August 10, 2016

Breakthroughs in Energy, Health and the Pace of Innovation

By Chelsea Follett
Vaccine protects against Zika virus in rhesus monkeys   

Rhesus monkeys who had been infected with the Zika virus and received two doses of a new vaccine showed complete antibody-based protection against both the Puerto Rican and Brazillian strains of the virus. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School jointly completed a second round of successful preclinical studies on the potential Zika vaccine, called ZIKV purified inactivated virus, or “ZIPV.” Encouraging results from both mouse and primate testing have allowed the ZIPV vaccine to advance to human trials.   

Batteries’ energy storage capacity to increase six-fold   

Simply switching from graphite to silicon anodes can increase the energy storage capabilities of lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly used in laptops and smart phones, to six times their current capacity. Silicon is able to stably absorb lithium ions far better than graphite, and extremely thin layers of silicon are sufficient to produce the maximum possible energy storage gains. The breakthrough  was discovered by researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin Institute of Soft Matter and Functional Materials in Germany. Energy storage advances like this one could help to scale up production of solar and wind energy, greatly increase the battery life of electronics, and speed up the creation of better electric vehicles.     

Urbanization is leading to more innovation   

Urbanization increases levels of innovation, income and productivity. The increase in social interactions results in the size of a city’s economy rising far more rapidly than its population. Physicist Geoffrey West suggests that when someone is in a city which is twice the size of their hometown they become 15% more productive. Also, economies of scale mean a city which has doubled in size only uses 85% more resources. As large cities require more workers to fill ever growing labor shortages, larger sways of people are being pulled toward the city lifestyle than ever before. Because of this cycle it is predicted that by 2050, three quarters of the planet’s inhabitants will be urbanites.     

Single drug to defeat three horrible diseases   

Recent animal studies reported in the journal Nature have shown a single drug to be successful in treating three different deadly infections: Leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and sleeping sickness. This drug has been described as a “new hope” for tackling the three parasitic infections which infect 20 million and kill 50,000 of some of the world’s poorest people each year. Current drugs can only treat a single one of these infections at a time. They are also expensive, have sometimes severe side effects and often need to be given via an intravenous drip, which is extremely impractical in poor regions. The “new hope” drug is now entering safety tests and will begin human trials shortly.     

Firms hope to heal organs with electrical signals   

GlaxoSmithKline and Google sister company Verily Life Sciences are teaming up to heal  human organs by using electronic implants that can modify nerve signals and thereby fix or counteract problems within the body.  The firms are coming together to create a new company named Galvani Bioelectronics for the purpose of this project. The overall aim is to develop tiny implants that can connect to nerves which link to different organs. These implants will be powered wirelessly and automatically. In the future such devices could monitor the natural nerve signal traffic and act proactively in times of emergency, potentially saving countless lives.