A monthly digest of technologies, developments and trends that will shape our lives. (If you would prefer not to receive these digests, flip back 'NO THANKS' and you will be removed from the list).

Scientists Claim Alzheimer's Reversal 'Within Minutes'

An extraordinary new scientific study, which for the first time documents marked improvement in Alzheimer’s disease within minutes of administration of a therapeutic molecule, has just been published.

If the claims are true, and if the experiments can be replicated elsewhere, this announcement could be one of the most important ever made in the long search for a treatment and, perhaps, a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

This new study highlights the importance of certain soluble proteins, called cytokines, in Alzheimer’s. The study focuses on one of these cytokines, tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF), a critical component of the brain’s immune system. To reduce elevated TNF, the authors gave patients an injection of an anti-TNF therapeutic called etanercept.

The new study documents a dramatic and unprecedented therapeutic effect in an Alzheimer’s patient: improvement within minutes following the injection.

The lead author of the study, Edward Tobinick, is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and director of the Institute for Neurological Research, a private medical group in Los Angeles. Hyman Gross, clinical professor of neurology at the University of Southern California, was co-author.

Paraplegic Mice Coaxed To Walk Again

Medical scientists at the University of California have discovered that mice can find a way to bypass damaged spinal nerves to regain the use of their rear limbs.

The researchers' experiments point to nerve impulses re-routing themselves around the rest of the lab rodents' central nervous system to restore limb control, even when the animal' spinal cords remain severely damaged.

The outcome of the experiment is considered to be highly significant in the field of paraplegic research and could one day lead to new methods for helping humans regain the use of limbs following paralysis.

World's Smallest Mobile Phone Projector Launched

I've already seen enough PowerPoint presentations to last me a lifetime, but Redmond, Washing State-based Microvision has unveiled a projector small enough to fit inside your mobile phone. The tiny device will throw an image up to 50 inches wide (1270mm).

Dubbed SHOW, the lensless PicoP projector is designed for home and business use, and uses tiny lasers to shoot a WVGA (848 by 480, roughly DVD resolution) image on virtually any surface that isn't a dark colour or textured. It can even project onto curved and uneven surfaces. From a distance of two feet, it could project a two-foot diagonal, multicolor image on a white T-shirt. From five feet away, it could show a five-foot image on, say, a white wall or ceiling. I sense more and more PowerPoint on the way.

'Plastic Fibre' Not 'Optical Fibre'

Back in the heady Web 1.0 days (before the dot com crash) companies were excitedly planning to offer all of us optical fibre connections right into our homes.

The stock market crash of 2000 and the very high cost of fibre optic cables themselves put paid to such over-ambition.

But now a new form of plastic fibre has been developed with EU funding which slashes the price of installing high-speed data cabling.

Unlike fibre optic which uses powerful (and dangerous) laser light to carry data, plastic fibres use harmless green or red light that is easily visible to the eye. Plastic fibres can be safely installed in a home without risk to inquisitive children.

A second advantage is their robustness. Plastic fibres are much thicker than glass fibres, a millimetre or more, and can be handled without special tools or techniques.

Of course there are drawbacks. Plastic fibres absorb light more than glass, which limits their useful length to a few hundred metres. They also have a lower data capacity than glass fibres. But that is fine for the cable that runs from a conventional glass fibre in the street into a house, or even for laying a network within a block of flats.

Glad to see the EU is spending its taxpayers' money wisely.


British Research Failure Leads To Entirely New Type Of Speakers

A failed scientific effort to reduce the noise made by British military helicopters has led to a breakthrough enabling surfaces from mobile telephone screens to car roof liners to be turned into stereo speakers.

The failed technology was sold to Cambridge-based NXT, which christened it "SurfaceSound" and arranged for it to be crafted into Toyota cars, Gateway computers, Hallmark greeting cards and other products.

NXT plans to tap into the booming digital photo frame market with models that project sound from clear acrylic screens directly at viewers. Current audio-enabled digital photo frames feature speakers in the rear.

The 'Semantic Web' Is Now Arriving

Although it may not sound very exciting, a new programming language called SPARQL (pronounced "sparkle") has been released by the World Wide-Web Consortium, the body headed by Sir Tim Berners Lee that oversees the future development of his invention. In a year or so, when it has been widely applied, Sparkle will make your experience of the web very different.

The potential of the Semantic Web is considerable. By scanning the Web on behalf of users the web itself may come to challenge even Google's ad-based business.

SPARQL queries express high-levels goals and are easier to extend to unanticipated data sources. The technology overcomes limitations of local searches and single formats, according to W3C.

Already available in 14 known implementations, SPARQL is designed to be used at the scale of the Web to allow queries over distributed data sources independent of format. It also can be used for mashing up Web 2.0 data.

The Semantic Web, the W3C said, is intended to enable sharing, merging, and reusing of data globally.

Contact Lens Projectors - A New Bio-Machine Interface

Imagine walking down the street and as your mobile phone rings, the name of the caller suddenly appears floating in the air in front of you.

That is one of the possibilities offered by a new contact lens which incorporates electronic circuits which can create a type of heads-up display, right within the eyeball.

Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.

There are many possible uses for virtual displays. Drivers or pilots could see a vehicle's speed projected onto the windshield. Video-game companies could use the contact lenses to completely immerse players in a virtual world without restricting their range of motion. And for communications, people on the go could surf the Internet on a mid-air virtual display screen that only they would be able to see

'Star-Trek' Language Translator Now Being Tested By U.S. Police Forces

A device which mimics the famous 'Phraselator' translation device imagined up for the TV series 'Star Trek' is now in daily use by police forces in California, Florida and Nevada.

The $2,500 toughened Phraselator runs an Intel PXA255 400mHz processor that supports a built-In noise canceling microphone, a VOCON 3200 Speech Recognizer, 1GB removable SD card, 256MB of DRAM Memory and 64MB Flash Memory. It can store up to 10,000 phrases.

The device doesn’t do straight voice-to-voice translations but, for example, in the precinct house multi-lingual officers translate and record standard issue police commands, such as the Miranda rights, and other questions, that beat officers can retrieve and broadcast by a simple English-language text or voice word search. The device then speaks the phrase in another language through its speaker.

OK, not quite Star Trek.

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