This week: A promising treatment for Parkinson’s, China’s scary plan to rate their citizens, artificial skin for prosthetics, research data showing most earth-like planets yet to form, and 3D printing a Mars Habitat.
Promising Drug Treats Parkinson’s Symptoms
An expensive cancer drug may reverse late-stage Parkinson’s disease, enabling participants in a small clinical trial to speak and walk again for the first time in years. While there are several treatments for the symptoms of Parkinson’s, if confirmed this would be the first time a drug has worked on the causes of the disease.
“We’ve seen patients at end stages of the disease coming back to life,” says Charbel Moussa of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC, who led the trial.
The drug, called nilotinib, works by boosting the brain’s own “garbage disposal system” to clear proteins that accumulate in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, says Moussa. These proteins are thought to trigger the death of brain cells that make molecules like dopamine that are needed for movement and other functions.
Inside China’s Social Credit System
WHERE you go, what you buy, who you know, how many points are on your driving licence: these are just a few of the details that the Chinese government will track – to give scores to all its citizens.
China’s Social Credit System (SCS) will come up with these ratings by linking up personal data held by banks, e-commerce sites and social networks. The scores will serve not just to indicate an individual’s credit risk, for example, but could be used by potential landlords, employers and even romantic partners to gauge an individual’s character.
An Artificial Skin That Can Detect a Grain of Salt
Prosthetic limbs may one day have “skin” with working nerve endings, letting patients feel with their artificial limbs just like they would with a real one.
One of the many challenges of adjusting to life with a prosthetic limb is that the new limb lacks sensation; patients can’t feel where their artificial limb is in space, or what it’s touching, so they have to work mostly by sight. Adding a sense of touch could make controlling prosthetic limbs easier and more natural – but that’s a challenge for engineers.
Earth Came Early to the Party
Earth came early to the party in the evolving universe. According to a new theoretical study, when our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed. And, the party won’t be over when the sun burns out in another 6 billion years. The bulk of those planets—92 percent—have yet to be born.
This conclusion is based on an assessment of data collected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the prolific planet-hunting Kepler space observatory.
Using 3D Printing to Colonize Mars
We are in the midst of a “Mars moment.” This fall, the Matt Damon film, “The Martian,” a story about a stranded astronaut who must learn to survive on Mars, grossed a whopping $55 million at the box office in its opening weekend. The same week, scientists breathlessly revealed the discovery of liquid water on Mars, raising the possibility that life might yet exist there.
But what would it actually take to support human life on the Red Planet?
An MIT group including 10 students took up the challenge to answer that question last month in a competition co-sponsored by NASA to build a habitat that could be used on Mars in just 20 years—in 2035. “That is a pretty aggressive timetable,” notes Caitlin Mueller, an assistant professor in building technology and director of the Digital Structures group—all the more so since the distance to Mars and the fuel required to get there means travelling as light as possible.
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