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The New Frontier of Science

Saturday, December 28, 2013 4:15
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NP: Science and the New Frontier

By James W. Astrada

'androids In the past months, science and technology have improved to a state of disbelief. Recently released technology may push the boundary even further than before; whether the discoveries will benefit all species or hurt them is in the heart of the investigation. As noted before, science maybe the key for humans to unlock the secrets of the universe and aid the rest of this planet from mass extinctions caused by changing the environment. What role humans decide to play will matter for the rest of the biosphere around the planet.

Recently, neuro-scientists from MIT and Georgia Tech have developed a robot system that can record and find the activity of dozens of neurons in live animals. The breakthrough in technology was supposedly designed to help researchers understand how connected cells interpret signals and transmit information through the brain. The program that the robot utilizes is called whole-cell patch-clamping ; a very powerful but difficult process. This allows for neuroscientists to access the inner workings of the neuron electrical network. If the process was done manually, only a handful of specialized neurologists would be able to perform the procedure on live animals. The fact that science still uses animals for testing is negative in nature as the effects might damage the animal beyond repair. Humans utilizing other species to better enhance or study side effects, are one of the negative qualities that unfortunately reside in our nature. In the case for this tool, mice were used as the robot system finds its target on the basis of characteristic changes in the electrical environment near neurons. Then, the device “nicks the cell’s membrane” and seals itself around the tiny hole to access the neuron’s contents to note any changes. The goal of these neurologists is to enhance better methods of drug testing and to create a “periodic table” for neurons to label each neuron and its responsibility in the brain.

Another discovery at John Hopkins University has allowed scientists to turn adult red blood cells back into “6 year old embryos.” This method would constitute as a fountain of youth for humans that desire immortality. The procedure would also allow the incurable to be curable. Just imagine that heart attacks, spinal cord cancer, etc… would be a thing of the past and humans could eliminate these deficiencies to become the pinnacle of physical perfection. The basis of this study is stem cell therapy , which scientists believe will be the beacon of light in the future. The only issues is that these therapies are impossible to implement on a large scale due to the fact that one can’t acquire embryonic stem cells without having to use actual human embryo; which is extremely controversial and scorned by the religious community. The alternative has always been to use the stem cells found in umbilical cord. The procedure only pertains to the rich, who use umbilical cord storage facilities to guarantee future treatments for their kids or use viruses to reprogram adult cells. These viruses can successfully return adult cells to their stem cell state; however the procedure opens the door to numerous complications including potential DNA mutations (with these mutations leading to cancer).

The new procedure utilizes adult blood cells and eliminates the need for umbilical cord storage or reprogrammed viruses. As a matter of fact, the efficiency of this procedure is at maximum that researchers successfully transformed about 50-60% of adult blood cells into embryonic stem cells. The “cells” could then be turn into any type of cell: a heart muscle cell, a bone cell, and a nerve cell (anything the patient desires). This technology will not be accessible to anyone as the issue of money will always be the obstacle for the poor and unfortunates that suffer from these conditions. As far as the religious community goes on this new procedure, there will be a debate before this becomes an accepted method of curing those who need it.

With the emergence of the first “smart pill” earlier this summer by the FDA and Proteus Digital Health was the marker towards the step of mobile medicine technology. Just when the idea of science couldn’t get any more interesting, the newest discovery changed the face of how we will look at medicine. A tiny chip has been invented to be implanted within body to administer doses wirelessly at the right time the patient needs it. This technology is being tested by MIT and is in its developing stages. The question of microchips has always been the problem of long term maintenance and hardware needed to fix any type of issues. This new technology according to CEO Robert Farra of microCHIPS will change that as compliance will be the matter addressed: “people generally don’t enjoy getting injections, and when left to do it themselves, will find ways to avoid it. Plus, sometimes injectable medications need to be refrigerated, which isn’t convenient for people on the go.”

First developed at the MIT by Professor Robert Langer and Michael Cima, the technology began with a microchip that measures ¾ of an inch by ¾ of an inch. Adding to its complexity, the chip also contains 200 “micro-reservoirs” (tiny dips that house concentrated dosages of drugs) and is “hermetically sealed” using metallic bonds so the drug doesn’t leak out and no moisture or air can get into the reservoirs. This chip is also designed with a path for an electrical current to pass through in order to melt the bonds according to the dosage schedule. If the patient decides to undergo this conversion or upgrade, it is then implanted under the skin (usually below the waistline or in the arm) in an outpatient procedure using local anesthesia, a small incision and a few sutures. Farra was certain that this technology would increase the compliance standard and reduce healthcare costs. As of now, the procedure is very costly and unfortunately only those with financially security can afford it. The focus was not on the price, rather on the fact that long term health costs would be avoided and medicine costs as well.

Pushing the envelope further in technology, a new thermal imaging system has been created to detect whether people are drunk or not. Published in the International Journal of Electronic Security and Digital Forensics , Greek scientists are developing a new technology that will develop new algorithms to gather data about blood vessels on a subjects’ face. According to studies, the red “rosy” glow that alcohol gives a person is blood vessels dilating on the skin’s surface changing the temperature of the person’s face. Thermal imaging will be able to detect these changes and then run these images to compare them with scans of sober and drunk individuals. These scientists are proposing that this technology be used for police departments. A similar method of thermal imaging was used in 2003 to identify the SARS infection which turned out to be successful.

With just a few mentions of the type of breakthroughs science is unveiling this year, the future may hold both positive and negative results. To reiterate a previous statement, everything discovered has the capacity to change a species for good or completely destroy it. Humans have to take great care when crossing the threshold of science into a larger unknown world of unlimited possibilities. Once society has stripped its religious obstacle that has kept it behind 1000 years in science, then humans will be allowed to venture into what Michio Kaku has described as a “Type 1 Civilization.” We may rely on science as many environmentalists claim can be done in order to save ourselves from the destruction we created. Although we can never replace what we have destroyed, we can prevent further failure by evolving into sentient beings; learning from our grave mistakes.

Humans have been given the leeway to discover and ascend into a greater being without the constraints of fear or religious based ignorance we currently have hindering us from discovering our true nature. How we use these “gifts of the gods” relies on our own capacity for entropy/disorder or the opposite. Instead of helping our fellow species that live with us on this planet, we use them for testing to extend our own lives. There are other methods to help humans without the need of hurting other organisms. Our time is running out and whether or not our species deserves to live will ultimately rely on Mother Nature. Has she seen enough of our disdain and destruction, or will she hold on a little longer to see her evolved creation become a promising change? Sequential time will tell….


Associated Press. “New Thermal Imaging System Could Help Detect Drunk People.” CBS Seattle (September 2012).

Deanna Pogoreic. “Medicine in a microchip: Implant holds up to 400 doses, could replace needles.” MEDCITY News (September 2012).

Jesus Diaz. “Scientists Clear Path to the Fountain of Eternal Youth.” Gizmodo (August 2012).

George Dvorsky. “Scientists develop robot that scans information directly from neurons.” (August 2012).

Liat Clark. “Algorithm-driven Thermal Imaging Could Scan for Drunks in Public.” Wired U.K. (September 2012).

©Copyright 2012. James Astrada.


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