In the middle of this holiday season my colleague Stephanie Rugolo over at the Cato’s new project, HumanProgress.org, is spreading cheer by getting out the word about the improving human condition. She offered these thoughts which I’d like to share:
Good News to Share Over the Holidays: The World Is Getting Better
You’ve heard it all before, “The world is becoming increasingly violent,” “Work-related injuries are on the rise,” “Soon, we’ll have no more forests.” As it turns out, pessimism is often at odds with the real world.
Long term trends for nearly every indicator of human progress are positive. For instance, forest coverage in rich countries is increasing in line with the Environmental Kuznets Curve. This trend will hopefully continue in the developing world as it becomes richer.
According to the International Labor Organization, work fatalities are way down, while economic freedom is on the rise. This should give pause to those who think that free market is synonymous with bad working conditions. Quite the opposite. Economically free countries tend to be richer than economically unfree countries, and richer countries have safer working environments.
Moreover, there has been a dramatic decline in violence. Conflicts between major powers, which used to be commonplace, are non-existent. Deaths due to genocide are way down, too.
So cheer up and enjoy the holidays!
Curing vision problems has long been the domain of science fiction, but a recent breakthrough turns fiction into reality. The aptly named Second Sight Medical Products has created the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, a bionic implant designed to restore vision to those suffering from a rare genetic condition known as retinitis pigmentosa. Now individuals suffering from the most advanced stages of this condition have a chance to regain their sight.
What is retinitis pigmentosa? Inside our eyes are millions of photo-receptors, where each individual photo-receptor works in unison to translate the light received by our eyes into information, which the brain then processes to produce an image of the world around us. Without photo-receptors we would be unable to see anything.
In the case of individuals with retinitis pigmentosa, damaged retinal photo-receptors cause the individual to experience reduced visual function in low-light conditions as well as poor peripheral vision. In some extraordinary cases, individuals with retinitis pigmentosa suffer from a complete failure of their central vision.
For this category of retinitis pigmentosa sufferers who have lost full functioning vision, the Argus II provides hope as the first bionic implant on the market.
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The title of the Vimeo video below is “Fighting Fire with Fire,” which conveys fairly well what doctors from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) did when they used the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to reprogram the T-cells of a 7 year old girl in order to cure her of leukemia.
Fire With Fire | Ross Kauffman from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.
Pediatric oncologist Stephan A. Grupp of CHOP and his colleagues presented the updated results of their clinical trial of the innovative therapy at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting on December 10 in Atlanta. To conduct the treatment (officially called CTL019), doctors collect T-cells from the patient and reengineer them with a disabled form of HIV to recognize and attach to a protein that is found only on the surface of B-cells. B-cells are found in the immune system and become cancerous in certain leukemias and lymphomas. Once the reengineered T-cells are injected into the patient, they multiply and are able to attach to the cancerous B-cells—which would otherwise fly under the immune system’s radar—and destroy them.
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