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This Month in Science

This month in science brings not one, but two major headlines in disease research.
Scientists have successfully created an effective malaria vaccine after 24 years of intensive research. The vaccine is reported to be safe, effective, and cheap, and will be available for regular distribution by 2015.

Currently, almost 10% of the world’s population is affected by this dangerous disease, and many millions have died to date in the absence of a vaccine to prevent infection. Although this vaccine does not necessarily mark the end of the disease, it is a momentous step towards the eradication of the deadly parasite.

Because this disease is so widespread, there is growing concern over making the vaccine cost-efficient enough to provide the cure for all those who are in danger of being infected. This is especially an issue for malaria because the disease afflicts many poorer regions of the globe.

There are a number of antimalarial medicines available for those traveling into malaria-ridden areas, but they only provide protection from the parasites so long as the medication is active, making it unfeasible to use as a worldwide cure.

The concern at this point is for the vaccine to be shown to be effective in humans at a high rate, and with a long (preferably lifetime) period of immunity. The drug advances now to the third stage of trials where it is being tested on an afflicted population.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center also recently unveiled a new generation of prosthetics able to be controlled by the brain. Neuroscientists are working on perfecting a system to allow robotic prosthetics to be controlled strictly through intention by means of intercepting brain waves.

These programs are in their nascent stages, but immediately are yielding promising results. Robotics engineers and neuroscientists are teaming up to allow more precise control as well as a more intuitive design. Footage shows a man paralyzed in a motorcycle accident reaching out for the first time in 7 years, this time with a robotic arm that is detached from his body.

What are the implications of machines that can be operated with the mind? Are true ‘cyborgs’ in the foreseeable future?

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  1. October 24, 2011 at 12:29 am

    I think that robotic prosthetics have a lot of potential and can do a lot of good for the people that need them. My only concern for them is that one day it might be possible to hack into the machines that run them, which might allow others to control them without the owners consent. Imagine if a cop had a prosthetic hand that was hacked into, could someone force him to shoot another? I’d say that these prosthetics would have to be very secure before they hit the mass market. As for practicality I feel that it would be hard to measure depth perception, even if it measures brain waves, it would be hard for it to move to a specified point exactly, it would require often calibrations to work perfectly. So I think that this idea is aways off, but I really do that it comes to market for it will help a lot of people.

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