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Texas Innovator Winter 2008


Heart-run robots

Heart Robots

Researchers at Chonnam National University in South Korea have developed a tiny, crab-like robot powered by energy from the heart.

The team created the robot by growing heart muscle tissue from a rat onto a biocompatible, elastic material called polydimethylsiloxane. Researchers then placed heart cells on the surface of the backbone, resulting in pulsating cells that enabled the micro-robot to walk continuously for more than 10 days.

The micro-robot could eventually be used within the body to clear blocked tubes or arteries. By 2009, the world market for medical nanotechnology will surpass $3 billion, according to estimates from research firm Global Information Inc.

For more information, contact Sukho Park, Chonnam National University,

TexasBig rig training

U.S. truck drivers moved more than 10.5 billion tons of freight in 2005, but the industry is expecting a shortfall of as many as 100,000 drivers by 2014. Dallas-based El Centro College's Bill J. Priest Institute for Economic Development is working to ensure there are enough drivers to continue moving goods across the country.

Goofy Trucker

“There is a shortage of licensed drivers, not just in Texas but throughout the U.S.,” says Les Shelby, Priest’s dean of instruction. “Many companies are looking to hire our graduates.”

The Priest Institute’s truck driver training program began as a pilot program in October 2006 and received a $1.35 million grant from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) to continue filling what the TWC has identified as a profession in need of training.

As many as 300 students can be in the program, which is targeted to help them enter the work force or, in some cases, enhance their skills.

“Generally, they are individuals new to the industry,” says Shelby. “But some participants may work for a company and be in need of a job upgrade. Completing this training and attaining proper credentials will put them in a better position for promotion.”

Once hired by a carrier, graduates can earn up to $17.50 an hour, Shelby says.

For more information, contact Les Shelby, (214) 860-5715


Blindness cure

Within five years, the London Project aims to provide the world’s first stem cell treatment for vision loss. The treatment will use stem cells to repair retinas damaged by dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Woman Reading

In dry AMD, the cells in the retinal pigment epithelium of the macula gradually become thin and degenerate. The process takes several years to seriously affect vision. More than 1.6 million Americans over age 60 have advanced AMD, according to the National Eye Institute.

The London Project will use an $8 million donation from a U.S. private donor to fund the research and attract leading experts from around the world. Several London hospitals are involved with the research. Clinical trials will take place within five years.

For more information, contact Moorfields Eye Hospital's Media Office online at


Get Away from It All — Really Far Away

Space hotel

It’s too soon to pack just yet, but if a Spanish company succeeds in executing its out-of-this-world business plan, you may be able to check into an orbital hotel within a few years.

Barcelona-based Galactic Suite claims to have found backing for most of the $3 billion project, which hopes to place a private space station in orbit and accept guests as soon as 2012. You may need that time to save up; the company anticipates charging $4 million for a three-day stay.

But what a stay! You’ll circle the earth once every 80 minutes, see the sun rise 15 times a day and enjoy a zero-gravity spa. And your trip to orbit will be preceded by two months of training at a tropical island camp.

For more information, contact


Clear prescriptions

Illegible doctor prescriptions may soon be a thing of the past. In hospitals with a high rate of medication errors, computerized prescription systems improved accuracy, say researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

Clear prescription

The research team looked at 12 studies and compared handwritten prescriptions with computerized orders and the errors associated with both. They found as much as a 66 percent drop in errors in hospitals with computerized systems.

Drugs with similar names or even the misplacement of a decimal point can have disastrous effects, and such errors account for more than 60 percent of hospital medication errors.

Medication errors rose from around 5 percent in 1992 to almost 25 percent in 2006. To counter that situation, the number of hospitals with computerized order-entry systems is rising, but still, fewer than 20 percent of U.S. hospitals have them.

“Medication errors are a central aspect of improving hospital safety,” says Robert Kane, one of the Minnesota researchers and review co-author.

Patients suffering injuries or death from adverse events related to drug errors cost more than $5 million annually per hospital.

For more information, contact Jenna Langer, Academic Health Center, (612) 626-4784

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