Living…without Breathing?

People need oxygen to live. Without it, cardiac arrest and brain injury will occur. Until recently, just four to six minutes without oxygen caused brain cells to die. But now, a new life extension technology promises to keep non-breathing patients alive for a much longer period…maybe even up to 30 minutes.

Doctors perform surgery (1922)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

New Life Extension Technology

In 2006, Dr. John Kheir treated a little girl who suffered from severe pneumonia. Unfortunately, it caused her lungs to bleed and reduced her oxygen levels. She experienced brain damage. Before Dr. Kheir could hook her up to a heart-lung machine, she passed away. Afterward, Dr. Kheir began searching for an oxygen-substitute to use for life extension purposes. Recently, he and his research team at Boston Children’s Hospital designed tiny microparticles that can be used to swiftly provide oxygen into a person’s bloodstream.

How’s it Work?

The microparticles have a size of 2 to 4 micrometers, making them invisible to the human eye. They contain a pocket of oxygen gas which has “three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells.” This gas is surrounded by a layer of fat-based lipids. When entered into the bloodstream, the lipids deform.

“[The] deformable particles…dramatically increase the surface area for gas exchange and are able to squeeze through capillaries where free gas would get stuck.” ~ Dr. John Kheir, Injecting Life-Saving Oxygen Into a Vein, Science Daily, June 27, 2012

The idea is to inject these microparticles into the bloodstream via a syringe. In other words, they would be portable and thus, could be used in the hospital as well as carried by emergency personnel in the field.

The Bottom Line

The microparticles have already proven successful with life extension for poorly oxygenated animals, restoring blood oxygen saturation to “near-normal levels” within a matter of seconds. For animals that experienced blocked tracheas, the microparticles kept them alive for 15 minutes without breathing while simultaneously reducing their risk of cardiac arrest and internal injuries. It’s believed the microparticles could work for as long as 30 minutes.

“This is a short-term oxygen substitute — a way to safely inject oxygen gas to support patients during a critical few minutes. Eventually, this could be stored in syringes on every code cart in a hospital, ambulance or transport helicopter to help stabilize patients who are having difficulty breathing.” ~ Dr. John Kheir, Injecting Life-Saving Oxygen Into a Vein, Science Daily, June 27, 2012

We here at Guerrilla Explorer have a deep interest in life extension technologies like cryonics. So, we’re excited about these microparticles. 15 to 30 minutes may not sound like much, but when a life is on the line, it’s an eternity. If it’s as successful with people as it is with animals, it could ultimately save millions of lives.

An iPad…from 1935?

Back in 1935, Everyday Science and Mechanics published what just might be the world’s first attempt at an electronic reading device geared toward the individual. In other words,  the first iPad.

The First iPad?

Microfilm Reader: In 1935, Everyday Science and Mechanics proposed using what might be called the first iPad, which consisted of a microfilm reader mounted on a pole.
Attribution: Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The First iPad?

The so-called first iPad consisted of a microfilm reader mounted on a pole, complete with readily-accessible controls to adjust the screen and turn the pages. You can see a picture of the first iPad here. Can you imagine having that thing in your living room? Here’s more on the first iPad from PaleoFuture:

The future of the book has quite a few failed predictions in its wake. From Thomas Edison’s belief that books of the future would be printed on leaves of nickel, to a 1959 prediction that the text of a book would be projected on the ceiling of your home, no one knew for sure what was in store for the printed word.

The April, 1935 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics included this nifty invention which was to be the next logical step in the world of publishing. Basically a microfilm reader mounted on a large pole, the media device was supposed to let you sit back in your favorite chair while reading your latest tome of choice…

(See PaleoFuture for more on the first iPad)

Uploading…of the Human Mind?

Mind uploading isn’t exactly a new idea. But technology is improving so quickly now that it’s starting to move out of the realm of science fiction and into reality.

Mind Uploading

An image from one of the first fictional examples of Mind Uploading
Attribution: “The Tunnel Under the World” by Frederik Pohl (1955)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mind Uploading: Is it Possible?

Until recently, mind uploading was confined to the world of fiction. However, new developments may change that. The other day, Russian media mogul Dmitry Itskov unveiled his “Avatar” project. He hopes to perform mind uploading by putting a human mind into a robot within ten years. In thirty years, he hopes to develop hologram bodies. Here’s more on mind uploading from Wired.com:

The Pentagon’s new Avatar project, unveiled by Danger Room a few weeks back, sounds freaky enough: Soldiers practically inhabiting the bodies of robots, who’d act as “surrogates” for their human overlords in battle.

But according to Dmitry Itskov, a 31-year-old Russian media mogul, the U.S. military’s Avatar initiative doesn’t go nearly far enough. He’s got a massive, sci-fi-esque venture of his own that he hopes will put the Pentagon’s project to shame. Itskov’s plan: Construct robots that’ll (within 10 years, he hopes) actually store a human’s mind and keep that consciousness working. Forever…

(See Wired.com for more on mind uploading)

The Key to Immortality?

Flatworms have the ability to regenerate seemingly forever. Could they hold the key to human immortality?

Do flatworms hold the key to immortality?

Bedford’s Flatworm: Could flatworms hold the key to immortality?
Attribution: Jan Derk (Maldives, 2006)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Do Flatworms hold the Keys to Immortality?

Here’s more on flatworms and immortality from The Telegraph:

Experts from Nottingham University managed to create a colony of more than 20,000 flatworms from one original by chopping it into pieces and observing each section grow into a new complete worm…

“Our data satisfy one of the predictions about what it would take for an animal to be potentially immortal,” Aziz Aboobaker, who led the research. ”The next goals for us are to understand the mechanisms in more detail and to understand more about how you evolve an immortal animal.”…

(See Flatworms could hold key to immortality for the rest)

A Virus…that Hacks the Human Mind?

Last year, Craig Venter created a form of artificial life, which he called “Synthia.” Now, the field of Synthetic Biology is racing ahead and experts are beginning to wonder what sort of hell this new science might unleash upon the world. Are scientists close to developing a virus that can hack the human mind? In other words, will mind-reading soon be a reality?

Will Mind-Reading Be a Reality in the Future?

“Landscape with the Dream of Jacob”: Will Mind-Reading Be a Reality in the Future?
Painted by Michael Willmann (1691)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Is Mind-Reading a Reality?

The short answer is “No.” Mind-jacking and mind-reading have no basis in reality…at least for the moment. The longer answer is more complicated. Scientists believe that our expertise in the field of genetic engineering is “out-accelerating natural evolution by a factor of millions of years.” And since the human brain is similar in some ways to a computer, it stands to reason that a virus could be created that would allow one person to essentially hack another person’s brain. In other words, mind-reading.

“I advocate that cells are living computers and DNA is a programming language. This is one of the most powerful technologies in the world. I want to see life programmed and used to solve global challenges so that humanity can achieve a sustainable relationship within the biosphere. It’s growing fast. It will grow faster than computer technologies.” ~ Andrew Hessel, Singularity University

How long until Mind-Reading becomes a Reality?

And that day might be closer than you think. According to IBM’s “5 in 5″ predictions, mind-reading will be possible within five years. This will be done by linking the human brain to electronic devices. Some early applications include gaming as well as developing a better understanding of brain disorders like autism.

“While much of the brain remains a mystery, progress has been made in understanding and reading electrical brain activity were we can use computers to see how the brain responds to facial expressions, excitement and concentration levels, and the thoughts of a person without them physically taking any actions. So the idea is to use these electrical synapses to also do everyday activities such as placing a phone call, turning on the lights or even in the healthcare space for rehabilitation.” ~ Kevin Brown, IBM Software Group’s Emerging Technologies

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Once mind-reading becomes a reality, it’s not a far jump to mind control. Of course, there are many potential benefits to these new technologies. But the risks remain profound. Will we someday be uploading the equivalent of security software to our brains to protect them from attack? Only time will tell…

Secrets of the Amazonian Witch Doctors

During the 1500s, a group of European missionaries traveled to South America hoping to convert the locals to Christianity. To their horror, they discovered that Amazonian witch doctors actively used a strange potion…a potion which they considered “the work of the devil.” But modern analysis indicates that this mixture, known as Ayahuasca, is far from evil. Could this secret of the ancient witch doctors improve millions of lives today?

How did ancient witch doctors invent Ayahuasca?

Two Lassa Witch Doctors – How did witch doctors such as these invent Ayahuasca?
Source: CDC

Ayahuasca: A Secret of the Amazonian Witch Doctors?

Last month, we explored Kalata-Kalata, a strange medicinal tea prepared by African witch doctors that could eventually help researchers save millions of lives. We also got a visit from the very interesting Sean McLachlan who interviewed an African healer earlier this year (and who, incidentally, has a new Civil War horror novel coming out shortly). Our latest foray into the world of witch doctors comes via a new documentary from Nick Polizzi entitled The Sacred Science.

In his film, Polizzi observes “eight people from all different walks of life, with varying physical and psychological ailments, as they embark on a one-month healing journey into the heart of the Amazon jungle.” One of the treatments highlighted by the documentary is Ayahuasca, “a hallucinogenic drink used in the Amazon region to cure everything from depression to cancer.”

What is Ayahuasca?

Although many recipes exist, the best known version of Ayahuasca is made by boiling two separate plants. This creates a mixture containing a powerful hallucinogenic known as DMT (which is a Schedule I drug in the United States) along with a secondary substance which acts to orally activate the DMT.

Ayahuasca has several notable effects on the human body. It speeds up the heart rate and blood pressure. It creates psychedelic effects. Most importantly, Ayahuasca kills worms and tropical parasites while also inducing vomiting and diarrhea that allows the human body to expel other parasites.

Ayahuasca is viewed with great interest from many people, due in part to its seemingly magical healing abilities. According to a newly-produced miniseries entitled, The Witch Doctor Will See You Now, “it seemed to have a powerful curative effect on the chronic pain and asthma sufferers who drank it for the show.”In addition, a 1993 scientific investigation indicated that “the medicine was not harmful, and that people who took it were actually healthier than people in the control group.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The legal status of Ayahuasca remains questionable in many places throughout the world due to its dependence on DMT. However, efforts are underway to legalize it, both for religious purposes as well as for medicinal ones.

It seems to me that Ayahuasca and DMT deserve a closer look from modern science. But the medicinal properties are not the only things that need examination. The origin of the mixture itself remains shrouded in mystery. The two plants used in its creation are located hundreds of miles away from each other and are surrounded by over 80,000 plant species known to exist in the Amazon. Separately, these plants have no effect. But when combined, they create a powerful synergistic potion. So, who discovered Ayahuasca?

And how in the world did they unravel its mysterious secrets?

Identifying Psychopaths…by their Words?

Psychopaths are people who lack empathy and remorse while displaying traits like egocentrism and deceptiveness. They’re extremely difficult to identify since they tend to be skilled at faking emotions. However, recent research may help solve that problem. Have scholars found a way to successfully identify psychopaths?

Was Adolf Hitler a Psychopath?

Was Adolf Hitler a Psychopath? His speeches might reveal the answer to that question.
Photographed by Heinrich Hoffmann (1927)
Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-13774 / Unknown Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

Chaos!

As a quick reminder, I released my first novel, Chaos, on Monday. It’s an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Amazon Paperback * Kindle E-Book * Nook E-Book * Smashwords E-Book * iBooks E-Book * Kobo E-Book * Diesel E-Book * Sony E-Book

Identifying Psychopaths?

Now, the trick to identifying psychopaths may not lie in trying to read emotions or looking for visual cues. Indeed, the secret to psychopathy may lie in something seemingly innocuous…word choices.

“Previous work has looked at how psychopaths use language. Our paper is the first to show that you can use automated tools to detect the distinct speech patterns of psychopaths.” ~ Professor Jeff Hancock, Computing & Information Science

Working with Michael Woodworth and Stephen Porter from the University of British Columbia, Professor Hancock analyzed the words of 52 male murderers in Canadian prisons. Each murderer, 14 of which were diagnosed as psychopaths, was asked to describe his crime in detail. These words were then “subjected to computer analysis.”

The word choices of the psychopaths showed some interesting similarities. They were more likely to present a murder as something that “had to be done.” This was related via conjunctions like “because,” “since,” or “so that.” Also, they tended to emphasize physical needs such as sex or money as opposed to social needs. They made greater use of the past tense, which might “[suggest] a detachment from their crimes.” And finally, their speech included a greater number of “ums” and “uhs,” which could indicate that they were forced to work harder to “frame the story” in a way that makes them look good.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

All in all, psychopaths appear to choose words that reflect “selfishness, detachment from their crimes, and emotional flatness.” In other words, while they can fake emotions, they are far less successful at controlling their word choices. These implications could “lead to new tools for diagnosis and treatment.”

Of course, we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves here. After all, this study only covered 52 murderers in the first place. Also, it’s based on the fairly questionable assumption that all 52 people were correctly identified as either psychopaths or non-psychopaths in the first place. And finally, it only covers word choices used to describe one’s crime.

It’s important to remember that there are tons of factors influencing one’s choice of speech, including upbringing, peers, and the stress of a particular situation. And although this study is interesting, it’s far from absolute. Overall, I’d caution researchers on drawing too many conclusions from these findings. The last we need to do is to start wrongfully accusing ordinary people of being psychopaths when in fact, they just speak a little differently than the rest of us.

Predicting “Future Crime?”

In the popular television show, Person of Interest, a mysterious billionaire named Mr. Finch uses a secret computer program to identify people connected to “future crimes.” While Mr. Finch uses the program to save lives, it’s easy to imagine such a thing being used for evil (see: Minority Report). Fortunately, this frightening technology doesn’t exist in real life…does it?

Screenshot of DHS Fast (Future Crime System)

Screenshot of DHS Fast (Future Crime System)
Source: US Government, DHS via Wikipedia

FAST: Future Attribute Screening Technology…or Future Crime Technology?

In 2008, news began to leak out that the Department of Homeland Security was working on a program named Project Hostile Intent (now called FAST, or Future Attribute Screening Technology). Its purpose was to detect “‘mal-intent’ by screening people for ‘psychological and physiological indicators’ in a ‘Mobile Screening Laboratory.’”

Recently, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) obtained an internal document from the Department of Homeland Security. It revealed that FAST is not just a piece of hypothetical technology. Future crime technology is real. And its being tested on real people, albeit voluntarily.

The concept behind FAST is fairly simple. Government agents will use ”video images, audio recordings, cardiovascular signals, pheromones, electrodermal activity, and respiratory measurements” to examine individuals from afar. Advanced algorithms will then analyze this information. This will supposedly allow agents to “predict” future criminal behavior and give them a “head start to stop a crime or violent act in progress.”

Future Crime versus Criminal Profiling?

Technologies to predict the future seem to be all the rage in government agencies these days. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is developing a program to detect traitorous insiders who plan to turn on their colleagues. Meanwhile, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) is working on technology to predict future global events and the “consequences of U.S. intelligence actions.”

Still, the government’s desire to predict the future isn’t new. After all, FAST is, in certain respects, just a more advanced version of the common yet controversial practice of “criminal profiling.” But while profiling usually focuses on just one or two factors, such as ethnicity or gender, FAST goes to a whole other level. It examines ethnicity, gender, age, occupation, breathing patterns, body movements, eye movements, changes in pitch, changes in speech, changes in body heat, and changes in heart rate among other things.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, it would appear that the government is laying the groundwork for a system to predict crime. Fortunately, it’s only confined to employees of the Department of Homeland Security at the moment. Right?

Wrong. It turns out that FAST “has already been tested in at least one undisclosed location in the northeast.” While the nature of this location remains unknown, the DHS claims it wasn’t an airport.

EPIC is concerned about the privacy implications and believes that FAST needs to be reviewed. And it’s hard to argue with them. The privacy concerns are mind-boggling to say the least, especially since the government plans to “retain information” that it collects. In addition, the idea of being spied upon, profiled, singled out, and questioned by government agents for a crime not yet committed is disturbing to say the least. The potential for abuse is alarming and real…Very, very real.

Secrets of the Witch Doctors?

African witch doctors have long used a certain tea to help pregnant women induce labor and delivery. The ingredients of that concoction are now being exhaustively studied by scientists. Could the secrets of the witch doctors save millions of lives?

Witch Doctors

Two Lassa Witch Doctors
Source: CDC

Kalata-Kalata & Secrets of the Witch Doctors?

During the 1960s, a Norwegian doctor named Lorents Gran visited the Democratic Republic of Congo. While assisting with a Red Cross relief mission, he noticed that witch doctors used a medicinal tea named kalata-kalata. Made from the plant Oldenlandia affnis, it was used to help pregnant women speed up child delivery. He analyzed the tea and discovered that the active ingredient was a peptide, which reduced pain and caused the uterus to contract. This peptide has since been named kalata B1. It would take another twenty years before this peptide was “characterized as a macrocyclic peptide.”

Since then, the study of these macrocyclic peptides, now called cyclotides, has grown substantially. Recently, Dr. David Craik from the University of Queensland in Australia was interviewed on the subject for the American Chemical Society’s video series called Prized Science: How the Science Behind ACS Awards Impacts Your Life. In the video, entitled, New Drugs – From a Cup of Tea, Dr. Craik showed how his research could turn these cyclotides “into new drugs for treating health problems, such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria and even AIDS, which affect millions of people worldwide.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Most peptides, which are really just small chunks of protein, cannot be taken orally since they are too weak to hold up to the digestion process. However, cyclotides have a powerful internal structure that allows them to withstand digestion. This is why the witch doctors were able to subject the kalata-kalata tea yo boiling while maintaining its healing powers.

Excitingly, the cyclotides show tons of medicinal promise. Someday soon, millions of people may find themselves taking life-saving drugs derived from cyclotides. And they’ll owe it all to modern science…as well as the mysterious and wonderful ingenuity of generations of African witch doctors.

Medical Secrets of the Ancients?

Modern antibiotics work by attacking specific parts of pathogens. While this works in most cases, some pathogens merely develop resistance to the antibiotics. Recently, biologists developed an innovative and promising way to combat these terrifying “superbugs.” Can ancient secrets of the medical world save lives today?

Do Wallabies hold the Key to unlocking Ancient Secrets?

Do Wallabies hold the Key to unlocking Ancient Secrets?
Drawn by John Gould (1863)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Evolutionary Arms Race: Superbugs versus Antibiotics

Superbugs present a steep challenge to modern medicine. Through a process of evolution, they learn how to defend themselves. This leads to a sort of “evolutionary arms race” with the superbugs on one side and antibiotics and adaptive immune systems on the other.

Now, a team of biologists from the Victoria Department of Primary Industries have proposed a new method for battling superbugs. They want to utilize ancient secrets. In other words, they wants to make use of molecules from the strongest “innate immune systems” found in nature. Innate immune systems, which are considered “an evolutionarily older defense strategy,” defend against infection in a more generic way than antibiotics or the adaptive immune system.

“The molecules of the innate immune system use simple chemistry to target the lipids in cell membranes. They can either disrupt and weaken bacterial membranes, or subtly alter the properties of the host’s healthy cells so that pathogens can no longer attack them.” ~ Wendy Zukerman, New Scientist

Unfortunately, the animals that tend to possess the strongest innate immune systems are only distantly related to humans. Thus, their molecules would most likely prove toxic if introduced into people.

Ancient Secrets of…Wallabies?

So, a team of researchers led by Professor Ben Cocks have focused their efforts solely on mammals. One promising candidate is the wallaby. A baby wallaby lacks an adaptive immune system. Worse, it lives in its mother’s pouch, which is filled with “bacteria closely related to the superbugs affecting humans in hospitals.” But thanks to their innate immune systems, they manage to survive and thrive nonetheless.

The wallaby innate immune system contains numerous cathelicidin peptides that appear effective in battling superbugs without causing toxicity to humans. The research team discovered that five of these peptides may have evolved from a single ancestral peptide. Working backwards, they managed to reproduce an ancient secret…the original peptide. This “resurrected” peptide has not been seen since the djarthia, a distant wallaby ancestor, roamed the Earth some 59 million years ago.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

59 million years? That’s definitely an ancient secret. In fact, it’s just a couple of million years younger than the dinosaurs! And since this extinct peptide has been out of commission for so long, any resistance built up by bacteria has probably been long forgotten. So, it’s no surprise that the ancient peptide appears amazingly effective and broad-based.

“Lab tests showed it destroyed six of seven multidrug-resistant bacteria, and was 10 to 30 times more potent than modern antibiotics such as tetracycline.” ~ Wendy Zukerman, New Scientist

Going forward, Cocks hopes to use computers and synthetic biology to recreate even more therapeutics from ancient mammals. For the time being, this new peptide will most likely be used to battle mastitis, a serious problem in the dairy industry. But someday soon, this ancient secret may enable humanity to overcome a wide variety of superbugs.