Tag Archives: Futurism

futurism.com | Soon, Medication Will be Custom Tailored to Your Specific Genetics

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Personalized medicine, which involves tailoring health care to each person’s unique genetic makeup, has the potential to transform how we diagnose, prevent and treat disease. After all, no two people are alike. Mapping a person’s unique susceptibility to disease and targeting the right treatment has deservedly been welcomed as a new power to heal.

The human genome, a complete set of human DNA, was identified and mapped a decade ago. But genomic science remains in its infancy. According to Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, “It is fair to say that the Human Genome Project has not yet directly affected the health care of most individuals.”

It’s not that there haven’t been tremendous breakthroughs. It’s just that the gap between science and its ability to benefit most patients remains wide. This is mainly because we don’t yet fully understand the complex pathways involved in common chronic diseases.

I am part of a research team that has taken on the ambitious goal of narrowing this gap. New technologies are allowing us to probe DNA, RNA, proteins and gut bacteria in a way that will change our understanding of health and disease. Our hope is to discover novel biological markers that can be used to diagnose and treat common chronic conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

But when it comes to preventing the leading causes of death which include chronic diseases, genomics and precision medicine may not do as much as we hope.

Many Diseases Aren’t Due Only to Genetics

Chronic diseases are only partially heritable. This means that the genes you inherit from your parents aren’t entirely responsible for your risk of getting most chronic diseases.

The estimated heritability of heart disease is about 50 percent. It’s 64 percent for Type 2 diabetes mellitus, and 58 percent for Alzheimer’s disease. Our environment and lifestyle choice are also major factors; they can change or influence how the information coded in our genes is translated.

Chronic diseases are also “complex.” Rather than being controlled by a few genes that are easy to find, they are weakly influenced by hundreds if not thousands of genes, the majority of which still elude scientists. Unlocking the infinite combinations in which these genes interact with each other and with the environment is a daunting task that will take decades, if ever, to achieve.

While unraveling the genomic complexity of chronic disease is important, it shouldn’t detract from existing simple solutions. Many of our deadliest chronic diseases are preventable. For instance, among U.S. adults, more than 90 percent of Type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of coronary arterial disease, 70 percent of stroke and 70 percent of colon cancer are potentially avoidable.

Smoking, weight gain, lack of exercise, poor diet and alcohol consumption are all risk factors for these conditions. Based on their profound impact on gene expression, or how instructions within a gene are manifested, addressing these factors will likely remain fundamental in preventing these illnesses.

Morgan/Flickr
Morgan/Flickr

Will More Knowledge be More Power?

A major premise behind personalized medicine is that empowering patients and doctors with more knowledge will lead to better decision-making. With some major advances, this has indeed been the case. For instance, variants in genes that control an enzyme that metabolizes drugs can identify individuals who metabolize some drugs too rapidly (not giving them a chance to work), or too slowly (leading to toxicity). This can lead to changes in medication dosing.

When applied to prevention, however, identifying our susceptibility at an earlier stage has not aided in avoiding chronic diseases. Research challenges the assumption that we will use genetic markers to change our behavior. More knowledge may nudge intent, but that doesn’t translate to motivating changes to our lifestyle.

A recent review found that even when people knew their personal genetic risk of disease, they were no more likely to quit smoking, change their diet or exercise. “Expectations that communicating DNA-based risk estimates changes behavior is not supported by existing evidence,” the authors conclude.

Increased knowledge may even have the unintended consequence of shifting the focus to personal responsibility while detracting from our joint responsibility for improving public health. Reducing the prevalence of chronic diseases will require changing the political, social and economic environment within which we make choices as well as individual effort.

Rusty Clark
Rusty Clark/Flickr

What About Treating Chronic Diseases?

Perhaps the most awaited hope of the genomic era is that we will be able to develop targeted treatments based on detailed molecular profiling. The implication is that we will be able to subdivide disease into new classifications. Rather than viewing Type 2 diabetes as one disease, for example, we may discover many unique subtypes of diabetes.

This already is happening with some cancers. Patients with melanoma, leukemia or metastatic lung, breast or brain cancers can, in some cases, be offered a “molecular diagnosis” to tailor their treatment and improve their chance of survival.

We have been able to make progress in cancer therapy and drug safety and efficacy because specific gene mutations control a person’s response to these treatments. But for complex, chronic diseases, relatively few personalized targeted treatments exist.

Customizing treatments based on our uniqueness will be a breakthrough, but it also poses a challenge: Without the ability to test targeted treatments on large populations, it will make it infinitely harder to discover and predict their response.

The very reason we group people with the same signs and symptoms into diagnoses is to help predict the average response to treatment. There may be a time when we have one-person trials that custom tailor treatment. However, the anticipation is that the timeline to getting to such trials will be long, the failure rate high and the cost exorbitant.

Research that takes genetic risk of diabetes into account has found greater benefit in targeting prevention efforts to all people with obesity rather than targeting efforts based on genetic risk.

We also have to consider decades of research on chronic diseases that suggest there are inherent limitations to preventing the global prevalence of these diseases with genomic solutions. For most of us, personalized medicine will likely complement rather than replace “one-size-fits-all” medicine.

Where does that leave us? Despite the inherent limitations to the ability of genomic medicine to transform health care, medicine in the future should unquestionably aspire to be “personal.” Genomics and molecular biosciences will need to be used holistically – in the context of a person’s health, beliefs and attitudes – to fulfill their power to greatly enhance medicine.

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futurism.com | Scientists Uncover Genes That May Help Combat Aging and Disease

“Late-Life Cyclers”

Scientists and physicians alike agree that the circadian cycle, an organism’s “biological clock,” plays an important role in keeping the body healthy. Now, researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) have uncovered another reason why disrupting this cycle is bad for your health.

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Led by OSU graduate student Rachael Kuintzle, the researchers discovered that a subset of genes associated with the circadian cycle become active only later in life or during periods of intense stress. Kunitzle’s team identified at least 25 such genes, which she dubbed “late-life cyclers,” or LLCs. The team wasn’t able to determine the exact functions of all of the genes, but they were able to link them to aging.

According to OSU professor Jadwiga Giebultowicz, co-author of the study, which was published today in the journal Nature Communications,This class of LLC genes appear to become active and respond to some of the stresses most common in aging, such as cellular and molecular damage, oxidative stress, or even some disease states. ”

The team found that age-related stresses aren’t the only things that activate these LLCs — any kind of stress will do the trick just as well. “In experiments where we created artificial oxidative stress in young fruit flies, the LLC genes were rhythmically activated,” said researcher Eileen Chow. “Some of these same genes are known to be more active in people who have cancer. They appear to be a double-edged sword, necessary during times of stress but possibly harmful if activated all the time.”

Fewer Disruptions, Longer Lives

As the OSU researchers note, constantly disrupting the circadian cycle can negatively affect our bodies’ natural processes and lead to a host of problems. “Aging is associated with neural degeneration, loss of memory, and other problems, which are exacerbated if clock function is experimentally disrupted,” said Giebultowicz. “The LLC genes are part of the natural response to that, and do what they can to help protect the nervous system.”

“Discovery of LLC genes may provide a missing link, the answer to why the disruption of circadian clocks accelerates aging symptoms,” added researcher David Hendrix.

With so many studies focused on treating aging as a disease, perhaps further research involving LLCs can help efforts to reverse or halt aging completely. Furthermore, because LLC genes are found throughout the nervous system and peripheral organs, they tend to affect more than just sleep and stress reaction, but also feeding patterns, DNA repair, fertility, and even the effectiveness of medications. Clearly, the impact of the OSU team’s research could be very far-reaching.

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futurism.com | Watch the World’s First Rideable Hoverbike in Flight

Hoversurfing the Skies

A Russian drone start-up called Hoversurf just posted a video unveiling a prototype for a single-seat aircraft that you can drive yourself.

Dubbed the Scorpion-3, the electric-powered hoverbike is capable of lifting itself and a driver into the air. It combines a traditional motorcycle design with quadcopter technology, allowing both professionals and amateurs to easily control and maneuver the vehicle.

Using proprietary software, the company is able to limit the range and velocity of the hoverbike to ensure the safety of the driver. Aesthetically, the vehicle was inspired by the heavy-duty motorbike frames typically used in extreme games. The difference is that the Scorpion-3 has the ability to “surf through the air by changing altitude and direction,” its creators explain on their website.

Quadcopter Flight

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While it is the first manned quadcopter that has undergone testing, the Scorpion-3 isn’t the only one that has been built so far.

Dubai is hoping that it will be able to launch a self-driving hover-taxi in a few months, which will be used to support an official public transport service by the middle of the year. The U.S. military, in partnership with Malloy Aeronautics, also has a prototype for a hoverbike that can help resupply soldiers on the battlefield. Meanwhile, Aerofex has a passenger-ready, low-altitude vehicle called the Aero-X that has the potential to be used for everything from leisure to search-and-rescue missions.

Hoversurf wants to position the Scorpion-3 for extreme sports, but an airborne vehicle with exposed propeller blades can prove to be a little unnerving, even for the most experienced X-gamer. With a little more refinement, though, the company should have no trouble meeting its goals.

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futurism.com | Last Week, the Temperature in One U.S. City Was 43 Degrees Higher Than Normal

100 Degrees in Winter

Magnum, Oklahoma, saw temperatures close to 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) last week. This would be nothing exceptional in the tropics on a summer day, but this spike occurred in the Northern Hemisphere in the dead of winter. In fact, this weather was so extreme it broke a daily record in the state, which had an average February high of 13 degrees Celsius (56 degrees Fahrenheit) prior to this phenomenon.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued an emergency burn ban due to the sweltering heat, but a grass fire that caused some residents to evacuate their homes still broke out. Temperatures have since returned to the normal range for the region.

Proof of Climate Change

Fire hazards aside, most would normally welcome a rare warm February. However, it should be noted that such extreme shifts in temperature are very unusual during the winter, and they tangibly illustrate the effects of climate change on our environment. Warm temperatures during traditionally cold months are enough to disrupt and destabilize the natural ecosystem. The balmy weather may prompt trees and flowers to bloom, only to suffer frost damage when the temperatures return to normal. That may seem like a very minor thing, but it can have a ripple effect on the industries that are dictated by the seasons, such as agriculture.

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These record-breaking temperatures are invariably associated with humanity’s influence on the environment. Carbon emissions caused by our dependence on fossil fuels are trapping heat inside the planet’s atmosphere, resulting in very erratic temperatures.

As much as climate change deniers would like to classify this weather anomaly as an isolated event, similar extreme weather shifts are happening in various parts of the world, providing overwhelming evidence of climate change: Australia is still recovering from a major heatwave during which temperatures reach 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit); temperatures in the Arctic exceeded the average three times in the last few months; and the North Pole’s temperature has risen to 20 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) above its normal average.

Fortunately, it looks like public opinion is changing as a new study just reported that a majority of adults in the UK now recognize the reality of man-made climate change. “Over just three years, there has been a discernible shift in public opinion towards acceptance that climate change is both happening and mainly caused by human activity,” according Andrew Hawkins, chairman of ComRes, the organization behind the study. “Seven in ten now believe that almost all, or a majority, of climate scientists believe the same.”

Hopefully, governments and policy makers will follow suit. Their support for renewables, electric vehicles (EVs), environmental regulations, and similar initiatives that address climate change is critical to making sure that we protect the planet and work to reverse the damage we have already done.

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futurism.com | L.A. Traffic Is the Worst in the World, And We Need to Do Something

Global Traffic Scorecard

The results are in for the Global Traffic Scorecard—a report that ranks cities based on the hours commuters spend in traffic. And, according to statistics, Los Angeles drivers and passenger spent 104 hours in traffic

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in 2016 during peak commuting hours. That translates to four full days plus eight additional hours of just sitting in gridlocked traffic.

 

These hours add up to an approximated financial loss of $2,408 per driver, or roughly $9.7 billion collectively, due to wasted fuel and productivity.

Everybody drives in LA, but that doesn’t mean that public transportation isn’t available. In fact, just last year, two light-rail lines opened and legislation was passed to raise sales tax so that there can be increased funds for building more infrastructure for public transport. But to date, service is largely considered inefficient and has led to the locals being unwilling to give up driving for the Metro.

Moscow, Russia comes in second on this scorecard with 91 hours spent in traffic, followed by New York with 89.

Carmageddon

According to Graham Cookson, chief economist at INRIX as reported by ABC News, “Congestion is bad for our wallets and our health, but in one sense it is a good problem to have. Roads are the arteries of the economy pumping people and goods around the country. Congestion is the symptom of a rich and prosperous economy.”

Still, it is a problem that has to be addressed. And, among the more innovative ideas being proposed is Elon Musk’s plan to literally bore through traffic.

The Tesla and SpaceX founder and CEO is serious about digging a tunnel into and through Los Angeles, and he has completed a boring test drive, so to speak, at the SpaceX headquarters in LA. Workers dug a “test trench” 30 feet wide, 50 feet long, and 15 feet deep this past weekend, which Musk called the beginning of an experiment.

Despite releasing images of his boring project, it’s still unclear as to how the tunnel will function. But, as this project continues, many others seek to find creative solutions to this traffic problem. And, while Musk is not on board with the possibility of introducing flying cars into the public, there are many who are well on their way to making flying cars a reality. There is even talk of creating a US-based hyperloop.

Hopefully, whichever plans come to pass, there will eventually be some sort of viable public transportation solution for Los Angeles. This will both decrease the congestion issues that plague the city while, at the same time, hopefully lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

 

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futurism.com | China is Using Drones Equipped With Flamethrowers for an Unexpected Purpose

Year after year, we witness drones becoming more multifaceted in functionality. From artificial pollination to performing at halftime during the Super Bowl – drones have become just as diverse as the society that created them. This is now truer than ever, as China has recently equipped drones with flamethrowers for the benefit of the public.

A power company in Xiangyang, China has established a hot, new way to clean power lines. Rather than having people try to reach the far corners of the city scraping off caked-on debris that’s been lodged in hard-to-reach-spots, the power company will now have drones perform this task.

Electric company maintenance workers utilizing the drone flamethrower to clean electrical wires that have garbage attached to them. Photo by Wang Hu/VCG
Electric company maintenance workers utilizing the drone flamethrower to clean electrical wires that have garbage attached to them. Photo Credit: Wang Hu/VCG

While this seems dangerous, the use of drones seems to actually be safer than the previous protocol. Before, maintenance workers would risk their lives to clean power lines, climbing upwards of 10 meters (32 feet) into the air while risking electrocution with each step. While the use of a flamethrower may require more frequent cable replacements, the metal power lines will not be harmed by the flames.

The 11kg drones have officially made their fiery debut, reminding us that while this might mean fewer maintenance jobs, technology, and flamethrowers, can improve safety.

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futurism.com | Mark Cuban: We Need to Prepare for When Robots Replace Human Workers

A Warning and a Question

Dallas Mavericks owner and business mogul Mark Cuban has joined other technology leaders in warning about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and robots on jobs. In an interview with CNBC, Cuban warned about the loss of jobs due to increased automation in the very near future. The interview was followed by a tweet and a link to an article.

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“I’m willing to bet that these companies building new plants … this will lead to fewer people being employed,” Cuban told CNBC, saying that “people aren’t going to have jobs.” Cuban echoed the sentiments of some of the tech industry’s top hats, including Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The Mavericks boss, however, also asked a very important question: “How does [Trump] deal with displaced workers?” Thus far, the new administration hasn’t provided any clear plans on how to handle the issue, but maybe Cuban’s inquiry will prompt a response.

Automation Is Here

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A number of studies have predicted that AI and robots are bound to take over a good number of jobs. One study predicts that around 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. alone will be replaced by automated systems, with 7 percent of these on track to be replaced as early as 2025. Job displacement will affect various industries, including transportation, manufacturing, information technology, and even law.

Automation is changing not just the state of jobs but possibly even the meaning of work. The previous administration had suggestions on how to deal with this, and several experts have also weighed in, with many asserting that automation itself isn’t a bad thing. One particular solution being pushed around is universal basic income (UBI). Several institutions have already begun UBI experiments to test how feasible and effective such a program would be.

As automation comes for many of the world’s jobs, Cuban’s question remains: What are we doing about it?

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