regenerative medicine, vagina, Anthony Atala, syndrome
The work of scientists trying to manufacture major human organs like the brain and heart in the lab has generated a lot of buzz, even though it will most likely be decades before the lab-grown organs are exact enough to be transplanted into patients.

But scientists are already successfully replicating some of the less intricate parts of the human anatomy. Two such studies led the editors of The Lancet to trumpet in the most recent issue “Tissue engineering’s green shoots of disruptive innovation.”

regenerative medicine, anthony atala, vagina, syndrome, The journal marked two sets of results: In one study, Swiss doctors used patients’ cells and a structure made of pig collagen to provide healthy sinus structure in five patients who had lost much of their noses to skin cancer. In another, Anthony Atala, a pioneer in regenerative medicine, documented that young women who received custom-fitted vaginal canals made from scaffolded human cells grown in the lab, saw healthy tissue grow with their bodies and enjoyed normal sex lives 5-8 years after their surgeries.

Okay, it’s a little weird to be talking about vaginas here, but that’s kind of the point. While this work in regenerative medicine lacks the unembarrassed awe that greets lab-grown hearts and brains, the patients’ quality of life — their ability to have normal sex lives — depends on it.

The young women Atala treated suffered from a rare condition, Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, in which the vagina, and sometimes the uterus, is absent. The girls were between 13 and 18 years old at the time of the surgeries performed in Mexico City between 2005 and 2008. Their subsequent sexual satisfaction was self-reported using a standard set of criteria.

Currently, women with MRKH syndrome undergo dilation of existing tissue or grafts of skin or the tissue that lines the abdominal cavity. But graft shrinkage and infections are common.

“This may represent a new option for patients who require vaginal reconstructive surgeries. In addition, this study is one more example of how regenerative medicine strategies can be applied to a variety of tissues and organs,” Atala said in a statement provided for press.

Though Atala has used stem cells in other processes, in this case, doctors took a tiny sample of vulvar tissue from each patient and used it to cultivate smooth muscle cells and vaginal epithelial cells in the lab. (In other words, they did not first turn the cells into induced stem cells.)

scaffold-cells-vagina-regenerative-medicineWhile Atala has used 3D printing in some of his treatments, the scaffolds that gave the tissue its shape were hand-sewn from a decellularised segment of pig intestine. 3D printing would be needed to bring costs down if the number of procedures rises.

The structure was surgically attached to the patients’ reproductive organs. The scaffold gradually biodegraded and the cells expanded and formed normal vaginal walls.

Atala, whose lab was the first to implant lab-grown organs into human patients, earned TED fame for a talk in which he showed off a young man who had received a replacement bladder based on an approach similar to the one used in Mexico City. Research for the MRHK treatment began in the early 1990s and had already shown that once cell-seeded scaffolds are implanted in the body, nerves and blood vessels form and the cells expand and form tissue.

As The Lancet observes, this latest work work suggests that many quality-of-life medical issues might be helped using the lower-tech, clinic-ready versions of stem cell-inspired therapies.

Images: Wake Forest University

How To Pass a Urine Test (Or At Least Stand a Fighting Chance)

You’ve got enough to worry about for that upcoming job interview without stressing over whether or not you’ll be judged by what you pee into a cup. And sometimes it’s just to late to go all the way straight-and-narrow. Fortunately there are ways of maximizing the chance that your future employment won’t be sidetracked by Friday night’s doobie. Here’s what you need to know to have your best chance at passing a urinalysis test.

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Why Vinyl Is the Only Worthwhile Way to Own Music

On any given Tuesday in the 90s, I would hustle to the record store after school to gawk at the new releases. Occasionally, I would take a CD home, greedily tear it open, pop it into my boombox, and listen while I pretended to do my homework. This wonderful experience has no value any more. It’s obsolete.

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tunnel-vision-LgAdvances in exponential technology happen fast — too fast for Singularity Hub to cover them all. This weekly bulletin points to significant developments to keep readers in the know.

google-glass-for-the-massesWho’s Zoomin’ Who?
Google Glass is available, at least for now, to the masses. But will average consumers ever warm to the eyeglass computers? They’re certainly not there yet, according to market research conducted by Toluna and reported in AdWeek. Seven in 10 Americans says they won’t wear Glass because of privacy concerns. Interestingly, consumers cited fears that they would be recorded by their own devices, reflecting some combination of misunderstanding of how Glass works and extreme skepticism about Google’s overall treatment of user privacy.

cyborg-hackScarification for Geeks
Tired of waiting for that password ring or bracelet? Go the next step and implant a chip in your hand. A December 2013 crowdfunding campaign to sell RFID- and NFC-enabled implantable chips was wildly successful and the company, aptly called Dangerous Things, is now selling the chips. The glass chip comes pre-loaded in a syringe, pain drugs sold separately. We have no idea how or even if this is legal; it certainly doesn’t have FDA approval, but the agency couldn’t tell us if it was investigating.

viral-immunity-influenza-FCan’t Touch This
A brother and sister who suffer from a rare disorder affecting how proteins bond with sugars in the body are immune to most viruses, NIH researchers report in current issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. The siblings are very sick — sugar bonding is a part of many healthy bodily process — but they aren’t sick with a viral infection. Most viruses, including influenza and HIV, though not the adenoviruses that cause the common cold, need sugary envelopes to establish themselves in host cells. The rare genetic variant suggests a drug pathway that could also widely target viruses. Drugs called MOG inhibitors stymie, in limited fashion, the same bonding process. The drugs have shown promise as a treatment for HIV infection.

The Way You Look at 90
It’s the oldest software trick in the book to try to predict from a photo what someone will look like when they’re older. But a new age-progression program from researchers at the University of Washington does it really well, and it needs just a single childhood photo as a reference point. (Adult teeth seem to throw it off a bit.) Police could use the software to generate photos of long-missing children, to boost the chances of finding them. Of course, they could also use it to hone in on criminals who’ve been successfully hiding out for decades. Oh, also note that one of the researchers is also a Google employee; the research was funded by Google and Intel.

 Photos: Bruce Rolff /, Robert Scoble via Flickr, Dangerous Things, N/A (Wikimedia Commons)

flexible electronics, john rogers, silicon chipsIt could be easy to conclude, eyeing the number of Fitbits, Fuel bands and competitors in a roomful of people in London, New York or San Francisco, that wearable computing has already arrived. But wearables are at the stage personal computers were back in the days of floppy disks. To take but one problem: The wristbands that aim to monitor body processes don’t have a stable connection to the body.

Flexible electronic componentry is one plausible solution, making it possible for wearable electronics to sit directly on the skin as an adhesive patch, for example. University of Illinois materials scientist John Rogers has pioneered flexible electronic patches in a series of influential papers.

The trouble is, it’s taken years to amass the manufacturing refinements and economies of scale that make computer chips cheap enough for many of us to own several computerized devices, and using the new flexible parts would scuttle cost savings.

So Rogers is now proposing a Plan B: a wearable electronic patch that incorporates standard silicon chips. The patch uses a microfluidic construction with wires folded to allow it to bend and flex around the rigid off-the-shelf chips. The patch doesn’t need wires for power, either, because it relies on a resonant inductive coupling charger.

“Our original epidermal devices exploited specialized device geometries. But chip-scale devices, batteries, capacitors and other components must be re-formulated for these platforms. There’s a lot of value in complementing this specialized strategy with our new concepts in microfluidics and origami interconnects to enable compatibility with commercial off-the-shelf parts for accelerated development, reduced costs and expanded options in device types,” Rogers said in a news release.

The latest patch is essentially a thin elastic envelope filled with fluid. The chip components sit suspended on tiny raised supports; tightly folded wires connect the electronics components, including power inductors, sensors and transmitters to track and communicate health data. Folded like origami, the wires can unfold in any direction to accommodate twisting and stretching of the patch while the chips remain in place.

Cheaper than nanotechnology-based electronics patches, the computerized patch works as well as clunky conventional sensors like those used for EKG and EEG monitoring and picks up less noise than consumer fitness trackers, according to a recent study co-authored by Rogers and Yonggang Huang of Northwestern University and published in the journal Science.

John Rogers, flexible electronics, silicon chipsThe researchers hope that it’s a magical combination that will let doctors get better data sooner, enabling them to provide better diagnoses.

“If we can continuously monitor our health with a comfortable, small device that attaches to our skin, it could be possible to catch health conditions before experiencing pain, discomfort and illness,” Huang said.

The prototype doesn’t quite look comfortable enough yet for consumers to willingly wear it all day, every day. But proving it’s possible to use standard chips in technology that can be worn directly on the skin opens up a lot of possibilities, from more accurate pedometers to first-sign diagnoses of many major illnesses not to mention body-mounted password black boxes.

Combining consumers’ hunger for wearable health devices with Rogers’s methodical pursuit of rugged, comfortable devices, it seems likely that soon these prototypes will hit the commercial sweet spot.

Photos: Felice Frankel and John Rogers

Everything We Know About the Army's Uncanny Chatbots

Sgt. Star is the U.S. Army’s dedicated marketing and recruitment chatbot, and he isn’t going to turn whistleblower any time soon. There’s no use threatening him for answers either—he’s programmed to report that kind of hostility to the Army Criminal Investigation Division.

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Google Sent Out Broken Glass to Try on "For Look Purposes Only"

Is the only thing holding you back from entering the world of Glass the fact that you can’t decide which color best brings out your eyes? Worry no more. Google’s fixed the problem by sending potential Explorers all four colors of Glass’ Titanium Collection . And because this is just about about how great(?) you’ll look in Glass, those test units are entirely, 100 percent non-functional.

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As I’m sure you’ve already read, Facebook recently acquired Oculus Virtual Reality for $2 billion.

This is a huge deal… and here’s why:

Brief Company Timeline:
August 2012 – Oculus Rift raises $2.5M on Kickstarter
June 2013 – Oculus Rift raises $16M in venture capital
December 2013 – Oculus Rift raises another $75M, led by Marc Andreessen
March 2014 – Facebook buys Oculus VR for $2B.

The CEO of Oculus went from:

*”I’ve got an idea” — to –
“I run a $2 Billion company”
…in under 18 months. Ouch!*

A few more impressive numbers:

  • The CEO (Palmer Luckey) is a 20-year-old college dropout.
  • The company had only 50 employees at the time of its $2B exit.

This is one of the more striking examples of exponential growth as of late, and hits on many of the lessons we’re learning about at the Abundance 360 Summit.

Let’s break down why this is so incredible.

Crowdfunding – As we’ve discussed, crowdfunding can help you secure your seed investment (which for Oculus was $2.5M) by validating your market and fit. Then, with the momentum you build, you can raise venture capital. In this case, that meant $95M… This deal substantiates the claim that the value of crowdfunding is so much more than just the money raised during the campaign. Oculus VR received incredible market validation and curated a massive network of passionate developers to push the technology (and business) forward.

The User Interface Moment – As we discussed at Abundance 360 this year, the key to monitoring exponential technologies is looking for User Interface moments, which herald something big. Very big… (If you are unfamiliar with the term “User interface moment,” think back to the Mosaic Web Browser created by Marc Andreessen. It was the moment when “the web” became useful to the world).

Breakthroughs Coming from a Novice – There have been MANY attempts to bring virtual reality headsets to mainstream audiences, and hundreds of millions have been spent in the process. This breakthrough didn’t come from an expert (who normally can tell you what can’t be done) but from a passionate novice who didn’t know what couldn’t be done. So, it would only make sense that Marc Andreessen was the lead investor in Oculus VR – a veteran in spotting the true “user interface moment” and capitalizing on timing.

Exponential Organizations – The story of Oculus VR is another incredible validation of the power of Exponential Organizations. Like the examples of Exponential Organizations before it, Instagram, AirBnB and WhatsApp, this story has all the pieces of the exponential organization puzzle: A Massively Transformative Purpose (MTP), a small team, use of exponential technologies, use of the Crowd & Community, etc.

Passion Trumps All – How can a 20-year-old USC dropout succeed where experts of the past have failed? Passion. This story should inspire everyone to pursue his or her passions. Palmer Luckey, the founder and creator of Oculus VR, had but one goal: make video games even better than they already were. Once Palmer realized he could use virtual reality to fulfill his dream, he did everything in his power to make it come true. Luckey’s approach to this was simple: “Use virtual reality to make me love something more than I already do.” You need to build things with a purpose. Pursue things with a fiery passion that gets you out of bed in the morning. Don’t just go build something for the sake of building something.

I hope you find this useful. I wanted to bring to life some of the critical lessons we studied together at Abundance 360 so you can remind yourself how to apply them in your own startup or business.

At the next Abundance 360 Summit, I plan on diving even further into virtual reality and the huge boom it could create across all industries. The potential impact it will have on the cost of business, travel, real estate, etc. is enormous. I hope to see you there.

My MTP is: ”To empower entrepreneurs to create extraordinary wealth while creating a world of Abundance.” (What’s yours?)

[image credit: flickr/Sergey Galyonkin]

RaspberryPi-bAs computers grew smaller and more powerful over the last couple of decades, they also became sleek and pre-packaged, eroding the tinkering ethos that fueled many early computing innovations. As computer science became a more sought-after field of study for young people, those same young people knew less and less about what happened in the guts of their lithe little machines, according to the founders of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, who once read applications at Cambridge University.

With the Raspberry Pi, a programmable credit card-sized computer, the British computer scientists sought to rekindle garage innovation. What would young students do with the power of computing if they could buy a computer for just $35 and access all of its parts?

Well, for many young people and several tech publications, the question has morphed into “Just how geeky would a tech geek be if a tech geek could hack tech?” And the answer, as one could have guessed, was pretty darn geeky. The device has been devoted to geek-culture activities from brewing beer to entertaining cats.

One nostalgic programmer recently made tech news by using a Raspberry Pi to power a clone of the 1980s Commodore 64 computer. Creative and nerdy, to be sure, but are there Pi projects with some social benefit?

Raspberry Pi was designed to expand access to hands-on computing among young people, so we must first mention that it has. Google — not motivated entirely by altruism, one suspects — donated 15,000 Pi computers to secondary schools in the UK. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is offering seminars for British teachers on how to teach computing with its devices.

raspberry pi, technology, computersSome have sought to extended the computing access Raspberry Pi offers, by using it to power an internet server. Others have gone further, showing how to connect household items to the local network to create a tiny personal Internet of Things. Hackers can control lights and automatic garage doors, for example.

These personal use cases don’t do much directly to help make the world a better place, but they may well lead to ways to use home automation technology to reduce energy consumption.

A couple of students at the University of Scranton are using Raspberry Pi computers to dynamically reposition PV solar panels to capture the maximum amount of sunlight each day. They’ve sent two prototype computerized solar panels to Uganda where one will power a water pump and the other will form the basis as a science experiment for students.

raspberry pi, audiobook player, computersComputer technology is also a powerful tool with which to accommodate the needs of the disabled, but the combination of high cost and specialized consumer markets keeps many of these products from having the influence they could. In this domain, Raspberry Pi could be a game-changer. One developer used the device as the basis of a simple audiobook reader with a single button for ease of use.

And then there was the Kansas University competition for clever use cases for the Raspberry Pi. The winner, Rayyan Kamal, described using the tiny computers, connected to the ground, to gauge soil quality and weather. A global network of the devices would provide a powerful tool that could be used by farmers to determine what to grow in the changing climate. Biologists could also use such a network to track shifting ecosystems.

Precision agriculture — in which all the nuances even of a given field are considered when growing food crops — has been heralded by some as our best answer to the challenges posed by increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather patterns. Surveying drones have often been proposed as the way to deliver customized care to each individual plant. But Kamal’s $35 sensors seem like a better way to get data on the growing conditions as opposed to drone-mounted cameras backed by complex artificial intelligence systems to convert photos into irrigation and fertilization recommendations.

Several years and a couple million units into the Raspberry Pi project, it’s not yet clear how much the small, affordable machines will drive projects that improve qualify of life for those who need it most. But it’s encouraging to see a number of ideas for how they could.

Photos: Jwrodgers via Wikimedia Commons, Tim Walker via Flickr, Michael Clemens

Looks Like Steve Ballmer's First Tweets Are From an iPhone

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer popped up on Twitter tonight, and, if this really is his account , it looks like it hasn’t taken long for his loyalties to start shifting. Two out of his first four tweets have been sent from an iPhone.

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