103. Reverse Hearing Loss, Hypersonic Space Cannon, No Moving Parts Heat Engine
103. Reverse Hearing Loss, Hypersonic Space Cannon, No Moving Parts Heat Engine
Reversing hearing loss with regenerative therapy | MIT News (01:28)
- Approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing.
- The biotechnology company Frequency Therapeutics is seeking to reverse hearing loss — not with hearing aids or implants, but with a new kind of regenerative therapy.
- Using small molecules to program progenitor cells – a descendant of stem cells in the inner ear — to create the tiny hair cells that allow us to hear.
- In more detail, progenitor cells reside in the inner ear and generate hair cells when humans are in utero, but they become dormant before birth and never again turn into more specialized cells such as the hair cells of the cochlea.
- Frequency’s drug candidate is designed to be injected into the ear to regenerate these cells within the cochlea.
- already improved people’s hearing as measured by tests of speech perception
- The company has dosed more than 200 patients to date and has seen clinically meaningful improvements in speech perception in three separate clinical studies.
- MIT Institute Professor Robert Langer talked on the study results:
- “Some of these people [in the trials] couldn’t hear for 30 years, and for the first time they said they could go into a crowded restaurant and hear what their children were saying … It’s so meaningful to them. Obviously more needs to be done, but just the fact that you can help a small group of people is really impressive to me.”
- One company founder, Jeff Karp believes Frequency’s work will advance researchers’ ability to manipulate progenitor cells and lead to new treatments down the line.
- “I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 or 15 years, because of the resources being put into this space and the incredible science being done, we can get to the point where [reversing hearing loss] would be similar to Lasik surgery, where you’re in and out in an hour or two and you can completely restore your vision … I think we’ll see the same thing for hearing loss.”
Engineered bacteria could help protect “good” gut microbes from antibiotics | Big Think (07:01)
- Following antibiotic treatment, some patients are at risk of developing inflammation or opportunistic infections.
- Antibiotics are indiscriminate with their attacks on bacteria, so they end up harming the beneficial microbes that live in the human gut.
- In an effort to reduce those risks, MIT engineers have developed a new way to help protect the natural flora of the human digestive tract.
- Beta-lactams make up about 60 percent of the antibiotics prescribed in the United States.
- Took a bacteria (Lactococcus lactis) safe for humans, and engineered it to produce enzymes that break down a class of antibiotics called beta-lactams (i.e. ampicillin, amoxicillin, etc.)
- It protects the microbiota in the gut but allows the levels of antibiotics circulating in the bloodstream to remain high.
- After the bacteria’s job is finished, the engineered bacteria are excreted through the digestive tract.
- Andres Cubillos-Ruiz PhD talks on the effects of medication and diet can have on the gut microbiome:
- “Throughout your life, these gut microbes assemble into a highly diverse community that accomplishes important functions in your body … The problem comes when interventions such as medications or particular kinds of diets affect the composition of the microbiota and create an altered state, called dysbiosis. Some microbial groups disappear, and the metabolic activity of others increases. This unbalance can lead to various health issues.”
- To test their approach, the researchers gave the mice two oral doses of the engineered bacteria for every injection of ampicillin.
- In those mice, the researchers found that the amount of ampicillin circulating the bloodstream was as high as that in mice who did not receive the engineered bacteria.
- In the gut, mice that received engineered bacteria maintained a much higher level of microbial diversity compared to mice that received only antibiotics.
- The researchers now plan to begin developing a version of the treatment that could be tested in people at high risk of developing acute diseases that stem from antibiotic-induced gut dysbiosis.
Wireless camera tool could make intubation safer and easier | Futurity (12:40)
- Intubation is the process of inserting a tube into the mouth or nose and then into the airway to help move air in and out of the lungs.
- used to support breathing during surgery or an emergency
- A team of Rice University bioengineering students designed a new handheld, 3D-printed device with a miniature wireless camera, which could make intubation easier and safer.
- Kenneth Hiller, an anesthesiologist in private practice, who initiated the project, discusses the current practice:
- “Current state-of-the-art devices have limitations … Placing an endotracheal tube can be challenging in a significant number of patients’ airways. For years, I’ve mulled over what I’d like in a device that can simplify the process and improve patient safety.”
- Hiller, who approached the team of engineers at the university, knew what he wanted to build but didn’t know how to build it himself.
- Had a model with popsicle sticks and metal.
- One of the engineering students, Victoria Kong, explains the two different scope types:
- “There are two main types of laryngoscopes: with straight blades and with curved blades, and all of the video laryngoscopes on the market are in the curved blade format. While that’s great for compressing the tongue to get it out of the way, it has a very high displacement volume. It takes up a lot of room in the mouth …
The straight blade gives you a more direct line of sight. We wanted to combine the stabilization afforded by curved blades and a straight-blade profile, and we did that by tapering our blade.”
- The project is looking at a wireless camera, since current market scopes have wired cameras that makes it bulky and reduces the amount of people in the room at one time.
- A wireless camera will allow doctors to view it on a smaller screen (i.e. tablet) while not being in the room during the process.
- “Having the video accessible on a tablet means a doctor in another room can watch and give feedback about technique to the airway manager performing the actual procedure,” according to Rebecca Franklin, who was a part of the design team.
- The students say they anticipate future refinements to include stainless steel construction for durability. They also see uses for the device beyond the clinic.
A massive “space cannon” can shoot payloads into space at hypersonic speeds | Interesting Engineering (16:31)
- An alternative rocket launch firm called Green Launch is developing a system to send small launch vehicles into space using a massive gas cannon.
- With a 54-foot (16.5-meter) launch tube, the company was able to fire a payload into the stratosphere at a velocity exceeding Mach 3.
- A little taller than the length of a Semi-Truck trailer.
- If the company is able to scale the system, the explosive method has the potential to massively reduce the cost and carbon footprint of small satellite launches.
- BIG IF!
- The concept of an artillery gun used as a low-cost method for sending payloads into space dates back to the U.S. Army’s High Altitude Research Project (HARP) of the 1960s.
- HARP set a record in 1966 by firing a projectile above the 100-kilometer Kármán Line — considered by many to be the line between Earth and space.
- Then HARP transitioned to the SHARP program (S = super) developed the hydrogen impulse launcher, which features a long thin barrel filled with hydrogen mixed with helium and oxygen. Sounds familiar!
- The SHARP program’s 400-foot (122-m) impulse launcher broke records in the 90s by launching payloads at speeds of up to Mach 9.
- Now, Green Launch wants to leverage that technology to disrupt the booming small satellite launch sector.
- Green Launch says its “proof of concept” impulse launch will allow it to attempt to send a projectile past the Kármán Line later this year.
- The company believes its method could also eventually be scaled to reach hypersonic speeds as high as Mach 20.
- Green Launch CTO Dr. John Hunter talks about the process:
- “The trick is using a light gas like hydrogen, which has a very low molecular weight … You can get very high velocities that aren’t possible with railguns or other systems. This has zero carbon emission and will allow us to revolutionize access to space and open the solar system to manned exploration.”
- Green Launch will eventually have to build a launch vehicle that fires a small amount of propellant for course correction and placement once in orbit.
- If its upcoming launch tests prove successful, Green Launch says it first aims to deploy its system to send atmospheric sampling devices to space to collect data for climatologists.
- Engineers at MIT and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have designed a heat engine with no moving parts.
- Converts heat to electricity with over 40 percent efficiency — a performance better than that of traditional steam turbines.
- On average, steam turbines reliably convert about 35 percent of a heat source into electricity, with about 60 percent representing the highest efficiency of any heat engine to date.
- The heat engine is a thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cell, similar to a solar panel’s photovoltaic cells, that passively captures high-energy photons from a white-hot heat source and converts them into electricity.
- Generates electricity from a heat source of between 1,900 to 2,400 degrees Celsius, or up to about 4,300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The researchers plan to incorporate the TPV cell into a grid-scale thermal battery.
- Would absorb excess energy from renewable sources such as the sun and store that energy in heavily insulated banks of hot graphite.
- When the energy is needed, such as on overcast days, TPV cells would convert the heat into electricity, and dispatch the energy to a power grid.
- As of right now, the new TPV cell, the team has now successfully demonstrated the main parts of the system in separate, small-scale experiments.
- They are working to integrate the parts to demonstrate a fully operational system.
- They have hopes to scale up the system to replace fossil-fuel-driven power plants and enable a fully decarbonized power grid, supplied entirely by renewable energy.
- For a grid-scale thermal battery system,
- The TPV cells would have to scale up to about 10,000 square feet (about a quarter of a football field).
- Operate in climate-controlled warehouses to draw power from huge banks of stored solar energy.
- Robert N. Noyce Career, professor at MIT, states: “Thermophotovoltaic cells were the last key step toward demonstrating that thermal batteries are a viable concept … This is an absolutely critical step on the path to proliferate renewable energy and get to a fully decarbonized grid.”