Goodbye to the gym, restoring the sense of touch and Startups changing the world.

May 21

This week I will look at a gene therapy that may remove the need for us to go to the gym in order to look ripped. I also discover how researchers are restoring the sense of touch and movement to damaged limbs and apps that allow you to control the tempo of music. Finally I will look at a number of startups that are doing their bit to change the world for the better.

Getting Ripped without going to the Gym

This sounds like every couch potato’s dream. Being able to have the body of an Adonis without adjusting your diet and not needing to spend long hours pumping iron in the gym. Washington University in St Louis has achieved this with mice in test trials.

The researchers developed a gene therapy that targeted a gene called FST. This gene makes a protein called follistatin which blocks a protein called myostatin. Myostatin stops muscle growth to ensure muscles don’t get too large.

By injecting the mice with a virus carrying a healthy FST gene into 8 week old mice the researchers were able to observe the changes over the next 18 weeks. The mice’s muscle mass and strength more than doubled and they experienced reduced damage related to osteoarthritis and less inflammation of the joints. Body fat also decreased. Varying the diet did not change the results. Additionally the mice experienced improved heart function and cardiovascular health. The study is described here.

The goal of the research is to reduce Osteoarthritis and Obesity. Having the body of a ripped Greek God is merely a byproduct (and probably an exaggeration on my part).

Restoring the Sense of Touch

A team at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus Ohio have developed a brain-computer interface that may change the way that people with spinal cord injuries perceive and interact with the world.

The researchers implanted a computer chip into the brain in order to relay neural signals to a computer. This allowed them to amplify small, imperceptible touch sensations in a patient and relay them to the limbs. The chip will not only restore motion to paralyzed limbs it will also restore a sense of touch. Researchers claimed a 90% accuracy in touch trials. More detailed information here.

The main difference between this approach and the many robotic limbs being developed with neural interfaces is that the patient uses their own limbs.

The study used Ian Burkhart, a 28 year old that lost the use of his right arm in an accident ten years earlier, as their test subject. The researchers firstly had to find the source of movement in his brain. They then inserted an interface which collects and amplifies the neural signals. An intelligent algorithm decodes those signals into movement and sensory information. The researchers found that touch based neural signals were still present in the damaged limb but at vastly lower levels than in a healthy person.

Once the signals were decoded the computer relayed the signal back to Burkhart via stimulation to forearm electrodes (for movement) and vibrations on a haptic armband (for a feeling of touch). You can watch the full movement here.

Startups changing the World

This week I came across a range of interesting startups. Some have recently received additional funding so we will no doubt see more of their products in our lives in the future.

Coviu

Coviu is an Australian telehealth company that was founded in 2015. Coviu grew out of CSIRO’s Data61 subsidiary. It has been slowly growing for the past few years. The medical establishment is somewhat conservative in adapting new technology. That all changed in March when the Prime Minster allowed Medicare claims for consultations via audio and video based systems. Coviu provides secure end-to-end encrypted calls for doctors to consult with patients. The system has specific features built for medical specialists including a patient waiting room.

Coviu went from approximately 400 consultations per day to 25,000 per day in one week. They doubled their staff from 7 to 14 in a week and quadrupled their staff in a month. Talk about a rocket ship on the launch pad ready to take advantage of the changes wrought by Covid. Being in the right place at the right time with the right product is one thing. The team also had to execute flawlessly to take advantage of the opportunity.

MADEit

MADEit not only has the least amount of information about their services of any startup on their website, their employees all operate in the dark. MADEit employ robots to cook meals in dark kitchens for takeaway delivery. Dark kitchens are commercial kitchens not attached to any restaurant or retail establishment (Dark Kitchens are sometimes called Ghost Kitchens, Travis Kalanick the Uber founder is now developing a Ghost Kitchen business via the UK startup FoodStars which trades as CloudKitchens).

The purpose of a Dark Kitchen is to cook meals for the many delivery services. Using robots and kitchens with cheaper rental space reduces the cost and makes the food production business more economic. Yet another challenge for the many restaurants that have turned to food delivery services whilst struggling to survive during Covid. There will still be restaurants in the future however we will go to them for experience rather than convenience.

Petalite

Petalite is a UK startup building quick charging systems for electric vehicles (EV). Despite the huge advances in battery technology in the past decade, charging electronics still faces challenges. The current systems tend to be costly, slow, have a short lifespan, are unreliable and de-rated (temperature restrictions require expensive cooling).

Petalite was founded in 2014 and their system is now being installed globally. They claim to have 30% fewer parts, 4 times longer life, wider operating temperatures and a modular design that allows up to 460kW of charge per unit. In 15 minutes charging, the system can provide enough charge for an EV to travel 360 miles. This compares to the Tesla Supercharger that provides charge for approximately 90 miles in 15 minutes charging.

Accessibility in the City

AITC is a Newcastle based startup developing maps for people in wheelchairs to help them navigate the city in a way that is accessible to them. Our cities are not always accessible to all. People with accessibility issues can find it difficult to navigate unknown areas and thus tend to not venture out. AITC’s goals is allow everyone to pre-plan trips and to navigate their communities whilst on the move. Thus reducing the anxiety and vulnerability commonly felt when visiting a new location.

The system helps by providing accurate markers for facilities, route planning, gradient mapping and the users current location.

Music that you control

I also came across two startups that have developed ways for the individual to control the tempo of the music being played.

Weave

Weave is an application that adapts a song’s tempo between 100-240 BPM without lessening the quality of the song. The system works in two ways. Artists can design tracks using a new music format via Weave Mixer so that music can be integrated into the listeners movements.

Also Weave Run is a consumer app that adapts the speed of your music to the speed that you run. Run faster and the music speeds up for you, slow down and the music slows down. Running in sync with music has been shown to boost endorphins, decrease fatigue and the experience of pain. Weave Run is currently free to use during lockdown (US lockdown so it may be free for a while).

Mmaestro

Mmaestro (yes that is the way they spell it, it is expensive to buy domain names with correctly spelled words) from Reception AI is an app that allows you to conduct an orchestra by using your phone. The app uses the accelerometer in the phone to control the tempo of the music. The Beta is about to be released so if you want to be amongst the first to try it out sign up here and release your inner virtuoso.

Paying it Forward

If you have a start-up or know of a start-up that has a product ready for market please let me know. I would be happy to have a look and feature the startup in this newsletter. Also if any startups need introductions please get in touch and I will help where I can.

If you have any questions or comments please email me via my website craigcarlyon.com or comment below. 

I would also appreciate it if you could forward this newsletter to anyone that you think might be interested.