The 21st Show

ENCORE: Special Sponge For Oil Spill Cleanup; Rural Digital Divide; Sickle-Cell Disease Gene Editing; Virtual Medical Translators


A worker removes oil from the sand at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif on May 21, 2015. The 2015 oil spill occurred north of Santa Barbara, Calif. The ruptured pipeline released up to 101,000 gallons of crude including 21,000 gallons that flowed into a storm drain and out into the Santa Barbara Channel. Jae C. Hong/AP

All this week, we're revisiting some of our favorite science and technology conversations. Scientists at Argonne National Labs created a sponge that’s being used to clean up oil spills off on the Pacific coast. Plus, there are millions of rural households still don’t have high-speed internet, which can make life harder for those in the farming business. And, for tens of thousands of Americans, living with sickle-cell disease can be excruciatingly painful and even deadly. But gene therapy advancements have given a handful of patients hope for a symptom-free life — and even a cure. Also, companies have brought virtual translators directly to patients getting medical treatment whose first language isn't English.

Sponge Invention For Oil Spill Cleanup

We hear about innovation, incubation and invention all the time, but what do those words really mean? Do we really ever see the fruits of all that labor and intelligence? If you’re part of the team of scientists trying to clean up oil spills off the coast of California or any of the other impacted areas in the world, the answer is yes. 

Recently, researchers from Argonne National Laboratory — about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago — created a sponge to clean up ocean oil spills, and they successfully tested it on the Pacific Coast. Not only that, but just like our sponges at home, the oil can be wrung out and used again. 

We spoke with Argonne National Lab nanoscientist Seth Darling.

Rural Digital Divide

Nearly all Americans now have access to the internet, but many residents in rural areas either don’t have it at all, or have service that’s much too slow for what they need to do business.

The federal government has taken some action on this by announcing more than a billion and a half dollars toward helping rural areas expand access. We wanted to get a sense of what this looks like for farmers and people in the farm business.

We're joined by Mary Hansen who reported on this for the Illinois Newsroom. Illinois Newsroom is a statewide collaboration of public media stations. Phil Jensen was also on the line from Newton in southeastern Illinois, where he owns his own farm equipment business. And Mike Romano is senior vice president of industry affairs at the Rural Broadband Association.

Sickle-Cell Disease Gene Editing

We’re going to talk about a disease that an estimated 100,000 people in the U.S. are living with: sickle-cell disease. And, one possible treatment that has given hope to some patients.

The single cell mutation behind this disease can cause excruciating pain, strokes and can lead to an early death. 

Even though scientists have known the cause, there hasn’t been truly effective treatment. As it is, patients can undergo expensive bone marrow transplants or monthly blood transfusions, but few other options exist. 

But now, new experimental gene therapy has given a handful of patients hope for a symptom free life — and even hope for a cure. 

Leuteresa Roberts’ 21-year-old son son, Brandon Williams, is one of these patients. Dr. Alexis Thompson is the head of Hematology for Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Gina Kolata is senior medical writer for the New York Times. Her reporting inspired this conversation.

Virtual Medical Translators

When you’re at the hospital in need of medical care, you just want to feel better. The last thing you want to think about is if you’ll be understood or not. 

But for millions of people in Illinois, that is often the reality. In Chicagoland alone, there were more than a million people considered limited English proficient in 2011, according to The Migration Policy Institute. 

An inability to communicate effectively with your doctor or care provider could lead to mistakes or a misdiagnoses. It can also discourage people from seeking the medical help they need in emergencies. Unfortunately, training and providing these interpreters to have on staff can be costly and if it’s an emergency, they may not be available at a moment's notice. 

Now, technology called Video Remote Interpreting, or VRI, is bringing interpreters directly to patients through video. Medical interpreters trained in over 200 languages, including American Sign Language, video conference in to patients watching on iPads. 

Rosalinda Justiniana is a Patient Advocate and Language Service Coordinator for Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora. Jinhi Roskamp is a trilingual interpreter for a VRI company called InDemand Interpreting. 

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