Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Andreas Menn in Wirtschaftswoche introduces the latest medical applications of smartphones for monitoring physical functions, ranging from the heartbeats of unborn children to blood sugar, blood pressure and pulse rates of elderly people to even pacers and other implants. According to Menn, the Mobile Health sector has a 19% market growth. In the US, patients are joining movements like The Quantified Self to collect health data for research purposes (and, as an example, to determine the ideal moment for wake-up). Contact lenses measure and report blood sugar levels, while tests strips or clothes with in-built wearable electronics control breathrate, wound swelling and urine for dangerous deviations. The field is still littered with startups, but big players like Siemens, Philips, sanofi aventis and Deutsche Telekom also have stepped in already.

Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reports from the recent meeting of the Stem Cell Network North Rhine Westphalia. The debates focused on quality control of induced stem cells and the ability to derive motor neurons from such stem cells.

In The New York Times, Nicholas Wade reports on a recently discovered bundle of genes regulating the growth of heart muscles cells. The study published in Science will be of great interest for the development of novel therapeutics. It is known today that heart muscle cells are replaced in humans – however, the growth rate is too slow to replace the loss of many cells, e.g. in a heart attack. By modulating these genes, it might one day be possible to regenerate heart muscle in a targeted manner.

In Wired, Brandon Keim features a proposal by theoretical physicists that bacteria might transmit electromagnetic signals by using their DNA chromosomes as an antenna. The proposal is likely to trigger controversy as many biologists doubt that bacteria emit electric signals. French nobelist Luc Montagnier had already claimed in 2009 that bacteria do transmit radio signals in the 1 kHz range.

In the New Scientist, Ferris Jabr introduces a super twisty beam of laser light that is able to tell left-hand molecules from right-hand ones, with potential applications in drug development. Rowan Hooper reports on successful attempts to cure certain forms of blindness by introducing genes from algae into the eyes. The genes are encoding for channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), a photosensitive protein used by unicellular algae to orient towards light. The mice carrying a hereditary form of blindness were treated with subretinal injections of viruses carrying the algal gene and subsequently were able to use light beams for orientation in a maze. Trials in humans, the article states, might begin in two years. Finally, Andy Coghlan features findings that humans can be grouped by one of three gut ecosystems. These three “enterotypes” – dominated by three different species each – have been found all over the world and have a bias towards degradation of certain nutrients and production of certain vitamins.

And finally, for those of you who loved the Get a Mac ads by Apple (“I’m a Mac, I’m a PC”), please have a look at the ad campaign of Ion Torrent comparing its PGM sequencer to competitors such as MiSeq.