Do Cells Have an IP Address Yet?

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In the future, implanted chips will have the ability to stop food absorption when caloric intake reaches 2200. Cells in our forearm will be able to monitor our glucose levels and adjust our insulin appropriately. These implantable cells or “chips” have their own IP address with their own circuitry that is connected to a network 24/7. Through this network, cells communicate with real-time super computers to synthesize the next step for an individual’s body. If Dr. Anthony Atala can utilize 3D printers to create a new kidney, then it is only a matter of time before we can incorporate the circuitry within an organ necessary to monitor its function wirelessly.

This was the future I was challenged to paint in my talk at TEDMED 2012 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. As TEDMED 2013 commences, I ask myself, where are we one year later?

A caveat: The following are simple overviews on novel technologies I had been tracking over the past year and does no justice to the many amazing leaps we have made in innovative science and medicine during this time.

Implantable Sensors
Thomas Goetz beautifully discusses in The Atlantic that diabetics, although “loath” it, have been self-monitoring for years. Goetz goes on to say that the“….distaste falls into three categories: self monitoring for diabetes is an unremitting and unforgiving labor; the tools themselves are awkward and sterile; and the combination of these creates a constant sense of anxiety and failure.”

However, what if we had an implantable sensor that simply monitors an individual’s glucose? In 2010, Dr. David Gough from the University of California, San Diego demonstrated that you could potentially monitor an individual’s glucose by wireless telemetry. A patient can be in San Francisco with his or her physician having access to the data in Los Angeles.

And what if the immune system renders the chip incapable of functioning? Dr. Melissa Grunlan at the University of Texas A&M has been working to develop a self cleaning mechanism that prevents implantable glucose sensors from being “shielded” by the body’s immune system.

Dr. Giovanni de Micheli and Dr. Sandro Carrara at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have developed a 1.4 cm implantable device that can measure proteins and organic acids in real time. Imagine a signal being sent to your cell phone, and your doctor’s phone, indicating an increase in cardiac enzymes- potentially a heart attack. This device functions on a battery-less system that connects to a patch resting on the surface of the skin.

Natural anatomy acts as a barrier to implantable batteries. Yet, as Dr. Ada Poon and her team at Stanford University have developed a medical device that can be powered wirelessly using electromagnetic radio waves. Now, the tiny devices we envisioned can circulate into the depths of our vascular system without fear of losing power. Reminds me of “The Magic School Bus” episode when Ms. Frizzle takes her class on a field trip through the human body.

A personal favorite of mine: At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Konstantina Stankovic has demonstrated the ability to use the natural electric potential from electrolytes in the inner ear to power devices that can monitor biological activity in people with auditory and balance issues.

Early detection is fundamental in many of these devices, especially for cancer patients who have aggressive diseases prone to metastasis. Take, for example patients with malignant melanoma, one of the deadliest cancers and one that has seen little progress in its treatment. Dr. Shuang Hou and his team at UCLA have demonstrated a proof of concept of a “nanovelcro” chip that can capture highly specific and isolated circulating tumor cells.

And what about regulating food intake and nutrient absorption? Intrapace has created Abiliti, an implantable gastric stimulator and food detection system that is implanted into the stomach. As soon as food is detected, it stimulates the stomach to create a sense of fullness. I can see eventually a system that can monitor an individual’s caloric input over, say, 24 hours. This would allow us to eat normally without overindulging.
Wearable Sensors
A quick mention on a hot topic. As popular discussions emphasize trends like the Nike+ FuelBand, one step closer to wearable sensors are what Dr. John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed: An electronic sensor that can be directly printed onto your skin using a rubber stamp and last for up to two weeks as highlighted in MIT’s Technology Review. The potential for this goes beyond saying.

The Fine Line
This is just a short list of exciting new innovations. Of course many people may be taken aback by such technologies, which is fine. The purpose of my talk was to create discussion while painting a potential future that may be upon us soon. It is important for all of us to be active in our own healthcare. If we aren’t, then someone else will be.

Knowledge about our glucose or hemoglobin and hematocrit in our time is just as important as knowing whether or not to fuel our cars with unleaded or diesel. But we still need an expert mechanic’s help. Let me explain. I do believe that growth in this field, like anything else in medicine in the 21st century, will need to be not only through adoption by the empowered and informed patient, but also via healthcare providers.

Old mechanics would drive a problematic car themselves to assess damage. Simple things such as hearing a funny sound or seeing the car pull to the left would give them enough information to diagnose the problem. Today the engineering of a car is so sophisticated that sensors continuously monitoring the “health” of the engine alert the driver when something is wrong. That unwelcome signal – a picture of a wrench, perhaps, or a flat tire – notifies the driver and the mechanic what part has gone wrong, what’s wrong with it, and what needs to be done.

So the mechanic had to evolve the way he (or she) fixed a car. The physician today is much like that mechanic. While the human body is far more sophisticated than even a brand new Mercedes Benz, newly trained physicians need to adjust how they care for their patients’ health.

Growth in this field, like anything else in medicine in the 21st century, will need to be not only through adoption by the e-patient, but also via tech-savvy healthcare providers.

Original presentation at TEDMED 2012

This piece also appears on the The Huffington Post, TEDMED.com, and The Health Care Blog.

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India: The People’s President…

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Last week I had a unique opportunity to watch Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam speak. Dr. Kalam was regarded in India as the People’s President and served in office from 2002-2007. He is known, interestingly enough, to play a key role in India’s space race and nuclear development, quite odd combination for such a humble man. It was not only amazing to see the former President but to also have a lecture, as his roots are truly academic. This put icing on the cake. Now I will preface this, however, that I am not deeply connected to India’s politics and thus my thoughts are from my initial impression.

I had the privilege to join about a hundred of Cambridge’s top Indian professors and researchers to fill an intimate sized lecture room. There is no doubt that Cambridge has been home for many Indian nationals including some of my close friends here. Some of the most famous alums include- the cricketer Prince Ranjitsinhji (1872-1933), India’s Prime Ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) and Rajiv Gandhi (1944-1989); and Amartya Sen (born 1933), foremost economist and Nobel Prize winner.

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What I wanted to write about was not necessarily about the topic that Dr. Kalam spoke about- Creative Leadership. Although the lecture was great in of it self as Dr. Kalam highlighted different personal experiences tying them  to leadership.  What I would like to highlight are some of my initial thoughts about the talk and my impressions of a leader from one of the world’s most powerful countries.

Dr. Kalam spoke beautifully, and clearly demonstrated a unique passion for education, especially for the youth. When asked by a Chinese professor about the future relationship of India and China, Dr. Kalam’s response was simple. “I believe they are naturally allies,” and this begins with righteousness in the heart, he ended. The point Dr. Kalam stressed  was that these two natural allies must be taught to work together from three key influential players in a child’s life- the mother, the father, and (this was the best part because all the Indian’s in the room said it in unison) the teacher. This comes to show how much Indians have continuously valued education, which has been reinforced through my own personal friendships.

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A question that completely was expected but the response caught me off guard was when Dr. Kalam was asked by a Physics Post-Doc student (when she mentioned that, Dr. Kalam asked what her dissertation was on), what do you recommend for all the Indians who have left India and have settled down? Dr. Kalam’s response was straight forward and honest- do your best for yourself and your country (that you live in). I was honestly expecting a response such as – don’t forget India. Yet, Dr. Kalam showed realism in that many Indians who have immigrated to other countries have already settled down and are raising their children. To these people, India becomes a second home that is never forgotten and always remembered.

The best moment was at the end when a professor of business was giving a closing thank you, Dr. Kalam interrupted him and clearly made the point that he can be emailed through his website and he will ensure a response within 24 hours.

(This reminded me of a side thought- are people successful because they response within 24 hours or because people responded within 24 hours they are successful? This was a question that was proposed as major companies such as Amazon and Ebay were booming.)

Just some thoughts…

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Knowledge Search Engine vs. Informational Search Engine…

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Right now Google seems to be the major player in the field of search engines. I have absolutely no doubt about that. Yet, last night I had a good sit down with a close friend of mine who introduced me to Wolfram|Alpha. My friend is the type of person who pretty much treats academics much the same way many people treat Hollywood celebrities.

There have been so many attempts lately to challenge Google- searchme.com , cuill.com, or even MSN Live. Today, however, I have been convinced that there is a new big player that even Google Founder Serge Brin “is keeping an eye on.”

The best analogy of the night- Wolfram|Alpha is what Google was to the domination of Alta-Vista.

I had known only a little about Stephen Wolfram, but once I saw the amazing piece of work this once kid genius (Entered Oxford at 17, Received his Phd from Cal tech at age 20) had produced, I was completely in awe.

Instantaneous computational results- mathematics and science are just part of it. Imagine any sort of knowledge that you are looking for and have it quantitatively and qualitatively presented to you.

Blogs such as Techcrunch give the Wolfram|Alpha search engine a simple “not super impressed“, it just appears to me that they have been too busy trying to write about Twitter and have lost touch with new ideas such as the difference between a knowledge base and an information base. (Just a preface, yes I am a Twitter user)

However, I was simply blown away. Maybe I am just an amateur rambling, but do a simple search -  … How about – Burrito. I get the average nutritional facts, average daily value ranking, highest nutrients compared to other foods, calories, carbohydrates, fats, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals…

I certainly don’t expect for the search engine to be 100% complete, but what it has done is be able to present users in an organized fashion the information we all spend time in Google trying to find. It also has allowed me to continue appreciating how much we really cannot predict how technology will revolutionize society.

Wolfram|Alpha acts  like a  decision support system in which characteristics are matched to a computerized knowledge base. It is absolutely beautiful.  I don’t know how much Google will be threatened by the entry of Wolfram|Alpha as it is still early, and everyone still needs to do their Pubmed or Google Scholar searches when looking for papers or other information. But I can only try to imagine what has yet to come.

To have a live demonstration of how the search engine works (only 13 min) click here.

If you have time watch the presentation @ Harvard.

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The Future of Cell Phones…

We all know it. The next cell phone for any of us will be a smart phone. For many, this will be an iPhone.

However, imagine a bunch of really cool gadgets that are out right now.

Apple’s iPhone…

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Amazon’s Kindle…
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A GPS System…

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Okay maybe not that cool, but imagine all of them in one concept.

I am a little late on this, but I had an opportunity to speak with Marc Bailey of Nokia last week here in Cambridge. He told me about where the future of health care communications is heading. Yet, beyond healthcare, I was introduced to Nokia’s concept phone- Morph.

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Simply to see how it works ou have to watch the video:

Features of the Morph:
*  Newly-enabled flexible and transparent materials blend more seamlessly with the way we live
* Devices become self-cleaning and self-preserving
* Transparent electronics offering an entirely new aesthetic dimension
* Built-in solar absorption might charge a device, whilst batteries become smaller, longer lasting and faster to charge
* Integrated sensors might allow us to learn more about the environment around us, empowering us to make better choices

Beyond the fact that this concept is about 10-15 years away, I am still blown off my feet by the creativity and ingenuity behind this technology.

In my 4th grade elementary class we had a guest came in to speak to us about cellular phones. The class bunched together and sat on the floor as the presenter stood in front of us. He reached behind his back and pulled out what I saw as a cordless phone. This phone was definitely something from the 90s.

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In any matter, what he said next would stick with me as I became part of the technology revolution- “One day cellular phones will replace every home phone and every person will own a cellular phone.”

This is already happening.

As consumers, when something new hits the market we used to immediately ask ourselves the basic who, what, why, where, and when, but with such rapid advances in technology there is only one question we ask ourselves, and that is “how long until…”

The ability for engineers to even think of  a concept such as the Morph shows that although the iPhone and Facebook may dominate society today, nothing is for certain. In the same way that AOL no longer is the main internet service provider and that a Kodak no longer implies a camera (in the early 1900s people use to say “get your Kodak” [camera]), technology and creativity will be the ultimate assessment of the fortitude of a company.

After a dinner conversation with a friend, we agreed that the best scientists are the ones who don’t ask the best questions, rather ask the right questions. I can’t wait to see what the future holds…

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P.S. Update from my 14 Janurary post on Real Mind Control…
Check out Uncle Milton Industries Jedi Force Trainer:

By wearing a headset that detects electroencephalography (EEG) signals, users can control a floating ball using the Force—force of mind, that is. By concentrating as hard as you can, you can get the ball to rise higher; concentrate less and the ball sinks. The wireless EEG headgear sends signals to a device that controls the speed of a fan, which in turn lifts or lowers the ball to various levels. This item rivals Mattel, Inc.’s new $80-$100 Mindflex, which uses similar technology to keep a ball aloft. Available in August.
Price tag: $130

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PowerPoint gave me C…

You walk into class, pick up a copy of (or have printed out) the slide handouts for today’s presentation and sit down to wait for the class to begin. What you haven’t realized yet is that the PowerPoint slides that you have in front of you are affecting the way you learn and exercise your mind.

The classic argument of whether or not technology has made our life easier or more difficult is definitely not going to be answered soon. Yet, the role of technology in the classroom is a whole other issue to explore. As I continue to round off my education, technology has had a greater presence in my educational growth. I love the fact that I can have wireless Internet at the tip of my fingers, computers in every room, and now even an LCD projector for every single room in a building. However, whether or not technology is contributing to the enhancement of my education is a completely different conversation.

Epson and Acer are both companies that dominate the production of the LCD projector with record shattering profits in the last half decade. My guess for why the increase? Every hospital, business and classroom has now adopted the “digital lecture hall.” Tucked away on the ceiling of these rooms, the LCD projector is now a standard in classroom equipment, just like any other desk, chair, and ….white board…maybe.

Cambridge is an amazing university, however, I began to notice after a week that the white boards and overhead projectors were beginning to disappear. Not physically, but the use of white boards and overhead projects as a tool for teaching has almost completely diminished. All my lectures all of a sudden were based on a PowerPoint. There has yet to be a complete lecture where a white board was needed, which must be pleasant for Microsoft to hear.

After doing a literature search and reviewing case studies on the use of PowerPoint in the classroom, I can definitely say that the results go both ways. On one hand, Powerpoint lectures have shown drawbacks. On the other hand there are no changes or some improvement on test scores and student participation.

Learning without slides

I had an opportunity to hear Michael  van Swaaij , PayPal Interterm CEO, speak on Monday when I mistakenly walked into the wrong class (PowerPoint dementia), and I listened to him deliver a great talk without once using PowerPoint. To top off this experience, I had an opportunity to meet and hear Professor Roger Penrose speak about this theory of what was before the big bang. [Penrose is famous for many things as well as his Penrose stairs and being a close colleague/friend/co-author of Stephen Hawkings]

What I was most amazed about Penrose is his ability to capture a room over 600 students and professors, explain his theory of which about 25% of it I understood, and effectively communicate it all with simply a dozen transparencies and an overhead projector.

Okay, so these were just general lectures, but what about the sciences? I took a three-day course on neuroscience and the set of lectures was done on the overhead. It was beautiful, taking notes, paying attention in anticipation of what is going to be discussed next and essentially actively getting involved with my own education.


You’re never too young to learn

The use of PowerPoint is now replacing middle and high school classrooms. I remember watching my little cousin prepare her book report presentation obsessed with different fonts and themes without realizing what she was writing about. I believe that as our minds develop with age and by always seeing PowerPoint lectures we limit our thinking skills. If students are given PowerPoint slides, they don’t learn how to take notes properly and retain information for their own growth and development.

The use of PowerPoint in the classroom will depend on the subject, professor, and students. A PowerPoint based lecture can only be as effective as the professor who is presenting it. Yet, their ability to lecture using PowerPoint has to become a skill and art. Like any teacher, the most important thing is to be able to effectively connect with your students and convey your lecture in a way that your students will learn and grow. I am afraid, however, that the general context of the lecture becomes a delicate balancing act with conveying your message and not reading from the PowerPoint. In all honesty, there have been some bad professors that would have been more effective with PowerPoint slides, so again, the benefits of using of technology in the classroom can outweigh the drawbacks if delivered properly.

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

Solar Powered Africa-LED Lanterns Lighting the Way…

I have been working hard recently with two friends, Nikhil Arora and Ryan Panchadsaram, to submit a proposal for a competition American Express is hosting in which they are donating $2.5 million to fund global humanitarian projects. The winners of the project are decided largely upon the number of votes and nominations from the public, so we would really appreciate your support as we try to bring solar powered lighting to Sierra Leone. All three of us strongly believe in the idea and would love to use the funding in order to make our project dream come true.

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YouTube Video: Solar Powered Africa – LED Lanterns Lighting the Way

Project Team:
Ali Ansary, Nikhil Arora, Ryan Panchadsaram

Project Idea:

Our idea is to provide solar powered LED (Light Emitting Diode) lanterns to rural, war-torn regions of Sierra Leone. LED lights have shown to be a reliable and sustainable source of light with over 50,000 hours of available life. We would like to provide each household in various Sierra Leone villages with a lantern in order to provide light and make up for the lack of infrastructure. With $1.5m, we aim to provide approximately 20,000 lanterns, which could positively affect nearly 100,000 people.

The Problem:

In many underdeveloped nations of the world, finding a light switch that works usually comes as a miracle. Sierra Leone has suffered as being one of the most war-torn nations of the 21st century, and as such, faces serious infrastructure issues that deny many citizens the basic resource of light. Light for centuries has allowed life to become less dependent on the time when the sun is out and has extended the hours of the day to allow families to become more productive.

The Impact:

By introducing a sustainable, solar powered energy model for light, children can read at night, women and men can maintain their responsibilities to the family and community in the evenings, and life no longer remains dependent on non-renewable resources for light. If shown to be successful, we hope that with further funding we can extend this sustainable model of providing light to other under served regions of the world.

Light it up…
Please show your support for this project by getting involved and actually voting. Steps to vote:
1) If you have an AMEX card, go to http://www.membersproject.com/project/view/QLZ2W1 , click
“Nominate this Project,” and then sign in using your AMEX account info
2) If you DO NOT have an AMEX card:
a. Go to : https://www.membersproject.com/registration/guest_signup.html
and sign up.
b. Then, go to http://www.membersproject.com/project/view/QLZ2W1 and click “Nominate this
Project”

Also, be sure to invite your friends to this facebook group.

If nothing else, we’re trying to create awareness about the issue so it might spark someone else’s imagination and a new, better idea to deal with this issue might emerge.
| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

Google, Have You Seen My North Face Jacket…

It has been missing for a few weeks now. Usually the nice grey jacket that protects me from the  non-blistering California winds that split through me has gone missing. Searching everywhere and thinking about places that I might have worn it and placed it last gave me no help.

As I continued to think, I found comfort on my desk chair where I saw my laptop open and Google set as my home page. I thought to myself, if my jacket were some bit of information that I can find on the web, I could just google it.

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Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
goo·gle
Pronunciation:
\ˈgü-gəl\
Function:
transitive verb
Inflected Form(s):
goo·gled; goo·gling Listen to the pronunciation of googling \-g(ə-)liŋ\
Usage:
often capitalized
Etymology:
Google, trademark for a search engine
Date:
2001
: to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web

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Unfortunately, my addiction to technology has not only forced me to take constant sabbaticals from my twitter, facebook, gmail, blog, and all the RSS feeds from multiple news sources but also Google (my number one source of knowledge for anytime I may have a question).

As smart phones become ‘smarter’, people are not paying for minutes or texts. Rather, they are paying to have the entire world in the palm of their hands. For me, Google (and now maybe Cuil ) has become one of the gateways that has provided me access to all this useful/useless information. Unfortunately, I have begun to notice that my habit of Googling people, dates, reports, journals, news articles, etc…has made my memory a bit weak. As my research professor, Dr. Leonard Sender , would call it Google Assisted Memory (GAM). I just thank God I am starting school again in the fall.

Has my memory begun to fade at age 22? Nicolas Carr from The Atlantic wrote a great article on this particular topic: What the internet is doing to our brains.

You can read it here: Is Google Making Us Stupid?

In an interview with NPR, Carr says that while the Internet allows us to get lots of information very quickly, it also encourages us not to look at it very thoughtfully. In fact, Carr argues, when we give in to the natural impulses to click and skim, rather than to read and think, the Internet may actually be doing us a disservice: It shortens our attention spans and even inhibits our ability to read longer books and articles.

Carr says it best, “The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding the “one best method”—the perfect algorithm—to carry out every mental movement of what we’ve come to describe as “knowledge work.”

Well, I am definitely not off to read neither War and Peace nor Anna Karenina . What I am going to do is look for my North Face Jacket hoping that I can find it somehow before Google figures it out before me.

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |