Editor’s Note: Extraordinary things are happening in the technology space today. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction… but it’s scientific reality. And early investors are poised to make boatloads.
In today’s Daily, we list three examples of tech changing the world right now, presented by PBRG friend (and 35-year tech insider) Jeff Brown.
From Jeff Brown, editor, Exponential Tech Investor: The parents of 1-year-old Layla had tried everything. All conventional treatments for Layla’s leukemia had failed. But they didn’t give up.
So they tried an experimental technology called gene editing. This is literally the stuff of science fiction. Remember how the dinosaurs were genetically engineered in Jurassic Park?
With gene editing, healthy DNA is extracted from a donor’s genome—its complete set of DNA—using “molecular scissors” (enzymes that can chop up DNA). It’s then inserted into a cancer patient’s genome, essentially replacing the patient’s immune system with modified, healthy cells.
This is exactly what happened with Layla at University College London. The treatment worked so well that, less than a month after treatment, the new, healthy, “edited” immune cells had killed off all cancerous cells in her bone marrow.
That’s why one of the hottest topics right now in medical technology is a new system for gene editing called CRISPR-Cas9 (pronounced “crisper”). CRISPR-Cas9 is a tool used to edit a faulty gene and replace it with a healthy one.
George Church, a Harvard genetics professor who used CRISPR technology to splice woolly mammoth DNA into the cells of a modern elephant, talks about gene editing at TEDMED 2010.
Two of the most exciting companies working in this space are CRISPR Therapeutics and Editas Medicine. Combined, they raised almost $200 million of new funding this year. They are using gene-editing technology to cure diseases at the molecular level.
The possibilities are extraordinary. Imagine cancer, Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy becoming completely curable. All are top targets for this new gene-editing technology.
From Game Shows to Cancer Wards
You might remember in early 2011 when IBM’s Watson supercomputer crushed the best human Jeopardy! champions.
Fortunately, Watson is now being put to much better use than competing on game shows.
The world-famous Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York began using Watson in 2013 to assist with oncology—the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. MSKCC estimates that for a physician to keep up with the latest medical literature, it would take as much as 160 hours per week. That would leave about eight hours a week for a physician to eat, sleep, and work… forget about time off and playing golf on Wednesdays.
That’s where Watson comes in.
MSKCC uses Watson’s artificial intelligence to “read” and analyze all of this medical data. Watson then puts it all to use, giving suggestions to support physicians’ diagnoses and treatments. According to one study, Watson’s successful diagnosis rate for lung cancer was 90%. This compares to a 50% success rate for human physicians.
Enlitic, established in 2014, is another company working on technology to improve the accuracy of disease diagnosis. Enlitic is using artificial intelligence and “deep learning,” which is designed to process information in the same way as the human brain.
Technology like Enlitic’s can scan for thousands of diseases, recommend personalized treatments, and dramatically improve diagnostic accuracy.
Print Me a New Heart
Do you think 3D printing is only for plastic figurines or spare parts? If you do, you’re very mistaken. One of the most exciting frontiers of 3D printing—also known as additive manufacturing—is “bioprinting.” This means “printing” organs, tissue, and bones.
Publicly traded Organovo (ONVO) is the leader in this exponentially growing space. It is primarily focused on the production of functional human tissues used for drug discovery and medical research. The end goal, of course, is to apply this technology for therapeutic purposes to replace damaged or diseased tissue.
And in the laboratories at Carnegie Mellon University, they’re working on leading-edge “bioprinting” technology that has the potential to print coronary arteries or even a heart.
The organs are printed into a hydrogel material that acts as a scaffolding for the organ. Once the bioprinting is complete, the hydrogel is heated up to a temperature where it melts away. This leaves the new organ ready for transplant.
A coronary artery being printed inside a hydrogel scaffolding
Another company that I am following is called EpiBone. It “grows” bones from a person’s own cells. EpiBone uses sophisticated scans of damaged bones, along with a patient’s own stem cells, to create defect-free bone grafts. This technology improves bone formation and regeneration and reduces recovery times.
We’re truly on the cusp of an exponential leap in medical treatment.
Most importantly, though, these technologies will save countless lives by providing early diagnoses of potentially life-threatening conditions.