Like putting Band-Aid over a bullet wound

Plasters are the lowest of the low when it comes to fixing injuries.

If you have a real problem, you use glue, stitches or a bandage.

That’s why we have the phrase “like putting Band-Aid over a bullet wound”.

The only thing plasters are good for, really, is stopping blisters.

But not anymore. The humble plaster, the butt of jokes and idioms the world over, is about to have its day.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have created a stem-cell plaster for heart attack victims.

The stem cells are grown into strips of heart muscle and stuck over scars on the heart.

Currently it’s almost impossible to improve the health of heart-attack victims, without a heart transplant. As the BBC reports:

The challenge is that unlike some of our other organs, like the skin and liver, the heart has a very limited ability to self-heal. Heart muscle cells replicate at a rate of just 0.5% a year, not sufficient to repair any significant damage. Instead, the dead cells are replaced by thick layers of tough, rigid scar tissue, meaning that sections of the heart simply cease to function.

That’s where these stem-cell plasters come in.

Here’s Futurism’s take on how these heart plasters work.

While researchers have tried to inject stem cells directly into damaged heart tissue in the past, the technique didn’t prove particularly effective — mostly because the stem cells wind up getting lost in the bloodstream instead of staying in the heart muscle, where they’re needed.

These patches, on the other hand, are live, beating heart tissue that can be affixed to the organ like a scaffold. And, unlike a donor heart, a patient in need wouldn’t have to wait for a match to be found. Instead, the patches could be grown as-needed, and on-demand.

The scaffolding tissue will also be grown from the patient’s own cells — eliminating the need for a lifetime of immunosuppressants drugs and lowering the risk of organ rejection, two problems that transplant patients typically face.

The idea is that eventually, these plasters will be 3d printed to the exact measurements of a patient’s heart scars and then stitched on.

See, 3d printing does have a use! (Other than making pretty ornaments and weird looking guns.)

The team behind these patches are preparing to test them in mice and pigs, and hope to start human trials within five years.

Controlling the narrative

A few weeks back the results of large-scale study into antidepressants was released into the world.

The conclusion was that “the drugs do work”, to quote Reuters and The Guardian.

I remember listening to a section on Radio 4’s Today Programme, stating there was now definitive proof that antidepressants do work.

Here’s how the BBC reported the findings:

“Scientists say they have settled one of medicine’s biggest debates after a huge study found that anti-depressants work.”

This is great news. Depression is a major problem and it affects more people than many realise. Now, depressed people can just take antidepressants and be cured. The debate is over.

Only when you look into the numbers, and beyond the headlines, it’s not really that simple. Nothing ever is.

What you wouldn’t get form the headlines, or the BBC coverage, is that yes, the drugs do work. But only in around 60% of cases.

“Only around 60 percent of people prescribed depression medication improve,” Said Oxford University’s Andrea Cipriani, the lead researcher in the study.

A 60/40 shot isn’t really the definitive proof these headlines made the study out to be.

And Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be equally as effective as antidepressants, without any of the associated side effects. Here’s the NHS report on major 2015 study.

Now, I’m not one of those people who doesn’t believe in medicine or drugs, far from it. I believe in science. And in many cases, clearly antidepressants are the best route to take. That’s not really what I have issue with. It’s the way this was reported.

The headlines say things like “this will settle the debate”. They lead you to believe that this study showed antidepressants are as effective for depression as stitches are for closing wounds. But that’s not the case.

Not once in the whole Radio 4 section I listened to did they mention the actual numbers. In fact, it’s not even in the BBC’s article at all. Reuters and The Guardian do show the 60% stats, but not until very far down in the articles.

This is what’s called controlling the narrative. The people writing the press releases wanted a particular narrative to win out: the debate is over, antidepressants work. And all the major news sources just went along with it, without questioning it.

This happens all the time in many different industries. That’s why, as I’ve said before, it’s important to read a few different versions of the same news story to try get to the truth.

The more controversial a topic is, the harder it usually is to find out what the actual truth was. And the treatment of depression is one of the most controversial subjects you can get.

That’s why the reporting of this study is a great example of controlling the narrative. What can we take from this? The same as usual – don’t just take things at face value.  Do your own research, and think for yourself.

Would you consider wearing smart glasses that don’t look weird?

Staying with the subject of truth, how do you know you can trust your own memories?

There’s a Black Mirror episode from a few years back where everyone had an implant that recorded everything that ever happened in their lives. It led, as most Black Mirror episodes do, to some horrible situations.

Many people state that we forget things for a reason. Our brain tends to spin a more favourable narrative.

For example, in that Black Mirror episode the guy in it goes for a job interview and doesn’t get the job. He then spends hours replaying the interview over and over again, watching the mistakes he made.

There are more positive spins of the camera recording everything take, though. Over the weekend I watched Altered Carbon, which is a new sci-fi show on Netflix. It’s based on the book, which I have also been told is good.

The main idea of the show is that they now have the technology to transfer people’s consciousness into new bodies (as I’ve written about a few times this year).

One of the more minor, but still interesting, things in the show was the smart contact lenses.

The way we have mobile phones now, they had smart contact lenses. They were like a less rubbish version of Google glasses. They could record images, play things back, make phone calls, bring up data etc.

This tech may seem far off, but it’s getting closer. We may not have smart contact lenses yet. But we will soon have non rubbish looking smart glasses.

Here are Intel’s latest (click for The Verge’s video on them):

Those glasses by Intel don’t even look weird. They look completely normal. They have managed to solve the biggest problem that Google Glass had. But the question is, would you wear them?

I have a good friend who works and Facebook and he tells me that augmented reality is the future.

So, with augmented reality, you could wear glasses like these and go virtual furniture shopping, for instance.

You’d look at your room as it is now and the through the glasses you’d see what your room would look like with the furniture from the website you were browsing.

Or, you could virtually project a film or a video call onto your wall. It’s not like virtual reality where you’re completely cut off from the outside world. It’s more like upgrading reality.

The question is, would you want it?

Would it lead to a dark Black Mirror like world, or would it just be like having a better TV, computer and smartphone all in one?

Will computers of the future reside in our eyes? Or would people find that too full-on?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

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Category: Technology

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