This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.
Breath Test for Cancer
Cancer of the head and neck kills more than 300,000 people per year worldwide. Flinders University in Australia is developing a non-invasive test for detecting these cancers. The method tests exhaled breath profiles that accurately differentiate head and neck cancer from non-cancer patients. A selected ion flow-tube mass spectrometer was used to analyze breath for volatile organic compounds. Using statistical modeling, the researchers developed a breath test that could differentiate cancer and control (benign disease) patients with an average sensitivity and specificity of 85%. Diagnosis was confirmed by analysis of tissue biopsies.
Contact: Flinders University
+61 (08) 8201 2916
Upper Body Robotic Exoskeleton
A team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center developed a soft, wearable, robotic upper limb exoskeleton garment designed to actively control the shoulder and elbow. The plug-and-play exoskeleton includes all electronics, actuation, software, and sensors required to achieve augmented limb movement. It was developed to provide effective upper extremity motor rehabilitation for patients with neurological impairments (e.g., traumatic brain injury, stroke). Due to its portable, battery-compatible design, the garment allows for task-specific and intensive motor practice, an important part of rehabilitation for such patients, to be performed outside clinical environments (including in the home). The technology may also find applications in human performance augmentation including in future spacesuit designs.
Contact: NASA’s Licensing Concierge
Enzyme Cocktail Digests Plastic Waste
University of Portsmouth (UK) scientists created an enzyme cocktail that can digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, returning it to its original building blocks. This allows for plastics to be made and reused endlessly, reducing reliance on fossil resources such as oil and gas. The cocktail consists of the plastic-eating enzyme, PETase, and a second enzyme called MHETase, creating MHETase-PETase. Mixing the two doubles the speed of PET breakdown; the new chimeric enzyme is up to three times faster than the naturally evolved separate enzymes.