Technology  November 30, 2012

10 discoveries that changed the world

1 Liver transplants, CU-Anschutz

The “father of organ transplantation” received his unofficial title after performing the first liver transplant in 1963 while at the University of Colorado Medical School, now called the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. Though Dr. Thomas Starzl’s first attempt was unsuccessful due to a lack of effective immunosuppressive drugs that would keep the body from rejecting the transplant, in 1967 he was able to make it work with superior drugs. Today, doctors perform more than 6,000 liver transplants in the United States every year, creating a web of changed lives that could easily blanket the world.

2 Bone cancer operations, CSU

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Not every life-altering medical discovery starts out with knowledge that applies to humans. Stephen Withrow, former director of Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Center, has focused on bone cancer in animals as a model for human diseases and, more importantly, treatments. He created an alternative treatment to amputation for bone cancer he pioneered in cats and dogs wherein cancerous bones are removed and replaced with bones from other animals. The procedure is becoming the standard of care after its crossover from the animal world into humans. According to the university, the procedure has been adopted by cancer treatment centers across the nation and has been highly successful in preventing amputations in children diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the sixth most-common bone cancer in children.

3 Parshall flume, CSU

Water rights have always been a big issue in the West and around the world, which may be what has made Ralph Parshall’s invention widely used for nearly a century. In 1921, Parshall developed and patented the Parshall flume at the then-named Colorado Agricultural College’s hydrology lab in 1921. Though Parshall died in 1959, his invention is still widely used to assess water flow in irrigation ditches, sewers and more the world over. Though technology has been added in some cases to wirelessly report data or otherwise augment the flume, the basic core remains the same. His contribution has earned him the title “father of the flume.”

4 Composite materials, UW

Firehole Technologies was the second company to graduate from the University of Wyoming’s Technology Business Center. Software the company produces analyzes the strength of composite materials and helps private companies make lighter, stronger materials. A good example: Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, the first plane largely made up of composite material. These composites make the plane fuel-efficient and strong, and Boeing modeled a lot of the 787 design using Firehole software. “It’s really putting a disruptive change in everything from sports to transportation,” founder Jerad Stack says of his software.

5 Up in the clouds, CSU

This CSU contribution has not only changed the world, it has also traveled around it more than 34,000 times. CloudSat is the world’s first cloud-profiling radar in orbit, launched in April 2006 and orbiting 438 miles above Earth. The CloudSat is the first radar to “see through” clouds, checking water and ice content to improve weather forecasting, particularly in the accuracy of severe storm warnings. As of October, CloudSat had gathered 1.1 billion vertical profiles of clouds and distributed more than 1.2 million gigabytes of data to the international science community, according to the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, or CIRA, which is based at Colorado State and is responsible for the satellite’s data collection. Graeme Stephens, a former CSU faculty member, collaborated with NASA to develop the satellite. Stephens is now director of NASA’s Center for Climate Sciences.

6 Let there be lasers, CU-Boulder

University of Colorado researcher John (Jan) Hall won a 2005 Nobel Prize in physics for work that made it possible to measure light frequencies with an accuracy of 15 digits. His work happened at JILA, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. His work with laser-based spectroscopy has led to extremely accurate clocks, improvements in GPS technology and more. Hall has also been highly instrumental in implementing lasers in everyday communications technologies. His work even fundamentally redefined the meter via increased accuracy in measuring light.

7 Ionic zero, CU-Boulder

Not to be left out in the cold, CU lecturer and National Institute of Standards and Technology researcher David Wineland took home the 2012 Nobel Prize for physics for his work in developing a technique that cools ions to near absolute zero. The technique traps, with lasers, single electrically charged ions in a vacuum and cools them to nearly minus 460 Fahrenheit. The breakthrough has literally changed the world for quantum physicists, who have had to rely strictly on thought and conjecture for understanding of quantum physics until now. The discovery paves the way, like Hall’s research, for greater accuracy in both GPS and atomic clocks, which are tied to each other since GPS satellites rely on atomic clocks for accuracy. Perhaps more importantly, Wineland opening the door to quantum physics should pave the way for quantum computing, which will be a quantum leap for mankind.

8 Genome testing to avoid thyroid surgery, CU-Anschutz

An individual’s story tells well how this research has changed the world for some cancer patients. Emelia Johnson-Tabakoff faced diagnosis with both thyroid and ovarian cancer simultaneously. Under old techniques, surgery would have been required to find out if the suspicious lump on her thyroid was malignant or not. Meanwhile, chemotherapy treatment couldn’t have begun on her diagnosed ovarian cancer until her body recovered from the surgery, which for many patients turns out to be unnecessary. And with the ticking clock of ovarian cancer, it was good news that research pioneered by CU’s Bryan Haugen allowed pathology experts to examine a relevant 167 out of about 22,000 of Johnson-Tabakoff’s thyroid genes. Her genome testing concluded the lump was benign and she was able to move on with chemo treatment and her life. The genome testing has been commercially available since 2011.

9 Gene machines, CU-Boulder

Chemistry and biochemistry professor Marvin Caruthers is a pioneer in methods for rapid chemical synthesis of DNA and RNA. He even created a way to automate the process, resulting in “gene machines” that quickly replicate DNA patterns without hands-on time from researchers. This research, pioneered about 30 years ago, has resulted in an explosion of pharmacology and biotechnology advances while also aiding basic biology research. Armed with his research, Caruthers has spun off several companies that have developed drugs that treat everything from anemia to rheumatoid arthritis.

10 Parkinson’s breakthrough, CU-Anschutz

Researchers at CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus have discovered a drug that stops the progression of Parkinson’s disease by turning on a protective gene in the brain. Drugs currently used just treat the symptoms, but the new CU drug — now being tested on humans after successful testing on mice — stops it from getting worse. More than 1 million Americans suffer from the degenerative illness.

1 Liver transplants, CU-Anschutz

The “father of organ transplantation” received his unofficial title after performing the first liver transplant in 1963 while at the University of Colorado Medical School, now called the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. Though Dr. Thomas Starzl’s first attempt was unsuccessful due to a lack of effective immunosuppressive drugs that would keep the body from rejecting the transplant, in 1967 he was able to make it work with superior drugs. Today, doctors perform more than 6,000 liver transplants in the United States every year, creating a web of changed lives that could easily blanket the world.

2 Bone cancer…

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