Ketchup pouches: The answer to delivering HIV drugsRead More
Antiretroviral drugs are vital for the management of HIV/AIDS, especially for controlling the transmission of HIV infection from mother to child. In developing countries where women often have to travel very far to obtain healthcare, these drugs are difficult to access. At Duke University, a biomedical engineer researcher and his students have found a solution.
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that immediately after birth, infants should receive a dose of antiretroviral drugs, and daily for 6-8 weeks until breastfeeding stops. This simple and effective preventative treatment is difficult to distribute in Sub-Saharan Africa as many women give birth in their homes, leaving millions of children at risk of the HIV infection. In addition to this, there have been challenges in administering the doses, as infants cannot swallow tablets and oral syringe doses have a very limited shelf life.
Posed with this problem, Robert Malkin and his team developed a foil, polyethene pouch, much like a fastfood ketchup pouch to store and preserve the treatment for upto several months. This new packaging system uses the same plastic as syringes, however a much smaller amount, increasing the drug to packaging volume ratio and preserving the drug as a liquid.
Clinical trials for this ketchup packet of drugs have proven extremely successful, but a problem in scaling up this technology remains. Although it is much cheaper to produce than a syringe, it is still too expensive for the developing world.
However, recently granted $250,000 from USAID’s Saving Lives at Birth: Grand Challenge for Development and gaining much recognition, Malkin has many hopes for his invention. In addition to preventing HIV transmission, this innovative new model could become a platform for delivering many lifesaving drugs.
Image source: thetummytraveller
Steak of the art stuff?Read More
Last week, the world’s first ‘test-tube burger’ was unveiled in London. The event was launched after decades of research into the technology by Dutch scientist Mark Post, and investment by Google co-founder Sergei Brin. 20,000 muscle fibers of meat were cultured in a petri-dish from a few cow’s stem cells, which is deemed by Post as the future of food technology. With the environmental toll of factory farming, given cows each release up to 500 gallons of methane a day, and the world food crisis, it is understandable why Post’s claims stirred excitement. The actual burger, served to food scientist Hanni Rutzler and journalist and author Josh Schonowald, simulated a less enthusiastic response, the best comment being ‘it tastes close to meat’.
The 5 ounce patty of ‘cultured beef’ was developed by removing tissue from a cow using a syringe, from which stem cells were obtained and used to grow muscle cells. Not entirely cruelty-free, these were grown in a medium with antibiotics and a mixture of nutrient and vitamins from fetal bovine serum, a component of cow’s blood. Although research engineers are currently trying to develop alternatives to fetal bovine serum, it remains a vital constituent of the lab-grown burger. The verdict? ‘The bite tastes like a conventional burger’ but the meat tasted like ‘an animal-protein cake’. Ultimately, the taste and texture decided the success of the burger, and its tepid response was due to the absence of fat.
After the major hurdle of how to mix in fat with the muscle, scaling down the technology costs to mass-market prices will be the next problem. It will be a long time until the average consumer gets their hands on what is currently the most expensive burger in the world at $330,000. The general response to this burger? Well unfortunately science can’t address the main perception that this lab-grown meat is gross.
However, changing our perceptions of food may be the solution. As populations grow there is a greater demand for meat that is not sustainable, with the UN forecasting that world meat demand will double by 2050, largely due to increased demand from growing middle class in China and other developing regions. However the question is not whether there is enough food, but how we use our agricultural resources, and to what cost to our health and the environment. There is currently enough food in the world to feed every adult 2000+ calories per day. Despite this, due to a complicated mix of poor land use, natural disasters and poverty, 12.5% of the world are deemed ‘hungry’.
Although this scientific innovation brings attention to the issue, it isn’t the answer. Will man ever outgrow its taste for flesh? Our future may depend on it. Only by changing our perceptions of food, and concentrating on sustainable agriculture can the environmental food crisis can be tackled.
Image source: Sky news
Growing the Digital FieldRead More
Plug in. Switch on. Go online.
Actions that are now such a big part of our daily routine that we take them for granted.
As touched upon in last week’s blog post, technology is playing an increasing role in how we live our lives, directing new industrial methods and even nature. In the digital world, the wires can feel like a lifeline, and for many there is a common feeling of dependency when connecting our smartphones, tablets and laptops… and our fruit and vegetables.
In America, scientists are using a digital connection to save iconic crops, such as the orange, from becoming infected with citrus greening. Beyond that, we must understand that the plant world enables efficient biofuel production, which in turn provides the energy and the food needed to survive.
This is a point that has been emphasised by Adina Mangubat, Co-founder and CEO ofSpiral Genetics; a bioinformatics company based in Seattle, USA. Spiral Genetics is developing ‘cloud-based genomics’ algorithms for plants that can be downloaded via the net. By sequencing the genomes of plants, we can interpret the information to better understand the evolution of a crop and ultimately improve it – resulting in bigger, tastier produce with the ability to resist disease and drought.
An industry that could potentially benefit from DNA analysis is the growing Oil Palm trade. The world’s palm oil plantations are producing up to 64 million tons a year in order to bring everyday products to your household. The environmental impact of this is severe and the growth of the industry is having a negative impact on many species, and also the Earth’s atmosphere. Increasing crop yield is one way to combat mass deforestation. Research into the oil palm genome has already decoded possibilities for helping farmers to produce more oil on less land. Scientists have discovered a single gene, called SHELL, which can influence how much oil the tree produces. Mutating SHELL can raise the yield of the palm by as much as 30 percent.
These breakthroughs in the field of bionic agriculture are advancing existing practices of precision agriculture, such as robotic milking and cloud-based computer technology to manage herd health, and directed planting. Traditional industries are increasingly being overhauled by the digital revolution and there is a new age of farmers who are converting their traditional methods to new agricultural technologies. Equipment is expensive, but there are many benefits to reap from investing in the new, and when spread across a wealth of acres the cost per unit of production comes down noticeably. There is an opportunity here to reduce input costs, increase production and cultivate quality, but most importantly there is an opportunity to join in the race to save some of the most in-demand products in the world.