I met with the Chairman and CEO of Regeneus this week and was impressed by their commercialisation of stem cell therapies for humans and animals. I also liked their simple explanation of stem cells which is on the Regeneus web-site (click here to go to the web-site):
“Stem cells are the foundation cells for every organ, tissue and cell in the body. Stem cells are undifferentiated or “blank” cells that have not yet fully specialised. Stem cells are part of the tissue repair mechanism found in all mammalian tissue types. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or differentiate into a specific cell type with a specialised function, such as a bone, cartilage or muscle cell, a red blood cell or a neuron. These characteristics distinguish stem cells from other cell types. They also have the capacity to secrete various compounds that can stimulate other cells to regenerate and repair.
There are many different types of stem cells. These include embryonic stem cells that exist only at the earliest stage of embryonic development and can form all cell types of the body. There are various types of “adult” or “tissue-specific” stem cells that exist in a number of different adult tissues like bone marrow and adipose (fat) tissue. It is known that different types of stem cells have different potential in regard to the cell types they can become. Regeneus only uses adult stem cells.”
Also on their web-site is the news that Japan is about to introduce a fast-track approval process for stem cell therapies (click here to read an article on this from nature.com).
Australian legislators should take note of this. Reducing bureaucracy related to bio-medical approval processes would help to facilitate the development of a world-class bio-medical hub in Australia.
Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, and others argue that we are in an era of exponentially accelerating innovation. This era was kicked off by the mass adoption of the Internet which means that there are now 2.5bn (and rising) minds connected for the first time in history. Advancements in technology and science spread rapidly and can be adopted and further developed anywhere in the World almost immediately. The slow, linear spread of information that existed before the Internet is history.
This era has the potential to deliver an abundance of food, clean water, medical access, and energy to everyone (click here to read my blog on abundance).
However, a team from MIT have raised the issue that technology is displacing jobs, potentially at a higher rate than ever before (click here to read a review of their argument). For example, the infographic below (click on it to enlarge) shows that, since 2000, productivity in the US has continued to rise but employment growth has stalled. This cannot be solely attributed to the impact of technology on jobs, but it is worth monitoring.
Emergent technologies could clearly impact on a range of jobs. Driverless cars could replace taxi-drivers; robots are advancing to a level where they can already manage simple human tasks in manufacturing, care-giving, medicine, and even farming; and 3D printing is a direct replacement for low-end manufacturing jobs.
Historically, dislocation has been managed through social welfare and new industries have emerged to provide alternative employment. The challenge would be if the pace of creative destruction accelerated in this era, so that social welfare struggled to cope and if sufficient alternative employment did not emerge.
At a personal, corporate, and government level, we need to plan for this challenge and seek to be pro-active rather than re-active.
The technological singularity is the point at which humans and machines are indistinguishable, resulting in super-intelligent beings. Progress towards this point is clearly accelerating as exemplified by the computing and communications power that we carry in our pockets. Ray Kurzweil (click here to read my previous blog on Kurzweil) has predicted that singularity will be achieved by 2045. Jason Silva captures the awe of singularity in this video.
Free markets and trade rarely receive the recognition they deserve for delivering social benefits. An article in the Economist states “The World’s achievement in the field of poverty reduction is, by almost any measure, impressive … Most of the credit must go to capitalism and free trade”. Between 1990 – 2010, nearly 1bn people were lifted out of extreme poverty mainly due to strong economic growth in developing countries, with China making the greatest contribution. Click here to read the Economist article.
Critics will argue that the cost has been the increased use of fossil fuels and the global environmental impact. This is true. Currently fossil fuels are a key requirement for lifting people out of extreme poverty. In fact, to deny them access to fossil fuels would be to condemn them to extreme poverty. As The Economist describes, this means lives that are “poor, nasty, brutal, and short”.
Capitalism is already moving rapidly to address the challenge of fossil fuel’s environmental impact. As Elon Musk said, solar energy will generate more power than any other energy source within 20 years (click here to read my blog on this or here to read the TED2013 blog on Musk’s presentation).
Could 2010 – 2030 see the end of extreme poverty altogether and the rise of solar energy to replace fossil fuels? Yes … thanks to capitalism.
There were two announcements last week of breakthroughs in stem cell research and both were covered in the Sydney Morning Herald:
1) A team from Oregon Health & Science University managed to clone stem cells from the skin of a baby which were genetically identical to the baby (click here to read the SMH article);
2) A researcher from Monash University, in collaboration with Harvard University, showed how it is possible to use any human cell to develop artificial stem cells that match that human cell (click here to read the SMH article).
These breakthroughs have the potential to rapidly accelerate medical progress, particularly regenerative medicine.
These processes for stem cell development require inserting the human cell into a donor egg. Therefore, the medical profession will require an assured supply of eggs to facilitate this. Eggs can come from women undergoing IVF or from women prepared to undergo an operation in which their ovaries are stimulated to enable the removal of an egg. However, it is illegal to pay women for providing their eggs in Australia.
So should women be paid for providing eggs for stem cell development? All the women that I have asked so far have said yes. This has left me intrigued as to how the ban came into force in the first place and who is lobbying for change.
In one of the SMH articles, an Australian company argued that the team from Oregon succeeded because they had access to better quality eggs. Australia’s legislation is hampering medical progress and the potential success of Australia companies in this field.
I attended TEDxSydney 2013 on Saturday 4 May at the Sydney Opera House. Click here to see a list of the speakers and to learn more about this wonderful annual event.
Here’s a brief summary of my top 5 talks:
1) Ron McCallum, blind since birth, is now 64 and has had a successful career as a lawyer, professor of law, and human rights advocate. Technological innovation facilitated his career. He particularly cited the scanner invented by Ray Kurzweil that could read books. (To read my previous post on Kurzweil, who is now the Director of Engineering at Google, click here).
2) Jennifer Robinson is a lawyer who’s profile has risen as she is part of Julian Assange’s legal team. However, the focus of her talk was not Assange but Benny Wanda. Benny Who? That’s the question asked by everyone I spoke to. Wanda is the leader of the Free West Papua campaign (click here to read more about the issue). What most amazed me about the situation in West Papua is that I had never heard about it before.
3) Danny Kennedy is a former Greenpeace activist who discovered the potential for the profit motive to achieve his goals by co-founding Sungevity in the US. He now advocates rejecting the “scarcity narrative” in favour of promoting the potential for abundance (click here for my post on abundance). Sungevity installs solar panels to homes in the US and aims to have 50m US homes with solar by 2018.
4) Andrew Parker is a research leader at the British Natural History Museum and Oxford University. According to Parker, the first animal with eyes came into existence 521m years ago. Prior to this time, animals simply had light sensors. This important evolution triggered the Cambrian explosion during which the rate of evolution accelerated dramatically resulting in a diversity of species similar to that existing today.
5) David Sinclair’s talk was on the development of new medicine to address age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. He argued that certain genes appear to switch on as we age and these cause age-related diseases. Exercise and diet have been found to delay their activation but new medicine is in trial that may address the causes of their activation. This would result in much healthier lives for people into their 90s and early 100s.
With music from the likes of Kate Miller-Heidke, comedy from Julian Morrow, food grown locally but prepared by Aria, and a host of other great talks, this is one of the great events in Sydney.
Richard Dawkins recently tweeted that anyone who thinks The Selfish Gene advocates selfishness has never read past the title. If you haven’t read past the title, I’d recommend that you do – it’s a must read. My (non-scientific) take on it is that genes have been the constant through human evolution and securing their survival and replication is a key driver of our behaviour. In my blog “Progress is the purpose” (click here to read it), I argued that human progress improves the potential for the survival and replication of our genes.
Whether I’m actually selfish or not, I stand to benefit if everyone’s quality of life can be improved. In particular, the probability of the survival and replication of my genes increases if everyone’s quality of life improves. Achieving “Abundance for all” is both a result of progress and a facilitator of progress (click here to read “Abundance for all is within our grasp”).
For example, a girl in a village in Africa today may, if educated, discover the cure for cancer. It is important (not only for this reason) that she receives an education and is connected to the World. If I develop cancer, I will be the beneficiary of her education.
Oppression of her rights reduces her potential to contribute to progress, as well as devastating her quality of life. This is not only an affront to my moral code, it is a direct threat to the survival and replication of my genes.
Others may view their desire to improve everyone’s quality of life in altruistic terms. This would mean that their desire to see improvement cannot be described in the context of “the selfish gene”. I wonder whether this is actually the case. I can’t see how religious motives can be altruistic given the carrot / stick nature of most (all?) such belief systems. Can non-religious motives be altruistic or is the selfish gene at work, perhaps in the background?
I’m in favour of systems that provide motivations for individuals to act in their own interest but result in benefits for all. I may be selfish, which may or may not be directly related to Dawkin’s theory of the selfish gene, but I want everyone’s quality of life to improve.