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Physicians in Philadelphia have developed an artificial womb, researchers in England built an AI that can accurately predict the risk of heart disease, and MIT engineers designed a robotic 3D printer that can build a house. Once again, science is hitting home runs.
“If we can develop an extra-uterine system to support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies.” Top GIF credit: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
What is it? Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have developed an artificial womb that could one day save the lives of premature and “critically preterm” babies. The team has already tested the device on eight preterm lambs, whose lung development is similar to that of humans. The system “has operated up to 670 hours (28 days) with some animals, which remained healthy,” the team wrote. “The lambs showed normal breathing and swallowing, opened their eyes, grew wool, became more active, and had normal growth, neurological function and organ maturation.”
How does it work? The device looks like a high-tech, fluid-filled plastic pouch “attached to custom-designed machines that provide physiologic support,” according to the hospital. “The fetal lambs grow in a temperature-controlled, near-sterile environment, breathing amniotic fluid as they normally do in the womb, their hearts pumping blood through their umbilical cord into a gas exchange machine outside the bag. Electronic monitors measure vital signs, blood flow and other crucial functions.”
Why does it matter? The team says that 30,000 births in the U.S. each year are “critically preterm” — younger than 26 weeks — and one in 10 births are premature. “These infants have an urgent need for a bridge between the mother’s womb and the outside world,” according Alan W. Flake, the leader of the study and a fetal surgeon and director of the hospital’s Center for Fetal Research. “If we can develop an extra-uterine system to support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies.” The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.
What is it? Researchers at the University of Nottingham in England have used an artificially intelligent system to “significantly” improve the accuracy of predicting heart disease risk compared with existing tools. “Compared to an established risk prediction approach, this study has shown machine-learning algorithms are better at predicting the absolute number of cardiovascular disease cases correctly, whilst successfully excluding non-cases,” the team wrote in a paper published in the journal PLoS ONE. “This has been demonstrated in a large and heterogeneous primary care patient population using routinely collected electronic health data.”
Why does it matter? The researchers wrote that AI could increase the number of patients at risk who could benefit from preventive treatment, while avoiding unnecessary treatment of others.
What is it? Engineers at MIT have developed a large robotic, mobile 3D printer that could one day print homes.
How does it work? The “free-moving” machine has two robotic arms. A large “industrial arm” holds a “highly controllable” precision arm that can “direct any conventional (or unconventional) construction nozzle, such as those used for pouring concrete or spraying insulation material, as well as additional digital fabrication end effectors, such as a milling head.” It took the printer just 14 hours to “build the basic structure of the walls of a 50-foot-diameter, 12-foot-high dome.”
Why does it matter? The goal is to make the system self-sufficient. The design already comes with “a scoop that could be used to both prepare the building surface and acquire local materials,” plus solar panels. “The idea is that such systems could be deployed to remote regions, for example in the developing world, or to areas for disaster relief after a major storm or earthquake, to provide durable shelter rapidly,” MIT News wrote. The results were published in the journal Science Robotics.
What is it? Elsewhere at MIT, scientists found inspiration in the jaw of a sea worm and developed a new protein-based material that changes its strength and shape depending on its environment.
How does it work? The material, which the MIT team made with help from the Air Force Research Lab, expands and contracts based on changing pH levels and ion concentrations.
Why does it matter? The material responds to changing conditions, but it can revert to its original shape. MIT News wrote that these qualities make it “particularly useful” for smart composite materials with tunable mechanics and other devices that can “change the material stiffness or generate functional deformations” on demand.
What is it? Archeologists from the San Diego Natural History Museum have just scrambled the timeline of human history. While studying pieces of 130,000-year-old mastodon teeth found at a site in southern California, they noticed the remains showed “evidence of modification by early humans.”
Why does it matter? Studies based on DNA analysis put the departure time of modern humans from Africa no later than 80,000 years ago. “Until recently, the oldest records of human sites in North America generally accepted by archaeologists were about 15,000 years old,” according to the museum. “Analysis of these finds dramatically revises the timeline for when humans first reached the Americas.” The New York Times wrote: “If the scientists are right, they would significantly alter our understanding of how humans spread around the planet.” The results were published in the journal Nature.