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The First American CRISPR Trial in Humans Will Target Cancer

18 Leden, 2018 - 20:14
A First in the U.S.

CRISPR is currently humanity’s most effective and efficient gene-editing tool, and the technology is no longer just limited to editing plants or laboratory animals. In November 2016, Chinese scientists actually tested CRISPR in a human, and now, a human CRISPR trial is about to begin in the United States.

In June 2016, an advisory board of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave doctors from the University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), led by Edward Stadtmauer, the initial approval needed to begin human CRISPR trials. According to a post in a directory of ongoing clinical tests, the team is now almost ready to begin their trial.

Click to View Full Infographic

For this first-of-its-kind medical test in the U.S., Stadtmauer and his team plan to use CRISPR to edit human T cells, which play a central role in the immune system, to target tumors. As many as 18 patients suffering from three types of cancer — multiple myeloma, sarcoma, and melanoma — could be enrolled in the study.

For their human CRISPR trial, doctors plan to extract blood cells from the patients and then edit the cells outside the body, an approach called ex vivo gene therapy. The goal is to turn the T cells into better cancer fighters before reintroducing them into the patient’s blood stream.

Using CRISPR, the doctors will delete two specific genes from the T cells. One is a so-called “checkpoint” molecule (PD-1) that cancer cells exploit to halt immune system activity. The other is a receptor that T cells use to detect dangers, such as germs or sickly tissue. They’ll replace that receptor with an engineered one designed to direct T cells toward tumors.

Making Headway

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, a charity created by Napster founder Sean Parker, is helping finance the trial, which is expected to begin in January 2018 and end in January 2033, according to the clinical trial directory posting.

However, a Penn Medicine spokesperson told the MIT Technology Review that a start date hasn’t been confirmed: “We are in the final steps of preparing for the trial, but cannot provide a specific projected start date.”

Still, after at least two years of planning, the U.S.’s first human CRISPR trial appears almost ready to begin, and once it does, the nation will officially join China on the very short list of places testing CRISPR on humans. Europe is expected to follow soon, though, with a human CRISPR trial using an ex vivo approach slated to begin later in 2018 courtesy of biotech firm CRISPR Therapeutics.

The results of these human clinical trials are likely to have a huge impact on the future of gene editing. Ultimately, while CRISPR does wonders in agriculture and other fields, proving its ability to cure human diseases is arguably a much larger goal, and reaching it could forever change healthcare.

The post The First American CRISPR Trial in Humans Will Target Cancer appeared first on Futurism.

Kategorie: Transhumanismus

Scientists Unveil the First Portable Bionic Hand With a Sense of Touch

3 Leden, 2018 - 23:08
The Prototype

A woman who lost her arm over 20 years ago has received the first portable bionic hand, which through a series of tiny electrodes and sophisticated sensors, has restored her sense of touch.

The technology unites the portable bionic hand with a computer that translates the information coming from the artificial fingers into a language the brain can understand, which it then sends back to the body through the electrodes.

This breakthrough is the result of many years of robotic research carried out by teams in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. Even though she’s central to this amazing innovation, Almerina Mascarello, who was chosen to test the prototype for six months, doesn’t feel like a superhuman. Instead, she told BBC that the prosthetic limb gave her back some of life’s simple pleasures, such as getting dressed or tying her shoes with no help. “All mundane things, really, but important. You feel complete,” she said.

Paolo Rossini, a neurologist at University Hospital Agostino Gemelli in Rome, sees the technology’s potential beyond the day-to-day. He told the BBC that “once you can control a robotic prosthesis with your brain you can think about creating one that allows more complex movements than a hand with five fingers.”

Click to View Full Infographic Experiencing Touch

The technology underpinning the new bionic hand was developed in 2014, but at the time, the equipment necessary to support it was so big the prosthetic limb could not leave the lab.

For Dennis Aabo Sorensen, who lost his hand in 2004 in a firecracker explosion, regaining the experience of touch was “fantastic.” He told CattolicaNews that “being able to feel different textures, understanding whether objects were hard or soft and how I was holding them was just incredible.”

Researchers found that Dennis was able to distinguish between a hard, soft or medium object in 78 percent of cases. In 88 percent of cases, he could correctly describe the size and shape of specific objects such as a baseball, a glass, and a tangerine. Three years later, Almerina has been given the same ability just by carrying a small computer in a backpack.

Silvestro Micera, a neuroengineer at EPFL in Lausanne told BBC’s Fergus Walsh: “We are going more and more in the direction of science fiction movies like Luke Skywalker’s bionic hand in Star Wars – a fully controlled, fully natural, sensorized prosthesis, identical to the human hand.”

As exciting as the development is, Almerina had to give back the prototype after the six-month trial. Still, she hopes that once even more portable hands are developed and eventually commercialized, she’ll get to keep one for good.

The post Scientists Unveil the First Portable Bionic Hand With a Sense of Touch appeared first on Futurism.

Kategorie: Transhumanismus

Dark Future: Here’s When We’ll Have a Location-Tracking Implant from Black Mirror

30 Prosinec, 2017 - 14:00

This article is part of a series about season four of Black Mirror, in which Futurism considers the technology pivotal to each episode and evaluates how close we are to having it. Please note that this article contains mild spoilers. Season four of Black Mirror is now available on Netflix.

A Short Leash

Sarah is a reasonably happy four-year-old. She’s blond and gap-toothed with a cherubic smile. She can be a picky eater and is frightened by the neighbor’s dog that barks loudly as her mother takes her to the park. But she’s curious and trusting.

Then, every parent’s nightmare. Sarah wanders off from the playground, and her mother is gripped with panic. The neighbors find her a few hours later, but Sarah’s mother is shaken. She brings Sarah to Arkangel, a company that creates neural implants to set Sarah’s mom’s mind at ease. A technician places the implant into Sarah’s temple quickly and painlessly.

With this device, the mother can monitor her daughter’s location, track her vitals, and even see through her daughter’s eyes. Sarah’s mom tracks it all with the system’s “parental hub,” a tablet device that’s remarkably similar those we use today. She can limit what Sarah sees. Anything that causes stress — a growling dog, a violent movie scene — the device can “filter” from the child’s view.

Would you want the ability to always know your child’s location and what they were seeing? This is the question explored in this episode of Black Mirror. And because it’s Black Mirror, it’s safe to assume that not everything goes according to plan.

So, how far are we from being able to take helicopter parenting to this new, high-tech level?

According to L. Syd M. Johnson, a neuroethicist/bioethicist at Michigan Technological University, we’re not far from digitally-enhanced parenting at all. As Johnson told Futurism, we already have the technology for the basis for such a system. Today’s smartphones track our whereabouts and can make them visible to others if we so choose; tech such as Google Glass lets others see what we are seeing.

The bionic eyes and retinal implants currently in development could take the system to the next level. Once perfected, the data and images from those implants could plausibly be transmitted to another device, such as the parental hub used in the Black Mirror episode. Researchers are already working to develop brain implants that detect stress, and future iterations could integrate features that block whatever sounds and sights might be causing the stress.

Manufacturers behind the most cutting-edge implants in use today, such as pacemakers and electrode systems for deep brain stimulation, are wirelessly integrating those devices with user-friendly portals that patients can access via an app on a smartphone or tablet, Johnson noted. In some cases, patients can even control the functionality of their devices through those apps. The same sort of mobile control for an Arkangel-like system wouldn’t be much different.

Arkangel. Image credit: Netflix Peace of Mind, At a Cost

So, an implant like Arkangel’s is plausible, possibly even in the next few decades. The question then becomes not could parents give their children the implant, but should they?

First, the case in favor of the implant. Perhaps most obviously, it could reduce the number of cases of missing children — as of December 2016, there were 33,706 active reports of missing persons under the age of 18 in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database (almost all children reported missing in the U.S. make it home alive). And it could decrease the number of cases filed as the result of simple miscommunications or misunderstandings, of which tens of thousands are filed each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That would free up investigators to look into the real cases, and it would save parents and children alike undue emotional trauma.

An implant like this one could also help keep children healthy. In the Black Mirror episode, an alert on the parental hub let the mother know her picky daughter wasn’t getting enough iron. Such a system could also tell a parent immediately if a child was falling ill or needed more serious medical attention, or notify authorities if a child is being neglected.

Arkangel. Image credit: Netflix

But the problems an Arkangel-type implant causes may outweigh its benefits.

The simplicity of the Arkangel system invites abuse and excessive control, Johnson said. Instead of tracking kids’ locations only when they’re missing, parents could use it to keep track of their children at all times. This constant surveillance could stunt those children, preventing them from developing into self-sufficient adults capable of navigating the world without a parent’s interjection. “While parents are expected to protect and help shape and guide their children as they grow up, everyone at some point wants and needs their parents to loosen the reins,” Johnson said.

Over-involved parents aren’t the only ones who could be listening in to an Arkangel-type implant — governments could eventually take advantage of the devices to maintain control over citizens. That is extremely problematic, as many dictators around the world already keep a tight leash on their populations.

Hackers, too, could gain access to the devices, granting them control over a person’s emotions or actions, Johnson said. Today, the digital security of implantable medical devices leaves much to be desired — just this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled half a million pacemakers because they were vulnerable to hacking. Other implantable medical devices, such as insulin pumps, have also demonstrated such vulnerabilities. Manipulating a person via their brain implant would be difficult and crude at first, but it would likely become more sophisticated over time. Another person taking control over your feeling or actions, no matter how imprecise, would feel distressing, to say the least.

Americans are already worried about their cybersecurity, and rightly so. Internet browsers track our viewing habits and smartphones track our location. Hacking systems small and large is easier than ever. As we become more connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), we know intuitively that our privacy will continue to erode. But so far, most people seem comfortable with the trade off of privacy for convenience.

“Is there a threshold beyond which we’ll stop being so comfortable [with the diminishment of our privacy]? Possibly,” Johnson said. “Possibly that threshold will be in the vicinity of our skulls.”

If (or when) parents do have the option to implant their children with an Arkangel-type device, they’ll need to weigh these pros and cons very carefully. The peace of mind that comes with always knowing your child’s location could come at a cost far beyond the monthly subscription fee.

The post Dark Future: Here’s When We’ll Have a Location-Tracking Implant from Black Mirror appeared first on Futurism.

Kategorie: Transhumanismus

Research for Cognitive Disorders Could Lead to the Creation of Brain-Enhancing Drugs

24 Prosinec, 2017 - 13:57
Brain Boost

A quick fix that can elevate the average Joe to Albert Einstein-levels of intelligence is a staple of sci-fi (see: Limitless, Flowers for Algernon). However, proponents of nootropics — controversial “smart drugs” that can take the form of pills or supplements — claim such abilities are already within our grasp.

According to a report from Research and Markets, the nootropics industry was worth $1.3 billion in 2015, and by 2024, it will grow to $6 billion. Early adopters include Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and students at ivy league universities, who say the various “stacks” of pill and supplements give them a competitive edge.

Geoff Woo is CEO of HVMN, a company that sells nootropic products. He told Futurism that each specific nootropic is designed to enhance or support certain aspects of cognition, such as reaction time, working memory, and mental stamina, and that they do so in various ways. For example, some up-regulate factors that control neuron growth while others may increase the availability of substrates necessary for brain function.

While Woo and others say available nootropics can have the desired effect, the scientific community is largely skeptical of their efficacy and safety.

In 2016, physicians at a meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy discouraging physicians from prescribing drugs for the purpose of improved cognition, citing the potential for misuse and adverse consequences. They also noted the limited amount of information available on the dozens of nootropics that claim to improve cognitive performance.

An Added Bonus

While it’s true that trials of many of today’s most commonly used non-prescriptions nootropics either don’t support claims about the drug or aren’t robust enough to generate any definitive conclusions, is it beyond the realm of possibility that a pill could boost our cognitive abilities? Could it be that we just have to develop one?

Based on the growing interest in nootropics, it’s clear that the demand for such a drug exists. However, as Oxford researchers Ruairidh Battleday and Anna-Katherine Brem told Business Insider, researchers have trouble attracting the funding needed for the robust studies that could lead to a nootropic breakthrough because the drugs don’t actually address any health issues.

However, research conducted by a team lead by Todd Lencz, professor of psychiatry and molecular medicine at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, could inadvertently help solve that problem.

Click to View Full Infographic

In the hunt for genetic information that could lead to the development of drugs to treat cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, Lencz’s international team of 65 scientists gleaned new insights into the molecular biology of the brain that influences cognitive ability. The results of their study have been published in Cell Reports.

As Lencz told Futurism, drugs that either block or enhance the activity of specific ion channels identified by his team could hypothetically affect cognitive performance. He believes this research could change lives, but perhaps not the lives people looking for a cognitive boost before their next board meeting or midterm.

“It is important to emphasize that our target is enhancing cognitive ability in patients with neurocognitive disorders. If our research is successful over the long-term, we might be able to help millions of such patients in the decades to come,” said Lencz. “However, it is unlikely that these approaches will have a noticeable effect on the daily lives of healthy people, at least in the foreseeable future.”

Still, Lencz’s study is built on sound peer-reviewed science using a large sample size of healthy individuals and intended or not, it could have implications in the field of nootropics. Not only could this research, and that of others focused on cognitive disorders, help develop treatments for serious medical conditions, it could also provide the foundation for the pill that one day lets us max out our cognitive potential.

The post Research for Cognitive Disorders Could Lead to the Creation of Brain-Enhancing Drugs appeared first on Futurism.

Kategorie: Transhumanismus