The Download: organs on demand, and covid scams in China

The Download: organs on demand, and covid scams in China thumbnail

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

The entrepreneur dreaming of a factory of unlimited organs

Martine Rothblatt was a successful satellite entrepreneur when her daughter Jenesis was diagnosed with a fatal lung disease. So Rothblatt started a biotechnology company, United Therapeutics, which has developed drugs that are now keeping many patients like Jenesis alive. But she might eventually need a lung transplant. Rothblatt therefore set out to solve that problem too, using technology to create an “unlimited supply of transplantable organs.”

At any given time, the US transplant waiting list is about 100,000 people long. Thousands die waiting, and many more never make the list to begin with. Rothblatt wants to address this by growing organs compatible with human bodies in genetically modified pigs.

In the last year, this vision has come several steps closer to reality. US doctors have attempted seven pig-to-human transplants, the most dramatic of which was a case where a 57-year-old man with heart failure lived two months with a pig heart supplied by Rothblatt’s company. 

The experiment demonstrated the first life-sustaining pig-to-human organ transplant—and paved the way towards an organized clinical trial to prove they save lives consistently. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

Organs on demand is one of MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies, which we’re highlighting in The Download each day this week and next. You can check out the rest of the list for yourself now, and vote in our poll to decide what should make our final 11th technology.

China’s Paxlovid cyber scams are everywhere

Right now, China is consumed by an unprecedented surge of covid infections. The country’s healthcare system is stretched thin, covid treatments are in high demand, and many people are worried about themselves and their loved ones. 

It’s against this backdrop that scammers are finding new opportunities. They’re taking advantage of this wave of anxiety and fear in China by claiming on social media to sell covid treatments—particularly Paxlovid, the Pfizer-developed medication that has been the most effective in preventing severe covid symptoms. 

Demand for the drug has soared since authorities relaxed the country’s harsh zero-covid policies, and scammers are reaping the benefits. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter shining a light on everything that’s going on in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 It could take a decade to clean up FTX’s mess 
The US bankruptcy courts have never dealt with a disaster on this scale before. (Economist $)
Weirdly, Sam Bankman-Fried invested in the fund that backed his own firm. (FT $)
The founder is facing eight criminal counts. (CoinTelegraph)
What’s next for crypto. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Germany wants to hold Big Tech to account
It’s at the heart of Europe’s attempts to clamp down on anti-competitive behavior. (FT $)
The European Commission wants to dig into telecoms providers, too. (Reuters)
The EU wants to regulate your favorite AI tools. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Tesla’s “full self-driving” software isn’t living up to its promises
Footage of a dangerous pile-up in San Francisco demonstrates just how flawed it is. (The Intercept)

4 What will it take to make the US a chipmaking powerhouse?
Extremely skilled employees and prohibitively expensive machinery are just some of the obstacles. (Slate $)
A chip collaboration could be on the cards for the US, Canada and Mexico. (The Register)

5 Iran seems to be using facial recognition to punish women
Women have been served with hijab law violation citations, despite not having interacted with law enforcement officers. (Wired $)

6 A mental health service used an undisclosed AI to dispense advice 
Not a great idea, from an ethical standpoint. (New Scientist $)

7 This is the year satellite internet will finally break through
Building the infrastructure is still ridiculously expensive, though. (Vox)
Air accident investigators are digging into why the UK’s recent launch attempt failed. (The Guardian)

8 A war-torn region of Ethiopia is back online
Two years after Tigray was cut off from the world, friends and families are reuniting. (The Guardian)

9 Finland’s students are being taught to identify misinformation 
Older people will also be taught how to spot untruths online. (NYT $)

10 YouTubers are tormenting suspected scammers in India
They’ve been accused of taking the joke too far. (Rest of World)
The people using humor to troll their spam texts. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“We plan on launching with clothing that might make your manager roll their eyes, but not bad enough to get you fired.”

—An anonymous Amazon worker who created an unofficial pin badge commemorating the end of the company’s brutal peak holiday season tells Motherboard about their plans to expand their range.

The big story

This company is about to grow new organs in a person for the first time

August 2022

In the coming weeks, a volunteer in Boston, Massachusetts, will be the first to trial a new treatment that could end up creating a second liver in their body. And that’s just the beginning—in the months that follow, other volunteers will test doses that could leave them with up to six livers in their bodies.

The company behind the treatment, LyGenesis, hopes to save people with devastating liver diseases who are not eligible for transplants. Their approach is to inject liver cells from a donor into the lymph nodes of sick recipients, which can give rise to entirely new miniature organs. These mini livers should help compensate for an existing diseased one. The approach appears to work in mice, pigs, and dogs. Now we’ll find out if it works in people. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

Uhoh—budgie smugglers are back in style.
  Enjoy this whirlwind trip back through ancient Greece in just 18 minutes.
It must have passed me by that 2022 was the year of the capybara.
Wait a minute, you mean that’s not actually Whitney Houston on The Bodyguard poster?
This thief-proof mug is guaranteed to catch light-fingered colleagues in the act.

Read More