Categoria: science

Taking Lessons Learned During COVID-19 Pandemic, New Program Will Perform More Double Lung Transplants For Terminal Patients

Lisa Schencker | (TNS) Chicago Tribune

When traditional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation fail, lung cancer can be a death sentence for many patients.

That, however, may be changing, with Northwestern Medicine leading the way.

Northwestern plans to begin regularly performing double lung transplants on patients with terminal lung cancer, after successfully transplanting lungs into two patients who would have otherwise died of the disease, the health system announced Wednesday.

Northwestern surgeons successfully performed a double lung transplant on Albert Khoury, then 54 of Chicago, in 2021, after he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Northwestern then performed a second similar transplant on Tannaz Ameli, 64, of Minneapolis, last July. Moving forward, Northwestern hopes to do at least 10 to 15 such transplants a year. The outcomes of the first 75 patients to participate will be tracked in a new research registry available on

“We are really excited about this because these are patients that are some of the most hopeless patients because a lot of them are going to be at the end of the road, and to be able to make such a dramatic impact, it’s quite compelling,” said Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and director of Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute.

Until now, lung transplants on patients with advanced lung cancer have been rare operations. Typically, patients with cancer are not eligible to receive organ transplants because it’s feared that the cancer will recur after the transplant. Patients who receive new organs must take medication to suppress their immune systems, which can lead to a recurrence if any cancer cells are left in the body.

Northwestern doctors, however, used lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic to perform the transplants on cancer patients. In June 2020, Northwestern performed the first known double lung transplant in the country for a COVID-19 patient whose lungs were severely damaged by the disease. During that and subsequent similar surgeries, doctors had to be careful not to contaminate the blood stream during the transplant.

“Most COVID transplants we did had tons of bacteria in them,” Bharat said. “We felt if we could carefully remove those lungs and transplant them, we probably should be able to do the same in cancer ridden lungs.”

In the lung cancer transplant surgeries, patients are put on full heart and lung bypass, while both lungs are removed at the same time, along with the lymph nodes. Doctors wash the airways and the chest cavity to clear the cancer before putting in the new lungs, he said.

Not all patients with lung cancer are eligible for the surgery. The surgery is only for patients whose cancer has not spread beyond their lungs and who have run out of other treatment options, such as chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and other surgeries.

Northwestern is now working with other health systems across the country, in hopes that other hospitals will develop similar programs, giving more patients the option of a transplant, Bharat said.

The two patients who’ve already received the transplants at Northwestern are still cancer free, Bharat said.

Khoury underwent the 7-hour-long surgery in September 2021.

The year before, Khoury, who was a nonsmoker and a cement finisher in Chicago, developed back pain, sneezing, chills, and a cough with mucus. At first, he thought he had COVID-19, but he was soon diagnosed with lung cancer.

Khoury said he was told by doctors at other health systems that he wouldn’t survive. Before the transplant at Northwestern, he was on a ventilator and had developed pneumonia and sepsis. When he got a transplant, he likely only had days left to live, said Dr. Young Chae, a medical oncologist with Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Medicine.

“I did not know if he would make it,” Chae said at a news conference Wednesday. “His lungs were both filled with cancer cells, and day by day, his oxygen saturation was dropping.”

Now 18 months past his transplant, Khoury has gone back to work. He calls the surgeons at Northwestern his “guardian angels.”

“The first day I went back to work, I was so happy,” Khoury said. “I was like, ‘I’m back. I did it. I made it.’”

Meanwhile, as Khoury was undergoing his life-saving transplant, Ameli was dealing with a lingering cough.

She was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in January 2022. She underwent chemotherapy, without success, and was recommended for hospice. Her husband reached out to the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute’s Second Opinion Program, where she was told she was eligible for a transplant.

“The first thing Dr. Bharat told me on consultation was, ‘I can make you cancer-free,’” said Ameli, a retired nurse and grandmother of four. “These are the words every cancer patient wants to hear. I could not believe it. Even today, every day I wake up and I go, ‘I’m cancer free,’ and it’s unbelievable.”

She said the transplant has given her a new perspective on life. She now appreciates daily life more, even the snow and ice of Minnesota winters.

“Life has a different meaning now,” she said at the news conference, sitting side-by-side with Khoury. “Now, I look at the snow and go, ‘It’s so beautiful.’”

“Everything is beautiful,” Khoury added.

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These Caltech Scientists Are Trying To Harness Energy From Outer Space; Here’s How They’re Doing It

PASADENA — In January, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roared to life, carrying into orbit a demonstration of technologies, developed at Caltech, that could provide a blueprint for an energy revolution, supplying the earth with clean energy from outer space.

To combat climate change, the U.S. government pledged to make its energy sector pollution-free by 2035. Unfortunately, current renewable energy sources lack fossil fuels’ consistency. Solar cells, in particular, suffer atmosphere, weather and nighttime.

One elusive solution, under development for decades, is called space solar power, the process of harnessing solar power in space and beaming energy back to earth using solar power satellites.

Ten years ago, Caltech formed the Space Solar Power Project, which culminated in the Jan. 3 launch milestone. Weeks later, its three lead researchers are still musing on the achievement, enthusiastically talking about how it all works. They’re hopeful about the future of a technology once deemed technically possible but economically infeasible.

Each are experts in a discipline integral to space solar power: Dr. Harry Atwater, Otis Booth Leadership Chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, heads the Project’s photovoltaics research, the solar cells converting sunlight into electricity. Dr. Ali Hajimiri, Bren Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering, leads the wireless power transfer technology which would beam harvested energy down to earth. And Dr. Sergio Pellegrino, Joyce and Kent Kresa Professor of Aeronautics and Professor of Civil Engineering, heads the design of lightweight spacecraft that could one day carry the technology in orbit.

Why it matters and how it works

Hajimiri illustrated some of the benefits of space solar power.

“When you are in space, compared to photovoltaics on the ground, there is about 8 to 9 times more power because of the fact that you don’t have day and night, you don’t have seasons, you don’t have clouds,” he explained.

With rocket launches costing multiple dollars per gram of cargo, economics has remained a hurdle to space solar power. Caltech’s team took a new approach to the challenge with their design, cutting down on the mass and footprint of their proposed satellites.

The Project team designed a flat sandwich of components: a thin, photovoltaic cell on one side, a circuitboard in the middle, and an array of transmitters on the other side, all flexible. These sandwiches look like large, flimsy, plastic drink coasters. Combined into panels, they can be suspended in thin, flexible spacecraft, producing lightweight, foldable satellites.

While the orbiting demonstrator is only a series of experiments testing key technologies, the team hopes someday to see thousands of these satellites orbiting the earth.

The power transmitter array in its popped-up configuration. (Photo provided by Caltech) Super thin solar cells

Atwater, who speaks of his work energetically, with proud enthusiasm, designs ultra lightweight photovoltaics, minimizing weight and maximizing efficiency.

“The key guiding principle is to lower the mass to orbit,” he explained. “For a space solar cell, there are two massive elements for a conventional cell. One is that you have the active solar cell which is only a few microns thick and then it’s typically on a wafer that’s a couple hundred microns thick.”

On top of that is a radiation shield, typically a 75- to 100-micron coverglass, similar to a smartphone screen protector. (More on microns below.)

Atwater’s team launched 32 state-of-the-art solar cells, free of wafers and capable of surviving radiation without traditional coverglass, shedding expensive mass. He illustrated the material thicknesses. A human hair is about 50 microns thick. By removing wafer and coverglass, the resulting photovoltaics measure around 5 to 10 microns thick.

Wireless power transfer

Getting energy back to earth requires converting it into microwaves that are transmitted to receivers on the ground.

Hajimiri — whose enthusiasm for the subject is exemplified by his illustrative hand gestures while describing his work — and his team will test wireless power transfer in space; not as simple as pointing antennas at receivers.

Voicing an explainer video on the Project site, Hajimiri illustrated how his team directs microwaves using wave interference.

“If you go sit next to a pond and put both of your hands down into the water and make waves at the same time, what you will probably notice is that there are areas where the waves are much stronger and there are some areas where there are very little waves,” he described.

Engineers carefully lower the DOLCE portion of the Space Solar Power Demonstrator onto the Vigoride spacecraft built by Momentus. (Photo provided by Caltech) The stronger, overlapping, “in-phase” waves are where the waves adds up. Altering the timing of the transmitters (in this example, hands in a pond) allows them to be steered and focused into a beam.

“This ability to control directions by controlling timing,” Dr. Hajimiri explained, “is very critical, because it means that there are no mechanically moving parts and hence, it can be done on the timescale of electronics, at the nanosecond scale.”

The pond example describes a simplified scenario with two transmitters. At full scale, Dr. Hajimiri’s team would need to calculate the real time location and timing for billions of transmitters.

Lightweight spacecraft

The solar power panels will be suspended inside lightweight spacecraft shaped like flattened, trapezoidal picture frames, tens of meters long. Pellegrino, who has the thoughtful, precise demeanor of an engineer, is in charge of designing spacecraft that require no assembly after launch.

“Our concept does not require a robotic, in-space assembly,” Pellegrino explained. “It is a series of free-flying spacecraft and they are unfolded in space individually, and then a formation is created.”

His team’s experiments consist of a scaled-down model observable by cameras and sensors onboard the demonstrator.

“It can be flattened and it can be folded. All of that happens elastically. We do not need any mechanical hinges,” he explained.

Once the spacecraft demonstrator is unfolded in space, the team will observe the structure unfettered by gravity.

The Project team has benefitted from uncommonly long-term collaboration.

“It’s a 10-year project, so that’s pretty unusual in academia that a researcher gets a chance to work on something intensively for a decade,” Atwater pointed out. “So there have been several chapters and in both the wireless power, the ultralight structures and the photovoltaics we’ve had several generations of technology development, which is pretty exciting.”

Not science fiction anymore

If space solar power sounds like the stuff of science fiction, that’s because it was.

The first published mention of the technology was in the short story “Reason”, written by sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, in 1941. In the story, a solar power satellite operator explains: “Our beams feed these worlds energy drawn from one of those huge incandescent globes that happens to be near us. We call that globe the sun…”

The idea was first formalized as a scientifically viable energy source in 1968, by Peter E. Glaser in a paper titled “Power from the Sun: Its Future”, published in the journal Science.

After laying out the basic ideas for space solar power, Glaser proposed that the technology “…may help lead the world into an era in which an abundance of power could free man from his dependence on fire.”

The following decade saw a steady interest globally in harnessing space solar power as a viable future energy source.

Unfortunately, progress on SSP in the U.S. ground to a halt when government-funding for SSP research was cut after it was deemed economically infeasible.

Progress on space solar power in the U.S. ground to a halt when government-funding for its research was cut after being deemed economically infeasible. While other nations continued to pursue space solar power through the 1980s, the topic was out of bounds for researchers in the U.S. until the mid 1990s.

Scientists at Caltech have launched a Space Solar Power Demonstrator prototype into orbit as part of an ambitious effort to harvest solar power in space and beam that energy back to Earth, university officials in Pasadena said. (Courtesy photo) Former NASA engineer and space solar power enthusiast, John C. Mankins, author of The Case For Space Solar Power, was first introduced to the subject in 1995 while working for NASA, in Washington D.C. His supervisor asked him to revisit the concept in light of a decade’s worth of technological advancements. Mankins recalled that the 1980s funding freeze had left a subset of researchers vehemently opposed to the technology.

“When it was canceled, their careers were damaged and they became dedicated opponents of space solar power,” Mankins recalled. “So when you were in these meetings in the 1990s you could not bring up space solar power without running the risk of ridicule.”

In the 1990s, the U.S. government resumed funding for space solar power research.

Atwater made sure to acknowledge that his team relied on decades of publicly funded  research that informed their efforts.

Flashforward to 2013, when after learning about space-based solar energy generation, billionaire philanthropist Donald Bren, chairman of Irvine Company and a lifetime member of the Caltech Board of Trustees, and his wife Brigette, also a Caltech trustee, agreed to a 10-year, $100 million commitment to help start the project.

A unique aspect of Caltech’s project is that the research, development, and execution of the demonstrator all relied solely on private funding.

“It’s kind of remarkable,” Atwater pointed out, “that it was a privately funded project, flying on a private commercial spacecraft launched by a private launch provider. So it’s completely different, you know, 20 years ago it would have been all government.”

For the researchers, the long-term collaboration culminated in the explosive moment when the demonstrator launched into space last month.

“It was sort of ecstatic with all three of us, all three PIs, myself, Sergio and Ali were all there cheering,” Atwater said. “There was a crowd of people cheering when the spacecraft deployed. It all felt very real.”

The Project demonstrator is currently riding a Momentus Vigoride orbital transfer vehicle, a sort of school bus for spacecraft that travels between orbits, dropping off satellites at their individual destinations. The Caltech team eagerly awaits the data that could help shape Earth’s energy future.

Dr. Ed Krupp, Director Of Griffith Observatory, On Mission For Outer Space Education

He’s the closest person to a real life Indiana Jones I have ever met.” — Elliott Porter, retired personnel director for the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, which oversees the city-owned and city-operated Griffith Observatory.

After 2,200 expeditions to ancient and prehistoric medieval sites all over the world — hacking his way through thick jungle vines and taking buses to remote sites where no bus has gone before — you’d think Dr. Ed Krupp, Indiana Jones to his friends, would be slowing down as he approaches 80.

Not a chance. The director of Griffith Observatory for the last 45 years is still dreaming big, still looking for new adventures in space and on Earth to offer the people who sign his paycheck — the people of Los Angeles.

That’s the way Griffith J. Griffith — one Griffith was obviously not enough — wanted it back in 1935 when he stood on top of Mount Wilson looking at Saturn through the world’s largest telescope at the time, and wishing more people could see what he was seeing. Only scientists and special guests, many of them with deep pockets, were invited to take a peek.

Griffith Observatory Director Edwin C. Krupp at the observatory in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb 2, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Griffith Observatory Director Edwin C. Krupp at the observatory in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb 2, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Griffith Observatory Director Edwin C. Krupp at the observatory in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb 2, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Griffith Observatory Director Edwin C. Krupp at the observatory in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb 2, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Griffith Observatory Director Edwin C. Krupp at the observatory in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb 2, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Griffith Observatory Director Edwin C. Krupp at the observatory in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb 2, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“He thought if mankind could look through this telescope it would change the world,” Krupp said. “He wanted to give everybody the chance to put an eyeball to the universe.”

Griffith had donated 3,000 acres to the city for a park named after him, and said here’s the land, build the people’s telescope. The only caveat was admission to the observatory had to be free.

Krupp laughed when I told him his friends and co-workers looked at him as an Indiana Jones, adventurous kind of guy. He had just hung up with his car mechanic and was feeling good. His 1968 Camaro he bought new was getting out of the shop any day now.

“I never thought that Camaro and I would stick together this long — 525,000 miles,” Krupp said. “We’ve been to the moon and back, and then some.”

I was beginning to see what his friends were talking about.

When he became curator of the observatory in 1974, he learned two weeks paid vacation time came with the job. That was like dangling the Holy Grail in his face.

“I decided to use it tracking down some prehistoric stone monuments alleged to have astronomical alignments around Great Britain,” he said. “From that point on, I just kept going, honestly, everywhere, all over the planet.”

He was one of the early Americans allowed into China to lead an expedition to Gao Cheng, a 13th century observatory considered the best in the world at the time.

“What I learned was that everything written about the place was wrong,” Krupp said. “You’ve got to go and see for yourself what’s really on the ground. Go to places no one goes to.” Be an Indiana Jones.

We start talking about the observatory — the longest-running, best show in town located on prime, panoramic real estate atop Mount Hollywood, a perfect spot to shoot a movie.

“We’ve had so many movies shot here we should have a star on Hollywood Boulevard,” he laughed. “This last concert by Adele for a TV special beautifully lit up the observatory and brought us a lot of visitors from around the world. On average, we have 1.6 million visitors a year.

“You know, when I was a kid one of the things I always wanted to do was make the ‘Wizard of Oz,’” he said. “I was completely taken in by the complexity of what was involved in a production like that.

“For me, working at Griffith Observatory for almost 50 years has been like making the ‘Wizard of Oz.’”

But the wizard’s job didn’t come easy. The first thing Krupp did when he became permanent director in 1978 was to send a memo to his bosses downtown alerting them all was not well in the land of Oz.

“I was anxious about some of the equipment utterly failing,” he said. “We needed to develop projections and a plan for the future.”

That was his idea in 1978. It took until 2002 for those projections and plans to kick off with a $93 million public bond renovation that shut the observatory down until 2006.

When it reopened it was state-of-the-art, thanks to a great working partnership between the city and the Griffith Observatory Foundation, Krupp said, adding a nod to Hollywood and Disneyland, too.

“There’s a direct track between Disneyland’s Rocket to the Moon ride and the observatory’s moon programs before Disneyland ever opened,” he said. “Likewise, Hollywood has its impact on us in developing a story, not a lecture, behind what we’re doing.

“Our last and best planetarium show, ‘Signs of Life’ could not have been produced without the highly specialized skills of digital animators right here in our backyard.”

With that said, it was time for Dr. Ed Krupp to put on his Indiana Jones hat and map out his next adventure. There’s going to be a total solar eclipse next year, and he’s spending his vacation time leading an expedition to a remote spot in central Mexico he’s keeping to himself.

“There is nothing in human experience like a total solar eclipse,” said the man who should know. “It’s almost a religious transformation that occurs with so many people — the universe operating before your very eyes.”

Griffith J. Griffith’s idea that if mankind could put an eyeball to the universe, it would change the world, may have come up a little short. But the dreams his generosity created for so many kids and their parents sitting in that incredible planetarium looking up to the heavens make him the most successful director/producer Hollywood’s ever seen.

But really, what were his parents thinking naming him Griffith?

Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at