biotech

Human Augmentation: The Miracles of Today’s Technology

Prosthetic_toe

The world’s first known prosthetic is an artificial toe found on an Egyptian mummy dating from before 600 BC.

For ages prosthetics and other devices to cope with lost human capacity have provided minimal amounts of utility.  Those who lost limbs, who went blind, who lost their hearing, who were paralyzed or had some other disability in generations past were labeled disabled.  They were destined to lead lives at a disadvantage, a disadvantage that in many cases meant a one way ticket to poverty.  Enter today’s age of sensor enabled and computing technology and disability is becoming something different.  Indeed, we are experiencing a world where the disabled are not disabled.  They are, as dual leg amputee and MIT researcher Hugh Herr describes it, differently-abled.

Examples of Miraculous Technology Innovations

Sonitus Medical, who will be represented at the VLAB Human Augmentation: Blurring the Line Between Biology & Technology on November 20, 2014 at Stanford University, produces the SoundBite™ ITM (In-The-Mouth) Hearing Device, a wearable that aids those with single sided deafness and conductive hearing loss.  Its usefulness, however, goes beyond the hearing impaired as people with normal hearing can augment their ability to hear in noisy places, such as a crowded room, and it can be used for covert wireless, ears-free, hands-free and extreme noise-shielding audio communications.

SonitusSoundBiteITM

The Sonitus SoundBite™ ITM

VisionCare Ophthalmic Techologies created an implantable miniature telescope reducing the blind spot for patients with End-Stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  Second Sight who recently filed for an IPO and KAMRA are two other companies using implants to enhance the ability of the visually impaired.

VisionCare-telescope

The pea-sized VisionCare Telescope

Ekso Bionics, who will also participate in the #VLABha event on Nov 20th, produces a bionic suit that helps patients with spinal cord injuries, who have suffered a stroke or have some other form of lower extremity weakness to walk again.  Their technology also can also be useful for military applications and in industrial occupations where laborers perform repetitive tasks.

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Ortho Development Corporation creates orthopedic implants and surgical instruments for knee and hip joint reconstruction, spine treatment, and trauma fracture repair.  They apply the latest clinically proven technologies in their innovative solutions.  One example is the use of Vitamin E as an antioxidant like sunscreen during production which makes implants more stable, eliminating the free radicals that cause the plastics to break down.

OrthoDevelopmentbalanced-knee

Ortho Development Balanced Knee® System

The SynTouch, LLC BioTac® provides an artificial fingertip with advanced sensing capabilities to detect force, vibration and temperature.  These sensing abilities can actually exceed the human sense of touch.

BioTac_485

The SynTouch BioTac®

Today’s Technology Miracles

Regardless of the technology or science behind these astounding accomplishments in innovation, when the lame can stand, the blind can see, the deaf can hear and any other instances where humans are able to exceed their individual natural ability: it is a miracle, a miracle of humanity and a miracle that intimately impacts the lives of those benefiting from the innovation.

These technology enabled miracles pull at the heart strings, regardless of whether your persuasion is more based in science or in faith.  Each instance serves as proof of a deeper capacity inside the human soul to achieve excellence, regardless of physical boundaries.  It is inherent for humanity to drive for excellence and to strive for something a little better, a little greater and to search beyond the unknown.

Thursday, November 20, 2014 at Stanford University VLAB, the San Francisco Bay Area MIT Enterprise Bay Area will present Human Augmentation: Blurring the Line Between Biology & Technology

Visit here for Tickets & information.

Eating Technology

Advancement in technology comes after tremendous effort.  At times technology appears to be too cost prohibitive and time consuming to continue expending the efforts required to develop a technology to the point where it can be used profitably.  It is also a challenge to get to the point where a new technology requires less, not more, time to use it.  Yet at the same time, entrepreneurs plod on creating newer and newer technologies.  We value the efforts of entrepreneurs for their substantial risk taking because ultimately, their successes benefit us.

Similar to entrepreneurs, in the field of research scientists expend tremendous effort at what seems at times a painstakingly slow pace in order to discover on the outer fringes of science.  What is similar between entrepreneurs and scientists also makes the relationship between entrepreneurs and scientists even more interesting, and that relationship could not be more exemplified than by those on the forefront of technology in the food industry.

Obviously there is technology in the food industry.  Farm equipment has become increasingly effective and efficient.  Farmers now drive GPS guided equipment while sitting on comfortable chairs with dust-filtered warm or cool air blowing on them depending on the season.  My grandfather, whose family was like most farming families at the turn of the twentieth century,  shared with me that when he was a young boy guiding the farm equipment across the fields the last thing he wanted the equivalent of the equipment’s engine, a horse, to do was blow air.  Certainly technology has come a long way in improving farm equipment and the associated pleasantries of working on a farm.

What brings me to this topic, however, has relatively little to do with these advances in technology and more to do with a deeper application of technology in the food industry, technology posed to change the way the world thinks about what it eats.  Technology posed to change how food is, and I’m going to use this word deliberately, created.  Yes, not harvested, not grown, not slaughtered: created.   Biotech meets the dinner plate and a whole new type of technologists emerge, food technologists.

With rising demand for food, in particular food that provides the necessary nutrients and proteins, food technologists are charting new ground in the production of new products designed to reduce the carbon footprint, the land and even the killing required in order to put protein on the plates, not just of Americans, but of everyone in the world.  At VLAB’s “Where’s the Beef?” event yesterday the question was asked, “Does the biotech industry have the potential to disrupt the food chain?”  The answer is yes.

Eating technology does not mean you’re going to find computer chips in your next steak; it does mean, however, that at some point in the future the steak you eat may have been created by using technology driven 3-D printers, cultured similar to how bacteria is cultivated for yogurt, or brewed similar to how yeast is used for beer.  That meat, at least according to Andras Forgacs, Founcer & CEO of Modern Meadow, will be better for you because it will contain less of what is bad for you.

While it may be hard for someone to stomach the idea of eating meat grown in a dish, technology is furthering advancement in developing non-animal sources of protein.  You can see those products at grocery stores which are beginning to sell more (and better tasting) vegetarian and vegan friendly products, products like those created by BeyondMeat.  Ingredients developed by Solazyme may also find their way to a plate in front of you.  Regardless of the company that delivers the product, rest assured that the reason the non-animal protein problem will be solved is because technology is at work disrupting the food chain.