Archive: Innovation Radar

Innovation Radar: Approved Drug Counters Effects of Alzheimer’s in Mice

An FDA-approved drug called bexarotene counters many of the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in mouse models, researchers report. The build-up of protein fragments called amyloid-beta is a key feature of the disease; everyone’s brain produces amyloid-beta, but in healthy individuals, enzymes break the fragments down, with help from a protein called ApoE. Paige Cramer and colleagues knew that bexarotene activates a protein that helps switch on the ApoEgene, and they hypothesized that the drug might therefore enhance the clearance of amyloid-beta in the brain. They gave the drug to mice engineered to have an Alzheimer’s-like condition and observed that levels of the protein fragments in the mice’s brains dropped substantially within just a few days. The mice also showed improvements in their cognitive, social and olfactory performance. Bexarotene, also known as Targretin, is currently used to treat a form of skin cancer and has a favorable safety profile, the authors note. The drug activates the nuclear receptor protein known as RXR, which binds one of two other nuclear receptors, PPAR and LXR. These receptor pairs then activate the transcription of the ApoE gene.

The research is published online by the journal Science at this week’s Science Express website.

Innovation Radar: Brilliant Mistakes – Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure

Everybody knows of instances in their own life where initial “mistakes” or wrong decisions turned out to be exactly the right thing. Trivial examples include going to a party that you never really wanted to attend and ending up meeting the person of your life – or running ten minutes late and thereby avoiding a fatal car crash that had just occured down the road.

But what about the most carefully managed area in life – your own career and business? Thinking that wrong business decisions must mean the end of your career? The opposite may be the case, says Paul J.H. Schoemaker, research director of Wharton’s Mack Center for Technological Innovation and chairman and founder of consulting firm Decision Strategies International.

In his book Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure, Schoemaker argues that mistakes often open the door to totally new perspectives and findings – and help you reinvent your business or personal career for good. Mistakes have been the basis for many innovations that revolutionized the way we live today – including the discovery of penicillin and the development of ATM machines.

Knowledge@Wharton features an interview with Paul J.H. Schoemaker, who talks about the concept of brilliant mistakes – i.e. ignoring conventional wisdom at the time – and the innovative potential of this approach. Being risk averse, he says, is not going to take businesses very far and will kill their productivity and their ability to adapt to new markets and opportunities. Instead, both executives and researchers should be able to learn from surprises and turn failures into successes by looking at them from a totally different angle.

Certainly an interesting concept for anyone working in an industry that is characterized by decreasing productivity, lack of true innovation and stagnation – e.g. the pharmaceutical sector. After all, cost-cutting and consolidation have not emerged as effective means to spur innovation.

Interview with Paul J.H. Schoemaker on Brilliant Mistakes

Innovation Radar: Living Pictures, Living Books

Everyone is talking about Web 2.0 – but only slowly the benefits of it are being integrated into consumer products. Here we introduce two novel examples for technologies greatly improving everyday products by adding features only possible thanks to the web.

The first product is Lytro, a camera capturing pictures without the need of focusing. The camera does not even look like a camera any more; it is just an angular aluminum tube surrounding the lens, with the aperture at one end and a display screen at the other – no viewer, no control buttons, only a power button, a shutter button and a zoom slider.

Just point and shoot, and focusing is done once the picture has been uploaded to the web. Simply push the mouse over the area of interest, click, and the focus is there. The pictures are HD quality, and users can switch between 2D and 3D views.

Technically, Lytro captures the entire light field of the scene when the shutter button is pressed, i.e. a sensor records not only color and intensity of the light rays, but also the vector direction – an information that is completely lost with conventional cameras. This information is later used to enable the selection of different batches of light, i.e. bringing different parts of the picture into focus.

The second product is Libroid, an ebook format designed to present books electronically not just by bringing letters to a screen, but by adding extra information such as films, photos, maps, links in a way that readers are not distracted if they choose to focus on the text.

The application designed for iPads is simple. Hold your iPad in portrait format and you can read the text without distraction by additional elements. If you switch to landscape format, two columns appear on the left and right side of the text. As an example, one column may display photos, while the other refers to further reading, etc. The columns scroll with the text so that always only matching information is displayed.

This is much more than just adding an interview with the author or some photos to an ebook. It allows for entirely new writing: a thriller author might provide the same scene from the perspective of different characters so that readers can switch easily between their heroes, a cookbook author may add videos or provide features to simply adapt recipe quantities to the number of eaters or recipe variations; non-fiction authors may provide sources, their research material and much more.

Both products already are on the market. Lytro sell its cameras from $399 in the US, while Libroid is available in Apple’s iTunes store (iPad only) for €7,99. Juergen Neffe, inventor of Libroid, still appreciates investors as German publishing houses keep being very conservative and are still not embracing the ebook market wholeheartedly.

Innovation Radar: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft launches dual blog

German Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Europe’s largest application-oriented research organization, last week launched its new research blog – forschungs-blog – featuring research, scientific discoveries and developments that might someday change our daily life.

The blog is run by the quite prominent German blogger, author and social media specialist Sascha Lobo and is supported by  Martina Schraudner and Solveig Wehking from Fraunhofer’s “Discover Markets” team and freelance science writers Lars Fischer and Florian Freistetter (others will join in).

The blog is following a concept Fraunhofer calls “dual blogging”, i.e. the same topic is featured in scientifically accurate terms in the left column of the blog while the right column is featuring the same topic in a more entertaining, “drawn from life” perspective.

As an example, the left column is describing ice-cream as a complex multi-phase system which is stabilized by components from milk and eggs and features research from Fraunhofer that enables the replacement of these animal components by proteins from lupins so that it becomes compatible to people with intolerance to milk or eggs (plus people on diet, and, of course, vegetarians and vegans). The right column plainly states the research leads to ice-cream democracy, enabled by a beautiful flower.

While is is certainly a good and overdue move for a big German research institution to embrace social media, it remains to be seen whether dual blogging is more than a marketing gag. At present, only two of five blog entries dealing with science are dual-made, and of those two, the left column texts are overly heavy with scientific terms while the right ones read as if the authors are very anxious to sound “cool”. The other entries match the usual science blog style, but are much longer.

The blog is in German only and a project by Discover Markets, which in turn is a research project by Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft to learn about how consumers and the general public can participate in the development of technologies at an early stage.


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