March 24, 2017

Tech Breakthroughs From Better Cameras to Medical Selfies

By Grace Carr
A New Drug May Lower Heart Risks  

A new drug that radically lowers cholesterol levels has been found to significantly reduce the chance a heart attack or stroke. The drug, Repatha, can make cholesterol reach low levels almost never seen naturally or in adults taking cholesterol-lowering statins. This drug has the potential to improve the health and longevity of millions of Americans with heart disease. Researchers estimate that roughly 11 million Americans are eligible to take the drug. But the drug would need to be taken for life, and the bill for its widespread use could potentially be huge, so further cost-reductions are needed before it becomes a practical treatment. Based on a data analysis that was done independently by a team of academic researchers, it appears that the new drug can potentially reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 20 percent.     

Wind Power to Innovate Shipping  

More than a century after shifting away from wind power, the shipping industry is looking at ways to harness wind and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The latest effort by Denmark’s Maersk Tankers uses rotating cylinders nearly 100 feet tall, functioning as high-tech sails. The company will begin testing on one of its tankers and could add the technology to as many as four dozen ships. Previous efforts to harness wind didn’t catch on with shipping operators because of high technology costs or less than expected fuel savings. However, the lightweight and relatively cheap rotating sails show more promise, they claim. The cylinders are made with lightweight composite materials that take advantage of the Magnus effect, in which a spinning object drags air faster around one side than the other, creating a difference in pressure. Maersk Tankers doesn’t yet have a cost estimate for the project, but believes the technology could cut its fuel consumption by as much as 10 percent.   

Medical Selfies Now A Reality  

An Israeli firm has created an app that uses mobile-phone cameras for clinical-grade urine analysis. The patient follows the instructions, waits for the colors on the dipstick to develop and then takes a picture of it against the background of a proprietary color card. The app analyzes the results and suggests whether a consultation or prescription is needed. The firm has been working with doctors in Israel to let pregnant women at risk of pre-eclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure signaled by protein in the urine) use the app to monitor themselves at home. In Britain, meanwhile, multiple sclerosis patients whose bladders are affected by the disease are beginning to use the app to detect symptoms that can prevent severe urine infections. The app’s function may soon be applied to chronic kidney disease as well. If the illness is detected early by screening the urine of those at risk, sufferers can receive treatment to slow the disease’s progress. Soon, the app may be able to employ spectroscopy to help analyze wounds and surface infections.   

Insect Eye Inspires New Camera for Smartphones  

A group of researchers working for the Fraunhofer Society in Germany are now studying the way many insect eyes work as the basis of a new miniature camera for smartphones. Insects have compound eyes wherein the eye is a bulbous structure composed of many lenses arrayed together. Compound eyes generally have worse resolutions than single-lens eyes, but their shape provides a wider field of vision. Researchers have been able to pair these components, resulting in both high resolution and a wider camera view. Currently, smartphones often have what is known as a “camera bump”—a bulge in the case to house the optics. The researchers have succeeded in making a 2mm thick camera with 135 facets and resolution of one megapixel. The group believes that they will soon be able to boost this resolution to four megapixels. At that resolution, the camera would be good for leisure use and a number of industrial and medical applications. The new device might also be fitted into probes, small sensors, and robots to give them vision. The new camera is too expensive for mass-production however, so researchers are trying to adapt the process to be more economical.