Yearly Archives: 2009

Net’s Top Two Powerhouse Players Talk Policy

At the third annual U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum last week, top government and technology leaders gathered to discuss business and policy topics of mutual interest, such as online child protection and intellectual property issues. The United States and China are the world’s two largest Internet communities, so the conversation has broad implications for the Net as a whole.

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Read the whole story here.

Blood 2.0

From the Scientist:

“Newly created synthetic particles that mimic red blood cells may one day carry drug molecules and/or oxygen through bloodstreams, according to researchers writing in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). ”

“University of California, Santa Barbara, chemical engineer Samir Mitragotri led the team of scientists and told The Scientist that the blood cell-like particles could evolve into useful tools in the clinic.”

“Mitragotri said that he and his team tested the ability of the particles to carry oxygen, finding that they had a “comparable” oxygen-carrying capacity to actual red blood cells. He added that it may be possible in the future to link therapeutic agents destined for the vascular system, such as heparin, to the particles so that they can be easily distributed throughout the blood. The artificial blood cells, with attached iron oxide nanoparticles, could also one day improve MRI resolution by serving as contrast agents that provide a different imaging signal compared to the surrounding tissue, Mitragotri said. “

US-China Internet Industry Forum – amazing event!

Yesterday marked the beginning of the third annual US-China Internet Industry Forum (held this year in SF). The purpose of the gathering is to increase mutual understanding of key business and policy issues in China and the US. It is an invite-only event, so I was excited to be there with top government and technology leaders such as Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, Sina.com’s Charles Cao, Harvard law prof John Palfrey (author of Born Digital – loved that book), Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie, Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian, Baidu’s COO Ye Peng, The FBI’s Jeffrey Troy, China’s Deputy Director of the Internet, Liu Zhengrong, and a bunch of others (eBay, Yahoo, Intel, Facebook, etc). The main topics of discussion were intellectual property, online child protection, and cybercrime.

What struck me most about the discussions was the degree of concern the Chinese attendees showed for intellectual property. Now that China is moving towards a knowledge-based economy, they are realizing that it is in their best interests to do a better job of protecting IP. Most Americans probably don’t realize it, but there is a vibrant start-up community in China and it won’t be long before we start to see more innovation coming from that country.

The event was co-hosted by Microsoft and the Internet Society of China and co-sponsored by Google, eBay, Intel, About.com, Verisign, Akamai, Yahoo, People.com, Xinhuanet.com, China.com.cn, CCTV.com, SOHU.com, Netease.com and Baidu.com.

Nanobombs to cure cancer

Using nanotech to target cancer cells is an idea that’s been in the works for a while. A team “led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has just successfully combined an antibody with single-walled nanotubes to create a precision search-and-destroy weapon that targets aggressive forms of breast cancer.” Get the rest of the story here.

More stem cell lines open for federal funding

From the NYT:

“The National Institutes of Health said Wednesday that it had approved 13 new human embryonic stem cell lines for use by federally financed researchers, with 96 more under review.”

and

“Researchers’ interest in human embryonic stem cells has abated since the discovery in 2007 by the Japanese biologist Dr. Shinya Yamanaka that the mature cells of the body can be reprogrammed to the embryonic state.

These induced embryonic cells are highly similar to the real thing but may not be exactly the same. One reason is that the mature cell may perceive the forced walk-back to embryonic state as unauthorized and switch on its anticancer defenses.

Because the reprogrammed cells and those derived from leftover human embryos may not be identical, researchers need to work with both kinds, Dr. Collins said.”

Giving Thanks for Leading Health Technology Advances

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Here’s a preview of my column on health tech we can be grateful to have:

“There have been striking advances in healthcare, thanks to technology, that have nothing to do with the controversial “reform” efforts under way in Washington. Among the life-improving — even potentially life-saving — gifts of recent years: less costly genome sequencing; health-promoting iPhone applications; electronic health records; and crowdsourcing for better living.”

Henry Ford of Heart Surgery — from WSJ

This is a fantastic article. At a time when Congress is debating a bloated $850 billion health care bill, doctors in India have come up with ways to make heart surgery cheaper, with potentially better recovery rates.

According to the piece, like Henry Ford before him, Indian Doctor Devi Shetty has “used high volumes to improve quality” and “some studies show quality rises at hospitals that perform more surgeries for the simple reason that doctors are getting more experience.” Apparently, “in smaller U.S. and Indian hospitals, there aren’t enough patients for one surgeon to focus exclusively on one type of heart procedure.” It’s also notable that “by next year, six million Americans are expected to travel to other countries in search of affordable medical care.”

Entrepreneurial Peace Fund?

Another innovative idea from Ray Kurzweil. He proposes, “a collaborative technology incubator between Israel and Palestine.” According to reports, the proposal was widely met with enthusiasm and support in both public and private sessions.

Would it work? Maybe, and it probably wouldn’t hurt. It would be nice to see human energy in that part of the world directed at more productive endeavors.

Murderer with ‘aggression genes’ gets sentence cut

What a weird story. Brings to light the problems that can occur if we start to think that genes explain everything. From the New Scientist:

“A judge’s decision to reduce a killer’s sentence because he has genetic mutations linked to violence raises a thorny question – can your genes ever absolve you of responsibility for a particular act?

In 2007, Abdelmalek Bayout admitted to stabbing and killing a man and received a sentenced of 9 years and 2 months. Last week, Nature reported that Pier Valerio Reinotti, an appeal court judge in Trieste, Italy, cut Bayout’s sentence by a year after finding out he has gene variants linked to aggression. Leaving aside the question of whether this link is well enough understood to justify Reinotti’s decision, should genes ever be considered a legitimate defence?”

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Hat tip to Elissa Lynn for forwarding this story.

Stem cells and reproduction

From the Mail Online:

“Human eggs and sperm have been grown in the laboratory in research which could change the face of parenthood.

It paves the way for a cure for infertility and could help those left sterile by cancer treatment to have children who are biologically their own.

But it raises a number of moral and ethical concerns. These include the possibility of children being born through entirely artificial means, and men and women being sidelined from the process of making babies.”

Read more here.

How to Solve the Net Neutrality Issue

I was stunned last week when I saw many prominent tech VCs and CEOs from Silicon Valley sign letters endorsing the FCC’s move towards Net Neutrality, since, if the rule making goes ahead, it will mean regulating the Internet. I happen to know a bunch of these folks, so I decided to call them to see if they really were endorsing regulations for the Net or if something else was going on. Something else was going on. Because the term “Net neutrality” is notoriously difficult to define, and is often put in terms of “free and open,” some people signed the letters without realizing it could lead to new regulations for the Information superhighway (these are busy people who spend more time running their companies than following the ins and outs of the FCC). That said, unsurprisingly, there was a lot of suspicion regarding the phone and cable companies. After many conversations, here is a potential solution that could put an end to Net neutrality games and ensure a bright future for the Net.

The upshot for those of you who don’t want to follow the link:

“If the tech industry and the major ISPs want to avoid government regulation and keep the Internet thriving, they need to come up with a way to solve the disclosure problem on their own in the marketplace.

Verizon has already started taking steps toward a more constructive stance by co-signing a letter with Google supporting an open Internet. Now it is time for all companies involved to take it to the next level. If that happens, U.S. innovators will be much safer from the claims of militant rent-seeking activists and regulators who want to get their hands on the Net.

The creation of TRUSTe helped the tech industry mobilize and avoid heavy-handed privacy regulations like those that befell Europe. Now it is time for ISPs to support an independent, private body to monitor neutrality issues. Such a move would deflate the pro-regulation lobby and allay the concerns of the industry that is driving U.S. growth.”

Facial bones grown from stem cells

This is a fabulous demonstration of how stem cells were used to grow cheek bones for a boy born without them due to a genetic condition.

As with many stem cell procedures, the stem cells were injected into a scaffold (in this case donated dead bone) and the cells brought the bone back to life. A detailed explanation of the process can be found at the Singularity Hub (one of my favorite sites).

Researchers Map First Human Epigenome

Story in Science Daily and Science Alert, among others. Hat tip to James Clement to posting this on FB.

“A major breakthrough study, published 15 October in Nature, has provided a complete roadmap of the human epigenome and has major implications for the treatment of human diseases and development of stem-cell based regenerative medicine.

An epigenome may be thought of as the clothes that dress a genome, controlling the way genes are packaged and expressed without actually altering the underlying DNA code.

Epigenome are flexible and can be changed by environmental factors such as diet, stress and chemical exposure, leading to changes in gene expression. These changes can be temporary or they can be more permanent, with some studies suggesting they can be passed down from generation to generation.

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Making old muscle young again

Researchers led by Irina Conboy at UC Berkeley have completed some very interesting research on human muscle. Essentially, they found that it is possible to regenerate old human muscle by activating an enzyme called mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). MAPK regulates the activity of an adult stem cell receptor called Notch, which triggers growth when activated.

This is very exciting work, since it has been done on humans (following trials on rodents, of course). Here is a news piece that gives a nice summary of it all. I wonder how much the human participants got paid for doing this. Given that they had to have biopsies taken of their muscles and put into casts for two weeks, it must have been pretty uncomfortable…

Caloric restriction experiments in humans

This is an interesting piece in the NYT on caloric restriction research in humans. The researchers are studying biomarkers in humans who commit to caloric restriction for two years. It would take too long to do a longitudinal study on humans, so this is the next best thing. Surprisingly, the participants actually seem to be enjoying it. The Times quotes one of the subjects as saying this:

“I’ve never gotten so much pleasure in my life,” Beggs told the group, adding that it only confirmed his resolve. “I’m wearing a medium shirt now. I haven’t worn a medium since high school.”

If that’s how people feel when they practice CR properly, one can imagine that this may be an opportunity for an enterprising chef to come up with a “caloric restriction” food service…

U.S. Cell-Aging Researchers Awarded Nobel

I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, but I thought I would also blog about this WSJ story since they have a nice graphic showing how telomeres work. One of the three winners of the Nobel prize, Elizabeth Blackburn, is local to me and I have met with her to discuss her work. She is not only smart, but a nice person as well. It might surprise some people that she got kicked off of the President’s Council for Bioethics, presumably (according to this article) because she disagreed with the Bush administration on the embryonic stem cell issue.