The Model 3, The “Diabetes Vaccine,” and CTE | Vol. 4 / No. 40

The Model 3 has arrived | Photo: Tesla

This week we’ve got stories on the release of the Tesla Model 3 into the wild, a story about a Type 1 Diabetes vaccine that’s not really what it seems, and more evidence that football isn’t good for your brain. It’s the weekly roundup for Sunday, July 30, 2017!

Model 3 Day

Friday, to a great deal of fanfare, Elon Musk presented the first production models of the Tesla Model 3 to the world. Of the first fifty, thirty are going to customers, and the other twenty are going toward what he referred to as “engineering validation,” probably crash tests and the like. In typical Musk fashion, he showed a side-impact video comparison between the Model 3 and a Volvo, and then called the Volvo a great car, “probably the second safest car in the world,” to laughter and cheers. He also took a few minutes to plug the details of the Model 3 itself. There will be two versions, the $35,000 (before subsidy) version, with a 220 mile range, a 5.6-second 0-60, and a 130 mph top speed, and the $44,000 version, with a 310 mile range, 5.1-second 0-60, and 140 mph top speed. Both boast a spartan aesthetic, a host of technologies that will likely lead to full automation in the coming years, and will probably be delivered by the end of 2018. In the meantime, Musk said, if you want a Model S or X, you’re now only looking at a 1-2 month wait. He also indicated that by the end of next year there will be triple the number of supercharger stations worldwide, and that the Gigafactory is already the largest battery factory in the world, even as it continues its expansion. The real genius of the Model 3 isn’t, of course, the price point or the aesthetic (both of which are fundamentally important), but rather it’s the desirability he’s been able to manufacture in the buying population. People want electric cars now, to the point where traditional car manufacturers are working as hard as they can to keep up and compete. Just like there were smartphones before the iPhone (and ones that were arguably better), what Apple did was to create a caché that caused a boom in sales. That’s precisely what Musk has done for the electric car industry, and yesterday was a celebration of that. I can’t wait to see more of them in the wild. You can watch the announcement below.

 

Coxsackie B4 | Photo: CDC, CC0 (Public Domain)

Diabetes Vaccine?

This week I read a story that has a lot of promise, but needs a bit of tempering. The magazine Futurism ran a story called “A Vaccine for Type 1 Diabetes Is Headed for Human Trials in 2018.” And it’s very exciting, but not really the whole story. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that results in your own body destroying the beta cells in your pancreas that produce insulin (not to be confused with Type 2, which is often diet and lifestyle related in cause). What causes Type 1? We’re not sure. And that’s the problem. See, if you don’t know what causes a thing, you can’t make a vaccine for it.

So here’s the real story: a team of researchers at the University of Tampere, in Finland, has been working for decades on the idea that Type 1 Diabetes is caused, in some individuals, by a malfunction of the immune system that can be especially triggered by exposure to a certain family of viruses, called enteroviruses. We know that Type 1 Diabetes is genetically linked, because you’re a lot more likely to get it if you have a family member with it. So what they’re exploring is the idea that these viruses might serve as a trigger. And they’ve made a vaccine to protect against certain, promising enteroviruses to test that hypothesis. You’re already vaccinated against at least one enterovirus: Polio. But there are plenty of others out there that don’t even appear to make you sick. You might not even know if you’ve had one, or it might’ve given you what you thought was a cold or the flu. So, because they think they know how it might work, they’ve made a vaccine against ones in the subfamily of enteroviruses called Coxsackievirus B. First they’re going to test for human safety (they’ve already done mice), then they’re going to test for human effectiveness against Coxsackie B, and finally, if those succeed, they’re going to test in a bunch of children and see if they get a statistically significant reduction in the number of Type 1 Diabetes cases. Which could take eight years. So: Yes, it’s very promising. Yes, a vaccine that could potentially prevent Type 1 Diabetes is going to human trials in 2018. But we’re doing it because we’re tying to find out if it’s the cause, not because we know it’s the cause. And that’s a distinction worth making. You can read the Tampere press release here, and read about the connection between enteroviruses and Type 1 Diabetes here.

Photo: Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, CC BY-SA 4.0

CTE

A new story hit the interwebs this week about the prevalence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (better known as CTE) in the Football-playing population, especially in the NFL. In the results of the study, of 111 former NFL players, 110 were diagnosed with the disease, which is marked by sometimes severe atrophy of the brain tissues. It’s a pretty damning result, but even so it’s worth remembering also how these brains were selected for. People and their families don’t donate their brains if they think nothing’s wrong, so in a sense it’s to be expected that they’d find something. On the other hand, the fact that it’s specifically CTE in 99% of the cases suggests very very strongly that there’s a correlative link in there. Unfortunately, what’s really needed is the ability to test for CTE in the wider football-playing population, which is a problem because you can’t actually see it right now without, well, removing the brain. And that’s generally considered a little too invasive for a test. If nothing else, this study confirms the need for new means of testing, and for more investment in research—especially research not funded by interested parties. You can read more about the study at NPR.

 

Best of the Rest

There’s always more than I can cover each week, so here it is, your weekly linkspam!

And today I’ll leave you with this clip from Jimmy Kimmel, of Snoop Dogg narrating the “baby iguana evades about a billion hungry snakes” video from BBC’s Planet Earth.

Have a great week.

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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.

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