Science & Technology

OTA revival hits a wall

December 10, 2019

Scientifically oriented members of Congress and think tankers from across the ideological spectrum have been pushing in a low-key but determined way over the past several years to revive the shuttered Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), the congressional agency that once advised committees and members on new developments in technology.

Boeing's 1st Starliner Test Launch Now Set for Dec. 20 After SpaceX Dragon Delay

December 10, 2019

Boeing's first uncrewed test flight of its Starliner spacecraft for astronauts is now set for no earlier than Dec. 20, one day later than planned, due to a SpaceX launch delay earlier this week. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced the 24-hour slip for Starliner today (Dec. 6) after successfully completing a critical "wet-dress" rehearsal for Boeing's upcoming test flight on an Atlas V rocket.

Yes, We Still Need to Focus on Women in Tech

December 10, 2019

Bringing up gender again--really? That may be the response one gets in the year 2019, after all, we are heading into 20 years of the 21st century. We are in the age of “The Cognitive Revolution, ” our technology grows by leaps and bounds and yet, we still see a gender tilt in our technology corridors. Why do we slide back to the middle ages when it comes to our women and minorities?

Will New Plasma Thrusters Keep Next-Gen Satellites Safe?

December 09, 2019

The Air Force has hired a Michigan company to see if thrusters based on plasma could help satellites evade incoming fire, the company announced Tuesday. Conventional satellites maneuver with the help of liquid propellants, basically fuel. That can increase the weight and complexity of putting something into orbit and isn’t practical for small, cheap cube satellites.

NASA's closest ever flight to the sun answers solar wind mystery

December 08, 2019

We already knew that the solar wind, a flood of energetic particles constantly flowing away from the sun, speeds up as it leaves the sun’s outermost layer. New measurements from the probe showed that the wind is even faster than expected, and strange features spotted in the sun’s magnetic field might help explain why.

The top technologies that enabled digital transformation this decade

December 08, 2019

As the decade comes to a close, and we think back to the distant times of 2010, it becomes apparent that the 2010s were a decade of unimaginable digital transformation. These are some of the technologies that enabled digital transformation since 2010.

Why Photobiomodulation Might be the Answer to the Opioid Crisis

December 05, 2019

By James Carroll, Founder and CEO THOR Photomedicine Ltd

You probably do not need much reminding about America’s opioid crisis; the numbers are huge. CDC figures state that there are 100 million adults in the United States (US) affected by chronic pain, and over $600 billion a year are spent on health care costs related to pain and lost productivity. There were over 49,000 deaths associated with opioids in 2017—19,000 of which came from prescribed opioids.

According to the Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral Brett Giroir, “you cannot solve the opioid crisis without solving the pain crisis”.

What is photobiomodulation (PBM), and how does it help solve the opioid crisis?
PBM is something you have seen on Star Trek.

On Star Trek, when somebody was injured, the doctor would aim a low-intensity laser beam at the injury, and the wounds would heal instantly! That is photobiomodulation (PBM). The effects are not as fast as shown on TV, but the idea is the same: light is shone on people, and they get better more quickly. 
 
PBM is a non-thermal light therapy that reduces the underlying causes of pain: trauma, inflammation, degenerative joints, and neuropathies. PBM utilizes low-intensity lasers and LED devices in the red and near-infrared spectrum (600–1000 nm) to stimulate mitochondrial function, which leads to increased ATP production, reduced oxidative stress (which leads to less inflammation), and better tissue regeneration.
 
There are no known side effects, though occasionally there are some mild short-term treatment reactions. It is cleared by FDA, Health Canada, Europe, and Australia for muscle and joint pain, and it is widely used in the US.

How does PBM work?

Primary effect (absorption)
There is a consensus that cytochrome c oxidase (CcO) in mitochondria is the primary photo-acceptor of PBM light, with a cascade of molecular events following such absorption. There are some additional mechanisms, but the CcO pathway explains most of the benefits seen from PBM.

Secondary effects (mitochondrial)
Following light absorption by CcO, there is increased oxygen consumption by mitochondria, with a corresponding increase in ATP production, a burst of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and nitric oxide (NO), followed by a reduction in ROS (i.e., superoxide, hydrogen peroxide).

Tertiary effect (intracellular)
The changes in ROS, reduced oxidative stress (and subsequent increase in ATP followed by more cAMP), resets NF-kb (reducing inflammation, cell death, and gene expression associated with degenerative diseases) and up-regulates gene transcription factor AP-1, which is associated with tissue repair, cell survival, increased activation of enzymes and secretion of growth factors and secondary messengers that signal to other cells.

Quaternary effects (extracellular)
The growth factors and secondary messengers serve as signal transduction messengers to neighboring cells, leading to indirect, distant, systemic responses in tissues/organs that have not absorbed photons via chemotactic, neural, lymphatic, and humoral effects.
 
Dose response
PBM dosage is a combination of both light intensity and treatment time. If there is insufficient intensity or insufficient treatment time, there are no benefits. On the other hand, if there is too much intensity or too much treatment time, the benefits disappear. Typically, treatment time ranges from 20 seconds to 20 minutes, and the ideal intensity is in the range of 10 – 100 mW/cmfor superficial pathologies less than 1 cm below the skin surface. There are exceptions and anomalies in the literature, however, that need some expert interpretation.

Physiological effects
This cascade of events leads to improved speed and quality of tissue repair (skin, muscle, tendon, ligament, cartilage, bone, sensory nerves, motor nerves, and central nervous system), reduced inflammation and edema, improved function, and anti-aging effects.

Two papers I would like to highlight:
 
1. The effect of PBM on the duration and severity of postoperative pain: a double-blind trial
Moore KC, Hira N, Broome IJ, Cruikshank JA
Departments of Anaesthesia and General Surgery, The Royal Oldham Hospital, Oldham, UK; The Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, UK; General Practitioner, Pennymeadow Clinic, Ashton-under-Lyne, UK
 
This trial was designed to test the hypothesis that LLLT reduces the extent and duration of postoperative pain. Twenty consecutive patients for elective cholecystectomy were randomly allocated for either LLLT or as controls. The trial was double blinded. Patients for LLLT received 6–8 minutes of treatment (GaAlAs: 830 nm: 60 mW CW: CM) to the wound area immediately following skin closure prior to emergence from general anesthesia (GA). All patients were prescribed on-demand postoperative analgesia (intramuscular [IM] or oral, depending on pain severity). Recordings of pain scores (0-10) and analgesic requirements were noted by an independent assessor. There was a significant difference in the number of doses of narcotic analgesic (IM) required between the two groups (controls n=5.5; LLLT n=2.5). No patient in the LLLT group required IM analgesia after 24 hours. Similarly, the requirement for oral analgesia was reduced in the LLLT group (controls n=9; LLLT n=4). Control patients assessed their overall pain as moderate to severe compared with mild to moderate in the LLLT group. The results justify further evaluation on a larger trial population.

2. Double blind crossover trial of low level laser therapy in the treatment of post herpetic neuralgia
Moore KC, Hira N, Parswanath K, Copparam J, Ohshiro T
Departments of Anaesthesia and General Surgery, The Royal Oldham Hospital, Oldham, UK
 
Postherpetic neuralgia can be an extremely painful condition that—in many cases—proves resistant to all the accepted forms of treatment. It is frequently most severe in the elderly and may persist for years with no predictable course. This trial was designed as a double-blinded assessment of the efficacy of LLLT in the relief of the pain of postherpetic neuralgia, with patients acting as their own controls. Admission to the trial was limited to patients with established postherpetic neuralgia of at least six months’ duration and who had shown little or no response to conventional methods of treatment. Measurements of pain intensity and distribution were noted over a period of eight treatments in two groups of patients each, of which received four consecutive laser treatments. The results demonstrated a significant reduction in the pain intensity and distribution following a course of PBM.

Psychological effects
Many individuals who develop substance use disorders (SUD) are also diagnosed with mental disorders. Multiple national population surveys have found that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder.
 
PBM has positive effects on the brain, including reduced depression and anxiety, improved cognitive function in healthy adults, and on various forms of dementia. In 2018, Cassano conducted a double-blind RCT on patients with major depressive disorder. He demonstrated an "anti-depressive effect with medium to large effect size and significant findings" [30]. In 2016, Disner showed in an RCT that PBM enhanced the effects of attention bias modification treatment of depression [31]. In 2009, Schiffer treated 10 patients with major depression, including 9 with anxiety, 7 with a past history of substance abuse (6 with OUD, and 1 with an alcohol abuse history), and 3 with post-traumatic stress disorder. These patients experienced highly significant reductions in both depression and anxiety scores following treatment, with the greatest reductions occurring at two weeks.

PBM addresses three components that are typically present in OUD:

  1. PBM reduces pain (diminishing the initial use of opioids). 
  2. PBM is regenerative (helping heal the underlying cause of the pain). 
  3. PBM decreases a psychological component of OUD (depression and anxiety).

It can be used exclusively or as an adjunct to existing treatments. 
 
Given the evidence for its efficacy, we believe PBM should be part of the solution to the opioid crisis.

James Carroll
Founder and CEO
THOR Photomedicine Ltd

Disclosure: James Carroll is Founder & CEO of THOR Photomedicine Ltd, as well as Co-founder of and Investor in Lumithera, Inc.

Advocates rally on Capitol Hill for self-driving car legislation

December 05, 2019

Advocates for creating federal standards for autonomous vehicles rallied on Tuesday to spur lawmakers to move quickly on legislation to roll out and test the emerging technology. Representatives of automobile manufacturers and stakeholder groups argued forcefully for the need for federal rules to create standards around autonomous vehicles at a forum on Capitol Hill.

Advocates hopeful dueling privacy bills can bridge partisan divide

December 05, 2019

Key Democratic and Republican senators have offered dueling versions of legislation to create more privacy for Americans online in recent days. The competing bills highlighted how months of bipartisan negotiations have yet to yield a proposal both parties can back but have also raised hopes of boosting those efforts.

Apocalyptic asteroid strike that could wipe out humanity is 'only a matter of time', top scientist warns

December 05, 2019

A catastrophic asteroid impact big enough to wipe out humanity is only a matter of time, according to one top scientist. Humanity has next-to no defense against such an impact, Professor Alan Fitzsimmons said, which threatens to end life on Earth. Speaking to the BBC, the astrophysicist warned that the planet is at risk of a deadly disaster if protective measures aren't put in place.

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