Milestone a’coming: Stem cell repair system

Stem cell therapies capable of regenerating any human tissue damaged by injury, disease or ageing could be available within a few years, following landmark research led by UNSW Australia researchers.

The repair system, similar to the method used by salamanders to regenerate limbs, could be used to repair everything from spinal discs to bone fractures, and has the potential to transform current treatment approaches to regenerative medicine

Study lead author, haematologist and UNSW Associate Professor John Pimanda, said the new technique, which reprograms bone and fat cells into induced multipotent stem cells (iMS), has been successfully demonstrated in mice…

“We are currently assessing whether adult human fat cells reprogrammed into iMS cells can safely repair damaged tissue in mice, with human trials expected to begin in late 2017.”

There are different types of stem cells including embryonic stem (ES) cells, which during embryonic development generate every type of cell in the human body, and adult stem cells, which are tissue-specific. There are no adult stem cells that regenerate multiple tissue types.

“This technique is ground-breaking because iMS cells regenerate multiple tissue types,” Associate Professor Pimanda said.

“We have taken bone and fat cells, switched off their memory and converted them into stem cells so they can repair different cell types once they are put back inside the body…”…

The study’s first author, Dr Vashe Chandrakanthan, who developed the technology, said the new technique is an advance on other stem cell therapies being investigated, which have a number of deficiencies.

“Embryonic stem cells cannot be used to treat damaged tissues because of their tumour forming capacity. The other problem when generating stem cells is the requirement to use viruses to transform cells into stem cells, which is clinically unacceptable,” Dr Chandrakanthan said.

“We believe we’ve overcome these issues with this new technique.”

RTFA for the basic explanation of what the good doctors have accomplished. Bare bones, so far. Interesting that the lead in human trials is considering back and neck pain, spinal disc injury, joint and muscle degeneration. Those bits and pieces which bring major debilitation to life and lifestyle under failure.

Though, whatever we can put back together again – will help.

Domino’s to test autonomous pizza delivery robot

dominos-dru-delivery-robot-4.png
Unboxing the prototype

Domino’s has announced its own autonomous pizza delivery machine. Built on military technology, DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) can keep pizza hot and drinks cold on the way to your house and is set to hit the streets of Australia in prototype form for testing.

Designed in Domino’s DLAB innovation hub in Brisbane, Australia, DRU is built to handle short-range deliveries with very little human intervention, has a heated compartment to keep your capricciosa warm, and a chiller to keep your drinks cool, inbuilt GPS for navigation and a bunch of sensors to try to stop it from running into things on the pavement. Domino’s says it is working with the government to build a legal framework in which it can start testing DRU in the real world…

DRU is part of a broader automation movement in the fast food industry that seeks to replace human workers with cheaper, more efficient and oftentimes more effective machines. And while Domino’s has made fun of the concept in the past, the company swears that DRU is no April Fool’s joke.

In a civilized, urban society this could work fine. Between income inequity, ignorance and greed, I can see the average neighborhood anarchist-cum-gangbanger looking at one of these as a rolling piggybank with edibles. Smash-and-grab on wheels.

OTOH, our leading contributor down under in Oz suggests a contender for useful robot employment.

Dalek-Dr-Who

Thanks, Honeyman

Discovering a little extra protein in a package of salad mix

As meat production depletes the world’s resources and compounds the changing climate, eating insects and other creepy crawlies might well be in all our futures. But one Australian woman came closer than the rest of us when she brought home a sizeable spider in her bag of salad greens.

Zoe Perry posted the video of the huntsman shifting around within the “Italian style salad” bag…to Woolworths’ Facebook page on last Thursday night.

Earlier that day, Woolworths and its fellow supermarket giant, Coles, had recalled several brands of lettuce mix linked to a gastro outbreak in Victoria.

Perry wrote:

Hi Woolworths,

Shopping as per usual for Italian style salad mix … get it home … Mum goes to open the packet and we are greeted by …

Is this what’s actually behind the ‘salmonella’ callbacks?

Kind regards,

An arachnophobic family

…Woolworths said in a reply that the supermarket chain was “very concerned about this … and take incidents like this very seriously”, and encouraged Perry to message her phone number.

Commenters responding to the video are divided over the spider’s right to be inside the bag of salad greens, and its right to live once outside of it…

The fate of the spider is not known.

Thanks, Mister Justin

2 mines in Oz now operating with driverless truck fleet


Human being included to provide scale and size.

The first big commercial deployment of driverless car technology is coming not in the streets of Silicon Valley but in the arid and sparsely populated Pilbara region of Australia. That’s where the large mining conglomerate Rio Tinto has rolled out fleets of all-driverless trucks at two iron ore mines…

Rio Tinto tells Jamie Smyth at the Financial Times that the driverless transition has improved performance by 12 percent, mainly by “eliminating required breaks, absenteeism and shift changes.”

GPS guides the trucks and allows them to deliver iron ore 24/7, 365 days a year, without the kinds of breaks and handover periods that human drivers would need. The GPS navigation system is backstopped by a team of human operators working remotely from Perth, hundreds of miles away. Not only does this reduce the total number of humans who are needed to run the trucking operation, but it eliminates the need to employ those humans in the remote and desolate mining country. A mine needs to be located where the ore is, and you often end up needing to pay a premium to recruit workers to ore-adjacent locations. Remote workers, by contrast, can live in a nice suburb of a midsize city…

As David Roberts has written, one of the biggest technical challenges in making a general-purpose autonomous vehicle is that it would have to deal with all those crazy human beings. If all the cars were autonomous and networked, they would interact and communicate in predictable ways. But for that to happen in a normal transportation context, you would first need a transition phase in which autonomous cars co-exist with human-piloted ones long enough for them to gain trust and traction.

Rio Tinto doesn’t have that problem. It controls the entire site, and can make the transition to an all-autonomous fleet all at once. There’s no “transition period”; there’s just a transition.

Yes, another job description where human beings can and will be automated out of existence. Inevitability should prompt forethought. I’m not so confident about that part.

Octopus makes own quicksand to build burrow on sea floor

The southern sand octopus has taken hide-and-seek to a whole new level. It shoots jets of water into the seafloor creating quicksand that allows it to vanish.

A skilled architect, the octopus can build a mucus-lined home – complete with a chimney –20 centimetres down into the seabed, where it holes up during the day. It only emerges from its underground burrow at night to crawl over the seafloor and snack on small crustaceans…

Other octopuses, including Octopus berrima bury themselves under a thin layer of sediment by digging into it with sweeping arm movements. But because they need direct access to the water column to breath, they remain close to the sediment surface, with their funnel sticking out.

The sand octopus has a rather different technique – it actively digs deeper though the soft sand and constructs an actual subsurface burrow, says Jasper Montana of the University of Melbourne. “This is the first known cephalopod to burrow,” he says.

Montana and his team first caught the octopus in the act of burrowing in 2008 when they were scuba diving at night in Port Philip Bay, south of Melbourne, Australia. When they shone a light on the octopus, the startled animal spread out its arms and repeatedly injected high-powered jets of water into the sediment using its funnel. This caused grains of sand to be temporarily suspended in water, making it like sandy water…

The team later collected some specimens from the wild and put five of them in an aquarium designed to show what happened once the octopus was underneath the sediment…

They found that the animal used its arms and mantle to push the sand away and form a burrow. It also extended two arms to the surface to create a narrow chimney to breathe through. Finally, it secured the walls of its new home with a layer of mucus that kept the grains of sand together so the entire thing maintained its shape.

Octopuses rock!

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Sheepdog guardians keep this colony of Fairy Penguins safe


Click to enlargeJJ Harrison

They’ve been our best friends for centuries, and in more recent years, dogs have proved they can also be our allies in conservation, from sniffing out endangered species to fighting wildlife crime. One place where they’ve notched up a major conservation victory is on a small island off the Australian coast, where a colony of tiny penguins has been brought back from the brink – a success story that’s now inspired a multimillion-dollar movie that opens in the country this week.

Middle Island, a rocky outcrop off the coast of Victoria, is best known for its avian inhabitants: it’s home to a colony of the world’s smallest penguins. Just 33 centimetres tall (13 inches), the little penguin – or fairy penguin, if you prefer (of course you do!) – tips the scales at only around one kilogram.

While the birds spend most of their lives at sea, they do come ashore when breeding season rolls round – and that’s where Middle Island’s residents began running into trouble. The few hundred metres that separate the island from the mainland are not much of an obstacle for hungry foxes who proved quite capable of crossing the distance at low tide for the promise of an easy penguin meal.

With the predators picking off the defenceless birds, populations began to plummet dangerously: by 2005, what was once a colony numbering in the hundreds had been left with fewer than ten survivors.

Enter “Oddball”. The maremma sheepdog was initially bought by a mainland farmer whose chickens were being targeted by the very same enemy. “I used to spend my nights up with a rifle shooting foxes. One night I noticed the neighbour’s dog barking and the light went on in my head. I realised he was barking at the same thing I was trying to shoot,” the farmer, Allan Marsh, told ABC last year.

Marsh decided to get a dog of his own, and Oddball soon proved to be a pro at keeping foxes away from the farm. After a series of fortunate events, the sheepdog ended up on Middle Island, where wildlife officials hoped her chicken-guarding skills could work to keep the penguins safe too

Oddball first set paw on Middle Island in 2006, when the penguin colony was on the verge of total collapse. Since then, other maremmas have followed in her footsteps, and the Middle Island Maremma Project has proved a major conservation success. Fox attacks have stopped entirely and penguin numbers have been recovering, with around 180 birds at last count.


Click to enlarge

Conservation success + dogs = enough to make my heart happy for quite a spell.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Brick-laying robot can build the structure of a full-sized house in two days

As robots get smarter, cheaper and more versatile, they’re taking on a growing number of challenges – and bricklaying can now be added to the list. Engineers in Perth, Australia, have created a fully working house-building machine that can create the brick framework of a property in just two days, working about 20 times faster than a human bricklayer.

Named Hadrian (after Hadrian’s Wall in the UK), the robot has a top laying speed of 1,000 bricks per hour, which works out as the equivalent of about 150 homes a year. Of course there’s no need for the machine to sleep, eat or take tea breaks either, giving it another advantage over manual laborers…

“The Hadrian reduces the overall construction time of a standard home by approximately six weeks,” Fastbrick Robotics CEO Mike Pivac told Gizmag. “Due to the high level of accuracy we achieve, most other components like kitchens and bathrooms and roof trusses can be manufactured in parallel and simply fitted as soon as the bricklaying is completed…”

“The machine will fill the void that exists due to shrinking numbers of available bricklayers, whose average age is now nearly 50 in Australia,” he says. “[Hadrian] should attract young people back to bricklaying, as robotics is seen as an attractive technology.”

Surely beats the crap out of the romance of making adobes. 🙂

How a cancer-fake hustler fooled folks – with lots of helpers


Belle Gibson, founder of The Whole Pantry app, and son Oliviersaid the caption at news.com.au

Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin has a powerful post up about the news that Belle Gibson, a popular young Australian wellness blogger, has admitted to lying about having cancer. Gibson had convinced many people that she had “cured her terminal brain cancer by avoiding gluten and sugar,” as Jardin puts it — a claim that deserves to be treated with about as much merit as a report of a unicorn sighting. Gibson had used her story to help drum up her media profile and push her nutrition app, the Whole Pantry (the planned Apple Watch version of which disappeared from the app store about a month ago).

As Jardin, who has herself battled breast cancer, points out, we’ve entered the mass-shaming part of the story, with the predictable torrents of internet anger. It’s an understandable response, but it leaves out the complicity of many media outlets that should have known better.

Because sure, Gibson was embraced by many of the usual suspects — small health and wellness blogs with shaky-at-best understandings of science and bones to pick with processed foods and “Western medicine” — but a bigger part of the reason she was able to carve out a successful niche in the wellness world was that that mainstream outlets, particularly in her native Australia, offered her fawning coverage.

“The Whole Pantry founder inspires in the face of terminal cancer,” enthused a headline on news.com.au, a major outlet. “The Whole Pantry came out of Gibson’s determination not to be crushed by her illness and to find a way to help people like herself,” wrote the IT columnist at another. “The 25-year-old has turned her cancer diagnosis into a positive, believe it or not,” gushed an Australian Yahoo! TV host. Australian Women’s Health called her a “health game changer.” Thanks in part to all this attention, Gibson was able to expand her popularity to the States. As Jardin points out, Cosmopolitan even gave her a Fun Fearless Female award in the social media category.

It’s not reasonable to expect every single employee at every single outlet to be completely up to date on all the latest nutritional science, of course. But outlets do have at least some responsibility to not mislead their audiences. Gibson’s claims were, on their face, so outlandish that offering them a megaphone did real harm to readers and viewers: not just by encouraging them to follow a charlatan, but by potentially nudging them away from real, established treatments for diseases that can frequently be fatal. Gibson’s a liar, but she was only able to become a successful liar because so many people amplified her story without checking it first.

Bringing the question back to one we often confront: money-making journalism – the real deal – professionals who don’t do the rigorous fact-checking that is supposed to be required. Part incompetence; but, part laziness.

A PR release drops into your email inbox. Written well enough, the journalist and editor do their bit of tidying up and off it goes. I realize they’re conditioned by a fawning relationship with government and corporate overlords; but, that ain’t good enough. Cripes, at least look around, ask around online.

Suspending kids for using marijuana leads to more – not less – pot use

Suspending kids from school for using marijuana is likely to lead to more — not less — pot use among their classmates, a new study finds.

Counseling was found to be a much more effective means of combating marijuana use. And while enforcement of anti-drug policies is a key factor in whether teens use marijuana, the way schools respond to policy violators matters greatly.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and in Australia, compared drug policies at schools in Washington state and Victoria, Australia, to determine how they impacted student marijuana use.

The results startled researchers: Students attending schools with suspension policies for illicit drug use were 1.6 times more likely than their peers at schools without such policies to use marijuana in the next year — and that was the case with the student body as a whole, not just those who were suspended

By contrast, the study found that students attending schools with policies of referring pot-using students to a school counselor were almost 50 percent less likely to use marijuana. Other ways of responding to policy violators — sending them to educational programs, referring them to a school counselor or nurse, expelling them or calling the police — were found to have no significant impact on marijuana use…

The researchers were initially most interested in teens’ use of alcohol and cigarettes, Catalano said. But after Washington legalized recreational marijuana use for adults in 2012, researchers decided to take a closer look at the data to determine how legalization might influence students in Washington versus their counterparts in Australia, where pot remains illegal…

Of course, the same applies to alcohol, cigarettes, unneeded stimulants – and watching reality TV.