TechKNOW Tomorrow – How Nanotechnology is Improving Healthcare

Image by k_e_n via Medical Device Network.

Since the 1980s, nanotechnologies (materials and devices created on the scale of atoms and molecules) have revolutionized the speed at which technology progresses. Look at the computer, for example. Between the massive computer mainframes built fifty years ago to the mobile phones that can easily fit in our pockets, nanotechnology has clearly made technology in general more accessible than ever.

Today, nanotechnologies have made major leaps in a number of fields. Nowhere is this more prominent than within healthcare. In fact, it’s possible that nanotechnologies will soon be able to cure diseases that we’ve struggled to eradicate for thousands of years.

With all of that said, you might be wondering…

What is Nanotechnology?

Many nanoparticles and nanostructures are naturally occurring in nature, from things like volcanic ash to an insect’s eyes. Structures like these are microscopic and undetectable by the human eye – “one nanometer is a billionth of a meter“!

Nanotechnology, then, is a field of science and engineering that focuses on developing materials and devices on a microscopic scale by manipulating atoms and molecules into new structures. Why is this important? Interestingly, “at such scales, the ordinary rules of physics and chemistry no longer apply“. A material’s properties can literally be altered by rearranging its atoms to make it stronger, lighter, smaller, cheaper to produce, a different colour, or even more conductive.

For example, kevlar vests are created for military and police personnel by using nanotechnology. It’s how these vests are able to block bullets while remaining incredibly light to wear.

Advances In Healthcare

From food monitoring to curing diseases, nanotechnology has a ton of potential in wellness and healthcare. For instance, a grain of salt could be broken down into even tinier fragments, more efficiently adding flavour to our food without the health risks. Silver could be added to food packaging or toothpastes to reduce the risks of harmful bacteria. Nanotechnology could also potentially absorb or neutralize toxic materials that are found in water, ensuring that everyone has access to clean water worldwide.

That said, nanotechnologies are capable of so much more when it comes to healthcare. One of the major developments in medicine has been in delivering drugs effectively. When someone takes medication for depression, for instance, some of the pill is broken down before it reaches its destination, making it far less effective than it would otherwise be.

Researchers at MIT have recently demonstrated that it’s possible to produce a drug directly at the target location – the protein compound that makes up the drug could be produced by nanoparticles after reaching its destination (e.g., the brain).

In addition to this, studying nanocells and nanomolecules was previously impossible due to the limitations of microscopes. Thanks to a recent glass-like innovation that can be added to traditional microscopes, it may soon be possible to “stop disease outbreaks in their tracks, allowing pharmaceutical companies to design better drugs“.

One of the major areas of funding in nanotechnologies has been in cancer research: “researchers at Harvard Medical School in the US . . . made an “origami nanorobot” out of DNA to transport . . . molecules containing instructions that make cells behave in a particular way. In their study, the team successfully demonstrated how it delivered molecules that trigger cell suicide in leukemia and lymphoma cells.

Other researchers have been hopeful of future breakthroughs in cancer treatments that will have a higher success rate than chemotherapy.

Imagine a patient with a cancerous tumour that is removed in surgery. Some cancerous cells remain behind, which are weakened with chemotherapy. These cells, unfortunately, might not die; it’s a gamble whether the patient will survive.

Instead of chemotherapy, researchers are looking into injecting DNA strands with gold particles at the target site. The DNA binds to the remaining cancerous cells, killing them without affecting nearby healthy cells. With more advances in nanoparticles, “scientists hope to be able to not just turn off specific signals in cells, but also eventually insert genes to correct for defects and cure more complex diseases“.

So how long before nanotechnologies are regularly employed in healthcare facilities around the world? Unfortunately, there are a couple of challenges. For one, the debate on whether humans should be “playing God” with gene therapy and cancer cures is a point of contention in the medical community. Another major concern is the long-term effects and safety of planting nanotechnologies in the body. These concerns alone may delay how long it takes for them to be approved.

For more information on some potential advances in healthcare thanks to nanotechnology, check out this infographic!

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

TechKNOW Tomorrow – Cell-based Meat: REAL Meat Grown in a Lab

Image by Adobe via Science Focus.

Say goodbye to plant-based meat alternatives like tofu, seitan and lentils; the next evolution in ethical meat is almost here. Finally, scientists have found a way to create a “meat alternative” that actually tastes like the meats many of us enjoy.

Cell-based meat, also known as cultured meat, “is genuine animal meat (including seafood and organ meats) that is produced by cultivating animal cells directly“. How is this done exactly? More importantly, what kinds of effects could this have on various animals – including humans – as well as the environment? Let’s dive into this controversial topic.

The Origins of Cell-based Meat

For centuries, animal cruelty has been a point of contention between supporters and critics of the food, fashion, and beauty industries. While we may benefit from many of the products developed by global leaders in these industries, the animals involved in product testing and factory farming unfortunately live in abhorrent conditions before their lives end.

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur via Unsplash.

For example, “99% of animals used for food live on massive industrial “factory farms,” where they’re crammed by the thousands into wire cages, metal crates, or other extremely restrictive enclosures inside filthy, windowless sheds“. These animals never have the chance to experience the freedom of outdoor living, play, and socialization that they would otherwise be accustomed to. Even worse, many animals experience pain and suffering before they are killed and processed for their meat.

Thankfully, there might be a solution on the horizon thanks to the research into cell-based meat. Back in 2013, the world’s first cultured hamburger was created in a lab in London. Using muscle cells from a cow, as well as in-vitro regenerative tissue technology, a burger was created in a petri dish without having to slaughter an animal. Only problem – over €250,000 was spent to make it (approximately $360,500 Canadian)!

Since then, the price to produce beef patties has dropped significantly – it’s estimated that producing a beef patty this way costs about $13 Canadian! Additionally, many startups are starting to look at creating all types of meats this way, including various seafood, poultry, and red meats.

That said, it’s still going to take some time before cell-based meats can reach the market.

Benefits of Cell-based Meats

It’s estimated that the world’s population will rise to about 9.9 billion by 2050. In a world where access to food is increasingly difficult today, this estimate is alarming. Many countries are currently suffering from a food crisis; by 2050, it will only get worse without some human ingenuity supported by modern technology.

This is a great reason why cultured meat will be beneficial once it’s available on the mass market. The animals on our planet are a limited resource. Think about all of the species that go extinct due to human interference. Cell-based meat would offer an excellent substitute for the demand for animals, and it could potentially support efforts to feed countries across the world.

Image by Aaron Burden via Unsplash.

As we saw above, cultured meat will also preserve the lives of numerous animals and cut down on the need for hunting, factory farming, and potentially even poaching. This would allow endangered animal populations to recover and for ecosystems to once again flourish.

One other major benefit of cell-based meat is how it would eventually affect the climate. Cell-based meats are “expected to use less water and land and may produce fewer overall greenhouse gases, assuming the world makes the transition to clean, renewable energy sources“.

On the other hand, “cultured meat faces serious challenges with cost reduction, scale-up and regulatory approval, and no lab-grown meat product has yet reached the market“. Not to mention the fact that there may be religious concerns regarding whether meat is considered kosher or halal. In other words, whether cultured meats can be permitted under Jewish and Islamic law.

Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see if cell-based meats eventually become an affordable and safer alternative to traditional meat products. Based on the growth of plant-based meats in recent years, as well as the focus on the environment, cultured meat definitely has a lot of potential for positive change.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

TechKNOW Tomorrow – How Technology is Improving Exercise: Smart Mirrors

If you dislike looking in the mirror while you’re working out, you might want to avoid the latest technology from Lululemon Athletica Inc. Last year, the company released prototypes of its smart mirror simply titled MIRROR, “which offers members a vast selection of customizable workouts, on-demand classes, and even one-on-one virtual personal training sessions via a super-futuristic reflective mirror-screen hybrid“.

Now that the testing process has been completed, the MIRROR will be “available for purchase in-store and online beginning on November 22” throughout Canada. That said, it might not be a good fit for everyone. Let’s take a look at some of the features of of this all-in-one workout device.

Features of the MIRROR

There is clearly more to the MIRROR than meets the eye. In fact, it’s best described as a complete home gym that’s somewhat portable. While the device is quite bulky, it can easily be moved between walls, rooms, or even houses! It’s voice controlled, and it comes with an app for smartphones or tablets for those that need to perform their workouts on the go.

Video by Lululemon Athletica Inc. via YouTube.

One of the key features of the MIRROR is the abundance of built-in instructors and personal trainers. While the workouts they teach aren’t always live – sort of like the home workout DVDs of the past – the experience they offer feels incredibly personalized and can be edited based on your needs and preferences. On the other hand, there are plenty of live classes that allow you to feel like you’re actually participating in a community class.

You’ll receive live feedback on things like your form that help correct mistakes before they become habits. Additionally, the MIRROR has a camera that allows you to workout with or compete with friends to provide that extra boost in motivation we all need sometimes.

As for the actual workouts, there’s plenty of variety with the thousands of different programs available. Over time, the MIRROR recognizes your preferences and records stats such as the number of reps and sets you’re performing each time, monitoring improvements without you having to do so.

Some other interesting features of the MIRROR include “Bluetooth-powered heart rate monitoring, WiFi-enabled music and fitness app syncing“, and a timer for sets/rest periods. Over time, this device will offer different types of workouts depending on your fitness goals, whether you’re interested in pursuing yoga, weight training, or aerobic exercise.

The MIRROR’s Cost

What’s the catch? The MIRROR costs $1,895! On top of this steep price, a monthly $49 subscription fee is required to access the content on the device. For many of us, this will likely not be affordable at any point in our lifetimes, especially seeing how you can spend about the same amount as the subscription fee for a monthly gym membership at many places across Newfoundland.

That said, the mirror isn’t exactly designed for the average person, but rather for fitness clubs and professional gym environments. If a local gym happens to purchase one of these mirrors in the near future, we may see a slight bump in the costs of a membership… a worthwhile investment for those who would like to consistently use it.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.