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Corneal transplant: Lab-grown cells could refurbish diseased or damaged eyes

© Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group.
Dr. David DiGiusto, director of Stanford's new Laboratory for Cell and Gene Medicine in Palo Alto. The university's cell manufacturing facility generates thousands of corneal cells, as well as and other specialized cells.
A Stanford research team has created a potentially powerful new way to fix damaged corneas — a major source of vision problems and blindness.

Millions of new eye cells are being grown in a Palo Alto lab, enlisting one of medicine's most important and promising new tools: refurbishing diseased and damaged tissue with healthy new cells.

"One of the exciting possibilities of this cellular approach is that one donor cornea," which contributes a few parent cells, "can generate enough cells to treat tens or hundreds of patients," said lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey Goldberg, professor and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

About 100,000 corneal transplants are done annually in the United States — but they require surgery with donated corneas from cadavers. The procedure fails nearly a third of the time, and there aren't enough high-quality donor corneas to go around.

Other scientists have been trying to grow full corneas from scratch, attaching a fragile film of cells to a membrane. That's a challenging bioengineering problem.


Possible joint Russia-US mission to Venus takes shape

A proposed joint mission to Venus could feature a Russian rocket and orbital module alongside a US "atmospheric plane" and durable surface probes, a top Russian scientist says.

The proposed joint mission, dubbed Venus-D, is taking shape, in which Russia's Roscosmos space agency would provide an orbital and landing module, alongside a rocket to deliver them to Venus, while NASA would provide atmospheric probes that could survive the planet's extreme conditions, the head of the Planetary Atmospheric Spectrometry Laboratory in the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ludmila Zasova, told TASS.

Venus, which has an extremely hot and hazardous environment, is a "natural laboratory to study the greenhouse effect," Zasova said. Research on Venus could help understand the effect better and perhaps prevent it from going to extremes on Earth.


Paramusical ensemble: Neuroscience can now curate music based on your brainwaves - not your music taste

© Reuters/Michaela Rehle
Play that funky music.
Companies and composers have begun using software to make music customized to your brainwaves. Soon you will be able to plug in your headphones, lean back in your chair, and relax to a playlist so synchronized with your brain's chemistry that it increases your productivity, sleep quality, and even fights anxiety.

The frequency at which your brain resonates defines your state of mind. Need to chill out? Try alpha activity. Or what about a pre-workout pep-up? Pop on some beta waves.

As consumer desire for personalized information and outcomes increases, the ability to listen to music that is literally in tune with your brain will provide a whole new business opportunity in the world of music streaming.

"You've got Spotify looking at your choices of song and providing suggestions on things you selected before now," says musician Eduardo Miranda. "If you have something that is more connected to your own biology, it's another way of providing services that may be more personalized."


Asteroid as big as the Rock of Gibraltar to streak past earth on April 19

The earth has asteroids whizzing past it several times a week but these are smaller in size that the one expected on April 19
An asteroid as big as the Rock of Gibraltar will streak past Earth on April 19 at a safe but uncomfortably close distance, according to astronomers.

"Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid this size," NASA said in a statement.

Dubbed 2014-JO25 and roughly 650 metres (2,000 feet) across, the asteroid will come within 1.8 million kilometres (1.1 million miles) of Earth, less than five times the distance to the Moon.

It will pass closest to our planet after having looped around the Sun. 2014-J25's will then continue on past Jupiter before heading back toward the centre of our Solar System.

Smaller asteroids whizz by Earth several times a week. But the last time one at least this size came as close was in 2004, when Toutatis—five kilometres (3.1 miles) across—passed within four lunar distances.


UAE launches space program to boost colonization of Mars by 2021

© Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre MBRSC / YouTube
The UAE has launched an ambitious space program aimed at sending a probe to Mars by 2021 and settling the Red Planet by 2117. The kingdom's rulers see the hi-tech venture as a sign of hope and inspiration for the entire Arab world.

Until recently, only a handful of leading world powers funded and promoted space exploration programs, including the US, Russia, China, Japan and the EU. Other nations, especially those in the Middle East, have long been excluded from global scientific mainstream, but now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has joined the race.

On Wednesday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister of the UAE and emir of Dubai, and Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, inaugurated the national space program at the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC), local media reported.


Solar-powered device can harvest fresh water from air even in dry environments

© John Lund / Getty
When it comes to future challenges, one of the biggest will be water scarcity - on a warming planet we're going to have plenty of seawater, but not enough fresh, clean water in the right places for everybody to drink.

And while a lot of research has focussed on desalination, a team of scientists have now come up with another possible solution - a device that pulls fresh water out of thin air, even in places with humidity as low as 20 percent. All it needs is sunlight.

It might sound too good to be true, but so far the research is solid. Called the 'solar-powered harvester', the device was created by teams from MIT and the University of California, Berkeley, using a special type of material known as a metal-organic framework (MOF).

To be clear, it's only in the prototype phase right now and has been tested in pretty limited situations, but the results so far have just been published in Science.

"This is a major breakthrough in the long-standing challenge of harvesting water from the air at low humidity," said one of the researchers, Omar Yaghi from UC Berkeley.


For first time ever, astronomers image black hole using observatories on three continents to form telescope array

For the first time in our history, we have the technological capacity to observe black holes in detail.
For the first time ever, astronomers have successfully imaged a black hole by training eight telescopes on three continents on it, creating a virtual telescope as large as the Earth itself in the process.

Every image you've ever seen of a black hole was nothing more than a illustration. Black holes eat light (along with everything else) that comes too close to them, meaning they give off virtually no light of their own. The closest black holes that we know of are pretty small by black hole standards: V616 Monocerotis is 3,000 light years from Earth and is about 9 to 13 times the size of our sun.

The bigger the black hole, the easier it'd be to image. Supermassive black holes are often surrounded by accretion disks, a ring of matter orbiting a large celestial object. (Saturn's rings are probably the most famous example of an accretion disk.) These disks can include superheated plasma jets, and those give off a good amount of light - but they also obscure our view of the black hole itself.

Black Magic

Running with scissors: The potential dark side of reality technology

What if virtual reality wasn't just a new way to play games or watch movies? What if the technology wasn't just creating new methods of communication, of medical treatment, of military training?

What if virtual reality was used in the pursuit of mayhem?

Much has been said about the positives of technology that can reshape reality or even create a new one, but last month two respected academic researchers held a talk at South by Southwest in Austin to explore not just those positives, but also the potential negatives of reality technology.

"This is a scene from a movie from the 1940s called Gaslight," Todd Richmond told the packed room, pointing to a screen showing a man and a woman standing by an old gaslight in a home. "How many people know what gaslighting is? So the term gaslighting comes from when lights used to be gas fueled. And it's a way of driving someone into mental distress by manipulating their environment without telling them and then denying that it's being manipulated. So the classic, the gaslight lamp lighting is that you slowly turn down the lights on your spouse because you're trying to drive your spouse nuts. Your spouse says, 'Is it getting darker?' And you say, 'No, I don't know what you're talking about.' And if you do that enough over time, you would begin to freak people out.

"So is VR the perfect platform for this? The answer is, yeah, if you're going to use it for that."

Black Magic

What could go wrong: Smithfield Foods establishing bioscience unit to sell pig organs for human transplants

© Reuters

Pigs are seen at a Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer farm in the United States in this image released on April 11, 2017.
Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, has established a separate bioscience unit to expand its role in supplying pig parts for medical uses, with the ultimate goal of selling pig organs for transplantation into humans.

Routine pig-human organ transplants are years away, but recent scientific advances are breaking down barriers that frustrated prior attempts to use pigs as a ready supply of replacement parts for sick or injured people, making it an attractive new market.

"Our bread and butter has always been the bacon, sausage, fresh pork - very much a food-focused operation," Courtney Stanton, vice president of Smithfield's new bioscience unit, told Reuters in an exclusive interview.

"We want to signal to the medical device and science communities that this is an area we're focused on - that we're not strictly packers," she said.

Smithfield, the $14 billion subsidiary of China's WH Group (0288.HK), in its first move has joined a public-private tissue engineering consortium funded by an $80 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Smithfield is the only pork producer, joining health-care companies including Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N), Medtronic (MDT.N) and United Therapeutics Corp (UTHR.O).


Saturn's moon Enceladus may support alien life

© Universal History Archive / Getty Images
Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn.
New research from NASA indicates that Saturn's moon Enceladus may support microbial life. Details of new findings about ocean worlds in our solar system, arising from discoveries by the agency's Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope were announced live by the agency.

NASA scientists have detected hydrogen from hydrothermal vents in ice plumes from Saturn's ocean-bearing moon Enceladus in conditions which they say could have led to the rise of life on Earth.