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When most people think about advances in prosthetics, they think about robotic feet with rotating ankles and robotic arms with fully moving fingers. Few people consider the possibility of improving the functionality of prosthetics without improving the prosthetics themselves, but a new surgical procedure might do just that.

A team of scientist led by S. S. Srinivasan from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently published a study in Science Robotics, a journal produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Srinivasan’s team wanted to address a major problem often associated with myoelectric prosthetics. These prosthetics move when they detect nerve signals, but electrodes sometimes have difficulty reading these signals from the leftover severed nerves. In response to this shortcoming, Srinivasan’s team developed a revolutionary new procedure that inserts two muscle grafts under the skin; these grafts are sutured so that when the one muscle stretches, the other contracts, and vice versa. The severed nerves are then connected to these muscles and allowed to grow and spread through the grafts. The result is known as an “agonist-antagonist myoneural interface.”

You might wonder what sets the nerves inside these grafts apart from nerves in the rest of the body. Not only can electrodes read them easier, but they also provide natural neural feedback. According to one of the members of the team, Hugh Herr, the grafts are designed to take advantage of “the fundamental motor unit in biology, two muscles acting in opposition.” In other words, the nerves in one graft send signals to the brain whenever the other graft moves. Standard myoelectric prosthetic electrode interfaces only receive signals from the brain and don’t send signals to the brain, which means the agonist-antagonist myoneural interface can provide a facsimile of sensation absent in most prosthetics interfaces. Furthermore, this procedure has uses outside of myoelectric prosthetics, as the newly-grown nerves in the grafts are less likely to develop into neuromas — a painful tumor made out of nerve cells.

This procedure is purportedly low-risk and fairly minor as far as surgeries go, but so far the study only tested the process on lab rats. We will have to wait until the researchers can move to human testing before we know the effectiveness of the process. If you are interested in reading the full study, it is available on the Science Robotics site, albeit only available to people with AAAS memberships. However, a cliff notes version of the study is readily available on sciencemag.org (full credit  goes to Matthew Hutson, as I used his article as my primary resource).

All you have to do to get my attention is talk about video games, technology, anime, and/or Dungeons & Dragons - also people in spandex fighting rubber suited monsters.

Artificial Intelligence

Eric Lefkofsky, the billionaire founder of Groupon, has launched another initial public offering (IPO),tempus is an artificial intelligence (AI) health technology company

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Eric Lefkofsky is no stranger to the world of public listings, and he’s gearing up to embark on his fourth venture. With a net worth of nearly $4 billion, this serial entrepreneur has successfully taken three of his own businesses public.

Today, he is the founder of Tempus, a genomic testing and data analysis company that is preparing to go public. However, he gained significant recognition as one of the co-founders of Groupon, a daily deal pioneer. Groupon made headlines in 2011 when it went public with a valuation of nearly $13 billion, marking one of the most notable debuts of that year.

Groupon’s initial public offering (IPO) and the subsequent years were notoriously challenging. However, the public listings of Lefkofsky’s other two companies, InnerWorkings in 2006 and Echo Global Logistics in 2009, didn’t cause major concerns for investors and performed successfully. InnerWorkings, a supply chain startup that was founded in 2001, was recently sold to private equity for a significantly lower amount than its initial public offering market capitalization.

Throughout its 11-year tenure as a publicly traded company, the stock of Echo Global Logistics experienced a consistent increase in value. Eventually, a private equity firm bought it for a significant 50% premium over its closing trading price in 2021.

There were some controversies surrounding Groupon, including a situation where Lefkofsky allegedly took a significant amount of money from the company’s pre-IPO round. This left the company with limited working capital and resulted in a significant decrease in reported revenue after regulators examined the financials. This unconventional decision has also revealed another transaction based on his previous experiences. He successfully sold his dot-com-era business, Starbelly.com, in 2000, but regrettably, the company that bought it filed for bankruptcy a year later, according to some sources.

Lefkofsky has gained a reputation for having a knack for success, although it may not always translate to long-term gains for investors in his companies.

Tempus is Lefkofsky’s latest endeavor in building a company that will stand the test of time and provide significant value. His wife’s successful breast cancer treatment reportedly inspired him to establish Tempus in 2015.

He expressed his surprise at the lack of data involved in her care during an interview with Forbes last year. “I became obsessed with the notion that there existed a wealth of technology designed for various industries that could be utilized in cancer care to empower physicians to make informed decisions based on data.”

He resigned as Groupon’s CEO in 2015, at a time when the company’s value had dropped to $2.6 billion. Groupon currently has a market capitalization of approximately $600 million. During that period, Lefkofsky directed his attention towards Lightbank, an early-stage venture firm.

It is worth noting that, according to the Tempus S-1 filing, he has not received any salary in the past two years. Unfortunately, the S-1 did not disclose more than two years’ worth of executive compensation for any named officer. Additionally, the filing states that he is entitled to receive a payment of $800,000 and a $800,000 bonus commencing in 2025. Furthermore, despite not receiving a salary, he received a substantial $5.3 million dividend from company stock this year, as indicated in the prospectus. In addition, the filing revealed that Tempus has taken care of the expenses related to $7.5 million worth of preferred shares and has also covered his private plane costs, amounting to $200,000.

Tempus saw a significant increase in revenues, with a growth of 66% from $321 million in 2022 to $531 million in 2023. However, the company continues to experience significant financial losses, with net losses of $290 million in 2023 and $214 million in 2022. Despite the challenging financials, there is a positive development in the operating loss margin, which has decreased from 83% in 2022 to 37% in 2023, as stated in the S-1 filing.

Additionally, Lefkofsky-founded Pathos AI and Tempus have a partnership. Pathos AI is a drug discovery platform that was established in 2020. Pathos compensates Tempus for the privilege of licensing its data. Meanwhile, Ryan Fukushima, the COO of Tempus, also takes on the role of CEO at Pathos and divides his time between the two companies.

There are additional signs that suggest Lefkofsky has a greater level of influence at Tempus than is typically seen.

Tempus has not yet disclosed its principal stockholder’s chart, but it is evident that Lefkofsky, a billionaire, is among them and owns a minimum of 5% of the company. It is clear that he is determined to maintain complete control of the company once it becomes publicly traded. Tempus has given his shares an impressive 30 votes per share. It is not uncommon to have super voting shares, but typically 10 votes per share is more common, while 20 votes is considered to be on the higher side. It is noteworthy that the CEO of a healthcare company has a significantly high level of shareholder influence. It remains to be seen if this influence will be diminished in future S-1s, which would indicate potential investor concerns.

However, Tempus’ S-1 filing makes it abundantly clear that Lefkofsky plays a crucial role in the company’s future. According to a healthcare VC interviewed, Tempus owes much of its growth and success in raising capital to Lefkofsky’s impressive marketing and fundraising abilities.

Tempus secured an impressive $1.42 billion in funding from a range of investors, including Lightbank, NEA, Revolution Growth, T. Rowe Price, Novo Holdings, Franklin Templeton, and Baillie Gifford. The company’s most recent valuation was $8.1 billion in October 2022. Tempus’ S-1 filing disclosed a recent $200 million investment from SoftBank.

No matter the amount of capital raised in its IPO, Tempus’ prospectus clearly states that the company is still a long way from reaching breakeven and will require additional capital in the future. Typically, unprofitable companies make sure to include this information in their prospectuses. However, it is important to note that investors may anticipate Tempus to have a follow-on public offering in the future, which could potentially impact their share price negatively.

Despite generating only $5.5 million in revenue from AI, which represents approximately 1% of its total revenue in 2023, Tempus is actively positioning itself as an AI company.

“Tempus is taking a risk by betting on their growth and the opportune moment for AI in the life sciences industry. However, the company’s current offering has yet to demonstrate its effectiveness,” commented the healthcare investor.

The company stated in its S-1 filing that its AI product line is still in its early stages, but it intends to incorporate AI, including generative AI, into all of its diagnostic tools. Tempus has chosen not to provide any additional comments beyond the information stated in the S-1.

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Bionics

A new syndrome linked to COVID that could be fatal has appeared

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There is a new outbreak of a rare but deadly autoimmune disorder in the north of England. New research suggests that the outbreak may be linked to COVID-19. Anti-MDA5-positive dermatomyositis is the name of the disease. It was mostly found in Asian people before the pandemic, but now it’s becoming more common among white people in Yorkshire.

Antibodies that target the MDA5 (melanoma differentiation-associated protein 5) enzyme are what cause the illness. It is linked to progressive interstitial lung disease, which scars lung tissue. Between 2020 and 2022, doctors in Yorkshire reported 60 cases of MDA5 autoimmunity, which was the highest number ever. Eight people died as a result.

What the researchers found when they looked at this sudden rise in cases is that it happened at the same time as the main waves of COVID-19 infections during the pandemic’s peak years. This caught their attention right away because MDA5 is an RNA receptor that is very important for finding the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The study authors write, “This is to report a rise in the rate of anti-MDA5 positivity testing in our region (Yorkshire) in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was noteworthy because this entity is not commonly found in the UK.” They say this is likely a sign of “a distinct form of MDA5+ disease in the COVID-19 era.” They have named it “MDA5-autoimmunity and Interstitial Pneumonitis Contemporaneous with COVID-19” (MIP-C).

The researchers used tools that look for shared traits among people in the same medical cohort to figure out how this newly discovered symptom works. In this way, they found that people who had MDA5 autoimmunity also tended to have high levels of interleukin-15 (IL-15), a cytokine that causes inflammation.

The author of the study, Pradipta Ghosh, said in a statement that IL-15 “can push cells to the brink of exhaustion and create an immunologic phenotype that is very, very often seen as a hallmark of progressive interstitial lung disease, or fibrosis of the lung.”

Overall, only eight of the 60 patients had tested positive for COVID-19 before. This means that a lot of them may have had infections that didn’t cause any symptoms that they weren’t aware of. This means that even mild infections with no early symptoms might be enough to cause MDA5 autoimmunity.

The researchers say, “Given that the highest number of positive MDA5 tests happened after the highest number of COVID-19 cases in 2021 and at the same time as the highest number of vaccinations, these results suggest an immune reaction or autoimmunity against MDA5 after exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and/or vaccines.”

Ghosh says that the event probably isn’t just happening in Yorkshire. Reports on MIP-C are now coming in from all over the world.

The study was written up in the eBioMedicine journal.

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Artificial Intelligence

Boston Dynamics has retired its Atlas robot, showcasing its most impressive moments

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Boston Dynamics is discontinuing its hydraulic robot Atlas after years of pushing the limits. In order to bid adieu, the innovative firm has compiled a film montage showcasing the most remarkable instances of the mechanoid marvel, encompassing comical dancing routines, impressive acrobatic maneuvers, and a handful of unsuccessful attempts.

Atlas has been a source of inspiration for nearly ten years, igniting our creativity, motivating future generations of roboticists, and surpassing technical obstacles in the area. Boston Dynamics stated in a video aired on April 16 that it is now time for their hydraulic Atlas robot to rest and unwind.

“Please review all the achievements we have made so far with the Atlas platform,” they added.

Boston Dynamics, a robotics company based in Massachusetts, created Atlas for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s advanced technology division. Initially, it was conceived as a component of a prize competition with the aim of accelerating the progress of a humanoid robot capable of aiding in search and rescue missions.

Upon its public introduction in 2013, Atlas required a tether for stability and was limited to walking in a linear path. Almost.

A 1-year-old youngster has limited ability to walk and frequently stumbles. “As you observe these machines and draw comparisons to science fiction, it is important to bear in mind that this represents our current technological capabilities,” stated Gill Pratt, a program manager at DARPA who was involved in the design and funding of Atlas, in an interview with the New York Times in 2013.

Significant transformations have occurred since that time. The engineers at Boston Dynamics have meticulously tweaked the robot’s technology and algorithms throughout its development, enabling it to carry out physical tasks that would be difficult for most people with ease.

The most recent version of Atlas has a height of 150 cm, which is a little less than 5 feet, and a weight of 89 kilograms, equivalent to 196 pounds. With the help of its 28 hydraulic joints, this machine can achieve speeds of up to 2.5 meters (nearly 8 feet) per second. Additionally, it is capable of executing somersaults, athletic jumps, and 360° spins.

Additionally, it is equipped with a multitude of sensors that are utilized to accurately sense the immediate surroundings and respond accordingly in real-time. For example, if an obstacle is placed in the path of the robot, it will identify the issue and navigate around it. If you push it with a pole, it will elegantly adapt its body to stay upright.

Boston Dynamics has not provided an explanation for its decision to discontinue its renowned robot. Certain analysts have proposed that the corporation is preparing for the release of another novel product, but others have questioned whether Atlas has become a financial liability. While the company has successfully marketed its other inventions, such as the dog-like robot Spot, to different companies for diverse purposes, Atlas was never made available for sale.

According to IEEE Spectrum, Boston Dynamics has announced that they are retiring the hydraulic Atlas robot. Does this imply that a hydraulic Atlas robot is not the next item on the schedule? Currently, the outcome is uncertain and cannot be predicted.

It is uncertain what the future holds for the robots developed by Boston Dynamics, but we can only hope that it does not involve a rebellion by these machines.

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