Technology Spotlight

An archive of past Life Sciences Technology Spotlight articles.

Ellen Jorgensen: What you need to know about CRISPR

How does CRISPR work? Scientist and community lab advocate Ellen Jorgensen is on a mission to explain the myths and realities of CRISPR, hype-free, to the non-scientists among us.

Watch the TED Talk

Building a Moral Robot – IEEE Spectrum Report

If robots are going to become a vital part of everyday life, it’s important that they know the difference between right and wrong when it comes to decision making. As IEEE Spectrum’s Kristen Clark reports, that’s why a team of researchers is attempting to model moral reasoning in a robot.

See more at: IEEEtv

This Tiny Particle Could Roam Your Body to Find Tumors

Physician, bioengineer and entrepreneur Sangeeta Bhatia leads a multidisciplinary lab that searches for novel ways to understand, diagnose and treat human disease. Her target: the two-thirds of deaths due to cancer that she says are fully preventable. She breaks down complex nanoparticle science and shares her dream for a radical new cancer test that could save millions of lives.

TED Talks Live: with Sangeeta Bhatia

IEEE Brain Initiative

In late 2015, IEEE created the IEEE Brain Initiative with the mission to facilitate cross-disciplinary collaboration and coordination to advance research, standardization and development of technologies in neuroscience to help improve the human condition. IEEE is in a unique position to leverage its broad expertise in electronics, communication, sensors, power management, etc. to bring an engineering and systems perspective to world-wide activities that are focused on understanding and interfacing with the brain.

Watch the video

Visions of a Bionic Eye

University of New South Wales (UNSW) biomedical researchers Scientia Professor Nigel Lovell and Professor Gregg Suaning discuss their vision and journey for building a bionic eye with the hope to restore some form of vision for those with degenerative eye diseases.

Watch the full video

TED Talks: We can now edit our DNA. But let’s do it wisely, Jennifer Doudna

Geneticist Jennifer Doudna co-invented a groundbreaking new technology for editing genes, called CRISPR-Cas9. This powerful gene editing tool could lead to treatments for genetic diseases, but could also be used to engineer human embryos and have potential for misuse. Doudna reviews how CRISPR-Cas9 works and asks the scientific community to address the ethics and safety implications of this new tool.

Watch the TED Talk

TED Talks: Design at the Intersection of Technology and Biology, Neri Oxman

Designer and architect Neri Oxman is leading the search for ways in which digital fabrication technologies can interact with the biological world. Working at the intersection of computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering and synthetic biology, her lab is pioneering a new age of symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, our products and even our buildings.

Watch the TED Talk

How 3-D Printing is Helping Revolutionize Organ Repair and Rebuilding

A look at the work being done at Khademhosseini Lab, from making artificial tissues using 3-D printing technology to making smart bandage that senses and delivers the appropriate therapy.

Watch the CBC News Segment

100K Wellness Project and Hundred Person Wellness Project

The Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), led by Dr. Leroy Hood, pioneered the concept of P4 Medicine (personalized, predictive, preventive, and participatory). In an effort to study the factors that contribute to people staying healthy and to create metrics for wellness, ISB launched a pilot study called the Hundred Person Wellness Project (HPWP) in 2014. This pilot study was completed in 2015 and ISB concluded the best way to provide wellness metrics to a broad cross section of population is through a scientific wellness company.

Watch the video with Dr. Hood describing the vision behind the project

Blake Wilson: Pioneer of the Modern Cochlear Implant

The cochlear implant is one of the greatest innovations in modern medicine. Blake Wilson, DSc, DEng, is credited with inventing breakthrough sound-processing strategies used in modern cochlear implants to restore speech comprehension to the deaf. As a featured speaker at the Duke Engineering 75th Anniversary Lecture, listen to Blake Wilson describe the history and progress that made the modern cochlear implant possible, as well as some remaining problems and some possibilities for the future.

View the video here from Duke University

Detecting Eye Cancer with Your Smartphone

Early detection is the key to saving the eyesight and lives of patients with Retinoblastoma. Flash photography is a simple and easy way to detect this life-threatening eye cancer. The tumor can develop in young children from birth and often reflects back as a white pupil.

View the video here

Neuromorphic Computing

What is Neuromorphic Computing? Dr. Todd Hylton, Brain Corporation, spoke at the second IEEE Rebooting Computing Summit to share his insights and experiences. He stresses that building a computer from components that act as neurons is not the same thing as building a brain. Designing a computer with the functionality of a brain will be much more difficult.

View the video from

Future of Surgical Robots

Dr Mohr spoke at Wired Health on the future of surgical robots. Though surgical robots have become prevalent in many hospitals and countries by making surgeries less invasive, they have not revolutionized surgeries inside the patients. The next phase is to look at surgical robots as a platform for integrating other technologies that can impact a patient outcome, such as enabling early detection of diseases, providing decision support during surgeries, and allowing surgeons to work at a different scale.

View the video

48 Hour ‘Hack-a-thon’ on Ebola

Over a weekend, students, faculty, and staff gathered at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to analyze data related to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The “HackEbola” teams were given large data sets to analyze and develop models to better understand the spread of the epidemic.

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Meet Danielle Bassett

Meet Danielle Bassett, a physicist and Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who was recently named 2014 MacArthur Fellow. Her current research focuses on understanding how the brain is connected and how that connectivity pattern is changed in diseased states or as we learn new skills.

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Harvard’s Wyss Institute awarded DARPA contract to further develop Soft Exosuit

Wyss Institute staff members have developed a biologically inspired prototype “Smart Suit” to assist soldiers. Now a follow-on contract will fund further work on the suit. Benefits from this project could eventuate in also assisting people with limited mobility.

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Stanford bioengineers create circuit board modeled on the human brain

Stanford bioengineers have developed faster, more energy-efficient microchips based on the human brain – 9,000 times faster and using significantly less power than a typical PC. This offers greater possibilities for advances in robotics and a new way of understanding the brain. For instance, a chip as fast and efficient as the human brain could drive prosthetic limbs with the speed and complexity of our own actions.

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Stanford bioengineers make it easier to see inner workings of the brain

Stanford bioengineers have announced improvements on a technique, which they had pioneered previously, that allows researchers to view intact brain structures. This technique produces spectacular “fly-through” views of the brain’s neural connections.

View a fly-through, and read the news report here.

Smartphone Apps for World Health

Two TED talks describe projects already or nearly deployed in the field, which help save the lives of people living in situations remote from medical care. Using only smartphones with special apps and simple interface gear, remarkable diagnostic results are available. First is Saving Lives, One Phone at a Time, featuring a continuous wearable ECG monitor, including some diagnostic capabilities, which is targeted at the burgeoning cardiac disease problem in India. The second is Get Your Next Eye Exam on a Smartphone, which aims to detect and prevent curable eye diseases in rural areas of Kenya. Take a look at these inspiring videos!

Engineers Build World’s Smallest, Fastest Nanomotor

They say “Everything is bigger in Texas”. Well, here is the smallest, from the University of Texas at Austin!
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Collaboration to Advance Genomic Medicine

IBM and New York Genome Center have announced a joint initiative to use Watson and genome sequencing to identify personalized personalized treatment for patients with glioblastoma (an agressive form of malignant brain cancer).
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Bioengineer designs a diagnostic microscope costing less than $1

In many developing countries, microscopes aren’t available in remote areas, because of the cost. But they are essential for the rapid diagnosis of infectious diseases. An enterprising bioengineer has devised a “Foldoscope” that can be produced for less that $1, and can even be discarded after each use.

View the fascinating video.

Engineering a more efficient way to diagnose prostate cancer

A multidisciplinary team from the University of Michigan is working on developing a faster and more cost effective way to evaluate biomarkers to diagnose cancer using computational models. They sift through vast medical databases and apply engineering methods to assess the most effective predictors of prostate cancer.

Watch this NSF video for a look into the new method and its application involving a prostate cancer patient.

IEEE and Nanotechnology

The current issue of Tech News from opens with an item on a nano-detector designed to sense the presence of melanoma on a person’s skin!

View Tech News

Science and Application of Wearable Technology

Catch this fascinating video including three presentations on wearable technology (at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute) covering the diverse topics of (a) personal protective equipment against gamma radiation, (b) smart clothing for physiological monitoring, and (c) Google Glass!
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Robotic Biopsy Demonstrated

Two MIT graduate students, Conor Walsh and Nevan Hanumara, helped design the Robopsy machine, a robotic device that holds a biopsy needle and is so lightweight it can sit on a patient’s chest during a CT scan. The mechanical engineering graduate students worked with Professor Alexander Slocum (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital radiologist Rajiv Gupta to design the invention they hope will cut both time and complications from a typical lung biopsy.

Watch this fascinating video demo of robotic insertion of a biopsy needle:

For background information, see these earlier MIT press releases:

Human Lung on a Chip

Researchers at the Wyss Institute of Harvard University have been conducting research on how to mimick vital human organs on a chip. One of the goals in this research is to improve the drug screening process. They have produced a lung-on-a-chip which exhibits respiration and mimicks pulmonary edema. Click on the link below to view a video and an interview with the Wyss Institute’s founding director.
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Better Analytical Tools for Genome Researchers

Researchers are developing big data techniques for large-scale DNA analysis. Next-Generation-Sequencing (NGS) techniques are revolutionizing the sequencing of DNA, greatly increasing the speed and decreasing the cost. But the mountains of data produced by sequencers can swamp current computing platforms. Researchers at Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa, have received a grant to develop software libraries to support DNA data analysis on High Performance Computers (HPCs).
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Path Found to a Combined MRI and CT Scanner

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, NY, are developing a combined scanning technology, using simultaneous MRI and CT scans, which they believe could benefit research and personalized medicine, for instance letting physicians get a better view of biological processes in action. But would the cost be prohibitive?
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Electronic Implants That Disappear

Implants that dissolve in the body after they’ve done their work could solve biocompatibility problem.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Tufts University say they have invented functional electronic implants that can dissolve after programmable time periods. To demonstrate the system, which could aid in healing during the first few crucial days after an operation, they implanted one in a rat. It created a temporary temperature increase to sterilize a wound, and then it dissolved after 15 days. Follow the link to the article on the IEEE Spectrum.
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Check Your Vitals on Your Smartphone

Scanadu, a 2-year-old San Francisco startup aiming to develop a handheld medical scanner for home use, similar to the Star Trek tricorder, has unveiled the SCOUT, set for release by the end of 2013. The NASA Ames Research Center-based company says that customers simply hold the small, lightweight device to the patient’s temple and it will return five vital sign results with 99 percent accuracy in less than 10 seconds. Read the story, and see a trailer of Scanadu’s vision for the SCOUT, and several other devices. Follow the link below to the article on the IEEE Spectrum.
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Does the Brain Work Logarithmically?

In a new IEEE Spectrum “Techwise Conversations” video presentation, Steven Cherry interviews Dr. Lav Varshnev of IBM, who points out that new research has found a neurobiological basis for understanding logarithmic compression in the brain. The concept has been around for over 100 years (in the Weber-Fechner law describing perceived sensitivity to stimuli), but now is being used in a variety of new ways.
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A Robot Ankle for Amputees

The BiOM, one of the world’s most advanced ankles, comes from the cutting-edge prosthetics company iWalk. The company was founded by MIT professor Hugh Herr, who directs the biomechatronics group at the MIT Media Lab. IEEE Spectrum visited iWalk’s headquarters in Bedford, Mass., to see its BiOM ankle in action and to learn more about how it works.
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DARPA Funds Human-On-A-Chip project

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University today announced that it has entered into a Cooperative Agreement worth up to $37 million with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop an automated instrument that integrates 10 human organs-on-chips to study complex human physiology outside the body. This effort builds on the Institute’s past breakthroughs in which Institute researchers engineered microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living organs, such as the lung, heart, and intestine. News releases from two Boston area research centers report that each has received multi-million dollar funding over the next ten years to develop multi-chip simulations of human functions.
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Scientists Build Vascular Network Using Sugar and a 3-D Printer

Bioengineers have long dreamed of creating living tissue that can be molded into everything from replacement human livers to lab-grown steaks. But a major obstacle has been keeping engineered tissues alive. Cells need a constant supply of nutrients and oxygen, and engineering a blood vessel system to deliver those nutrients and remove waste has remained elusive. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania say they may have found a way to create vasculatures using sugar and a 3-D printer.
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Middle Ear MEMS Microphone Could Restore Hearing

Researchers at the University of Utah have developed a MEMS microphone that can be implanted in the middle ear to restore hearing and requires no clunky external electronics.
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Algorithms Replace Spinal Cord

New Approach to Neural Prosthetics.
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Researchers Build Gut-on-a-Chip

Bioengineers at Havard say they’ve mimicked the essential functions of the human intestine on a chip about the size of your thumb.
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Bone Transplantation without Rejection

How a 3-D-printed titanium jawbone was transplanted into an 83-year-old patient.
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How Would You Like Your Bionic Vision?

Two companies are offering technology to restore vision to the blind.
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Electronic Eye Glasses and Contact Lens for Those Needing Vision Help or the Latest Tweets

Stories from the News about seeing – with a plus!
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Using Smiles (and Frowns) to Teach Robots
How to Behave

Videos show robots learning to respond to facial expressions
of emotion.
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Patients in ICUs Do Better With Telemedicine

By Marisa Plumb

According to doctors at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, intensive care units backed up by off-site doctors and nurses, who could remotely monitor critically ill patients and direct the ICU’s on-site staff, had fewer patient deaths and shorter ICU stays.
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Concentric Tube Robots

A new robot technology that promises to revolutionize minimally invasive surgery.
Concentric tube robots are designed to balance the objectives of force application and steerability. Composed of telescoping curved metal tubes, they possess cross sections and stiffnesses comparable to needles.
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DNA transistor

Rapid and low-cost sequencing of a complete genome The DNA transistor is a striking illustration of the convergence of semiconductor technology and molecular biology.
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Solar-Powered Eye Sensor

A cornea-implanted computer can monitor the eyeball’s pressure. In the future, that twinkle in your loved one’s eye might be an implanted solar-powered pressure monitor.
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