Top 2015 TED Talks in Biomed Point to Advances Worthy of Science Fiction

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From the TED talk "How to control someone else's arm with your brain."

As we all know, TED likes to talk.

The organization that is devoted to spreading ideas associated with a multitude of subject areas -- not to mention inspiring your friends to clutter your Facebook feed with entreaties to "Watch this!" -- has curated a sort of "Best of" List for 2015, called The Year in Ideas.

Among the segments are five that deal with cutting edge research and advancements in medicine and biology. All of them are fascinating, and the presentation on a new technology allowing for the reprogramming of DNA, which Science magazine named its Breakthrough of the Year, includes its co-inventor issuing this warning:

Imagine that we could try to engineer humans that have enhanced properties, such as stronger bones, or less susceptibility to cardiovascular disease or even to have properties that we would consider maybe to be desirable, like a different eye color or to be taller, things like that. "Designer humans," if you will. Right now, the genetic information to understand what types of genes would give rise to these traits is mostly not known. But it's important to know that the CRISPR technology gives us a tool to make such changes,once that knowledge becomes available.

This raises a number of ethical questions that we have to carefully consider, and this is why I and my colleagues have called for a global pause in any clinical application of the CRISPR technology in human embryos, to give us time to really consider all of the various implications of doing so. (Transcript and Future of You story)

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When some of us were kids -- or even a few years ago -- that was the stuff of science fiction. As would have been the presentation called "How to control someone else's arm with your brain." That's not a clickbait headline --  in the video, you'll see a man involuntarily flex his arm when the woman he is connected to through an interface does the same. Neuroscientist Greg Gage explains this is done by copying and transmitting the woman's brain signal. All we can say is the implications for relations between the sexes are too great to ponder. As Gage tells his male volunteeer, "She will take away your free will and you will no longer have any control over this hand." 


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The other TED talks in biomedicine that made the list for 2015:

How young blood might help reverse aging. Yes, really

TED description: Tony Wyss-Coray studies the impact of aging on the human body and brain. In this eye-opening talk, he shares new research from his Stanford lab and other teams which shows that a solution for some of the less great aspects of old age might actually lie within us all. Transcript and KQED Forum.

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Can we create new senses for humans?

TED description: As humans, we can perceive less than a ten-trillionth of all light waves. “Our experience of reality,” says neuroscientist David Eagleman, “is constrained by our biology.” He wants to change that. His research into our brain processes has led him to create new interfaces — such as a sensory vest — to take in previously unseen information about the world around us. Transcript

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This app knows how you feel -- from the look on your face.

TED description: Our emotions influence every aspect of our lives — how we learn, how we communicate, how we make decisions. Yet they’re absent from our digital lives; the devices and apps we interact with have no way of knowing how we feel. Scientist Rana el Kaliouby aims to change that. She demos a powerful new technology that reads your facial expressions and matches them to corresponding emotions. This “emotion engine” has big implications, she says, and could change not just how we interact with machines — but with each other. Transcript

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