TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. wants to hack your phone because it doesn’t have the real spies it needs.

By Patrick G. Eddington at Reuters

2. Eight universities account for half of all history professors in the U.S. How did that happen?

By Joel Warner and Aaron Clauset in Slate

3. Bill Gates is investing in low-tech impact entrepreneurs in India.

By David Bank in Entrepreneur

4. “Liquid biopsy” can detect cancer from a few drops of blood.

By Michael Standaert in MIT Technology Review

5. Let’s build the infrastructure to make microfinance institutions into true innovation hubs.

By Jessica Collier in Medium

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Mobile

Beware Apps That Promise a Cancer Diagnosis

Apple Productivity Apps
Sean Gallup—Getty Images A shopper tries out the new Apple iPhone 6 at the Apple Store on the first day of sales of the new phone on Sept. 19, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.

The government is cracking down on so-called "educational" apps

Given the questionable sales pitches that seem to drive Internet marketing for some apps, this statement uttered by an FTC official on Monday might seemed understated: “Truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace.”

But some messages are beyond the pale. The official, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, was referring to a couple of mobile-phone apps whose providers have claimed, without offering any proof, are able to detect the presence and severity of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The regulator on Monday announced actions against the makers of two such apps: Mole Detective and MelApp. The apps have been marketed with claims that, by analyzing user-taken photos, they can determine whether the risk of melanoma his high, medium, or low.

Although the apps, which were sold for $4.99 in 2011 and 2012, advised users to see a doctor if they had any serious concerns about their health, the FTC says they were sold as “diagnostic” tools. (The caveat about seeing a doctor apparently didn’t contain a caveat of its own, stating that if you should see a doctor if you’re worried about cancer, there is obviously no reason to buy and download an app.)

According to the FCC, thousands of people downloaded the pieces of software.

The company that marketed MelApp, Health Discovery Corp., will pay $17,063 as part of its settlements. New Consumer Solutions, which developed and marketed Mole Detective, will pay $3,930. That app was later purchased by the British firm L. Health Ltd., which has elected not to settle the FTC’s case against it because, it says, the original developer had guaranteed the app didn’t violate U.S. law.

Mole Detective shot up in popularity after it was featured on “The Dr. Oz Show,” according to a report in the Washington Post. L. Health Ltd.’s Avi Lasarow said that the app “always stated that it should be used for educational purposes…”

None of this activity means that smartphone apps aren’t already becoming powerful aids for diagnosis and health management. In the case of something like skin cancer, a doctor could surely review photos to determine whether or not a patient should come in for an examination. The key word there is “doctor.”

TIME Aging

Famed Scientist Oliver Sacks Reveals He Has Terminal Cancer in Soulful Op-Ed

The Music Has Power Awards Benefit
Brad Barket—Getty Images Dr. Oliver Sacks speaks at the Music Has Power Awards Benefit in the Allen Room at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center on Nov. 6, 2006 in New York City.

The neurologist and author writes in the New York Times that he feels "intensely alive" in the face of death

Oliver Sacks, one of the leading public intellectuals of the last half-century, says terminal cancer of the liver has left him with only months to live.

Sacks, a neurologist and author of books like Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, revealed his condition in an article about facing death that was published in the New York Times on Thursday.

“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me,” Sacks, 81, writes in the Times. “I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”

He says he will shun politics and nightly news to focus instead on himself, his friends, and his work–an autobiography is set to come out in the spring, and he says he has “several” other books in the works. He writes:

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

Born in the U.K., Sacks has spent most of his career in the United States, where his prolific writing has blended science and literature to best-selling success. Outside of work, he’s been nearly as active. A one-time weightlifting champion with a stint riding with Hell’s Angel’s—according to a 1995 profile in TIME—he says he still swims a mile a day.

The removal of a tumor in his eye left him blind in one eye nine years ago and led to his 2010 book ‘The Mind’s Eye’ that deals in part with his experience with cancer and his inability to recognize faces. But the tumor metastasized, and the author now says the cancer’s spread cannot be stopped.

“I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight,” he writes.

Read Oliver Sacks’s story in the New York Times.

Read next: The Secret of Abraham Lincoln’s Success as a Writer?

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 18

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. More than a decade ago, the international community tackled AIDS in Africa. Now we should do the same with cancer in the developing world.

By Lawrence N. Shulman in Policy Innovations

2. Finally, an app for kids to anonymously report cyber-bullying.

By Issie Lapowsky in Wired

3. Indians in the U.S. sent $13 billion home last year. A new plan aims to push some of that money into social good investments in India.

By Simone Schenkel in CSIS Prosper

4. Websites are just marketing. The next Internet is TV.

By John Herrman in The Awl

5. The U.K. may set up a digital court to settle small claims online.

By Chris Baraniuk in New Scientist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Cancer

Taking Medication May Make It Easier to Quit Smoking

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Getty Images

A Pfizer-funded study suggests the anti-smoking drug Chantix could be used to slowly help smokers quit

According to the results of a new trial published in JAMA, an anti-smoking medication may make it easier for smokers who aren’t yet ready to quit to do so later on.

Nearly seven out of every 10 current U.S. adult cigarette smokers want to quit completely, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But some smokers who aren’t yet ready to quit for good want to lower their consumption and increase their chances for success at kicking the habit down the line. That’s possible with the help of a drug called varenicline, which is sold under the trade name Chantix and is manufactured by Pfizer, finds the new study, which was also funded by Pfizer.

The researchers conducted a two-year trial with 1,510 cigarette smokers who weren’t willing to quit within the next month, but who were willing to try to quit within the following three months. The men and women were split into two groups: some received Chantix, and others received a placebo for 24 weeks. The goal for all the volunteers was to reduce smoking by at least 50% by week four, and then continue to ease up on the habit until a quit attempt at week 12.

The volunteers who were taking Chantix were significantly more successful at quitting by the end of the study compared to the people on the placebo, and the effect stuck at one year.

Developing smoking cessation strategies that allow smokers to quit gradually could attract many more smokers to the method, a Pfizer spokesperson said in an e-mail.

Chantix is not without side effects and controversy. Some data has suggested the drug is linked to serious psychiatric side effects and heart problems.

The authors disclose several conflicts of interest, including the fact that Chantix manufacturer Pfizer was involved in the design, data collection and analysis of the study, and many of the study authors received fees or grants from Pfizer. However, the findings highlight a new potential strategy for curbing smoking and possibly allowing more people to be successful. According to the American Cancer Society, only around 4% to 7% of people are able to quit smoking without medication or other means, and about 25% are able to quit smoking for over six months with the help of medicine.

TIME Smoking

Smoking May Be More Dangerous Than Previously Thought, Study Says

A man smokes outside of a building on June 11, 2009 in New York.
Spencer Platt—Getty Images A man smokes outside of a building on June 11, 2009 in New York.

Kidney disease and fatal infections now linked to the nasty habit

Smoking may contribute to the deaths of an additional 60,00-120,000 Americans per year says a new study published by The New England Journal of Medicine.

From the years 2000 to 2011 researchers followed nearly a million people, including 89,000 current smokers, and concluded that smoking increased the risk of deaths from diseases not previously associated with the habit, according to the New York Times.

“The smoking epidemic is still ongoing, and there is a need to evaluate how smoking is hurting us as a society, to support clinicians and policy making in public health,” Brian D. Carter, head author of the study told the Times.

The study found that smokers were twice as likely to die from kidney failure, fatal infections and possibly even breast and prostate cancers in addition to the 21 diseases already linked to smoking.

Because it is unethical to direct people to start smoking for a study, the findings are observational and only prove a correlation, not causation. However, Carter has faith in the study because smoking is already known to create risk factors, such as a weakened immune system and artery disease, which contribute to the newly linked ailments.

Finally, the facts that heavier smokers were at a higher risk and that ex-smokers saw the dangers decrease over time added to Carter’s confidence in the study.

[New York Times]

TIME Cancer

Lung Cancer Now Kills More Women Than Breast Cancer in Developed Countries

The lingering effects of the tobacco epidemic are partly driving the shift

For years, breast cancer has been the leading cause of cancer death among women in developed countries, but according to a new report on the incidence of cancer worldwide from the American Cancer Society, lung cancer now surpasses it.

A combination of early breast cancer detection efforts and the lingering effects of the tobacco epidemic drove the shift, says lead report author Lindsey Torre, an American Cancer Society researcher. The study, which was published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and used data from 2012, reported that lung cancer killed 209,000 women in developed countries in 2012, while 197,000 women died of breast cancer.

“We know now that in a lot of developed countries among women, smoking is on the decline,” says Torre, noting that new lung cancer infections today are the result of habits formed decades ago. “The good news is that we can probably expect to see these lung cancer mortality rates peak and start to decline as times go by.”

Read more: The Cancer Breakthrough With Big Implications

The report emphasized the growing incidence of cancer in the developing world. Lung cancer was the leading killer of men in developing countries and breast cancer the leading cause of death for women.

In part, these growing numbers can be attributed to an aging population, a trend that is affecting the world at large. And as the developing world continues to westernize, people in developing countries are increasingly likely to smoke, be overweight and rarely engage in psychical activity, Torre says.

“We’re seeing the burden of cancer shift to developing countries, so they’re taking on an increasing portion of the global cancer burden,” she says.

Cancer killed 8.2 million people worldwide and 1.6 million in the United States in 2012.

TIME Cancer

Here’s Why It’s Important That Scientists Have Figured Out How to Unboil Egg Whites

Scientist Brown moves a 3D model of a HSP90 protein on a screen at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton
Stefan Wermuth—Reuters Scientist Nathan Brown moves a 3D model of a HSP90 protein on a screen at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, England, on July 15, 2013

The discovery could mean cheaper production of cancer-fighting antibodies

A group of University of California, Irvine, and Australian chemists have discovered how to unboil egg whites, potentially slashing costs for cancer treatment and food production.

The discovery could be a financial boon to the biotechnology industry because scientists have long struggled to efficiently recycle molecular proteins, forcing manufacturers of cancer antibodies to use more expensive methods, according a press release by UC Irvine.

Cheap proteins have a tendency to fold into structurally flawed shapes and the current recycling process is both expensive and time consuming. By contrast, the new method could make utilizing cheap proteins viable for many types of research.

For cancer treatments, pharmaceutical companies currently use expensive hamster ovary cells because they rarely fold incorrectly. The hope is that the boiled egg method can be applied to cheaper proteins such as yeast or E. coli bacteria, facilitating the more efficient and economical production of antibodies.

“In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold,” said Gregory Weiss, UC Irvine professor of chemistry, molecular biology and biochemistry. “The new process takes minutes … It speeds things up by a factor of thousands.”

Industrial cheese producers could also use the method to achieve a larger yield.

TIME Cancer

Many Breast Cancer Patients Don’t Understand Their Condition, Study Says

The disparity is particularly pronounced for minority women

Many breast cancer patients don’t understand the details of their disease, according to a new study. While many believed they understood the grade, stage and type of tumor, only 20% to 58% identified those characteristics correctly.

The study, published Monday in the journal Cancer, found that minority women fared particularly poorly in identifying their tumor characteristics, a finding that remained true even as researchers controlled for factors like education. The lack of understanding about their own disease makes it difficult for patients to make informed medical decisions and to follow prescribed treatments, said study author and Harvard Medical School professor Rachel Freedman.

“Our results illustrate the lack of understanding many patients have about their cancers and have identified a critical need for improved patient education and provider awareness of this issue,” Freedman said.

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