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China Pushing Frontiers of Medical Research

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Cutting-edge medical research in China is promising to boost human health and development. Futuristic science is being conducted on a large scale and it is hoped this will increase the pace of discovery.

Around the world, rapid progress is being made in understanding the role played by genes and how they affect our overall health and susceptibility to diseases. Other developments are leading to the possibility of creating replacements for organs and other body parts that have been damaged through accidents, disease or genetic faults – without the need for organ donors.

Medical advances straight out of science fiction could be closer than many believe. By using machines and gene therapy, radical new methods will emerge to deal with damage done to human bodies as a result of accidents or disease. These solutions will become, in time, quicker, smaller and cheaper and will be available to more and more countries. They will spread outwards around the global South just as mobile phones and computing electronics have done.

In China, the government is investing heavily in this cutting-edge research and attracting investment and projects from around the world to increase the pace of progress in these areas.

In September 2013, Reuters reported that a 22-year-old man named Xiaolian in Fuzhou, China had a new nose grown on his forehead to replace his original nose that had been damaged in a car accident. Conventional reconstructive surgery was not possible, so this radical new approach was taken.

The advantages of growing a nose on the patient include a reduced chance of rejection by the body when the new organ is attached. Transplants of body parts from other people come with a high risk of rejection and require many drugs to prevent it. Using skin near where the transplant is to take place, on the face, improves the chances of success and the blood vessels in the forehead offer nourishment to grow the new nose.

The procedure works like this: tissue expanders are placed on the patient’s forehead. As it grows, the doctors cut the mass of tissue into the shape of a nose and cartilage from the patient’s ribs is placed inside to give the nose shape. The new proboscis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proboscis) grows under the skin until it is the right size and then transplanted onto the patient’s face where their old nose was.

Many believe this is just the beginning and that in the future replacement organs will be also grown in a lab. And this is where the new medical technology of 3D bioprinting comes into play.

3D printing machines (http://www.k8200.eu/), or fabricators, can create 3D objects based on a design sent from a computer. This concept is now also being applied to biological materials with 3D bioprinters.

Hangzhou Dianzi University of Electronic Science and Technology (hdu.edu.cn) in China launched the Regenovo 3D Bio-printer in August 2013. It prints living tissue and looks like a silver metal frame with various nozzles situated above a platform for printing the tissue. Its makers claim it can print a liver in 40 minutes to an hour or an ear in 50 minutes.

A sheet of hydrogel is placed on the platform and then the bioprinter deposits cells into the hydrogel. As the process is repeated over and over again, layer after layer, a 3D biological structure emerges.

Unique Technology (sinounic.com) in Qingdao, Shandong province has also launched a 3D printer called “Re-human”. It is capable of printing at 15 microns and can operate in temperatures of between 0 and 300 degrees Celsius. Scientists there are working on clinical trials of 3D-printed tissue scaffolds and bones.

China is very advanced in the development of 3D manufacturing technology, and is home to the world’s largest 3D printers, developed by Dalian University of Technology (http://www.dlut.edu.cn/en/). Another Chinese company pioneering this technology is Shaanxi Hengtong Intelligent Machines (http://www.china-rpm.com/english/), which sells various laser-using rapid prototyping machines and 3D machines.

Around the world, bioprinting is currently being pioneered for printing heart valves, ears, artificial bones, joints, vascular tubes, and skin for grafts.

The number of scientific papers mentioning bioprinting tripled between 2008 and 2011 according to Popular Science. But why is this happening? Three things are occurring at once: sophisticated 3D printers are now available, there are significant advances in regenerative medicine, and CAD (computer-aided design) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer-aided_design) software continues to become more advanced.

San Diego, California’s Organovo (organovo.com), a company that designs and creates functional human tissues using 3D bioprinting, has big ambitions for the technology.

“Getting to a whole organ-in-a-box that’s plug-and-play and ready to go, I believe that could happen in my lifetime,” its chief technology officer, Sharon Presnell, told Popular Science.

In the field of gene science, China is also investing significant resources to make rapid progress. China is working to make its genetic research industry into one of the country’s pillar industries.

Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) (http://www.genomics.cn/en/index) is the world’s largest genome-mapping institute, with more than 1,000 biological analysis devices working with top-of-the-line genome-sequencing machines. What makes BGI different is scale: it can handle data in vast quantities and industrialize its research, according to China Daily.

The China National Genebank in Shenzhen (http://www.nationalgenebank.org/en/index.html), associated with BGI and its Cognitive Genetics Project, is one of the largest gene banks in the world. It has collected the DNA (http://www.biologycorner.com/bio1/DNA.html) samples of some of the world’s smartest people to sequence their genomes and work out which alleles (http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/a/allele.htm) determine human intelligence.

But what will they do with this information? By doing embryo screening, it will be possible to pick the brightest zygote (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zygote) and ensure an entire generation’s intelligence is increased by five to 15 IQ (intelligence quotient) points. This could have a significant impact on the country’s economic performance, the researchers believe, and help in the country making more rapid economic and development gains. This line of research is also seen globally as being fraught with ethical dilemmas and is controversial.

But the Chinese researchers believe the country’s economic productivity, business success, international competitiveness and the amount of innovation in the economy could all increase with an IQ boost.

The eggs are fertilized in the lab with the father’s sperm and the embryos are tested until they find the smartest one.

Embryo analysis could take place on a large scale in a few years. But it is not just better brains that are possible with this technique: choices can be made about hair and eye colors, and physical attributes such as body shape.

This level of research is benefiting from vast investments in higher education in China.

And it isn’t just human beings receiving the vast investment in gene research.

To help agriculture and agribusiness, the National Center for Gene Research (NCGR) (ncgr.ac.cn) is mapping and sequencing the rice genome, and genomes of other organisms. Since 2007, it has been using the latest generation sequencing technology to map the rice genome to identify common genetic factors. It has 50 million base pairs of rice genomic DNA sequences in its public database. It is hoped this will lead to more robust rice varieties that can withstand disease and climate fluctuations and help meet the food needs of a growing global population.

Resources

1) Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine: Wake Forest Innovations was created in 2012 as a new operating division of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. As the Medical Center’s technology commercialization arm, Wake Forest Innovations supports scholarship, investing in the innovative potential of academic and clinical communities and helping translate ideas and discoveries into valuable commercial products and services. Website: http://www.wakehealth.edu/WFIRM/

2) DEKA Research & Development: DEKA Research and Development Corporation is an established company focused on the development of radical new healthcare technologies that span a diverse set of applications. Website: http://www.dekaresearch.com/index.shtml

3) Organovo: Organovo design and create functional human tissues using proprietary three-dimensional bioprinting technology. The goal is to build living human tissues that are proven to function like native tissues. Website: http://www.organovo.com/

Project Cyborg: A web-based platform geared toward nanoscale molecular modeling and simulations for cellular biology. Website: http://www.autodeskresearch.com/projects/cyborg
Make your own bioprinter: DIYBioPrinter: Step by step construction of a bioprinter from an old HP 5150 inkjet printer. Website: http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-BioPrinter/

6) Autodesk is working on CAD software for bioprinting. Website: autodesk.co.uk

7) BGI Cognitive Genetics Project: BGI Cognitive Genomics is an interdisciplinary research group at BGI, one of the largest genomics institutes in the world. The focus is human cognition, with emphasis on the use of tools made available by rapid advances in DNA sequencing technology. Website: https://www.cog-genomics.org/

8) Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology Chinese Academy of Sciences: The mission of the institute is to address fundamental questions in genetics and developmental biology and to develop new technologies for the uses in health care and agriculture sciences as well as to meet the nation’s strategic needs in science and technology. Scientists in the institute use both plant and animal models to address fundamental questions in life sciences, such as genetic control of growth and development, gene expression, signal transduction, structural and functional genomics, biotech and molecular breeding, bioinformatics and systems biology. As China owns the biggest agricultural market in the world, researchers in the Institute have also made significant efforts on water saving agriculture and agronomic studies, focusing on the improvement of crop productivity and quality as well as bio-safety. Website: http://english.genetics.cas.cn/au/


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China Looking to Lead on Robot Innovation

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Since the 1950s, science fiction has been telling the world we will soon be living with robots. While robots have emerged, they have been mostly kept to heavy industry, where machines can perform dangerous, hot and unpleasant repetitive tasks to a high standard.

But China is pioneering the move to mainstream robots in more public spheres. And the country is promising big changes in the coming decade.

Robots, strange as it may seem, can play a key role in development and fighting poverty.

If used intelligently, the rise of robots and robotics – itself a consequence of huge technological advances in information technology, the Internet, nanotechnology,artificial intelligence, and mobile communications – can free workers from boring, difficult and dangerous jobs. This can ramp up the provision of public goods like cleaning services in urban areas, or remove the need to do back-breaking farming work.

Robotics also offers a new field of high-tech employment for countries in the global South who are producing far more educated engineering and science students than they can currently employ. These students can help build the new robot economy.

China is considered to be in the early stages of competing with robot pioneers such as Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the United States. And China still has a low penetration of industrial robots per population. In 2011 estimates placed the number of industrial robots in China at 52,290 (International Federation of Robotics) (ifr.org).

In the years ahead, China confronts a double demographic problem. It has the world’s largest elderly population, who will need care, and it also has a shrinking number of young people available to work as a result of the country’s one-child policy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-child_policy).

Robots can help solve these problems.

China started its robotics research in the 1970s and ramped it up from 1985. It has already made significant progress manufacturing domestic robots for cleaning. The Xiamen Lilin Electronics Co., Ltd. (http://cnlilin.en.made-inchina.

com/) makes vacuum cleaners that are small round robots smart enough to return to their recharging stations when low on power. Another firm, Jetta Company (http://www.jetta.com.hk/home.htm), has built and sells the iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaning and floor-washing robots (http://www.irobot.com/uk/store.aspx?camp=ppc:google:products_roomba:G_790612075_1846279957_iRobot%20roomba:roomba_brand&gclid=CMiezMiG8a4CFc4LtAodYE3MKw).

For the heavy duty stuff, there is Ningbo’s Dukemen Robot, sold with the slogan “man, technology, robot”. The company manufactures arm-like robots for heavy lifting and lifting in dangerous or uncomfortable environments (dukerobot.com/ks/robot-manufacturers/).

A company called Quick specializes in making soldering equipment for manufacturing electronic components and sells robots that can do this with high accuracy and speed (quick-global.com/9-new-soldering-robot-1.html).

Other robotic advances in China include a robot dolphin that swims through the water measuring its quality.

There are also robots in development to do housework and help people who need assistance in the home like the elderly and the disabled. These robots can monitor a person’s physical condition and provide psychological counselling and search for, and deliver, requested items. One example is called UNISROBO, and is based on the Japanese robot PaPeRo robot (http://www.nec.co.jp/products/robot/en/index.html).

Still other robots can perform surgical procedures or even play sport, like Zhejiang University’s ping pong-playing robot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BtHYHi7trA).

Even more ambitiously, China is developing robots to send to the moon.

The push to introduce robots into the workplace and wider society is receiving considerable attention in China.

The Taiwan-based technology company Foxconn – well-known for assembling products for the American company Apple, maker of the iPad and iPhone -has pledged to deploy a million robots in its Chinese factories in the coming years to improve efficiency.

Some are forecasting that if China starts building robots on the scale it has pledged, then the world’s population of manufacturing robots will grow tenfold in 10 years.

China is also broaching one of the trickiest aspects of robotics – getting robots to interact with humans.

The tricky bit in robotics is getting interaction with human beings right and to avoid the experience being intimidating or frightening. One sector that is already ahead in experimenting with this aspect of robots is the restaurant business. One robot being used in restaurants sits on a tricycle trolley laden with drinks. It cycles from table to table in endless rotation allowing customers to choose drinks when they like.

The first robot restaurant started a trial run in 2010 in Jinan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinan), the capital of Shandong Province. The hot pot restaurant uses six robots to help with the service. The restaurant has also given itself the perfect name for this new approach: Continental Robot Experience Pavilion. Adorned with robot posters, the restaurant is 500 square metres in size and can seat 100 diners.

Diners at the Continental Robot Experience Pavilion are greeted by two ‘female’ “beauty robot receptionists” dressed in uniforms. Inside, the six robot waiters serve the customers. There are two to deliver drinks and two to serve the small tables and two to serve the big tables.

The robot comes to the table and takes the customers’ orders for food dishes and drinks. The robots, designed with sensors to stop them moving when they sense something or someone in front of them, are able to handle 21 tables and deal with the 100 customers at a single sitting.

The robots have proven so effective, the restaurant’s staff can stay focused on administration and providing assistance. The cooking is still done by human beings.

This trial run is designed to test the concept and the novelty of having robots attracting customers, the restaurant’s manager told the People’s Daily Online.

The plan is to increase the number of robots to 40 and also to have robots do cleaning and other tasks.

“They have a better service attitude than humans,” said Li Xiaomei, 35, who was visiting the restaurant for the first time. “Humans can be temperamental or impatient, but they don’t (the robots) feel tired, they just keep working and moving round and round the restaurant all night,” Li said to China Daily.

Resources

1) The Robot Report: It boasts compiling more than 1,400 robotics-related links and is about “Tracking the business of robotics”. Website: therobotreport.com

2) The Robot Shop: Bills itself as “The world’s leading source for professional robot technology” and sells online all the parts, kits, toys, tools and equipment to get any enthusiast or small and medium enterprise working with robotics quickly. Website: robotshop.com

3) Robot App Store: Sells ‘apps’ or software applications to expand the capabilities of robots. It also operates as a store for application developers to sell their robot apps to others. Also has information and resources on how to get started making robot apps and making money from making robot apps. Website: robotappstore.com

4) Roboearth: Funded by the European Union, RoboEarth is an online, open source network where robots can communicate with each other and share information and “learn from each other about their behaviour and their environment. Bringing a new meaning to the phrase “experience is the best teacher”, the goal of RoboEarth is to allow robotic systems to benefit from the experience of other robots, paving the way for rapid advances in machine cognition and behaviour, and ultimately, for more subtle and sophisticated human-machine interaction. Website: roboearth.org

5) Robotland: A blog writing about the “visions, ideas, innovations, awards, trends and reports from leading robotics research and development places in the world”. Website: http://robotland.blogspot.co.uk/

6) China Hi-Tech Fair: Running from 16-21 November 2012, the Fair is a great way to see the latest developments in robotics in China. Website: chtf.com/english/

7) Singularity Hub: A cornucopia of robotic resources and news on “science, technology and the future of mankind”. Website: http://singularityhub.com/

Cited in Studies in Intelligence, Autonomous Systems in the Intelligence Community: Many Possibilities and Challenges, Vol. 59, No.1 (Extracts, March 2015).

Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 59, No.1 (Unclassified articles from March 2015).
Autonomous Systems in the Intelligence Community: Many Possibilities and Challenges by Jenny R. Holzer, PhD, and Franklin L. Moses, PhD in Studies in Intelligence Vol 59, No. 1 (Extracts, March 2015).
Autonomous Systems in the Intelligence Community: Many Possibilities and Challenges by Jenny R. Holzer, PhD, and Franklin L. Moses, PhD in Studies in Intelligence Vol 59, No. 1 (Extracts, March 2015).
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Stories @ David South Consulting | 1991 – 2017

DS Consulting logo copy

I worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers from 1991 to 1997 in Canada and the United Kingdom and as a radio host for a weekly spoken word interview programme, Word of Mouth (CKLN-FM). This included working as an investigative journalist for Now Magazine, “Toronto’s alternative news and entertainment source”, as a Medical and Health Correspondent for Today’s Seniors, and as an investigative journalist and reporter for two Financial Times newsletters, New Media Markets and Screen Finance.  

From 2007, I researched and wrote stories for two United Nations publications: e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions and magazine Southern Innovator. Links to a small sample of published stories by theme are below: 

Themes

Health and Medical

African Health Data Revolution

African Technology Tackles Health Needs

Changing Health Care Careers a Sign of the Times

Feds Call for AIDS, Blood System Inquiry: Some Seniors Infected

Health Care in Danger

Health Care on the Cutting Block: Ministry Hopes for Efficiency with Search and Destroy Tactics

Mobile Phone Microscopes to Revolutionize Health Diagnostics

Safe Healthcare is Good Business and Good Health

Take Two Big Doses of Humanity and Call Me in the Morning

Taking Medicine to the People: Four Innovators in Community Health

Thai Organic Supermarkets Seek to Improve Health

US Health Care Businesses Chasing Profits into Canada

Innovation and Innovators

Frugal Innovation Trend Meets Global South’s Innovation Culture

Innovation from the Global South

Innovation Villages Tackling MDGs

Innovations in Green Economy: Top Three Agenda

Innovative Stoves to Help the Poor

Kenyan Mobile Phone Innovations

Next Generation of Innovation for the Grassroots

Technological Innovation Alive in Brazil

International Development

Aid Organization Gives Overseas Hungry Diet Food: Diet Giant Slim-Fast Gets Tax Write-Off for Donating Products

Philippine Conference Tackles Asia’s AIDS Crisis

Starting from Scratch: the Challenge of Transition

State of Decay: Haiti Turns to Free-Market Economics and the UN to Save Itself

Traffic Signs Bring Safety to the Streets

Investigative Journalism

Counter Accusations Split Bathurst Quay Complex: Issues of Sexual Assault, Racism at Centre of Local Dispute

False Data Makes Border Screening Corruptible

New Student Group Seeks 30 Percent Tuition Hike

Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side of Elite Regiment

Study Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks: CUPE Takes on Airline Industry with Findings

Top Reporters Offer Military Media Handling Tips

Science

Affordable Space Programmes Becoming Part of South’s Development

African Botanicals to be Used to Fight Against Parasites

African Digital Laser Breakthrough Promises Future Innovation

African Farming Wisdom Now Scientifically Proven

An Innovator’s ‘Big Chicken Agenda’ for Africa

China Pushing Frontiers of Medical Research

New 3D Technology Makes Innovation Breakthough and Puts Mind Over Matter

Putting Worms to Work

© David South Consulting 2017