Google Street View cars will be roaming around the planet to check our air quality with these sensors

Aclima, a San Francisco-based startup building Internet-connected air quality sensors has announced plans to integrate its mobile sensing platform into Google’s global fleet of Street View vehicles.

Google uses the Street View cars to map the land for Google Maps. Starting with 50 cars in Houston, Mexico City and Sydney, Aclima will capture air quality data by generating snapshots of carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and particulate matter (PM2.5)while the Google cars roam the streets. The idea is to ascertain where there may be too much pollution and other breathing issues on a hyper local level in each metropolitan area. The data will then be made available as a public dataset on Google BigQuery.

Aclima has had a close relationship with Google for the past few years and this is not its first ride in Street View cars. The startup deployed its sensors in London earlier this year using Google’s vehicles and three years ago started working with the tech giant to ascertain air health within Google’s own campus as well as around the Bay Area.

“All that work culminated in a major scientific study,”Aclima founder Davida Herzl told TechCrunch, referring to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology revealing air pollution levels varied in difference five to eight times along a city street. “We found you can have the best air quality and the worst air quality all on the same street…Understanding that can help with everything from urban planning to understanding your personal exposure

That initial research now enables Aclima to scale up with Google’s Street View cars in the hopes of gathering even more data on a global basis. Google Street View cars cover the roads on all seven continents and have driven over 100,000 miles in just the state of California collecting over one billion data points since the initial project began with Aclima in 2015.

The first Street View cars with the updated Aclima sensors will hit the road this fall in the western United States, as well as in Europe, according to the company.

“These measurements can provide cities with new neighborhood-level insights to help cities accelerate efforts in their transition to smarter, healthier cities,” Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Program Manager for Google Earth Outreach said in a statement. 

Interview with Priscilla Chan: Her super-donor origin story

Priscilla Chan is so much more than Mark Zuckerberg’s wife. A teacher, doctor, and now one of the world’s top philanthropists, she’s a dexterous empath determined to help. We’ve all heard Facebook’s dorm-room origin story, but Chan’s epiphany of impact came on a playground.

In this touching interview this week at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Chan reveals how a child too embarrassed to go to class because of their broken front teeth inspired her to tackle healthcare. “How could I have prevented it? Who hurt her? And has she gotten healthcare, has she gotten the right dental care to prevent infection and treat pain? That moment compelled me, like, ‘I need more skills to fight these problems.’”

That’s led to a $3 billion pledge towards curing all disease from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s $45 billion-plus charitable foundation. Constantly expressing gratitude for being lifted out of the struggle of her refugee parents, she says “I knew there were so many more deserving children and I got lucky”.

Here, Chan shares her vision for cause-based philanthropy designed to bring equity of opportunity to the underserved, especially in Facebook’s backyard in The Bay. She defends CZI’s apolitical approach, making allies across the aisle despite the looming spectre of the Oval Office. And she reveals how she handles digital well-being and distinguishes between good and bad screen time for her young daughters Max and August. Rather than fielding questions about Mark, this was Priscilla’s time to open up about her own motivations.

Most importantly, Chan calls on us all to contribute in whatever way feels authentic. Not everyone can sign the Giving Pledge or dedicate their full-time work to worthy causes. But it’s time for tech’s rank-and-file rich to dig a little deeper. Sometimes that means applying their engineering and product skills to develop sustainable answers to big problems. Sometimes that means challenging the power structures that led to the concentration of wealth in their own hands. She concludes, “You can only try to break the rules so many times before you realize the whole system’s broken.”

HP is ‘printing’ drugs for the CDC to speed up antibiotic testing

At least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with so-called “super bugs” and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now, HP’s Biohacker technology is working with the CDC on a pilot program to “print” and test antibiotics in an effort to catch these antimicrobial resistant strains from spreading faster.

The HP D300e Digital Dispenser BioPrinter technology works by using the same set up as a regular ink printer, but instead dispenses any combination of drugs in volumes from picoliters to microliters to be used for research purposes.

Part of the reason these bugs spread so rapidly often comes down to mis-use of antibiotics, leading the bacteria to develop a resistance to the drugs available. The CDC hopes to give hospital providers access to the technology nationwide to cut down on the problem.

“Once a drug is approved for use, the countdown begins until resistance emerges,” Jean Patel, PhD, D (ABMM), Science Team Lead, Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit at CDC said in a statement. “To save lives and protect people, it is vital to make technology accessible to hospital labs nationwide. We hope this pilot will help ensure our newest drugs last longer and put gold-standard lab results in healthcare providers’ hands faster.”

The 3D bioprinting sector has been experiencing rapid growth over the last few years and will continue on pace through the next decade, mainly due to R&D, according to market researchers. Innovation in the space includes printing of organs and human tissue and drug research and development.

Further, this potentially valuable antibiotic resistance research could help patient care teams stem a grim future where we experience a regression in health and life spans due to no longer having the ability to treat currently curable diseases.

The HP BioPrinter is currently used by labs and pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead, which tests for drugs used against the Ebola virus. It is also being used in various CRISPR applications. The CDC will use these printers in four regional areas spread throughout the U.S. within the Antibiotic Resistance (AR) Lab Network to develop antimicrobial susceptibility test methods for new drugs, according to HP.

Elizabeth Holmes reportedly steps down at Theranos after criminal indictment

Elizabeth Holmes has left her role as CEO of Theranos and has been charged with wire fraud, CNBC and others report. The company’s former president, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, was also indicted today by a grand jury.

These criminal charges are separate from the civil ones filed in March by the SEC and already settled. There are 11 charges; two are conspiracy to commit wire fraud (against investors, and against doctors and patients) and the remaining nine are actual wire fraud, with amounts ranging from the cost of a lab test to $100 million.

Theranos’s general counsel, David Taylor, has been appointed CEO. What duty the position actually entails in the crumbling enterprise is unclear. Holmes, meanwhile, remains chairman of the board.

The FBI Special Agent in Charge of the case against Theranos, John Bennett, said the company engaged in “a corporate conspiracy to defraud financial investors,” and “misled doctors and patients about the reliability of medical tests that endangered health and lives.”

This story is developing. I’ve asked Theranos for comment and will update if I hear back; indeed I’m not even sure anyone is there to respond.

Tradewind Bioscience attacks the physiology of tumors to treat cancer

Cancer remains the one counterpoint to the march of medical progress that has scored human history over the last 200 years.

Last year 600,920 people in the U.S. died from cancer, and another 1.7 million received an initial diagnosis of the disease. Globally, one in six people die from cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

In the past decade, research in the field has expanded the possible treatments of the disease from surgery (which was the only option until the 20th century), radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

Among the most promising of these new treatments are those which attack the functions of the tumor itself. New epigenetic therapies, therapeutic viruses, novel nanoparticles, and immune therapies look at external responses to cancerous growths — sequencing out mutations that can lead to cancerous growths; creating new pathogens that only attack cancer cells; building new particles that attack cancer cells; or boosting the ability of the body’s natural immune system to attack cancer cells. By contrast these treatments look to stop the growth of tumors by focusing on inhibiting the biological processes that encourage that growth.

Tradewind Bioscience, which is launching today at Y Combinator’s winter demo day, is taking this approach.

While research on these new potential therapies is only now making its way into scientific journals (with most studies published within the past three months), Tradewind co-founders Dr. Thaddeus Allen and Dr. Ron Buckanovich have mostly kept their work under wraps after having studied different cancers for more than a decade.

Non-small cell lung cancer in a 54 year-old woman. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Oregon State University

Allen began his studies roughly 14 years ago at the University of California, San Francisco under the tutelage of the Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher Dr. J. Michael Bishop, where he was investigating the way a certain protein, EGFL6, affected the growth of lung cancer cells.

Bishop’s lab was one home for novel cancer research, but UCSF wasn’t alone in breaking new ground. Half a continent away, Buckanovich was doing his own studies on the role that the same protein played in the growth of ovarian cancer cells in his lab at the University of Michigan .

“He had filed a patent through the University of Michigan,” Allen says of how he first came across Buckanovich’s research. “I found him on Google patents and I found the patent first. I contacted the tech transfer office and they put me in touch with [him]. Probably the best thing I’ve done in the course of this adventure was to form that relationship with Ron and the University of Michigan.”

Buckanovich published his research on the link between ovarian cancer and the EGFL6 protein in 2016, and it was the jolt that Allen needed to reach out and begin work on Tradewind in earnest.

“I thought long and hard about how we proceed,” Allen says. “This protein is incredibly important in how cancers survive and spread around the body. I had that idea four years ago… and it took me that time to get the courage to say okay let’s get this together.”

In the interim, Allen had been quietly amassing a body of research of his own on how the protein may affect lung cancer cells. “I wanted to keep things secret until things had progressed to a certain point. A point of inevitability,” he says. “I really want to be the one to make this work.”

Serous carcinoma. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Ed Uthman

That Tradewind’s therapy is potentially able to treat two very different kinds of cancer is remarkable because cancer is considered to be a very unique disease. It’s a parasite that’s specific to the genetic makeup of its host. In fact, the specificity of cancer to an individual is what makes the disease so difficult for the body to fight.

“We’re taking on the possibility that they’ve really hit on something that — as opposed to going after some downstream things — are in the physiology of these cancers,” says Diego Rey, Y Combinator’s visiting partner focused on healthcare and biotech startups. “When you go downstream in these [treatment] processes it’s a little bit like whack a mole,” says Rey. 

Rather than attack the cancer, Tradewind’s therapy tries to attack the root of the disease. How it grows and spreads through the body.

“We’ve been able to tease out [some] main things that [the protein] does,” says Allen. “It regulates cancer stem cells… the ones that allows the cancer to grow… And it plays a really prominent role in the survival of cells.”

In primary tumors — the initial cancerous mutations — Allen and Buckanovich discovered that the protein they identified plays a major role in controlling stem cells which allow the tumor to grow. That same protein is important in keeping cancers alive as they spread through the body.

“The secreted protein feeds back on the cells and allows them to live as they exit the tumor and find new homes in different tissues,” says Allen. “What the antibody can do… it can bind to the secreted protein and now the protein can not feed back on the cancer cell and bind to the receptors that it’s supposed to bind to. So now it can’t provide that survival signal to the cancer cell.”

The expression of this protein in a patient can also be a useful indicator of the potential to develop cancer. “If you have lots of this protein it’s very likely that you will succumb to a cancer,” says Allen. “[And] it’s really the highly metastatic cancers. These are the deadliest. These are the ones that will spread around the body to different tissues.”

For Allen and Buckanovich, the development of their therapy means that patients could one day get an intravenous infusion of antibodies that would inhibit the production of the protein they identified, rather than getting a bolus of incredibly toxic chemotherapy or undergoing radiotherapies.

“That is actually what Y Combinator has urged us to refocus on,” Allen said. “We’ve been so busy trying to convince people that the target is fantastic.”

Once out of Y Combinator Allen predicts that his new company will need between $7 million and $10 million to get to a first stage of clinical trials within the next three years.

Both he and Buckanovich think that the treatment could be effective beyond their fields of expertise in lung cancer and ovarian cancer.

“Tumors use EGFL6 to tell the cancer cells to migrate and then divide. You’re telling the cancer cells to metastasize,” says Buckanovich. “[But] we have also shown that it helps cancer cells to initiate.”

Buckanovich says that’s the key to what he and Allen are trying to do. “The protein is made not only by the tumor cells but it is made by the host,” he says. “Think of it like soil. If cancer is the seed… if we can prevent there from being a fertile soil for any of these seeds to grow. It may be more applicable than just the subset of cancers that make this protein… In an ideal world this drug would be preventative. We might be able to treat [cancer] with a benign course of antibodies.”

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NIH study links cell phone radiation to cancer in male rats

 New studies from the National Institutes of Health — specifically the National Toxicology Program — find that cell phone radiation is potentially linked with certain forms of cancer, but they’re far from conclusive. The results are complex and the studies have yet to be peer-reviewed, but some of the findings are clearly important enough to warrant public discussion. Read More