Monthly Archives: May 2014

How Laboratories Are Shaping Human Immortality

How Laboratories Are Shaping Human Immortality

The Holy Grail. The Fountain of Youth. The Elixir of Life. Mythology is riddled with man’s quest to achieve the impossible dream of immortality, usually with tragic results.

But thanks to scientific and technological advances, we are now living longer, fuller lives than ever before. OK, so immortality still eludes us, but we are looking younger, acting younger and feeling younger for longer than ever before.

The average life expectancy in the UK is now around 80 years. Just fifty years ago, it was 70 years. Within just one generation, reaching 100 years is expected to the norm, and of course the government is already responding by raising the official retirement age accordingly.

But why are we living so much longer now, and what does this mean for the future?

 

Better Health

healthcare workers image

Medicine has improved healthcare beyond expectations

The main reason can be summed up in one word: medicine. Diseases which once wiped out entire civilisations have now been completely eradicated. Smallpox is perhaps the most famous example of an extinct disease – scientist Edward Jenner created what turned out to be the first ever successful vaccination in 1798, and the last recorded case of the disease was diagnosed in 1977.

With the help of high quality laboratory equipment and visionary scientists, other once-dreaded diseases are in the process of being wiped out. One hundred years ago, polio was one of the most feared illnesses on the planet killing around 15% of those affected. However, following the infamous polio epidemic of 1952, the world’s top scientists worked around the clock to develop preventative vaccinations for the disease. By the end of the twentieth century, polio was under control.

However, just last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the renewed spread of polio to be a “public health emergency of international concern”, with “extraordinary” levels of the disease being recorded in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This announcement proves that we can never afford to be blasé about our health, and that continued investment into scientific research is still a priority. Laboratory Precision Limited sells a range of high quality lab equipment which is at the forefront of the fight against disease.

 

 

Better Sanitation

sanitised water

Clean water on tap should not be a luxury

Many of the world’s worst illnesses and disabilities can be traced back to poor sanitation. The Black Death, or bubonic plague, was carried across the world by black rats, which thrived in the open sewers and unprotected food stores of medieval times. Today, we can keep vermin at bay with proper sanitation, refrigerated food storage and pest control, but poor sanitation still blights many third world countries, shortening many lives.

The introduction of potable water which has been properly treated for human consumption has also made a huge contribution to global sanitation and life expectancy. In developed countries, clean and safe drinking water is available on tap at any time, and huge investments are made into the water industry each year to make sure that the chemical treating processes are properly followed. In areas where access to clean drinking water is very limited, a marked reduction in life expectancy is apparent.

 

Better Nutrition

Health Foods

Better nutrition means longer life expectancy

We are more aware now than ever before of what we are putting into our bodies, and food is easily accessible for most people in the world. The invention of the calorie as a unit of measuring human energy levels, and the discovery of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients has helped us to develop a healthy and balanced diet and keep diet-related illnesses at bay. Scurvy was the number one cause of death among sailors until 1932, when evidence proved that it was linked to vitamin C deficiency. Now there are next to no cases of scurvy reported in the maritime community, as powerful supplements are now available, (as well as citrus fruit of course). Of course, new complex vitamin supplements are still being created in labs across the world, using the sort of hi-spec equipment which is sold at Laboratory Precision Limited, suggesting that the global appetite for better nutrition is showing no sign of waning.

 

Better Births

cute baby

Childbirth is much safer now than it has ever been

Before contraception, most women could expect to get pregnant at least once in their lifetime, and childbirth was extremely risky. In Victorian England, infant mortality rates could be as high as 500 per 1000 if you were living in an impoverished environment, while the maternal mortality rate was much higher than it is today. With proper antenatal monitoring and advances in midwifery, mothers and babies are much safer now than they were one hundred or two hundred years ago, which has a knock-on effect on the average life expectancy rates in the UK. With improved antenatal and maternity care and new advances in the lab, it is hoped that dangerous pregnancies and births will go the way of smallpox and become a thing of the past.

The Laboratory of the Future

The Laboratory of the Future

You do not need to have been around for a long time to remember the days of laboratories still stocked with well-worn wooden boxes, Victorian style instruments and other anachronistic paraphernalia.

Times are changing, the laboratories of today are far more streamlined and, judging from a slew of recent innovations, the laboratory of tomorrow will be something else entirely.

 

Consumer Technology and Scientific Technology Will Unite

Interestingly, the big technological and scientific developments that will drive this development, fall into two rough categories. First of all, advances in consumer technologies like better touch screen interfaces, wearable technology and 3D printing will undoubtedly impact on how the laboratory of the future looks. Then there is the entirely separate arena of material developments, greater understanding of the chemical make up of products, and new raw materials to be explored. Although these two areas do not overlap at present, it is likely that some of the most exciting new laboratory kits will emerge from their convergence.

Touch Screen Technology

Touch Screen Technology is more Sterile

A great example of this is in how we view visual information. No more than a decade ago, most of us had to rely on straightforward, one-way screens to view information. Times have changed, with touch screen technology having almost comprehensively overhauled the mobile telecommunications industry, made inroads into the personal computing and television industries as well as playing an increasing role in laboratory and medical settings. There are big advantages to touch screen in terms of hygiene, usability and functionality, so it is likely that tomorrow’s laboratories will use much more touch screen technology.

The interface revolution need not stop there, though. A recent German report into the future of dental labs suggested that the use of holography or tomography, popularised in science fiction – but so far quite different in reality, could be expanded to provide innovative new ways of presenting images to patients and practitioners. The opportunities for other laboratory environments are potentially huge.

 

Google Glass Protective Goggles?

Google Glass for Lab use

Google Glass is Destined to Change the Lab of the Future

As some things get larger, others get smaller. Protective goggles might yet get ‘Googled’, with technologies already in the pipeline from the search engine giant, for information displayed in glasses and even contact lenses. The safety and efficiency related applications of a direct information feed to a laboratory technician’s goggles could redefine the efficiency of laboratories almost overnight.

 

D Printing is a Laboratory Game-Changer

A 3D Printer

D Printers Open Up Possibilities for Scientists

Of all the new technologies to have made headlines in the last few years, it is perhaps D printing that presents the most comprehensive possibilities for revolutionising lab practice. It is not a technology uniquely applicable to laboratories, of course, and there have already been experiments ranging from a full-sized house being built in the Netherlands to a 3D printed gun being designed in Texas. The possibilities for change in the lab are no less fundamental. The use of 3D printers to produce prosthetics, valves and even lab equipment are almost endless… Developments in 3D printed replacement organ are already happening.

Needless to say, some things will stay much as they always were. Companies like Laboratory Precision Limited already produce lab equipment like vials, caps and seals which do not require any improvement and could not be realistically produced in a more cost-effective way through the use of in-house printers. Instead, it is the more difficult to source items which a laboratory printing facility could produce, drastically cutting waiting times, costs and the whole way the laboratory supply chain works.

Jun Air Oil Free Air Compressor

A Jun Air Oil Free Air Compressor

Of course, existing technology may develop and improve but you can bet that oil free air compressors will remain virtually unchanged with regards to performance and appearance… Though they may be integrated with technology of the future such as displays and interfaces that will link every element of the laboratory, dental surgery or scientific research centre they are used in.

 

Graphene: A Material we’ll all be Using

Graphene is the future

Graphene: The ‘Miracle Material’.

The flip side of the technological coin is the development of new materials, structures and techniques at chemical level. The British government, for example, is currently funding a rapid exploration of a newly available material, graphene, which laboratories at the University of Manchester have succeeded in producing, and which offers enormous possibilities for lab equipment. There are also a host of conceivable medical uses for the ultra-thin ‘miracle material’, as well as applications in areas like dentistry. Suddenly the instruments used in Star Trek and science fiction seem to be much closer to reality…

Sooner that imagined.

 

The Future of Science is Bright

The picture emerging, if these nascent technological advances are put together, is an encouraging one. A far simpler, cleaner interface combined with superior safety arrangements and an overhaul of the supply chain arrangements of many laboratories, could see labs becoming more efficient, more productive and more cost-effective. 3D printing combined with high quality new materials could, in the future, lead to a plethora of new treatment options and the ability of medical facilities to provide a far higher level of treatment.

The laboratory of the future, for all these advances, will not look entirely unfamiliar. Corny jokes pinned to the noticeboard will remain, as will staple technologies like chromatography equipment, which does exactly what it needs to do and could not be conceivably replaced, Laboratory Precision Limited also produce these, so the future looks stable for this manufacturer at least.

Lab Technicians Working

Lab Technicians in a Modern Day Laboratory

The missing link is the laboratory technician. Real advances only happen when people become involved, and whatever the laboratory of the future might look like, all possible advances depend on good scientists. In that sense, it is still reassuringly fair to say that the biggest variable amidst these exciting technological leaps remains the individuals at the centre of it all.