All posts tagged: biotech

The Next Frontier for Brain Implants Is Artificial Vision

The Next Frontier for Brain Implants Is Artificial Vision

Brian Bussard has 25 tiny chips in his brain. They were installed in February 2022 as part of a study testing a wireless device designed to produce rudimentary vision in blind people. Bussard is the first participant. Bussard, who’s 56, lost vision in his left eye at age 17 after his retina detached. The right eye followed in 2016, leaving him completely blind. He remembers the exact moment it happened. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through,” he says. Eventually, he learned to adapt. In 2021, he heard about a trial of a visual prosthesis at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Researchers cautioned that the device was experimental and he shouldn’t expect to regain the level of vision he had before. Still, he was intrigued enough to sign up. Thanks to the chips in his brain, Bussard now has very limited artificial vision—what he describes as “blips on a radar screen.” With the implant, he can perceive people and objects represented in white and iridescent dots. Bussard is one of a small …

This Bag of Cells Could Grow New Livers Inside of People

This Bag of Cells Could Grow New Livers Inside of People

In early experiments, Lagasse found that if he injected healthy liver cells into the lymph nodes of mice, the cells would flourish and form a second, smaller liver to take over the functions of the animal’s failing one. The new livers grew up to 70 percent of the size of a native liver. “What happened is that the liver grew to a certain size and then stopped growing when it reached the level necessary for normal function,” Lagasse says. At the University of Pittsburgh, Lagasse and his colleagues also tested the approach in pigs. In a study published in 2020, they found that pigs regained liver function after getting an injection of liver cells into an abdominal lymph node. When the scientists examined the lymph nodes with miniature livers, they found that a network of blood vessels and bile ducts had spontaneously formed. The more severe the damage in the pigs’ native liver, the bigger the second livers grew, suggesting the animals’ bodies may be able to recognize the healthy liver tissue and transfer responsibilities …

Meet the Designer Behind Neuralink’s Surgical Robot

Meet the Designer Behind Neuralink’s Surgical Robot

As a designer, what safety considerations did you have to think about with the Neuralink device? The primary safety considerations weren’t so much on the device but on the robot. We had a small role to play, which was to psychologically transform their first-generation robot, which was exposed steel—you could argue it looked pretty ominous—to something that was a little bit more approachable and ready for clinical trials. We worked with Neuralink’s engineering team to try and design facias—covers or cladding—for the outside of the robot, to start to give it a bit more of a visual language that was simple, approachable, and something that you can imagine people not being intimidated by. In that process, we were starting to introduce a lot more elements of design, and the safety concern wasn’t so much for the patients, it was for the operators. We thought about things like pinch points. You don’t want people crushing their hands while they’re operating the system. That’s Robotics 101. It’s what every designer who’s designing robots has to think about. …

The Next Generation of Cancer Drugs Will Be Made in Space

The Next Generation of Cancer Drugs Will Be Made in Space

During the course, King was part of a team tasked with identifying research that could be conducted in space with the best potential impact on humankind. Her team landed on the concept of crystallizing drugs in microgravity. There was data stacked up on the International Space Station hinting at the potential to “absolutely revolutionize cancer treatment,” King says. “This needs to be realized fully, and now is the time.” BioOrbit, which King founded in 2023, plans to scale up and commercialize this kind of drug production in space. After securing funding from the European Space Agency, the plan is to test out the process on the International Space Station early next year to make sure it works. And later in 2025, they’re planning a second flight which ideally will be with a pharmaceutical partner. King is not the first to send drugs into space to reap the benefits that microgravity has to offer. Big Pharma is also dipping its toe: Companies including Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck have been conducting research in space for drug …

A Gene-Edited Pig Kidney Was Just Transplanted Into a Person for the First Time

A Gene-Edited Pig Kidney Was Just Transplanted Into a Person for the First Time

Slayman received his first kidney transplant in 2018 from a human donor. The donor kidney initially functioned well, but Slayman started to go into kidney failure after years of living with diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease, which can eventually result in kidney failure. He had no choice but to go on dialysis, a treatment that removes excess fluid and waste from a person’s blood. But the dialysis caused complications—his blood vessels were clotting and failing. Slayman wound up in the hospital regularly and endured dozens of procedures to try to fix the problem. “Slowly but surely, I witnessed my patient becoming increasingly despondent and depressed over his dialysis situation,” Winfred Williams, a kidney specialist and member of Slayman’s medical team, said on Thursday. Finally, Williams suggested a pig kidney transplant. Slayman agreed. “I saw it not only as a way to help me, but a way to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive,” Slayman said in a statement released by Massachusetts General Hospital. The …

A Pill That Kills Ticks Is a Promising New Weapon Against Lyme Disease

A Pill That Kills Ticks Is a Promising New Weapon Against Lyme Disease

If you have a dog or cat, chances are you’ve given your pet a flavored chewable tablet for tick prevention at some point. What if you could take a similar pill to protect yourself from getting Lyme disease? Tarsus Pharmaceuticals is developing such a pill for humans—minus the tasty flavoring—that could provide protection against the tick-borne disease for several weeks at a time. In February, the Irvine, California–based biotech company announced results from a small, early-stage trial showing that 24 hours after taking the drug, it can kill ticks on people, with the effects lasting for up to 30 days. “What we envision is something that would protect you before the tick would even bite you,” says Bobby Azamian, CEO of Tarsus. Lyme disease is a fast-growing problem in the United States, where approximately 476,000 people are diagnosed and treated for it each year, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is likely an overestimate, because many patients are treated after a tick bite even if …

Scientists Are Inching Closer to Bringing Back the Woolly Mammoth

Scientists Are Inching Closer to Bringing Back the Woolly Mammoth

De-extinction startup Colossal Biosciences wants to bring back the woolly mammoth. Well, not the woolly mammoth exactly, but an Asian elephant gene-edited to give it the fuzzy hair and layer of blubber that allowed its close relative to thrive in sub-zero environments. To get to these so-called “functional mammoths,” Colossal’s scientists need to solve a whole bunch of challenges: making the right genetic tweaks, growing edited cells into fully formed baby functional mammoths, and finding a space where these animals can thrive. It’s a long, uncertain road, but the startup has just announced a small breakthrough that should ease some of the way forward. Scientists at Colossal have managed to reprogram Asian elephant cells into an embryonic-like state that can give rise to every other cell type. This opens up a path to creating elephant sperm and eggs in the lab and being able to test gene-edits without having to frequently take tissue samples from living elephants. The research, which hasn’t yet been released in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, will be published on the preprint …

The Download: tracking animals, and biotech plants

The Download: tracking animals, and biotech plants

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology. How tracking animal movement may save the planet Animals have long been able to offer unique insights about the natural world around us, acting as organic sensors picking up phenomena invisible to humans. Canaries warned of looming catastrophe in coal mines until the 1980s, for example. These days, we have more insight into animal behavior than ever before thanks to technologies like sensor tags. But the data we gather from these animals still adds up to only a relatively narrow slice of the whole picture. Results are often confined to silos, and for many years tags were big and expensive, suitable only for a handful of animal species. This is beginning to change. Researchers are asking: What will we find if we follow even the smallest animals? What if we could see how different species’ lives intersect? What could we learn from a system of animal movement, continuously monitoring how creatures big and …

Here are the biotech plants you can buy right now to grow at home

Here are the biotech plants you can buy right now to grow at home

Biotech seeds have been a huge business for a while. In fact, by sheer mass, GMOs are probably the single most significant product of genetic engineering ever. Except most of us aren’t planting rows of cotton or corn that can resist worms or survive a spritz of RoundUp, the big gene-splicing innovations that companies like Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred first introduced in the 1990s. What makes these new plants different is that you can buy them directly from their creators and then plant them in the yard, on a balcony, or just in a pot.  Purple tomatoes developed by Norfolk Health Produce. NORFOLK HEALTHY PRODUCE Purple tomato Starting off my biotech shopping spree, I first spent $20 to order 10 tomato seeds from Norfolk Health Produce, a small company in Davis, California, that created what it calls the Purple Tomato. The seeds have a gene introduced from a snapdragon flower, which adds a nutrient, anthocyanin, that also gives the fruits their striking color. According to Channa S. Prakash, a geneticist and dean at Tuskegee University, …

2054, Part VI: Standoff at Arlington

2054, Part VI: Standoff at Arlington

18:46 April 15, 2054 (GMT‑5) Arlington National Cemetery That night in her apartment Julia Hunt ordered in sushi and watched the coverage of Slake’s botched press conference on her living room sofa. Days later, Slake’s panicked responses to the questions about Castro’s death continued to air, and they appeared even worse on the news. Hunt raised a piece of salmon sashimi between two chopsticks as she read the chyron for the next story: Castro Autopsy Leaked on Common Sense Confirms Foul Play and White House Lies. She dropped the fish onto her lap. News of the withheld autopsy exploded. On every channel the prime-time anchors flashed printed copies of the report to the camera. They read whole sections aloud, describing the dimensions of the marble-sized mass of cells inexplicably lodged in Castro’s aorta and the excerpted transcript of the autopsy itself, in which the chief internist concluded, “This can’t be the same heart.” Within the hour, Truthers flooded the streets in cities around the country. As Hunt scrolled the channels, a news crew in Lafayette …