Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Archive for November, 2007

A new test to diagnose heart failures better

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 29, 2007

With a special interest for remote healthcare and innovative diagnostics, this news couldn’t go past me. A group of researchers at the University of Leeds have come up with a new technique that helps to identify the difference between a heart attack potential and a chest pain due to other causes. Currently, when a patient lands up in the Er with chest pain, the physician administers a troponin test which can detect and evaluate heart injury and separate it from other chest pains. The test looks for troponin protein in the blood, which is generated when heart cells have died. However this test is not comprehensive and can give both false negatives and false positives. The predictor looks for the protein and only isolates between a scenario of real heart damage and a case of chest pain with no death of heart cells yet. It misses the spectrum in between.

A new test has been developed by the team that looks for a heart-type fatty acid-binding protein (H-FABP) which is released into the circulation following heart injury (myocardial ischemia). According to Alistair Hall, Professor of Clinical Cardiology at Leeds “The H-FABP test is a major advance on what we had before. It appears to be able to detect milder and earlier degrees of heart injury than do current tests which detect heart cell death.

The uniqueness of the test lies in its ability to identify patients whose chest pains are an indication that they are susceptible to heart attack in the following weeks or months. The aspect of prevention makes this test a winner. It not only saves lives, but also saves money and unnecessary services. I will look forward to the eventual commercialization of such a test with an affordable price proposition. And then if such a test can be made portable and easy to administer at the point of care, i.e., homes.

Read the article [here].

Posted in blood, diagnosis, health, Medicine | Leave a Comment »

How Brazil made it possible with ethanol? – Consumer hedging bets at the pumps

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 24, 2007

Last week my good friend Shalabh mentioned about a CNN program on Brazil’s independence from Middle East oil. The program delineated the story of ethanol and the growth of an economy around that. I got interested about it and started digging for more information. In fact I am also looking for that video. Meanwhile, I stumbled upon an article published by the Wall Street Journal early last year. The article has a very interesting perspective. It doesn’t talk much about the stats and the numbers. However, it gives a nice case study of Brazil’s long-term vision back in early 70’s. You can take a peek at [As Brazil Fills Up on Ethanol, It Weans Off Energy Imports]. sugar_cane_brazil.jpg

What I enjoyed most from reading the article is the progressive story of one country’s vision, dogged determination, strict enforcement, and controlled cost-guarantee (more on a short-term basis) to encourage a new scientific development and eventual mass acceptance. The good thing that the military ruler Gen. Ernesto Geisel achieved was a stringent adherence to the policy of mixing more ethanol to gasoline. Over time, this adherence paid off as the % of ethanol in gas rose to more than 25%.

One other thing I loved about the development is the production of cars that are capable of running both on ethanol and gasoline, and some totally on ethanol. The government forced Petrobas to provide outlets for ethanol at gas stations. This effort had an initial effect of visibility in spite of an investment that didn’t promise a ROI right away. But this push allowed car companies to come up with ethanol based models due to the infrastructural availability to support the promise. I talked about a similar case of infrastructural support for hydrogen fuel in the US in a previous article [First hydrogen cell bus in Texas – infrastructural impediment to economy of scale]. With a continuous support from the government through tax breaks and other investment incentives, soon other car companies started launching ‘flexible fuel‘ cars. Hence, availability of the fuel, vehicles manufactured to run on it, and a solid state mandate and support resulted in a mass scale acceptance of a new form of energy. — A great story!

Picture Courtesy Washington Post: Sugar cane arrives at a plant belonging to Cosan SA Industria e Comercio, the largest sugar and ethanol producer in Brazil. Most of Brazil’s ethanol comes from sugar cane.

Photo Credit: JC Franca, Bloomberg News

Posted in Energy, Environment, fuel, Innovation, investment | Leave a Comment »

Want to have a glance of your future and past? – deCODEme will get you that for $985

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 19, 2007

Genomic decoding and assessment are about to be commercialized, and that’s too for a very affordable price. Well affordable for the kind of information the assessment might provide. Some people might just shout about the social/ethical implications of learning about your ancestral history and your likeliness of getting affected by any particular disease, but I am all excited about the prospect. An Icelandic company, deCODEme, is going to assess a person’s genome matrix for disease risk, physical attributes such as hair and eye colors, and ancestral trajectory – from where their ancestors came nearly 50,000 years back! And that’s all for $985 and a small tissue scrape from the inner cheeks over the mail. However, the efficacy of the test will depend upon the growing number of applicants. Larger the database, better will be the analysis. genome3.jpg

Why would the analysis depend upon the number of applicants? I am not going to repeat the information over here. The whole technology behind analyzing the genome rests on something called SNP chips. These chips can determine DNA at the sites of analysis on the genome track and capture information at the points of differences of the DNA. The whole thing boils down to the point where the chip can record the characteristics on the basis of these difference points. It is indeed complicated. May be I can do some more research on this. Meanwhile, you can check out more over [here].

Quoting from the article *** but because so little is known about the meaning of variation at each site on the genome, there was not much of interest he could say about himself. Companies like Decode hope that the more people have themselves genotyped, the better they will become at interpreting each DNA difference ***. I think this whole prospect is multi dimensional. Some of the areas that could see growth are:

  1. Bio-informatics and companies who are currently doing genotyping. The larger the volume of information, the bigger the sample space and the better is the analysis of DNA site differences between genome points of other individuals
  2. SNP chip manufacturers like Illumina of San Diego and Affymetrix of Santa Clara, CA
  3. Compoutational power – to deal with the complicated informatics processing
  4. Data security and encryption
  5. Ancestral trajectory analysis and reporting
  6. Disease informatics mapping tied up with with DNA differences at genome sites – may be a great information for clinical discoveries in pharmaceutical companies.

So I guess opportunities are boundless. Meanwhile, let me study a bit more about genotyping!! 🙂

Posted in biotech, genetics | Leave a Comment »

Piezoelectrics on steroids – researcher creates artificial compound

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 17, 2007

Pradeep Sharma and his research team at University of Houston are in the process of testing an engineered piezoelectric material that could revolutionize the way piezoelectrics produce power. In naturally occurring piezoelectric materials there are several limitations. Even though these compounds are being used in increasing commercial products such as airbags, lighters, etc., there extensive growth in market utilization and efficiency are limited by their brittleness and the requirement of a lot of energy. Sharma’s research encompasses theoretical approach to design fabrication of materials and then practical testing of real compounds created artificially from ground up. pradeep_sharma_houston.jpg

If a fairly good amount of energy can be created from a tangible mechanical pressure, these compounds have the potential to appear in several commercial applications that require power generation to run internal operations of devices. Considering the claim that the artificially engineered materials are steroids, numerous mechanical applications can be associated with the method of generating power by pressure. Prosthetic limbs is one area of application. Another good application could be tying this process of deriving decent electricity from the gas and brake pedals in cars. Or even from steering wheels. Guess how many times we press these objects while driving.

I will try to do some more research on the nanoscale effects that produces these compounds. With my interest in nanotechnology realm, the process of adding or manipulating attributes in materials with the help of nano-optics will be something worth knowing. Read the article [here].

Picture: Pradeep Sharma; Courtesy University of Houston website

Posted in Energy, Innovation, materials, nanotechnology | Leave a Comment »

MIT launches searchable video courseware

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 14, 2007

This thing gotta grab your attention. A searchable video discourse with an ability to select sections of it. Recently, MIT’s Regina Barzilay and James Glass launched a new lecture search engine that allows a student to land on the exact location of a video lecture and listen to the section signficant to him/her. In paper transcripts, it is easier to perform a text based search. But there is no such easy cross-section search in video and audio.

The researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab helped with this dilemma. The team created transcripts of lectures using speech recognition software. Then the video is loaded with the text assigned to its flow. I just had a demo and it was incredible. As the speaker kept on talking, the application kept on cursing through the words one after the other. In more than 90% of the time the words were mapped correctly. This mapping will help to locate one element of the video on the fly. Meanwhile, students do not have to play the whole content to locate a specific section. They can use the transcript search utility to land on the right spot.

This utility can also be used in medical transcription practice. Another use could be reading content to visually impaired people. A voice recognition element can also take instruction from them and reach the exact section of the text/speech on the video. Interactive audio books could use this concept too. Any other idea? You can read the entire article [here].

Posted in artificial intelligence, brain, Communication, Innovation | Leave a Comment »

Nanotube radio – world’s smallest: Can it be tied up to MEMS?

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 12, 2007

I love technologyreview.com. Whenever I visit after a while, I always find something enthralling. Something that just pokes my mind and ends up creating a boundless array of imaginative possibilities. This time I came across the article on world’s smallest radio – a carbon nanotube that is able to receive radio-frequency and play the song sent over the carrier wave.

Innovative engineering feat resides in the simplest perspective. When a complicated scientific phenomenon, in this case a radio, is condensed in a nanoscale dimension, the magic is worth watching. Even if there is no immediate commercial prospect of the invention, the concept itself is path-breaking. One of the coolest aspect of the research is the way the radio receives the signal. In conventional radios the antenna receives the electromagnetic signal. Over here the radio starts responding when the frequency of the carrier wave matches the resonating frequency of the carbon nanotube. You can find the detail in the link [here]. nanoradio-timeline-sizes.jpg

I was also reading about the possible applications. One of them worth talking about is the packaging of this radio with MEMS (microelectromechanicalsensors). MEMSare supposed to be injected into the bloodstream and the sensors will record data – blood sugar level, cancer markers, blood pathogens, etc. Once this radio is configured to transmit data, a whole new world will open up (may be already in the process of opening up). MEMS will play an enormous role in preventive diagnostics and this tiny radio can remotely send information to a receiver outside the body. I have to do some more research in biological MEMS now!

Posted in biotech, blood, Communication, Innovation, micron, nanotechnology | Leave a Comment »

First hydrogen cell bus in Texas – infrastructural impediment to economy of scale

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 7, 2007

UT Austin and Gas Technology Institute (GTI) have joined hands to roll out the first hydrogen cell driven commuter bus in Texas. The 22-foot bus operates on a hybrid system that utilizes power provided by advanced battery and a hydrogen fuel cell. The bus, manufactured by Ebus Inc. has the ability to run on highways and uses fuel efficient regenerative breaking. The best part – the tail pipe spews water vapor out. Read the full article [here]. hybrid_bus.jpg

One of the problems mentioned in the article is the lack of infrastructure for hydrogen delivery points. Hydrogen, a safe fuel, is expensive to transport and store. Gasoline infrastructure in place makes the fuel cheaper to transport and deliver. However, hydrogen delivery has so far limited the commercial rollout of hydrogen enabled cars. Further, oil lobby and giant oil corporations make it more difficult to create the environment to do more research and development of hydrogen distribution systems.

The biggest takeaway from this project is the creation of a fully integrated hydrogen fueling station that generates, compresses, stores, and dispenses hydrogen on-site. It will be worth watching how this effort unfolds. Will there be enough investments to create hydrogen stations all over? Some interesting questions:

  1. How will the government regulations and policies drive the commercial proliferation of hydrogen stations?
  2. What will be time curve for investment, innovation around this technology for efficiency, break-even point, and profitability? How will the curve look?
  3. Will the big car companies slowly create a product portfolio with hydrogen enabled cars? Will that start from the commercial vehicles first or from the individual sedans, etc?
  4. How will the awareness be generated? Will private sector pay for marketing or will the governments pay for marketing targeted towards awareness and mass acceptance?

This will be a major business case study for innovation-to-market where government policies and openness will dictate the dynamics of growth.

Posted in Energy, Environment, fuel, Innovation | 2 Comments »

Polluting the body by driving too long – How do we curb UFP emission?

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 1, 2007

You get behind the wheel in the morning, turn the FM on, pull the windows up, and put the air to RECYCLE – and you believe that you have warded off traffic pollution! NO – you just haven’t!! New environmental studies reveal the extent of pollution that our body gets exposed to while commuting in our cars. The findings are further scary when we are sitting inside a mass transit vehicle that runs on diesel. traffic_nyc.jpg

While we commute 6% of our daily time, it accounts for more than 60% of our exposure to polluted air. Diesel fumes and ultra fine particles (UFP) are the major culprits. The danger with UFP lies in the fact that they can penetrate cell walls and can diffuse throughout the system much faster than large sized pollutants. These exposures have been found to increase our susceptibility to cardiovascular diseases, breathing problems, and other chronic respiratory problems. Read the article [here].

A big concern will be the pollution exposures in communities of the developing world where lack of regulation and enforcement, corruption, and ignorance harm the population to a level that also goes undetected. Emerging economies should consider this problem more seriously. Regardless of nations, curbing of polluting sources should be addressed by technological and scientific innovations, awareness, proper governance, and diligent and uncorrupted enforcement.

I am attaching another article that may of interest. no_escape_from_diesel_exhaust_summary.pdf

Posted in Energy, Environment, fuel, pollution | 2 Comments »