The Download: the cancer vaccine renaissance, and working towards a decarbonized future

The Download: the cancer vaccine renaissance, and working towards a decarbonized future

Plus: overseas actors are exploiting the US university protests

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.

Cancer vaccines are having a renaissance

Last week, Moderna and Merck launched a large clinical trial in the UK of a promising new cancer therapy: a personalized vaccine that targets a specific set of mutations found in each individual’s tumor. This study is enrolling patients with melanoma. But the companies have also launched a phase III trial for lung cancer. And earlier this month BioNTech and Genentech announced that a personalized vaccine they developed in collaboration shows promise in pancreatic cancer, which has a notoriously poor survival rate.

Drug developers have been working for decades on vaccines to help the body’s immune system fight cancer, without much success. But promising results in the past year suggest that the strategy may be reaching a turning point. Will these therapies finally live up to their promise? Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly biotech and health newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

How we transform to a fully decarbonized world

Deb Chachra is a professor of engineering at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, and the author of How Infrastructure Works: Inside the Systems That Shape Our WorldJust as much as technological breakthroughs, it’s that availability of energy that has shaped our material world. The exponential rise in fossil-fuel usage over the past century and a half has powered novel, energy-intensive modes of extracting, processing, and consuming matter, at unprecedented scale.

But now, the cumulative environmental, health, and social impacts of this approach have become unignorable. We can see them nearly everywhere we look, from the health effects of living near highways or oil refineries to the ever-growing issue of plastic, textile, and electronic waste. 

Decarbonizing our energy systems means meeting human needs without burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The good news is that a world powered by electricity from abundant, renewable, non-polluting sources is now within reach. Read the full story.

The story is from the current print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is on the fascinating theme of Build. If you don’t already, subscribe now to receive future copies once they land.

The must-reads

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

1 US adversaries are exploiting the university protests for their own gain
Russia, China and Iran are amplifying the conflicts to stoke political tensions online. (NYT $)
+ Universities are under intense political scrutiny. (Vox)
+ The Biden administration’s patience with protestors appears to have run out. (The Atlantic $)

2 China is preparing to launch an ambitious moon mission 🚀
Its bid to bring back samples from the far side of the moon would be a major leap forward for its national space program. (CNN)
+ It would be the first time any country managed to pull it off, too. (WP $)

3 We don’t know how Big Tech’s AI investments will affect profits  

Profits are up—but for how long? (The Information $)
+ Make no mistake—AI is owned by Big Tech. (MIT Technology Review)

4 An Australian facial recognition firm suffered a data breach
It demonstrates the importance of safeguarding personal biometric data properly. (Wired $)

5 China’s race to create a native ChatGPT is heating up
Four startups are locked in intense competition to emulate OpenAI’s success. (FT $)
+ Four things to know about China’s new AI rules in 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

6 One of America’s biggest podcasts is chock-full of misleading information
A cohort of scientists have raised concerns with Andrew Huberman’s show’s omission of key scientific details. (Vox)

7 Recyclable circuit boards could help us cut down on e-waste
Because conventional circuits are an environmental menace. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ If you fancy giving a supercomputer a second home, here’s your chance. (Wired $)
+ Why recycling alone can’t power climate tech. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Facebook has become the zombie internet
The social network ain’t so social these days. (404 Media)

9 Boston Dynamics loves freaking us out 🤖
We’ve been obsessed with their uncanny videos for more than a decade. (The Atlantic $)
+ But robots might need to become more boring to be useful. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Human models are letting AI do all the hard work
They’re signing over the rights to their likeness and raking in the passive income. (WSJ $)

Quote of the day

“They’re slow as Christmas getting things done.”

—Jerry Whisenhunt, general manager of Pine Telephone Company in Oklahoma, explains his frustration with Washington bureaucrats who ordered providers like him to remove China-made equipment from their networks, without providing funding, he tells the Washington Post.

The big story

Zimbabwe’s climate migration is a sign of what’s to come

December 2021

Julius Mutero has spent his entire adult life farming a three-hectare plot in Zimbabwe, but has harvested virtually nothing in the past six years. He is just one of the 86 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who the World Bank estimates will migrate domestically by 2050 because of climate change.

In Zimbabwe, farmers who have tried to stay put and adapt have found their efforts woefully inadequate in the face of new weather extremes. Droughts have already forced tens of thousands from their homes. But their desperate moves are creating new competition for water in the region, and tensions may soon boil over. Read the full story.

—Andrew Mambondiyani

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ Some breads are surprisingly easy to make—but all equally delicious.
+ Aww, these frogs sure love their baby tadpoles. 🐸
+ Trees are wonderful. These books celebrate all they do for us.
+ We’re all praying for the safe return of Wally the emotional support alligator.

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