Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Innovators

Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Innovators

Article excerpt

An iPhone app that serves as eyes for the blind. A book with pages that clean dirty water. A device that turns a smartphone into a microscope capable of diagnosing tropical diseases. A process for growing new bones in a lab using human stem cells. A digital index that grades businesses on their support for gender equality. The groundbreaking work from this group of Global Thinkers serves as a snapshot of the leaps forward that technology took in 2015--and of the good this progress can do for global health, human rights, security, and more.

THERESA DANKOVICH

NANOTECHNOLOGIST

PITTSBURGH

FOR RIPPING APART BOOKS TO HYDRATE THE WORLD.

The 663 million people who don't have clean water could get it if they had reliable, efficient filters. Theresa Dankovich of Carnegie Mellon University has developed sheets of paper laden with bacteria-destroying nanoparticles made of silver and copper. Tests show that pAge papers, as they're called, can remove up to 99.9 percent of microbes--including those that cause typhoid and cholera--from water poured through them. At the American Chemical Society's 2015 conference, Dankovich presented "The Drinkable Book," which contains 25 pAge papers that can be torn out and filter 650 gallons in total--enough, Dankovich says, to provide one person with clean water for up to four years.

NINA TANDON

CO-FOUNDER, EPIBONE

NEW YORK CITY

FOR HEALING BROKEN BONES BY GROWING NEW ONES.

Nina Tandon was just 3 years old when her father taught her to say "orthopedic surgeon." Fast-forward three decades; Now she's revolutionizing the profession.

Typically, to reconstruct bone, surgeons must take bone either from somewhere else in a patient's body, necessitating a double surgery, or from an outside source, such as a prosthesis or a donor. But Tandon, co-founder of EpiBone, has created a third way; growing new bones. A patient's stem cells are placed in a mold, which is then put into a special chamber that simulates the body's temperature, nutrient composition, and other conditions. After three weeks, the cells have essentially formed a new bone. This method requires only one surgery and avoids implanting foreign materials into the body, thereby reducing pain and complications. EpiBone has successfully replaced the jaw of a pig and is gearing up to start its first clinical trials, to be held within two years.

MIGUEL NICOLELIS; JUSTIN SANCHEZ; ANTHONY ZADOR

NEUROSCIENTISTS

DURHAM, N.C.; ARLINGTON, VA.; COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.V.

FOR TESTING THE BOUNDARIES OF OUR MOST POWERFUL ORGAN.

This year, scientists made significant discoveries about the least understood part of the body: the brain. Duke University neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis synced the brain activity of monkeys so they could collectively accomplish tasks. The "brainet," as it's called, could eventually be used to connect a stroke patient with, say, a physical therapist to aid in recovery. Justin Sanchez's team at DARPA developed a prosthetic hand that's connected to the brain and can "feel" physical sensation in its fingers, which someday could help paralyzed people or amputees regain feeling and manipulate objects. And Anthony Zador and his team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory determined, by slicing into a brain and studying its neural makeup, what a mouse had learned prior to its death. If scaled up, the science could be used to create a postmortem map of memories. …

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