Swine Of The Times: Pig-to-Human Organ Transplants On Track For 2021

Every day in the US, seventeen people die because they couldn’t get a organ transplant in time. An American biotech company called United Therapeutics is looking to pick up the lifesaving slack by producing a line of genetically-modified pigs for the purpose of harvesting their organs, among other therapeutic uses. United Therapeutics’ pig-farming subsidiary Revivicor is a spin-off of PPL Therapeutics, the company that gave us Dolly the cloned sheep back in 1996. They intend to start transplanting pig organs into humans as early as this year.

Baby Fae after transplant surgery. Image by Duane Miller-AP via Time Magazine

Although it sounds like science fiction, the idea of transplanting animal cells, organs, and tissue into humans has been around for over a hundred years. The main problem with xenotransplantation is that it usually triggers severe immune system reactions in the recipient’s body. In one of the more noteworthy cases, a baby girl received a baboon heart in 1984, but died a few weeks later because her body rejected the organ.

The leading cause of xenotransplant rejection is a sugar called alpha-gal. This sugar appears on the cell surfaces of all non-primate mammals. Alpha-gal is problematic for other reasons, too: a condition called alpha-gal syndrome usually begins when a Lone Star tick bites a person and transmits alpha-gal cells from the blood of animals they have bitten. From that point on, the person will experience an allergic reaction when eating red meat such as beef, pork, and lamb.

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Hackaday Links: August 30, 2020

Tech history is rife with examples of bizarre product demos, but we’ve got to think that Elon Musk’s Neuralink demo this week will have to rank up there with the weirdest of them. Elon’s job here was to sell the proposition that having a quarter-sized plug removed from your skull by a surgical robot and having it plunge 1,024 tiny wires into your gray matter will be totally normal and something that all the cool kids will be doing someday. We watched the 14-minute supercut of the demo, which went on for considerably longer than that due to the realities of pig wrangling, and we remain unsold on the technology. Elon selling it as “a Fitbit in your skull, with tiny wires” probably didn’t help, nor did the somewhat terrifying appearance of the surgical robot needed to do the job. On the other hand, Gertrude the Bionic Pig seemed none the worse for her implant, which was reportedly wired to her snout and sending data wirelessly. The demonstration of reading joint positions directly from the brain was honestly pretty neat. If you want to dive deeper into Neuralink, check out Maya’s great article that separates fact from science fiction.

Jerry Carr, NASA astronaut and commander of the third and final crewed Skylab mission, passed away this week at the age of 88. Carr’s Skylab 4 mission was record-breaking in 1974, with the three astronauts living and working in the orbiting workshop for 84 days. The mission contributed a vast amount of information on space medicine and the human factors of long-duration spaceflight. Carr retired from NASA in 1977 and had a long career as an engineer and entrepreneur. It’s sad to lose yet another of the dwindling number of heroes remaining from NASA’s manned-flight heyday.

Speaking of spaceflight, the closest most of us DIYers can get to space is likely courtesy of a helium-filled balloon. If you’ve ever considered sending something — or someone — aloft, you’ll find this helium balloon calculator an invaluable tool. Just plug in the weight of your payload, select from a few common balloon sizes, and the calculator will tell you how many you need and how much gas it will take to fill them. It’s got a second section that tells you how many more balloons it’ll take to get to a certain altitude, should merely getting off the ground not be enough for you.

If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that time is, at best, a negotiable concept. Improbably, September is only a day away, after an August that somehow took forever to go by in the blink of an eye. With that in mind,  October is OSHWA’s Open Hardware Month, with this year’s theme being “Label and Certify”. We’re a little bit in love with the Open Hardware Facts generator, which takes your open-source hardware, software, and documentation license and generates a USDA “Nutrition Facts”-style label for your product. They’ve also added tools to make it easier to get OSHWA certification for your project.

And finally, what would it be like to pilot a giant exoskeleton? Like, a 9,000 pound (4,100 kg), quadrupedal all-terrain beast of a mech? Turns out you can (theoretically) find out for yourself courtesy of Furrion Exo-Bionics and their monster mech, dubbed Prosthesis. The machine has been in development for a long time, with the vision of turning mech racing into the next big thing in sports entertainment. Their Alpha Mech Pilot Training Program will allow mere mortals to learn how to pilot Prosthesis at the company’s proving ground in British Columbia. Details are sparse, so caveat emptor, but it sure looks like fun.

Following Pigs: Building An Injectable Livestock Tracking System

I’m often asked to design customer and employee tracking systems. There are quite a few ways to do it, and it’s an interesting intersection of engineering and ethics – what information is reasonable to collect in different contexts, anonymizing and securely storing it, and at a fundamental level whether the entire system should exist at all.

On one end of the spectrum, a system that simply counts the number of people that are in your restaurant at different times of day is pretty innocuous and allows you to offer better service. On the other end, when you don’t pay for a mobile app, generally that means your private data is the product being bought and sold. Personally, I find that the whole ‘move fast and break things’ attitude, along with a general disregard for the privacy of user data, has created a pretty toxic tech scene. So until a short while ago, I refused to build invasive tracking systems – then I got a request that I simply couldn’t put aside…

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Shifting Gears On Your Pig Roasting Spit

bicycle-gear-pig-roaster

[Tim] and [Jon] have a hankering for some pork product of their own making. Your average residential kitchen is ill-equipped to handle an entire pig, so they got down to business building this pig spit out of old bicycle parts.

The main components in the project are two stands built out of square tube which go on either side of the cooking fire (coal bed?). They include bearings to support a horizontal bar on which a pig carcass is somehow mounted. The whole point of a spit is to turn it while cooking, and that’s where the gear system comes in. The front crank from a bicycle was welded onto the spit, with one pedal still in place. This way if the motorized system breaks down they can still turn the thing by hand.

The crank connects to the cogs with one chain, while the other chain connects the cogs to a windshield wiper motor. When connected to the specified 12V it turns around 6 rpm; close but a bit too fast. After some trial and error they found a 5V supply turns it at the optimal 2 rpm.

We wonder if you can put a whole pig in a meat smoker?

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