Abundance Insider: January 25th, 2019

In this week's Abundance Insider: Lab-grown blood vessels, augmenting human-robot teamwork, and the latest microrobot breakthrough.

Cheers,
Peter, Marissa, Kelley, Greg, Bri, Jarom, Joseph, Derek, Jason, Claire and Max

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P.P.S. Abundance 360 is only two days away! Join Abundance Digital to view the full livestream of this event, where we appreciate the technological breakthroughs of this past year and draw attention to the technologies that will move from deceptive to disruptive in 2019. Full livestream schedule and speaker descriptions can be found here.

Molecular Machinery That Makes Potent Antibiotic Revealed After Decades Of Research

What it is: Antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis, and researchers have been looking for new molecules and approaches for some time. One avenue has been the pursuit of natural antibiotics, like McbBCD, which have evolved over eons. McbBCD produces an enzyme called microcin B17, which scientists have known to kill E.coli for over 30 years, but up until now, the mechanism by which microcin B17 operates wasn't known. Now, thanks to advances in genomics and protein purification, a multinational team out of Rutgers, Russia, Poland and England have uncovered the molecular machinery involved, which bodes well for the rational design of new antibiotics, antimicrobials and potentially anticancer drugs.

Why it's important: Here’s another example of the transformative power due to convergence in exponential advances across typically siloed disciplines. This breakthrough demonstrates the rapid digitization of biology, chemistry, and computing to unlock new understanding, which in turn enables new tools for solving the world's grand challenges.  Share on Facebook

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Jason Goodwin 

Tiny Microbots Fold Like Origami To Travel Through The Human Body

What it is: Researchers from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) demonstrated artificial microrobots that can swim and navigate through different fluids, independent of additional sensors, electronics or power transmission. Modeled on swimming microorganisms, the microrobots are made of a hydrogel nanocomposite, containing magnetic nanoparticles. The magnetic nanoparticles allow researchers to guide the microrobots with an applied magnetic field, a common technique for facilitating targeted drug delivery. What’s unique about these microbots is that they dynamically change their shape in response to changes in their surrounding fluid. This unique locomotive capability will eventually be tuned to enable them to squeeze through tight blood vessels and other hard-to-navigate features in physiological systems, bringing us one step closer to ubiquitous nanobots monitoring every aspect of our physiology.

Why it's important: Materials science and biomimicry are leading the charge on many fronts of next-generation technologies, enabling future breakthroughs like ubiquitous nanobots. Such nanobots will transform how we think about healthcare, enabling real-time treatment and disease detection, as well as total optimization of our biology. As the saying goes, you can’t fix what you can’t measure, and we are well on the path towards achieving comprehensive measurement of our bodies. In the decades to come, what will these nanobots teach us about the human body?  Share on Facebook

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Max Goldberg 

UVM Study: Wearable Sensor Could Detect Hidden Anxiety, Depression In Young Children

What it is: Researchers have now developed a tool to screen young children for internalizing disorders, characterized by internalizing one’s problems. Using a common “mood induction task” to elicit anxiety from children by presenting a potential threat (e.g. a hidden fake snake), the research team replaced human observation with wearable motion sensors. After processing the sensor data, a machine learning algorithm then analyzed children’s movements and found quantifiable differences between those with anxiety or depression and those without. By identifying physical signs of anticipatory anxiety, the algorithm could identify children with internalizing disorders in just 20 seconds with 81 percent accuracy, outperforming even parental assessments.

Why it's important: Bringing algorithmic diagnosis to bear on the more intangible realm of mental health could offer tremendous benefits in the way of early treatment. Sometimes showing symptoms as young as preschool, up to one in five children suffers from either anxiety or depression. These conditions are highly treatable at a young age, yet much more difficult to detect by caretakers. Given their propensity to result in serious risks such as substance abuse or suicide in adulthood, internalizing disorders are critical to treat early. With increasingly refined detection algorithms, screening children at scale and low cost may have a dramatic impact on mental health prevalence in both child and adult populations down the line.  Share on Facebook

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Claire Adair 

We Can Now Grow Perfect Human Blood Vessels In A Lab

What it is: For the first time, UBC researchers have successfully cultivated human blood vessels as “organoids” from stem cells in the lab. Organoids are three-dimensional, lab-grown cellular systems that mimic the characteristics of real human organs or tissues, in this case developing into functional human blood vessels when transplanted into mice. A perfect testing ground for vascular diseases such as diabetes, the vascular organoids were then induced into a “diabetic” state, exhibiting characteristically abnormal thickening of the basement membrane. This allowed researchers to identify a key inhibitor of enzyme γ-secretase that could prevent detrimental changes to blood vessels — a key cause of morbidity among diabetic patients.

Why it's important: While lab-grown blood vessel organoids have already provided a remarkable lead in the pursuit of diabetes treatments, this stem cell-based technology could have much farther-reaching implications. As explained by the study’s senior author Josef Penninger, “Every single organ in our body is linked with the circulatory system. This could potentially allow researchers to unravel the causes and treatments for a variety of vascular diseases, from Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular diseases, wound healing problems, stroke, cancer and, of course, diabetes.”  Share on Facebook

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Claire Adair 

This New Nanomaterial From Researchers In India Might Give Forensic Fingerprint Detecting A Boost.

What it is: Indian scientists from the Nanoscience Laboratory and National Institute of Technology (NIT) Durgapur have developed a nanomaterial that could make forensic science simultaneously faster and more accurate. Fingerprint detection can be difficult because current materials often miss nuances in patterns, such as when fingers are damaged. By doping manganese and copper atoms on a zinc sulphide nanosystem — essentially replacing zinc atoms with copper and manganese — the team created particles more than a million times smaller than a millimeter and highly luminescent. Under UV light, latent prints up to 2 months old and on a variety of surfaces can be captured via a smartphone camera for real-time analysis and sharing.

Why it's important: We often think of nanotechnology in the context of new materials built into products, but materials science applications of nanotech are expanding exponentially. As one use case develops and is shared, new ideas form, such as this team's use of the material to develop new white LEDs. What opportunities might materials science and nanotechnology open up for you?  Share on Facebook

Spotted by Aryadeep S. Acharya / Written by Jason Goodwin 

Amazon Built An Electronic Vest To Improve Worker/Robot Interactions

What it is: Amazon is at the forefront of robot-human worker interaction safety, and its latest innovation is a connected sensor-laden vest that allows robot workers to detect the location of human workers in an Amazon warehouse. Previously, Amazon warehouse associates proactively planned and marked which zones they would enter to perform maintenance or routine human logistics tasks. Now, workers can freely move around, while their vests passively update their robotic counterparts on their whereabouts.

Why it's important: We're seeing an unprecedented rise in robot-human collaboration all across the manufacturing and supply chain industries. Robots are often large, heavy, mobile and dangerous pieces of machinery. Just months ago, an incident involving Amazon warehouse workers, a robot, and bear repellent made international headlines. This IoT-enabled vest demonstrates that by leveraging converging exponential technologies (robotics, artificial intelligence, networks, sensors), companies can mitigate some of the risks of adopting a particular technology.  Share on Facebook

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Max Goldberg 

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This email is a briefing of the week's most compelling, abundance-enabling tech developments, curated by Marissa Brassfield in preparation for Abundance 360. Read more about A360 below.

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