Monday, December 28, 2009

Biotech Breakthrough: Going “Back to Nature” for Drug Delivery

A team of researchers at the University of California-Santa Barbara has announced a major breakthrough in healthcare — the development of artificial red blood cells (RBCs) that look and act like natural ones — that offers new product development opportunities for the pharma industry and the healthcare consumer, according to Scientific American (via Neatorama).

Also known as erythrocytes, red blood cells — the tiny, concave disks that deliver oxygen to the body’s tissues — account for approximately a quarter of the cells in the human body. To make RBCs in the lab, Dr. Samir Mitragotri and his colleagues started with spheres of biodegradable polymer, collapsed them into disk shapes, layered them with proteins and then dissolved away the polymer, to leave soft, strong, flexible shells — the same diameter as authentic red blood cells — which can squeeze through capillaries smaller than their own diameter, just like the real thing.

What’s more, they can carry substances (e.g., an anticoagulant or some other pharmaceutical) just like real RBCs do, making this advance in biotechnology a promising new frontier in drug delivery systems, as well.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We Learn to Communicate before We’re Born

Apparently, I’ve been preparing for my career in communications since before I was born.

A new study (via Neatorama) reveals that humans begin to learn their native language in the womb. Comparisons between babies a few days old in France and Germany reveal that newborns cry — the earliest form of human communications — in their native language.

Led by Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg’s Center for Prespeech Development and Developmental Disorders, a team of scientists found that fetuses are not only become familiar with the sound of their mother’s voice in the womb, they’re also learning some important communications patterns inherent in their native tongue.

French newborns, for example, tend to cry with a rising melody, whereas German newborns prefer a falling melody. Those patterns are consistent with characteristic differences between the two languages, according to Wermke. (While French children call for “Papá,” German kids want their “Pápa.”)

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A PR War Triggered by a Graphic Design Choice

As my colleague, Tim Kane has said, “People don’t buy brands. They join them.”

This was amply demonstrated this summer when Ikea unleashed a major global brouhaha by swapping its signature typeface — a customized version of Futura — for Verdana, a simpler, cheaper and more widely available font, originally created by Microsoft specifically to be used on the Web. (On his blog, Mattias Åkerberg compares and contrasts the two fonts.)

The reaction was swift and passionate. An article by Lisa Abend in TIME magazine quotes some typical responses: “‘Ikea, stop the Verdana madness!’ pleaded Tokyo's Oliver Reichenstein on Twitter. ‘Words can't describe my disgust,’ spat Ben Cristensen of Melbourne. ‘Horrific,’ lamented Christian Hughes in Dublin.”

In my opinion, the real problem is that Ikea is widely known for the unpretentious and simple — but beautiful — design of its furniture. Its original typeface fit the company’s style and, thus, supported the company’s brand. With the switch to Verdana, Ikea seems, to its some of its most hardcore fans, to be surrendering its originality and credibility for expediency … and violating its brand promise.

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