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April 2013 Briefing Memo



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SECURITY
Surveillance drones, similar to those used in modern warfare, are becoming a presence in U.S. skies. There are promising uses for the technology, such as surveying wildfires and conducting search-and-rescue operations, but the government needs to protect the privacy of its citizens. Congress has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to set rules by 2015 for how drones can be used in domestic airspace. See: Science Agenda: The Spies above Your Backyard

ENERGY
• Extracting fossil-fuel resources—such as natural gas from shale or oil from Canada’s tar sands—takes a large and growing amount of energy. The energy return on investment needs to be closely examined, considering all the benefits and drawbacks of an energy source, including the environmental cost. See: Energy: The True Cost of Fossil Fuels

CANCER
• Fragments of RNA that cells eject in fatty droplets, called exosomes, may herald a new era of cancer diagnosis, potentially reducing the need for invasive tests. Within these exosomes is genetic information that scientists can analyze to determine a cancer’s molecular composition and state of progression. See: Advances: Traces of Cancer

SPACE
Privately owned space launch companies will bring down the cost of space exploration and give researcher’s more frequent access to space. These advances will not only help research enterprises at NASA and the European and the Japanese space agencies but will also make space access affordable to academic institutions and corporations. See: Space Exploration: The Low-cost Ticket to Space

PERSONALIZED MEDICINE
Regenerative medicine would give the body the tools it needs to regrow tissues or organs and may revolutionize, and personalize, medicine in the near future. Medical researchers are looking at how the body can be primed to create new heart muscle from a person’s own stem cells; how 3-D printing technology can create dissolvable sugar molds of blood vessels that allow scientists to regrow organs in the lab; and how a better knowledge of the process by which stem cells become neurons can lead to replacing lost brain cells due to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative disorders. See: Special Report: The Future of Medicine: Boosting the Body’s Healing Powers

HEALTH CARE
The leading cause of death for intensive care patients in the U.S. is sepsis—a condition that begins with an aggressive immune system reaction to an infection. Each year it kills 18 million people around the World, including around 260,000 in the U.S. Researchers are continuing to search for treatments that could halt sepsis before it becomes deadly. See: The Science of Health: Shock to the System

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