Fullpower built the lab about a decade ago to capture data from sleep patterns. Of course, test subjects don’t typically snooze deeply with wires glued to their skulls, chests, legs, and arms. But almost everyone manages to at least nod off for a while, and the data that subjects generate are valuable and often surprising. “What we found early on is that sometimes you sleep less and feel more refreshed,” Kahn says. “It’s because you woke up in the light part of the sleep cycle.” The insight led him to develop a sleep-cycle alarm that could determine the best time to alert a person within a certain window. “Sometimes it’s better to get up at 10 of seven than at seven,” he says.
Researchers are discovering that each of us walks around with 1.5 gal. (5.7 L) of what may be the most sophisticated and revealing diagnostic available. Each drop teems with data, not just about your current state of health but also about what your future might hold.
The breadth of blood-detectable conditions is exploding thanks to the latest technologies. As doctors get better at understanding what goes wrong at the molecular level when we get sick, they can better pick out specific compounds in human plasma–the component that holds all the blood cells–that signal the first stages of trouble.
Data based on more than a dozen studies published in peer-reviewed journals suggest that in healthy people, float therapy can be an effective relaxation technique. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. What’s yet to be determined is whether people who have psychiatric disorders, like depression, could gain therapeutic benefits from floating.
But researchers are actively seeking answers. One study published in the International Journal of Stress Management found that for a group of people with stress-related pain, flotation helped decrease anxiety and depression. Next year Feinstein plans to scan the brains of people with conditions like PTSD before and after they float. He expects to see a drop in activity in the brain areas that correlate with anxiety, which could bolster floating’s potential as a helpful treatment technique.
The pacemaker took its form in the 1960s. In the meantime, mobile phones were invented and went from the size of a briefcase to smaller than a deck of cards, and room-sized computers are relics compared to laptops no bigger than a magazine.
Medtronic started work on shrinking the device in 2009, with the goal of making it a 10th its existing size. More efficient electronics meant a smaller battery that can last at least 12 years, and putting the electrode directly on the mini-pacemaker eliminated wires.
A host of new companies founded or staffed by brain researchers have some advice for advertisers: Read your customers’ minds. In a world of ever-shrinking attention spans, where consumers flit through social media sites and skip right past online ads, advertisers are turning to neuroscience to better understand how to steer buyers toward their products.
“People are not governed by the rational side of their brains, so the majority of purchase decisions are made irrationally,” says Itiel Dror, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist engaged by London consultants BrandOpus to test the redesign of a logo for Canada’s McCain Foods Ltd.
“Instead, he imagines a nationwide network of care providers who would be matched with assignments by a smartphone app. A senior’s family would also have an app to help them monitor when an aide visited their relative at home. Honor would provide touchscreen-tablet devices in the seniors’ homes to notify them when an aide was on the way and let them rate the care they received, Sternberg said.
“Our technology will connect all three parties — the caregivers, the families and the seniors — and give visibility into the care your mom is getting,” he said.
The technology also will help Honor verify that aides visited homes at the agreed-upon times, didn’t check Facebook or make social calls, and, for instance, were walking around if they were supposed to be cooking a meal, not sitting down. “We actively monitor to ensure they do what they should,” Sternberg said.”
The centerpiece of their work is a smartphone- and tablet-based diagnostic tool called Cellscope, which has been customized to identify a range of problems. One group is using it to diagnose tuberculosis in respiratory tract sputum and malaria in blood. Another is diagnosing eye injuries and diseases. Others are developing Cellscope applications to detect parasites, cancers and diseases that impact agriculture.
Their innovation turns a phone into the image capture and analysis component of a system that uses bright-field and fluorescence microscopy to identify disease-causing organisms in patient fluid samples. They have created another phone attachment with a lens and LED bulbs to scan the eye for signs of injury or disease.
Combining the hardware and software with cellular connectivity also opens up the possibility of telemedicine to bring the diagnostic power once cloistered in hospital labs to regions lacking doctors, clinics and infrastructure. “With these platforms, you can test a patient in one place, transmit the data to another place and get a diagnosis from a distant expert,” says Fletcher.
To supplement his old-school hearing aid, he favors a $350 iPhone-linked earpiece made by Sound World Solutions, a hearing-hardware maker in Park Ridge, Ill., for whom he’s begun to consult. With the Sound World device on, he can amplify phone calls and streaming music as well as his surroundings. A third, $500 earpiece was custom-made by Ultimate Ears in Irvine, Calif., to help him detect a wider range of musical tones while composing. For restaurants and theaters, he has a $45 directional microphone that pairs with a $5 app to isolate desired voices. And for especially cacophonous places, he has spare $700 microphones, made by Etymotic Research in Elk Grove Village, Ill., that he can strap to companions.
In September, Novartis Chairman Joerg Reinhardt announced the company’s new commitment to aging research. “Over the long term, one could argue that R&D productivity has relentlessly declined,” he said in a keynote at a drug development conference in Basel, Switzerland. Aging represents a fertile field of discovery: Identifying the pathways and proteins associated with aging could yield promising drug targets, he said. By tweaking the right pathways, researchers could theoretically prevent a host of age-related diseases. Novartis is not alone in this: Chicago-based AbbVie has complete a $750 million partnership with Calico, an aging-research venture founded by Google.
Rapamycin isn’t the only widely used medication that’s turning out to have possible anti-aging properties. Millions of diabetics take a drug called metformin, which has been around for decades. Like rapamycin, metformin extended the life of federally funded mice in a clinical trial. And there is evidence that it might do the same for people. Diabetes typically shaves about five years off a person’s life. But a large retrospective analysis found that diabetics on metformin had a 15 percent lower mortality rate than nondiabetic patients in the same doctors’ offices. “To me that suggests that it’s actually targeting aging,” says Kennedy.