply of nutrients.
Vander Heiden says additional work needs to be done to confirm their discovery and creating a reliable diagnostic test using this particular biomarker may prove challenging. But he thinks further study of the metabolic dysfunction itself may yield more markers—misregulated hormones, for example—that could seed a test.
Understanding such subtle biological hints and clues, in general, however, may be the future of diagnostics. By combining a wide panel of disease biomarkers with affordable, convenient, and regular testing—perhaps even at home—disease may be discovered at the onset, well before it causes enough damage to be noticed or become untreatable.
Most of that portion of the aging research community interested in intervening in the aging process to extend healthy life focus on near term drug discovery and reuse. They recognize that the gains here will be small and the process, like all drug development, will be enormously expensive. They are trying to alter the operation of metabolism in order to slow down the pace at which it damages itself, but the ongoing interactions of metabolism and aging form an enormously complex and still poorly understood system. Researchers still don't have a full understanding of the easily replicated and widely studied life extension produced by calorie restriction in most species, for example. Even if drugs can be produced to recapture some of this alteration without meaningful side-effects, that will result in only a small gain in human life span, and it will do little to help the old. What use is a drug to slightly slow down the damage of aging when you are already so damaged as to be near death?
In short, the traditional approach of drug development to alter the operation of our biochemistry is a terrible way forward to extend healthy life. It is an expensive path to a mediocre result, and the research community is doing the worst thing that it could do: aiming very low and digging through drugs that already exist rather than building new technologies. But this is the mainstream today, and that is something that must change. The need for change is why I support disruptive next-generation research programs such as those of the SENS Research Foundation, where the focus is on evading the complexities of metabolism to focus on repair of clearly understood damage. Clean up the damage in the machinery, rather than try to change the whole machine to slow down the pace of damage. It's a much better path forward, and the only one likely to produce actual rejuvenation in the old.Millions of people are taking anti-ageing drugs every day - they just don't know it. Drugs to slow ageing sound futuristic but they already exist in the form of relatively cheap medicines that have been used for other purposes for decades. Now that their promise is emerging, some scientists have started using them off-label in the hope of extending lifespan - and healthspan. "We are already treating ageing. We have been doing ageing research all along but we didn't know it. We can develop effective combinations for life extension right now using available drugs."
One of the most promising groups of drugs is based on a compound called rapamycin. It was first used to suppress the immune system in organ transplant recipients, then later found to extend lifespan in yeast and worms. In 2009, mice were added to the list. This led to an explosion of research into whether other structurally similar compounds - called rapalogs - might be more potent. Now the first evidence has emerged of one such drug having an apparent anti-ageing effect in humans. A drug called everolimus, used to treat certain cancers, partially reversed the immune deterioration that normally occurs with age in a pilot trial in people over 65 years old.
Other familiar drugs might also fit the bill. Low-dose aspirin and statins are widely taken by healthy people to reduce their risk of heart disease. Both extend lifespan in animals and seem to have anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is one of the proposed mechanisms behind ageing, so aspirin and statins could be effective heart drugs in part because they slow ageing.
The fact that common mechanisms seem to be behind the major diseases of ageing, like heart disease, stroke and dementia, is good news, as it suggests we should be able to extend our lifespan while also extending healthspan. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine an effective longevity agent that worked without alleviating or delaying such conditions. Rapamycin, for instance, has been found to reduce the cognitive decline that accompanies ageing in animals.
Here is a recent article from the SENS Research Foundation, a review of recent work in the broader research community relating to the development of neuroprotective drugs and proteins, ways to help brain cells resist the damage of aging:The aging brain is characterized by the accumulation of a variety of proteinaceous aggregates, high levels of which constitute the distinctive neuropathological hallmarks and (in the consensus view) the underlying drivers of the neurodegenerative diseases of aging. Removal of these aggregates from the brain is therefore a central damage-repair strategy to prevent and arrest the course of "normal" cognitive aging and its diagnostically-specified extreme manifestations. Happily, this subfield of rejuvenation research has been advanced further toward medical availability than any other, with new strategically-positioned trials of Aβ immunotherapies and of a first-in-class α-synuclein vaccine.
Another pillar of comprehensive neurorejuvenation is cell therapy for the aging brain. However, cell therapy to preserve and restore the neuronal circuitry underlying higher-order cognitive functions in the aging brain is a much more formidable undertaking. Unlike with other major organs such as the heart or kidneys - or even the repair of dopaminergic brain circuitry as exhibited prominently in Parkinson's disease - wholesale replacement of brain functional units is undesirable, due to the structural basis of memory and identity. Thus, a more sophisticated and gradualist approach is required, in which existing circuits are rebuilt and reinforced by ongoing integration of transplanted neurons and precursors, in such a way as to maintaining their existing architecture.
Neuroprotective agents offer a potential stopgap, to hold the therapeutic window open in the period between the availability of aggregate-clearing immunotherapies and the development of neuronal replacement techniques. From first principles, one might anticipate that in a scenario in which therapeutic clearance of some aggregate had been achieved, the most effective neuroprotective agents would be those that target mechanisms of neurodegeneration that are not directly downstream of these aggregates. However, it is also likely that in the earliest iterations of these therapies, their specificity, range of action, therapeutic index, pharmacokinetics, or other properties may limit the scope and magnitude of clearance that can be achieved in a given round of application, so that even agents that allow vulnerable neurons to survive the downstream effects of these aggregates may yet deliver some neuroprotective benefit.
Julia Mossbridge, a neuroscientist for whom I have loads of respect, has recently written a blog post that is (in Julia’s warm, friendly way) rather critical of transhumanism...
In a follow-up conversation on a private consciousness-research email list of which Julia and I are both members, I gave some responses to her post. Here I’ll summarize some of the highlights of my responses, putting them in Q&A form for convenience…. (Please note: the Q’s and A’s are both given in MY wording; these are not exact questions that Julia or anyone else posed to me! I’m just using Q&A as an expository device here…)
Most of these points have been made before in various places, but given that the same objections to transhumanism keep popping up again and again, it seem plain that the well-known counterarguments haven’t been framed quite optimally yet. I think it’s worthwhile keeping the dialogue going, at least when the critic involved is as thoughtful and respectful as Julia.
Q: What is the relation between transhumanism and Silicon Valley tech community?
A: Well there are more transhumanists per capita in the Silicon Valley tech world than in most places, that’s for sure.
However, the transhumanist community is actually highly diverse both geographically and in terms of the members’ professions and orientations.
You mention a dearth of psychologists involved in Humanity+. As you know I’m a Board member (and Vice Chair) of Humanity+; and while not a psychologist, I did put in a few years as a researcher in a psych department (at the University of Western Australia) back in the 90s and I’ve written a lot about cog sci, consciousness and so forth; so maybe that halfway counts as having a psychologist involved!
Natasha Vita-More, the Humanity+ Chair, is an artist not really a technologist… though she does know her way around certain technologies rather well!
Also, none of the current Board members are from Silicon Valley, are they? — we’re based in Hong Kong, Australia, London, Texas and LA….
The last two Humanity+ conferences I ran were in Hong Kong and Beijing; and I’m about to launch a version of H+ Magazine in China, and one in Ethiopia. I know a load of young Chinese transhumanists in mainland China; for instance there’s a quite active QQ chat group on transhumanism (in the Chinese language).
Q: Isn’t the desire to live a really long time an indication of some sort of egomaniacal, excessive estimate of one’s own personal importance?
A: Everyone has their own motivations. But speaking personally, I can say that is not my own motivation for seeking personal immortality. Nor is my main motivation a strong emotional attachment to my own self or life or body or whatever. Rather, my main motivation for wanting to not die is CURIOSITY. I want to see what happens next — in 100 years, 500 years, a billion years. I want to know what it feels like to be a flying robot, a superhuman mind, a global brain, a woman, a three-headed cat, a self-refuting mathematical equation, and a zillion things I can’t even imagine right now.
Sure, you could say that curiosity is a desire and good Buddhists shouldn’t act out of desire. Well I never claimed to be a particularly good Buddhist. But just because I’m OK with being personally strongly motivated by curiosity, doesn’t mean I’m somehow grandiosely self-important or especially attached to myself.
Perhaps you think it should be enough for me to know that something discovers what life is like 1000 years from now — even if that something is not any kind of evolution of my current self? Well, I’d certainly be happier dying knowing something would experience a wonderful life 1000 years from now. But I’ll be even happier living to experience it myself — that is: having a mind that has continuously evolved from my current mind experience it…
Q: Shouldn’t we focus on living live in the here and now, and improving the real world around us, rather than on potential awesome future realities that may not even be possible or sensible?
A: Transhumanists are not people who are shying away from experiencing everyday life and real humanity, in order to save themselves for some hypothetical future. We are living, loving, reproducing, and doing practical projects to help people as well as advance technology (e.g. I’m involved in starting an educational project in Ethiopia)…..
We also want to see what happens next, and keep growing our knowledge and understanding and experience rather than have so much of it fade when our bodies die.
Yeah, kids and creative works are a form of immortality. But as Woody Allen said, “I don’t want to experience immortality through my works. I want to experience it through not dying.” Well actually I want to experience it both ways!!
Q: Isn’t it too hubristic to think that we can outsmart Mother Nature? Don’t death and other natural phenomena exist as they are for good reasons, figured out by evolution and nature which know much more than we do?
A: So the idea is that, since Nature programmed our bodies to die and Nature is Wise, we shouldn’t go against Her great wisdom…?
But of course, this same line of thinking could be used to argue against civilization or language, right? Nature didn’t supply us with language, really — we created it out of our cultural interactions. Nature sure didn’t provide us with civilization, or with books, or computers…. All of these things were introduced in clear violation of Nature’s way of doing things! At what point do you think progress should be stopped? At this exact point, right now? Why not in the Stone Age?
Of course, it doesn’t really matter what any individual thinks about this — because progress will NOT be stopped, and technology will keep on advancing, and humanity will give rise to transhuman synthetic intelligences just as surely as tribes gave rise to civilizations, and the industrial era gave rise to the computer era, etc.
Q: Isn’t the Transhumanism FAQ on the Humanity+ website wrong to focus on shaping the world via “applied reason”, when in fact reason is only one aspect of the faculties humanity needs to bring to bear on shaping its present and future?
A: Well — actually, yes, I can accept that criticism.
In general, I’d note that the Humanity+ website serves its purpose and I don’t think it’s grossly misleading, but it’s not a world-class work of literature or design either. The organization has focused on other things than its website.
I’d also note that the Transhumanist Declaration has been wordsmithed a lot more than the FAQ or the generic text on the Humanity+ website — there’s less to quibble with there, as a lot of quibbling was already done in the group process formulating the declaration. The FAQ is generally pretty good IMO, but it’s an informal document not a fine-tuned body of prose.
Anyway, about reason and its role — I think that applied reason is very important for human (and transhuman) progress, but I also think that reason can’t stand alone. One thing I’ve found in my applied AI work is that logical reasoning is almost useless for complex problems unless coupled with some other sort of approach for providing “inference control” or “inference guidance.” That is, reason can’t really work, given limited energetic resources, unless guided by some sort of non-inferential “intuition.” Reason must be coupled with intuition to function. The transhumanist FAQ on the website (which was put together long ago, helpfully but mainly by folks no longer directly involved with Humanity+) doesn’t acknowledge this, in its current wording…
Q: But really — does it make sense to be stressed about our individual survival, instead of spending our energies working on technologies that help people and support compassion?
A: Well, in my world-view, since I don’t adopt the perspective that “nature knows best, and the way evolution gave us is obviously wise and preferable” , when an old person becomes feeble and demented and then dies, it’s basically just as bad as if a young person were to become feeble and demented and then die.
So to me, basic COMPASSION immediately leads to the desire to extend life and abolish the diseases of old age that lead to death. It’s true that some old people have adopted belief systems that make them reconciled emotionally to their own deaths. But to me, that’s fairly comparable to when an 18 year old suicide bomber adopts a belief system that makes them reconciled emotionally to their own death. Peoples’ minds are quite plastic and they can rationalize almost anything. The fact that people have managed to accommodate themselves emotionally to death – to a quite limited extent, though, on the whole – doesn’t, to me, change the brute unpleasantness of what happens to us as we get old, nor the sadness of the loss of information, feeling, and understanding that happens when an old person dies. So, to me, compassion immediately leads to the desire to abolish aging and death…
Some have argued that human longevity would cause problems due to limited resources, but of course this is a very limited view — there is lots of mass-energy in the universe available now; and I don’t buy “don’t disturb nature” arguments that tell us it would be bad to use the mass-energy in Mars or Jupiter or the sun to enable more humans to live and flourish for longer…
Of course you can take a cosmic, nonattached view, and say that any individual’s death doesn’t matter, because life will go on — and even if life doesn’t go on; the universe will go on…. However, one can also take an even more nonattached view, and say that nobody’s life on Earth matters now in the big picture — so why bother to stop a child from being killed in front of one’s face; why shed a tear if one’s own children are tortured and murdered; etc. …. To me it doesn’t make sense to draw a line and only care about suffering that is viewed as “unnatural” relative to the particular biological and cultural situation that we find ourselves in…
The human mind, in its ordinary form anyway, also involves a huge amount of suffering. Wisdom traditions have sought to minimize this suffering for a very long time, with limited success. I have given my (probably a bit controversial!) views on the evolutionary and cultural roots of human psycho-cultural suffering in a couple blog posts a few months ago: see Why Humans Are So Screwy and The Bullshit at the Heart of Humanity.
My view is that advanced technology has the potential give us ways to improve the typical human state of mind dramatically, so that future human minds can experience drastically less suffering and more joy than people now.
Of course you can argue technology should be unnecessary for achieving this purpose, because a certain (very very small) percentage of humans have achieved states of great ongoing joy via spiritual practices, or via fortuitous neurochemistry and life-history, or whatever. But looking at the world today, it’s hard for me to believe that these practices are going to project humanity into an overall state of massively greater joy. Both rationally and intuitively, the odds seem higher to me of achieving radical widespread joy increase via appropriate use of advanced technologies
Q: Don’t transhumanists make a mockery of spirituality — ignoring the deep value that the spiritual side of life has had, throughout the history of humanity?
A: I guess you’re aware of Giulio Prisco and his Turing Church, and Martine Rotthblatt’s TeraSem? And Lincoln Cannon’s Mormon Transhumanist Association (with a few hundred members)? There’s a strong strain within transhumanism that specifically seeks to develop its spiritual aspect…. I’ve touched on these themes in my own nontraditional way in A Cosmist Manifesto, as well…
Q: You paint a view of transhumanists as being compassionate and open-minded, but is that really so? Aren’t there a lot of selfish, egomanical transhumanists, who idolize technological and logical thinking and consider their secular techno-centered world-view superior to everything else?
A: Well, transhumanists are an extraordinarily diverse bunch, so it’s hard to generalize…. Plenty of transhumanists are coming from compassion; and plenty are coming from a pure form of materialistic selfishness…. There’s a huge diversity of personalities and perspectives involved, for sure….*** Mossbridge’s post ends with the following exhortation: 5) Then, when you turn 90 years old, decide whether you think you are too important to lose. Decide whether you think your mind, or the “computer minds” you create, can solve problems better than your children, who have molded their minds to this world, can. Decide whether you think you have a better plan than thousands of millions of years of evolution. 6) If you do think you are that important, then clearly you are not being reasonable. So do yourself and all of us a favor, and let your life go in love and peace. Be reasonable and move on.
Re-reading this while assembling this article, I had three thoughts:
The first was, “Before you use that birth control, decide whether you think you have a better plan than thousands of millions of years of evolution” …..This is not the advice I’ve given my kids, nor will give my next round of kids!
The second was: While the human mind DID adapt for a long time to life on the African savannah, it actually is not very well adapted to the modern world that we live in. Nor is the human mind/body optimally adapted to the African savannah; I suspect future AIs/robots will be able to do better even there, in terms of goals like survival and lack of harm to the environment. And I have close to zero doubt that future AGIs / robots will be able to do better than humans at solving the problems of the world
The third was to remember two quotes from George Bernard Shaw, in response to Julia’s kindly yet macabre “Be reasonable and die” exhortation…
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
– G.B. Shaw
Reason enslaves all whose minds are not strong enough to master her.
— G.B. Shaw
The post Response to Julia Mossbridge’s Critique of Transhumanism appeared first on h+ Magazine.
A new crystalline material absorbs 160 times more oxygen than in the air around you — only a spoonful bucket-full (10 liters) of it is enough to suck up all the oxygen in a room, according to its developer, Professor Christine McKenzie in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of Southern Denmark.
A few grains of this material might absorb enough oxygen from the water around a diver for normal breathing, and lung patients could scrap their heavy oxygen tanks, she says.
Different absorption and release rates are also possible by using different chemical configurations. A gas mask containing layers of such different materials could actively supply a person with oxygen directly from the air.
Oxygen is released by simply gently heating the material or subjecting it to low oxygen pressures.
The secret? “Crystalline salts of a series of cationic multi-metallic cobalt complex,” say McKenzie and associates, writing in the journal Chemical Science, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
“When the substance is saturated with oxygen, it can be compared to an oxygen tank containing pure oxygen under pressure — the difference is that this material can hold three times as much oxygen,” says McKenzie.
Once it’s packaged and available commercially, it might be something any heart patient, doctor, traveler, explorer, or emergency worker would want to keep handy.
University of Southern Denmark | A spectacular single crystal-to-single crystal transformation
The 2014 Fight Aging! Fundraiser Starts Now: We'll Match Your Research Donations with $2 for Every $1 Given
It is that time again, and our 2014 matching fundraiser starts today, October 1st 2014. From now until the end of the year, December 31st 2014, we will match the first $50,000 donated to the SENS Research Foundation with $2 for every $1 given. These funds will help to speed progress in ongoing scientific programs conducted in US and European research centers, their ultimate aim being to repair and reverse the causes of frailty and age-related disease.
- Donate directly: http://sens.org/donate
The SENS Research Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity and all US donations are tax-deductible. Donations from most European Union countries are also tax-deductible, though the details vary by location. Please contact the SENS Research Foundation to find out more.
The Matching Fund Founders Ask You to Join Us
Who are we? We are Christophe and Dominique Cornuejols, David Gobel of the Methuselah Foundation, Dennis Towne, Håkon Karlsen, philanthropist Jason Hope, Michael Achey, Michael Cooper, and Reason of Fight Aging! We are all long-time supporters of SENS research aimed at rejuvenation through repair of the known root causes of aging. The few types of cellular and molecular damage that accumulate in all of our tissues cause progressive dysfunction and eventual death for everyone - unless something is done to stop it. This cause is important enough for everyone to do their part, and for us that means putting up a $100,000 matching fund we want you to help draw down: for every dollar you donate, we will match it with two of our own.
Even Small Donations Make a Meaningful Difference
Early stage medical biotechnology research of the sort carried out at the SENS Research Foundation costs little nowadays in comparison to the recent past. The cost of tools and techniques in biotechnology has plummeted in the past decade, even while capabilities have greatly increased. A graduate student with $20,000 can accomplish in a few months what would have required a full laboratory, years, and tens of millions of dollars in the 1990s. All of the much-lamented great expense in modern medicine lies in clinical translation, the long and drawn out process of trials, retrials, marketing, and manufacturing that is required to bring a laboratory proof of concept into clinics as a widely available therapy.
The SENS Research Foundation is focused on early stage research, following a plan that leads to technology demonstrations in the laboratory. With a proof of concept rejuvenation therapy the world will beat a path to their doorstep in order to fund clinical translation. The real challenge is here and now, raising the funds to get to that step. A few tens of thousands of dollars means the difference between a significant project delayed indefinitely or that project completed.
To pick one example, last year the community raised $20,000 to fund cutting edge work in allotopic expression of mitochondrial genes, a potential cure for the issue of mitochondrial damage in aging. That was enough to have a skilled young researcher work on the process for two of the thirteen genes of interest over a period of months. It really is that cheap given an existing group like the SENS Research Foundation with diverse connections and access to established laboratories.
Your donations make a real difference.
Spread the Word, Tell Your Friends
Don't forget to tell your friends about this fundraiser. Talk to your community, online and offline. Consider running local events to help meet our goal of raising $50,000 from a grassroots community of supporters. The more people who know about the prospects for near future therapies resulting from rejuvenation research of the sort carried out by the SENS Research Foundation, the easier it becomes to raise funds and obtain institutional support for these research programs in the future.
Launched at /r/Futurology and in Conjunction with Longevity Day
Take a look at the generous spirit displayed at /r/Futurology, the futurist Reddit community, when given the chance to help. Scores of people there have already donated modest sums to the cause in response to our fundraiser: many thanks to you all!
The 1st of October marks the launch of this fundraiser, but it is also the International Day of Older Persons, and the International Longevity Alliance would like this to become an official Longevity Day. This year, just like last year, groups of futurists around the world will be holding events to mark the occasion, and this includes the scientists and advocates present at the 2014 Eurosymposium on Healthy Aging.
Download the 2014 Fundraiser Posters
The full size graphics here are large enough for 24 x 36 inch posters, but are also suitable for page-sized fliers. The original Photoshop files are available on request, but are a little large to put up here. Make as much use of these as you like - please help to spread the word and help this fundraiser to meet its target.
…the space barrier. Among the luminaries will be Robert K. Weiss and Gregg Maryniak, who helped get the $10 million Ansari X Prize off the ground…
The Flying Machine Arena is a drone wonderland. Researchers have used the sensored space to make quadcopters build structures with ropes and bricks, perform balancing acts, synchronize with music—they’ve even run tests allowing humans to juggle with flying machines. But the latest production goes a little further.
Recorded using the arena, the new Cirque du Soleil short film “Sparked” combines human dramatic performance with ten computer-controlled flying machines. In a world of special effects and post-production tricks—the result is a magically synchronized human-machine dance with no added ingredients.
The film—a collaboration between Cirque du Soleil, the Swiss university Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), and ETH spinoff company, Verity Studios—shows the fertile ground where technology and art mingle.
Raffaello D’Andrea, professor at ETH Zurich and founder of Verity Studios, has been researching flying machines for 15 years. His team has developed swarm-like algorithms to dynamically control large numbers of quadcopters with a precision that would be impossible with human pilots.
Meanwhile, Welby Altidor, executive creative director at Cirque du Soleil, wanted to explore how to bring magic and meaning to the emerging technology of the quadcopter. Alone, neither had the background to pull off a production like “Sparked.” But working together? Well, drones with lampshades obviously.
The film is also a great reminder of just how advanced, capable, and widespread autonomous flight control algorithms and drone technology are becoming.
Markus Waibel, co-founder of Verity, says, “Within hours the entire film crew had become comfortable with the flying machines hovering nearby or brushing past them as they swooshed through the air…I have no doubt that this level of confidence and comfort with the technology can in no small part be attributed to the system’s reliability.”
We may see more drones in live entertainment soon. “Sparked” is only the latest addition to Flying Machine Arena’s growing collection of drone performance projects. And Disney has also paired with ETH Zurich and patented their “PuppetCopter.” (Indeed, “Sparked” recalls classic Disney animation Fantasia.)
All this is part of a larger trend in which algorithms and robots are partnering with artists and filmmakers to make really great, mindbending works.
Many scenes in the film Gravity, for example, were enabled by robotics firm Bot & Dolly’s pair of camera-equipped robotic arms. Or check out the firm’s 2013 video short “Box” to see what happens when their robots are paired with a projector to create CGI-worthy effects in a live-action performance. (Google acquired Bot & Dolly last year.)
One of the several possible approaches to address the important issue of mitochondrial damage in aging, wherein cells are overtaken by malfunctioning mitochondria and cause harm to surrounding tissues as a result, is some combination of destroying the damaged mitochondria and replacing them with whole new mitochondria infused into the body. Conveniently, it turns out that cells will of their own initiative take up and adopt new mitochondria introduced into the nearby environment. A number of demonstrations of this process have been carried out in recent years, and here is another one:In eukaryotic cells, mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with a variety of human diseases. Delivery of exogenous functional mitochondria into damaged cells has been proposed as a mechanism of cell transplant and physiological repair for damaged tissue.
We here demonstrated that isolated mitochondria can be transferred into homogeneic and xenogeneic cells by simple co-incubation using genetically labelled mitochondria, and elucidated the mechanism and the effect of direct mitochondrial transfer. Isolated homogeneic mitochondria were transferred into human uterine endometrial gland-derived mesenchymal cells in a dose-dependent manner. Moreover, mitochondrial transfer rescued the mitochondrial respiratory function and improved the cellular viability in mitochondrial DNA-depleted cells and these effects lasted several days.
Finally, we discovered that mitochondrial internalization involves macropinocytosis. In conclusion, these data support direct transfer of exogenous mitochondria as a promising approach for the treatment of various diseases.
MIT researchers say they have developed a material that comes very close to the “ideal” for converting solar energy to heat (for conversion to electricity).
It should absorb virtually all wavelengths of light that reach Earth’s surface from the sun — but not much of the rest the longer-wavelength infrared portion of the solar spectrum, since that would increase the energy that is re-radiated by the material, and thus lost to the conversion process.
The material is a two-dimensional metallic dielectric photonic crystal, and has the additional benefits of absorbing sunlight from a wide range of angles and withstanding extremely high temperatures. It can also be made cheaply at large scales.
The creation of this material is described in a paper appearing this week in the journal Advanced Materials, co-authored by MIT postdoc Jeffrey Chou, professors Marin Soljacic, Nicholas Fang, Evelyn Wang, and Sang-Gook Kim, and five others.
Optimal absorption wavelengths
The material works as part of a solar-thermophotovoltaic (STPV) device: the sunlight’s energy is first converted to heat, which then causes the material to glow, emitting light that can, in turn, be converted to an electric current.
Most of the sun’s energy reaches us within a specific band of wavelengths, Chou explains, ranging from the ultraviolet through visible light and into the near-infrared.
“It’s a very specific window that you want to absorb in,” he says. “We built this structure, and found that it had a very good absorption spectrum, just what we wanted.”
In addition, the absorption characteristics can be controlled with great precision: the material is made from a collection of nanocavities, and “you can tune the absorption just by changing the size of the nanocavities,” Chou says.
The material is also well matched to existing manufacturing technology. “This is the first-ever device of this kind that can be fabricated with a method based on current … techniques, which means it’s able to be manufactured on silicon wafer scales,” Chou says —- up to 12 inches on a side. Earlier lab demonstrations of similar systems could only produce devices a few centimeters on a side with expensive metal substrates, so were not suitable for scaling up to commercial production, he says.
To take maximum advantage of systems that concentrate sunlight using mirrors, the material must be capable of surviving unscathed under very high temperatures, Chou says. The new material has already demonstrated that it can endure a temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit) for a period of 24 hours without severe degradation.
And since the new material can absorb sunlight efficiently from a wide range of angles, Chou says, “we don’t really need solar trackers” — which would add greatly to the complexity and expense of a solar power system.
“This is the first device that is able to do all these things at the same time,” Chou says. “It has all these ideal properties.”
While the team has demonstrated working devices using a formulation that includes a relatively expensive metal, ruthenium, “we’re very flexible about materials,” Chou says. “In theory, you could use any metal that can survive these high temperatures.”
The group is now working to optimize the system with alternative metals. Chou expects the system could be developed into a commercially viable product within five years.
UPDATE Oct. 1: absorption spectrum figure added.
There is primary aging and there is secondary aging. The former is a side-effect of the operation of metabolism, an accumulation of damage about which little is done at present. The latter is the consequence of an unhealthy lifestyle, which at the most obvious end of the spectrum includes the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes caused by becoming sedentary and fat. Over the years numerous studies have shown that some of the declines of aging taken as inevitable are in fact self-inflicted by our own indulgences in this age of comparative leisure and low-cost calories. There is a modest difference to be made here, it is true, but you can't do much about primary aging. That requires new medical technologies capable of repairing the cellular and molecular damage that causes primary aging.
Here researchers demonstrate that the modest difference of a good lifestyle extends to the progression of early stage Alzheimer's disease, which is probably not surprising given the established risk factors for this condition include lack of exercise and being overweight. The methodology employed in this study included mild calorie restriction and exercise, which have been shown to improve pretty much anyone's general health at even advanced ages. Given the size of the effects of those two items demonstrated in past studies of health, I suspect the rest of the regimen is all window dressing. I'd like to see this run again with just the exercise and calorie restriction, and I'd wager the results would be much the same.
Overall this should be taken as a reminder that letting health maintenance slip in later years has a measurable cost, and in an era so close to the development of ways to treat primary aging, every year counts:In the first, small study of a novel, personalized and comprehensive program to reverse memory loss, nine of 10 participants, including the ones above, displayed subjective or objective improvement in their memories beginning within 3-to-6 months after the program's start. Of the six patients who had to discontinue working or were struggling with their jobs at the time they joined the study, all were able to return to work or continue working with improved performance. Improvements have been sustained, and as of this writing the longest patient follow-up is two and one-half years from initial treatment. These first ten included patients with memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD), amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), or subjective cognitive impairment (SCI; when a patient reports cognitive problems). One patient, diagnosed with late stage Alzheimer's, did not improve.
[The] approach is personalized to the patient, based on extensive testing to determine what is affecting the plasticity signaling network of the brain. As one example, in the case of the patient with the demanding job who was forgetting her way home, her therapeutic program consisted of some, but not all of the components involved with [the] therapeutic program, and included:
(1) eliminating all simple carbohydrates, leading to a weight loss of 20 pounds; (2) eliminating gluten and processed food from her diet, with increased vegetables, fruits, and non-farmed fish; (3) to reduce stress, she began yoga; (4) as a second measure to reduce the stress of her job, she began to meditate for 20 minutes twice per day; (5) she took melatonin each night; (6) she increased her sleep from 4-5 hours per night to 7-8 hours per night; (7) she took methylcobalamin each day; (8) she took vitamin D3 each day; (9) fish oil each day; (10) CoQ10 each day; (11) she optimized her oral hygiene using an electric flosser and electric toothbrush; (12) following discussion with her primary care provider, she reinstated hormone replacement therapy that had been discontinued; (13) she fasted for a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, and for a minimum of three hours between dinner and bedtime; (14) she exercised for a minimum of 30 minutes, 4-6 days per week.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) a grant Tuesday to develop an electrode array system that will “enable researchers to better understand how the brain works through unprecedented resolution and scale.”
The electrode array is part of an advanced electronics system to monitor and modulate neurons, using more than 1,000 tiny electrodes embedded in different areas of the brain to record and stimulate neural circuitry.
The goal is to develop a system that will allow scientists to simultaneously study how thousands of neuronal cells in various brain regions work together during complex tasks such as decision making and learning.
The biologically compatible neural system will be the first of its kind to have large-scale network recording capabilities that are designed to continuously record neural activities for months to years.
The NIH project is a collaboration between LLNL’s Neural Technology Group; the laboratory of Loren Frank at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF); Intan Technology; and SpikeGadgets.
10,000 channels planned
The Neural Technology Group will work with UCSF researchers to design and build electrode arrays that can record hundreds to thousands of brain cells simultaneously. Their goal is to develop 1,000-plus channel arrays that can eventually be expanded to 10,000 channels.
These arrays will use new microchips designed at Intan that will send data to a system developed at SpikeGadgets. UCSF will coordinate these efforts and test the technologies. The arrays will penetrate multiple regions of the brain without interfering with normal functions during the experiments, allowing for detailed studies of brain circuits that underlie behavior.
The system also will be designed for compatibility with optogenetic stimulation, a technique that uses light sensitive proteins and light to manipulate neural activity. This technique allows researchers to target specific neurons or cells for recording.
Center for Bioengineering researchers have achieved multiple patents and publications during the last decade. The team’s ultimate goal is to launch a complete, modular and open-source system that would be available to any neuroscientists interested in large-scale neural recording and modulation.
LLNL’s grant-funded project is part of NIH’s efforts to support President Obama’s BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, a new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders.
On Sept. 23, KurzweilAI noted that scientists at the Salk Institute had discovered an on-and-off “switch” in cells that might allow for increasing telomerase, which rebuilds telomeres at the ends of chromosomes to keep cells dividing and generating.
We also noted that cancer cells hijack this process and that the scientists expect that the “off” switch might help keep telomerase activity below this threshold.
Now in another study published last week in Cell, Roger Greenberg, MD, PhD, associate professor of Cancer Biology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues describe their discovery of a second method used by cancer cells to survive, involving a DNA-repair-based mechanism called “alternative lengthening of telomeres” (ALT).
The researchers found that approximately 15 percent of cancers use the ALT process for telomere lengthening, but that some cancer types use ALT up to 40 to 50 percent of the time.
How the ALT process lengthens telomeres
The team showed that when a cancer cell’s DNA breaks, the cell triggers DNA repair proteins (like the breast cancer suppressor protein BRCA2*) into action, along with other helper proteins that attach to the damaged stretch of DNA.
These proteins stretch out the DNA, allowing it to search for complementary sequences of telomere DNA.
“This process of repair triggers the movement and clustering of telomeres like fish being reeled toward an angler,” explains Greenberg.
“The broken telomeres use a telomere on a different chromosome — the homologous telomere — as a template for repair.” In cancer cells that use ALT to maintain their telomeres, the team visualized these clusters of telomeres coming together.
“We are very excited about the data as it has provided new insights into this mechanism of telomere maintenance and ways to think about BRCA dependent and independent DNA recombination,” he says. “But, as with most scientific studies, many more questions are raised than answers provided.”
Penn Medicine | Greenberg — chromosome ends
The team would now like to find other proteins involved in ALT and look for small-molecule drugs that target this telomere maintenance mechanism in cancer cells to selectively kill cancer types that use ALT.
This study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute for General Medical Sciences, the Abramson Cancer Research Institute, and the Basser Research Center for BRCA. Greenberg is also an associate investigator at the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute and director of Basic Science for the Basser Research Center for BRCA.
* Breast cancer is linked to mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and mutations in several genes involved in BRCA-related pathways have also been associated with breast cancer susceptibility. Breast and ovarian cancers are associated with a breakdown in the DNA repair systems involving these BRCA and other related proteins.
Abstract of Interchromosomal Homology Searches Drive Directional ALT Telomere Movement and Synapsis paper
Telomere length maintenance is a requisite feature of cellular immortalization and a hallmark of human cancer. While most human cancers express telomerase activity, ∼10%–15% employ a recombination-dependent telomere maintenance pathway known as alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) that is characterized by multitelomere clusters and associated promyelocytic leukemia protein bodies. Here, we show that a DNA double-strand break (DSB) response at ALT telomeres triggers long-range movement and clustering between chromosome termini, resulting in homology-directed telomere synthesis. Damaged telomeres initiate increased random surveillance of nuclear space before displaying rapid directional movement and association with recipient telomeres over micron-range distances. This phenomenon required Rad51 and the Hop2-Mnd1 heterodimer, which are essential for homologous chromosome synapsis during meiosis. These findings implicate a specialized homology searching mechanism in ALT-dependent telomere maintenance and provide a molecular basis underlying the preference for recombination between nonsister telomeres during ALT.
In the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed today through laboratory tests that a person who had traveled to Dallas from Liberia was hospitalized Sept. 28 for testing for Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas.
Local public health officials have begun identifying close contacts of the person for further daily monitoring for 21 days after exposure, CDC said, adding that the ill person did not exhibit symptoms of Ebola during the flights from West Africa and CDC does not recommend that people on the same commercial airline flights undergo monitoring.
The World Health Organization predicts numbers will continue to climb exponentially. More than 20 000 people will have been infected by early November, according to an open-access article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Bitcoin is a decentralized, digital currency. It was invented by a mysterious individual known by the handle, Satoshi Nakamoto. A bitcoin is volatile but is currently worth about $380; regulators are increasingly interested; retailers too—true believers believe.
These headlines you’ve likely read. But where the hell do bitcoins come from anyway? They’re mined by computers making calculations lightning fast—or in this case, by a man with sixteen minutes’ free time, a pencil, and pad of paper.
Ken Shirriff is the hero of this story. (For more detail check out his blog post.)
His hand calculation of the bitcoin algorithm (SHA-256) is instructive in a few ways. First, it’s clear why bitcoin is called a cryptocurrency—it’s built on a series of cryptographic operations. Second, you can see there’s no shortcut around the algorithm: it takes a fixed amount of time, or processing power, to complete.
But really, you don’t have to care about the details of bitcoin, or even the digital currency in general. This is a great bare bones glimpse into the operations that computers actually perform. They make the same calculations humans can—only unfathomably faster.
The rules are fairly simple (once you learn them) but the actual process is laborious. It took Shirriff 16 minutes, 45 seconds to complete a single round of the algorithm. A full bitcoin block (128 rounds) would take him about a day and a half.
“In comparison, current Bitcoin mining hardware does several terahashes per second, about a quintillion times faster than my manual hashing,” Shirriff estimates. “Needless to say, manual Bitcoin mining is not at all practical.”
According to Shirriff, the bitcoin algorithm is, in fact, one of the simpler ones. Litecoin, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrencies (of which there is a growing list) use an algorithm that is more difficult to mine—their mining hardware is thousands of times slower.
Moral of the story? You’d have more luck mining unobtanium with your bare hands than cryptocurrency with a pencil and paper.
Neurons programmed to fire at specific faces may have more affect on conscious recognition of faces than the images themselves, neuroscientists have found.
Subjects presented with a blended face, such as an amalgamation of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, had significantly more firing of such face-specific neurons when they recognized the blended or morphed face as one person or the other.
Results of the study led by Christof Koch at the Allen Institute for Brain Science were published (open access) online in the journal Neuron.
Some neurons in the region of the brain known as the medial temporal lobe are observed to be extremely selective in the stimuli they respond to. A cell may only fire in response to different pictures of a particular person who is very familiar to the subject (such as loved one or a celebrity, as in the famous “Jennifer Aniston neuron“), the person’s written or spoken name, or recalling the person from memory.
“These highly specific cells are an entry point to investigate how the brain makes meaning out of visual information,” explains Christof Koch, Chief Scientific Officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science and senior author on the paper*. “We wanted to know how these cells responded not just to a simple image of a person’s face, but to a more ambiguous image of that face averaged or morphed with another person’s face.”
For the trials, subjects were first shown the “adaptor” image of the face of individuals such as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, and then an ambiguous face that was a blend of both faces. Primed with the Clinton image, subjects tended to recognize Bush’s face in the blended image, while subjects who saw Bush’s face first recognized the blended face as Clinton. That is, even though the blended images were identical, subjects tended to consciously perceive the identity of face to which they were not adapted.
So do the selective neurons respond to the actual image on the screen, or more to the perception that the image causes in your brain? The researchers tested that and found that when subjects recognized the ambiguous face as belonging to Clinton, their Clinton-specific neurons fired.
However, when subjects recognized that same face as Bush, the “Clinton neurons” fired significantly less. These results indicated that conscious recognition of the face played a crucial role in whether the neurons fired, rather than the raw visual stimulus.
“This distinction may help us glean insight into how the brain takes raw visual information and transforms it into something meaningful, which can be further modulated by other aspects of experience in the brain,” explains Koch.
Or as comedian Richard Pryor put it, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”
Which raises a broader question: How do our past experiences bias our perception of abstract events (like climate change), based on our own different experiences?
* The study was carried out by neuroscientists Rodrigo Quian Quiroga at the University of Leicester, Alexander Kraskov at University College London, and Florian Mormann at the University of Bonn, under the clinical supervision of neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical School.
Why the NSA Wants a Quantum Computer, with Brad Templeton After previously discussing surveillance and autonomous cars, Singularity University‘s…
An online demo puts you in the middle of a Google Street View with four directional options and challenges you to navigate to the nearest McDonald’s in the fewest possible steps.
While humans are generally better at this specific task than the algorithm, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) found that a new algorithm consistently outperformed humans at a variation of the task in which users are shown two photos and asked which scene is closer to a McDonald’s.
To create the algorithm, the team trained a computer on a set of 8 million Google images from eight major U.S. cities that were embedded with GPS data on crime rates and McDonald’s locations. They then used deep-learning techniques to help the program teach itself how different qualities of the photos correlate. For example, the algorithm independently discovered that some things you often find near McDonald’s franchises include taxis, police vans, and prisons. (Things you don’t find: cliffs, suspension bridges, and sandbars.)
While the project was mostly intended as proof that computer algorithms are capable of advanced scene understanding, PhD student Aditya Khosla has suggested potential uses ranging from a navigation app that avoids high-crime areas, to a tool that could help McDonald’s determine future franchise locations. Khosla previously helped develop an algorithm that can predict a photo’s popularity.
The researchers presented a paper about the work at the IEEE International Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR) this summer.
Answer: distance to McDonald’s: (farthest to closest) A>F>D>E>C>B (closest); crime rate (highest to lowest) B>E>C>F>D>AAbstract of Looking Beyond the Visible Scene
A common thread that ties together many prior works in scene understanding is their focus on the aspects directly present in a scene such as its categorical classification or the set of objects. In this work, we propose to look beyond the visible elements of a scene; we demonstrate that a scene is not just a collection of objects and their configuration or the labels assigned to its pixels – it is so much more. From a simple observation of a scene, we can tell a lot about the environment surrounding the scene such as the potential establishments near it, the potential crime rate in the area, or even the economic climate. Here, we explore several of these aspects from both the human perception and computer vision perspective. Specifically, we show that it is possible to predict the distance of surrounding establishments such as McDonald’s or hospitals even by using scenes located far from them. We go a step further to show that both humans and computers perform well at navigating the environment based only on visual cues from scenes. Lastly, we show that it is possible to predict the crime rates in an area simply by looking at a scene without any real-time criminal activity. Simply put, here, we illustrate that it is possible to look
beyond the visible scene.
Astronomers have detected radio waves within a giant gas cloud in interstellar space corresponding to an unusual carbon-based molecule called isopropyl cyanide, needed for life, as described in the journal Science (Sept. 26.)
Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, a group of radio telescopes known as the ALMA Observatory, researchers studied the gaseous star-forming region Sagittarius B2, located 27,000 light years away from Earth.
Organic molecules usually found in these star-forming regions consist of a single “backbone” of carbon atoms arranged in a straight chain. But the carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide branches off, making this the first interstellar detection of such a molecule, says Rob Garrod, Cornell senior research associate at the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research.
Life in space
This detection opens a new frontier in the complexity of molecules that can be formed in interstellar space and that might ultimately find their way to the surfaces of planets, says Garrod. The branched carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide is a common feature in molecules that are needed for life — such as amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.
This new discovery lends weight to the idea that biologically crucial molecules, like the amino acids commonly found in meteorites, are produced early in the process of star formation — even before planets such as Earth are formed — and reinforces the idea that life could exist elsewhere.
With ALMA, the group conducted a full spectral survey of the chemical makeup of Sagittarius B2, a region close to the Milky Way’s galactic center and an area rich in complex interstellar organic molecules, looking for fingerprints of new interstellar molecules, with sensitivity and resolution 10 times greater than previous surveys.
The purpose of the ALMA Observatory is to search for cosmic origins through an array of 66 sensitive radio antennas from the high elevation and dry air of northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, working together to form a gigantic “eye” peering into the cosmos.
About 50 individual features for isopropyl cyanide (and 120 for normal-propyl cyanide, its straight-chain sister molecule) were identified in the ALMA spectrum of the Sagittarius B2 region. The two molecules are also the largest molecules yet detected in any star-forming region.Abstract of Detection of a branched alkyl molecule in the interstellar medium: iso-propyl cyanide
The largest noncyclic molecules detected in the interstellar medium (ISM) are organic with a straight-chain carbon backbone. We report an interstellar detection of a branched alkyl molecule, iso-propyl cyanide (i-C3H7CN), with an abundance 0.4 times that of its straight-chain structural isomer. This detection suggests that branched carbon-chain molecules may be generally abundant in the ISM. Our astrochemical model indicates that both isomers are produced within or upon dust grain ice mantles through the addition of molecular radicals, albeit via differing reaction pathways. The production of iso-propyl cyanide appears to require the addition of a functional group to a nonterminal carbon in the chain. Its detection therefore bodes well for the presence in the ISM of amino acids, for which such side-chain structure is a key characteristic.