Lexi Royer and her unborn baby have made history even before they have met each other eye to eye.
When she was 24 weeks pregnant, the two of them were on an operating table each undergoing an operation: Royer’s womb was being removed so surgeons could operate on her unborn baby!
Isn’t that amazing?
The life-changing surgery was first reported by the New York Times.
Royer’s baby boy was diagnosed with a spina bifida, a condition where the spine and spinal cord don’t develop properly in the womb, causing a gap in the spine.
The doctors lifted the woman’s womb out of her body and operated on the tiny baby without removing him from the womb.
Spina bifida occurs when the vertebrae don’t form properly around part of the baby’s spinal cord. Spina bifida can be mild or severe.
In the severe form of spina bifida, children may have little or no feeling in their limbs, and there can be fluid build-up in the brain, which may cause seizures, learning problems or visions problems and leave them unable to control their bladder or bowels.
Dr Michael Belfort, chairman of obstetrics and gynaecology at Baylor College of Medicine, and Dr William Whitehead, a paediatric surgeon, injected the baby with anaesthetic before moving skin over his exposed spinal cord and stitching it into place.
Spina bifida occurs in the early stages of pregnancy, at three to four weeks, when the tissue that forms the spinal column doesn’t close properly.
In the United States 1,500 to 2,000 of the more than 4 million babies born in the country each year are affected by the condition and there are an estimated 166,000 individuals living with the condition in the United States.
The exact cause of spina bifida is not known, but scientists suspect multiple factors including insufficient folic acid in the mother’s diet.
Pioneering an astonishing new treatment
Doctors have been performing foetal surgery to repair spina bifida since the 1990s, but those operations are difficult and risk premature birth.
This new procedure has come a long way. It was developed over two years by Dr Belfort and his colleague Dr Whitehead. They practiced on sheep and a rubber ball with a doll inside wrapped in chicken skin to mimic the defect in spina bifida, reports The Telegraph.
The new procedure allows the doctors to drain the womb of amniotic fluid, which eats away at the gap in the spinal nerve tissue.
This is how it all unfolded.
During the three-hour-operation Dr Belfort opened Royer’s abdomen and removed her whole womb through the hole. He then made two slits in the womb, one for a fetoscope – a tiny camera designed to light up and film inside – and another for surgical tools.
Once the womb was outside her body doctors could drain it of amniotic fluid, light it up and operate through tiny incisions after injecting the fetus with anesthetic. The womb was filled with carbon dioxide to keep the baby floating in the womb and anesthetic helped to keep it still.
The doctors pulled skin over the exposed spinal cord and stitched it in place. They then refilled the womb with saltwater and replaced inside the mother’s body it.
The team is now reporting on their work in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology following 28 successful operations in which no fetuses have died, and only a few have needed shunts to drain fluid from the brain. Some of the mothers have also not needed caesarean sections.
Royer was initially offered an abortion when she was told about her baby’s condition but chose to take part in the experimental surgery instead.
“It sounded like we were looking at brain damage, feeding tubes, a breathing tube, a wheelchair, just a bad quality of life,” she told the New York Times.
“It’s not done by any means, but I definitely feel it’s the right thing for us. Seeing the ultrasound and how good he’s doing, moving his ankles and feet, it’s such a happy moment.
“I can’t imagine going on further in the pregnancy not knowing every day what damage is being done and if he’s getting worse. It’s such a relief to move forward.”
Royer’s baby is due in January.
A woman has recently told her story of incredibly becoming pregnant while she was already pregnant, resulting in her giving birth to twins who were conceived by different parents and not at the same time.
Jessica Allen, a 31 year-old from California, agreed to become a surrogate mother for a Chinese couple and underwent in vitro fertilization in April 2016. She was paid $30,000 for doing so, according to The New York Post. California is one of the few states in the United States where you can pay someone to be a surrogate mother.
In sixth week of pregnancy, Allen was told she was carrying twins after a routine ultrasound. Her payment was increased by $5,000 for carrying the second child as the doctors assumed she had become pregnant with twins.
In December 2016 she gave birth to two boys, and one month later received a photo of the two boys from the Chinese couple with a message saying: “They are not the same, right? Have you thought about why they are different?”
“I did notice that one was much lighter than the other,” Jessica told ABC News. “You know, obviously they were not identical twins.”
Subsequent DNA tests confirmed her suspicion that they weren’t twins. It showed that one of the babies was Allen’s biological child and the other was the Chinese couple’s child.
“I don’t know how to describe it… we were floored,” added Jessica. “We were like, how did this happen?”
It happened due to the extremely rare phenomenon known as “superfetation”. In most cases, when a woman becomes pregnant they release hormones to stop ovulation. But in some rare cases the woman’s body continues to ovulate, releasing an egg that can become fertilized. This is what happened to Allen, with the new egg becoming fertilized by her partner. Supferfetation is so rare in humans that scientists know very little about it.
Fortunately, both children are now well and healthy. After a harrowing and expensive legal process, Alllen and her partner now have custody of their son and have renamed him Malachi.
Allen doesn’t have any regrets about the process: “I don’t regret becoming a surrogate mom because that would mean regretting my son. I just hope other women considering surrogacy can learn from my story. And that a greater good will come out of this nightmare.”
Human consciousness is perhaps one of the most complicated puzzles that scientists have been struggling to put together for ages. Even though we’ve advanced an incredible amount in science, we still have yet to get a grasp on it. But believe it or not, scientists may have pinpointed the physical origins of human consciousness.
There are three regions that are coming out as crucial to consciousness. A team of researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School have been working hard to pin it down.
Michael Fox, a lead researcher, said, “For the first time, we have found a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness, two prerequisites for consciousness.” He went on to say, “A lot of pieces of evidence all came together to point to this network playing a role in human consciousness.”
Science says that consciousness is made up of arousal and awareness. It has already been shown that arousal is normally regulated by the brainstem or the portion of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord. It helps us sleep and wake up using our breathing and heart rate. Awareness hasn’t been as easy to pin down.
For quite a while, scientists thought that it might lay somewhere within the outer layer of the brain known as the cortex. But much to their surprise, two cortex regions in the brain are appearing to work as a team in order to make up human consciousness.
But how did they figure this out?
Well, 36 patients in a hospital with brain lesions were studied. 12 of them were unconscious or in a coma and 24 of them were conscious. They were analyzed to figure out why some patients had stayed conscious while others were unconscious, though they had similar injuries.
The rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum is a small area of the brainstem and was found to be associated with unconsciousness. 10 our or 12 unconscious individuals had damage in this area of the brain where only 1 out of the 24 conscious patients did. This means that this portion of the brain is important when it comes to consciousness.
Researchers then looked at the connectome, also known as a brain map, to see all the various connections in our brains. Two specific areas were connected to the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum. One of them was located in the ventral anterior insula and the other in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex. In previous studies, both these areas have been known to play some part in arousal and awareness, but never before had they been connected to the brainstem.
More studies were conducted, all with the same conclusions:
“This is the most relevant if we can use these networks as a target for brain stimulation for people with disorders of consciousness,” said Michael Fox. This study could eventually lead to new treatments for individuals who are in comas or those who have healthy brains and can’t regain consciousness.
“If we zero in on the regions and network involved, can we someday wake someone up who is in a persistent vegetative state? That’s the ultimate question.”
This research could lead to a whole new world of possibilities in medical science.
Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll be able to cure someone who’s been in a coma for years. But for now, this is the beginning of exciting new medical developments in science.
Over the last 15 years, the emergence of Big Data has been perhaps the single largest change in how business is done. It’s important for everyone to understand what it is and how it’s changing the world.
Early on, companies struggled to create the basic infrastructure that was needed to make Big Data a reality.
Now, the infrastructure is being put into place, the data is being collected and rapid changes to how society functions are on the way.
Here are 7 TED talks on big data that are required watching for anyone interested in how big data will have a vast impact o the future direction of technology and society.
1) Susan Etlinger: “What Do We Do With All This Big Data?”
The question of what exactly to do with data is a problem that has stood out for more than a decade now. Data are arriving at a greater velocity, and from a greater number of sources, than ever before. However, truly ‘operationalizing’ it at the corporate or individual level is still a challenging process. Even highly informed decision-makers can misunderstand data and apply their biases to it. Susan Etlinger, a leading data analyst with Altimeter Group, urges a reassessment of how we truly make meaning from data sets.
2) Kenneth Cukier: “Bigger Data is Better Data”
Now that the Big Data transformation is truly underway, data will always be growing — never shrinking. This places enormous responsibility upon data analysts, of course, but also opens the door to technological advances that were unthinkable as little as a decade ago. Beginning with the example of self-driving cars, Kenneth Cukier — Data Editor of the venerable Economist — connects the dots to understand how Big Data will drive continued technological change. The intersection between Big Data and machine learning may produce unexpected benefits.
3) David McCandless: “The Beauty of Data Visualization”
For data to be of value to ordinary individuals, it must be visualized in some form. When data are visualized effectively, it becomes easier to process and act on. Even the most complex data — such as that involving military spending — can be transmuted into a new format. This allows people to make more intuitive and effective decisions. But, as data journalist David McCandless shows, the benefits do not end there. By using the power of visualization, data can indeed become beautiful.
4) Jennifer Golbeck: “The Curly Fry Conundrum”
Billions of people all over the world spend time engaging in social media every day. During this time, they might do all kinds of things online they don’t think twice about. It can be likened to mindlessly eating curly fries. Through the power of Big Data however, businesses derive a tremendous amount of information from even the most innocuous online behavior. In this talk, computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck draws back the curtain to demonstrate the power of these data points.
5) Deb Roy: “The Birth of a Word”
Deb Roy is an MIT researcher who focuses on cognitive science, particularly big questions on how children learn languages. To bring his understanding to the next level— and develop new insights that might aid in language learning for machines — he recorded 90,000 hours of footage chronicling every aspect of his infant son’s life. This talk is the result of searching that footage, more than 3,750 days’ worth, and synthesizing his findings into less than 20 minutes.
6) Glenn Greenwald: “Why Privacy Matters”
In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations on the scope of U.S. government surveillance, former Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald became one of the most controversial figures in the mainstream media. This TED talk comes from Greenwald’s years of tireless work analyzing, commenting on and publicizing those revelations. In it, he advocates for the idea that privacy matters to everyone, even if you are not doing anything wrong.
7) Mallory Soldner: “Your Company’s Data Could Help World Hunger”
Business often focuses on the ways Big Data can be monetized. Cutting costs or improving sales are the end goals for the vast majority of commercial forays into Big Data. However, that data is so foundational to the people and experiences it describes, that it could be used for much greater purposes. Self-described ‘data activist’ Mallory Soldner puts this into perspective. Her talk shows how data collected by corporations can be applied to make powerful, lasting changes to long-standing humanitarian issues — often much more quickly than anyone would expect.
Data science is not about data alone, but about how we conceptualize data to make it an effective decision-making tool. Even experienced, educated data scientists must be careful not to take logical ‘shortcuts’ —actions that can make data seem intuitive while obscuring deeper and more significant meanings. This may become the central challenge of data science in coming years.
This article was inspired by a post on Rutgers University.
This is incredibly inspiring from Stephen Hawking.
Even though he usually speaks about physics and the forces that govern the Universe, he decided to turn his intelligence to help those in need.
At a packed lecture theater, he had these words to say to those who are suffering with depression:
“The message of this lecture is that black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought.
“Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out…
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
“It matters that you don’t just give up.”
As a man who has overcome such incredible obstacles and lived such a brave and amazing life, this advice couldn’t come from a better place.
Originally published on The Power of Ideas.