Boy's head impaled by skewer after yellowjacket attack, and he's doing just fine

Xavier Cunningham, age 10 of Kansas City, Kansas, was climbing up to a tree house when yellow jackets attacked. Cunningham fell several feet from the ladder and impaled his head on a meat skewer. University of Kansas surgeons removed the skewer during a several hour operation. Cunningham is doing quite well and expected to be released in a few days. From Fox4KC:

"He was more upset about the yellow jackets than he was about the metal piece sticking out of his face," (Cunnigham's dad Shannon) Miller said.

"It missed his brain. It missed his brain stem. It missed the nerves, everything that`s valuable in your head. It missed everything," Xavier's dad said...

"Only God could have directed things to happen in a way that would save him like this," he said. "It really was a miracle."

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How to tell if a comatose patient is actually conscious

Neurologist Steven Laureys is an expert on the mysteries of consciousness. A researcher and clinician at the Belgian National Fund of Scientific Research he's known for testing comatose patients for any hidden signs of consciousness. From Scientific American's interview with Laureys:

So how is it possible to study something as complex as consciousness?

There are a number of ways to go about it, and the technology we have at our disposal is crucial in this regard. For example, without brain scanners we would know much, much less than we now do. We study the damaged brains of people who have at least partially lost consciousness. We examine what happens during deep sleep, when people temporarily lose consciousness. We’ve also been working with Buddhist monks because we know that meditation can trigger alterations in the brain; connections that are important in the networks involved in consciousness show changes in activity. Hypnosis and anesthesia can also teach us a great deal about consciousness. In Lige, surgeons routinely operate on patients under hypnosis ( including Queen Fabiola of Belgium). Just as under anesthesia, the connections between certain brain areas are less active under hypnosis. And finally, we are curious to understand what near-death experiences can tell us about consciousness. What does it mean that some people feel they are leaving their bodies, whereas others suddenly feel elated?

Patients are brought to Lige from all over Europe to undergo testing. How do you determine whether they are conscious?

Well, of course, the physician will say, “Squeeze my hand”—but this time while the patient is in a brain scanner.

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Mysterious moving lump on woman's face turned out to be a worm

Over five days, a 32-year-old woman in Russia took selfies to document a strange lump on her face that moved from under her left eye to above it and then later to her lip. She finally visited a physician who reported a "superficial moving oblong nodule at the left upper eyelid." Turns out, she had a particular kind of parasitic worm, Dirofilaria repens, living under her skin. From Live Science:

Humans are "accidental" hosts — in other words, not where the worms want to end up — and once a worm gets into a human, it typically can't reproduce.

The worms are spread by mosquito bites, and human cases have been reported in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa, the 2011 report said. The Russian woman said she had recently traveled to a rural area outside Moscow and was frequently bitten by mosquitoes, according to the new report (in the New England Journal of Medicine)...

The Russian woman had the worm removed and made a full recovery, the report said.

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Ebola outbreak in Congo has spread to city of one million people

The latest Ebola outbreak in Congo has moved from the rural area in which is was first discovered to Mbandaka: a city home to approximately one million people. That the disease has spread to an area with such a dense population is extremely troubling all on its own. Add to this the fact that Mbandaka is a major transportation hub with an airport, river traffic and direct transport options to Kinshasa, Congo's capital city, and you've got a scenario with the potential to keep World Health Organization personnel awake at night.

From the BBC

Forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died.

Confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola have been recorded in three health zones of Congo's Equateur province, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

The WHO's Peter Salama said health workers had identified 430 people who may have had contact with the disease and were working to trace more than 4,000 contacts of Ebola patients, who had spread across northwest Congo.

As part of efforts to stem the spread of the often deadly disease, drug manufacturer, Merick, shipped 4,000 doses of an unlicensed Ebola vaccine to Congo that was proven to have been effective in a previous outbreak of the disease in West Africa. There's just one problem: the vaccine needs to be stored between -60 and -80 Celsius. In a first world country, that mightn't be an issue--we've the facilities and infrastructure to make chilling the vaccine to those temperatures a piece of cake. Read the rest

Mouth sensor keeps tabs on your sodium intake

Approximately 36 million people in the United States have high blood pressure and many could do with reducing their sodium intake. But how do you even monitor your intake accurately? Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed a flexible sensor that goes in your mouth for real-time sensing of how much salt is in those french fries you're munching. It then sends the data to your phone to alert you of your sodium intake. From IEEE Spectrum:

W. Hong Yeo, an assistant professor of micro and nano engineering who led the research team, says it would also be possible to stick the sensor directly to the tongue or the roof of the mouth, or to laminate it onto a tooth. The soft retainer they used in this experiment was just phase one. “For the first prototype device, we wanted to offer easy handling and cleaning capability via the integration with a soft retainer,” he said.

Yeo says the biggest challenge was making the entire electronic device soft, flexible, and comfortable enough to wear in the mouth. So the team designed a chip that uses stretchable circuits mounted on an ultrathin porous membrane.

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Man donates frostbitten digits to Canadian bar to use as a cocktail garnish

British Adventurer Nick Griffiths sustained severe frostbite in three of his toes while mucking about in the Canadian Yukon a couple of months ago. He'd been competing in the Yukon Arctic Ultra race when exposure to the damp, extreme cold of Canada's far north did to him what it does. Despite the time he'd taken to convalesce from his injuries, Griffiths was told by doctors in England that they would have to amputate three of his toes to stave off infection. Griffiths asked to keep his dismembered digits and his surgeons were happy to comply. They gave Griffiths his three detached little piggies, preserved in liquid-filled bottles. 

The question of what to do with the toes was an easy one for Griffiths to answer. According to the CBC, the adventurer has offered to donate them to Dawson City's Sourdough Saloon to be served up in cocktails for punters with a taste for human feet.

As any Canadian will tell you (I'm pretty sure they include the fact on our citizenship test), the Downtown Hotel serves up a unique cocktail: The Sourtoe. The ingredients of a Sourtoe Cocktail are simple, but kind of hard to come by: a shot of whisky and a severed human toe. Once the drink has been downed, it's tradition that the toe be returned to the Sourdough Saloon's bartender to be reused. But that doesn't always happen. People have run off with one of the toes in the past and, in 2013, some tool decided to swallow it along with his booze. Read the rest

Surgical resident judges the accuracy of medical scenes from film and TV

In this Wired video, Columbia University general surgery resident Annie Onishi watches ER and operating room scenes from some film and TV scenes, including Uma Thurman's adrenaline-to-the-heart one in Pulp Fiction, and gives her professional opinion on their accuracy. Although it's 20 minutes long, it's entertaining, so give it a watch... STAT.

Wired notes:

Correction: We misidentified the type of worm in the Grey's Anatomy episode at 5:23! It was actually Ascaris lumbricoides,not Strongyloides

Previously: Doctors diagnose the bad guys' injuries in 'Home Alone' Read the rest

You need to drill a hole in your head like you need a hole in the head

Back in 1999, I wrote a Boing Boing Digital article called "Head Like A Hole," about trepanation, the intentional drilling of a hole in your skull for medical reasons or, according to its contemporary DIY practitioners, to achieve higher consciousness. But while trepanation has been around since ancient times, Katherine Foxhall argues that the commonly-held belief that the procedure was once used to cure migraines is just a myth. From Smithsonian:

In 1902, the Journal of Mental Science published a lecture by Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton, a London physician well-known for his work on pharmacology and ideas about migraine pathology. The lecture mixed neurological theory and armchair anthropology, and ranged over subjects including premonitions, telepathy, hypnotism, hallucinations, and epileptic and migrainous aura. In one notable passage, Brunton proposed that visions of fairies and the sound of their jingling bells were “nothing more” than the zigzags of migraine aura, and the aural results of nerve centre stimulation.

Brunton proposed that openings bored into ancient Stone Age skulls during life had been made to cure migraine. His suggestion followed considerable excitement during the 1870s when the French physician and anthropologist Paul Broca claimed that ancient skulls discovered in Peru and France had not only been opened surgically during life in order to release evil spirits, but that the patients had survived. To Brunton, it seemed obvious that the holes would have been made at the request of migraine sufferers in order to “let the headache out”.

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LED onesie to treat babies with jaundice

About 5 to 10 percent of newborns need phototherapy to treat jaundice. Rather than put them in bassinets under special lights while wearing eye protection, a new garment woven with optically-conductive fibers could enable them to be treated and cuddled simultaneously. From Smithsonian:

“Currently, newborn babies need to stay naked under strong blue light, with eye protection, and away from their mothers,” says Luciano Boesel, a textile scientist at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. “We wanted to develop a portable textile system that babies could use, so that the treatment could eventually even be performed at home, together with their parents.”

...The new textile is an improvement over previous treatments in that it’s breathable, washable, and can be worn directly next to the baby’s skin, Boesel says. The team found that the weaving process that produced the best result in terms of light penetration is the process that produces satin. In the satin weave, the optical threads don’t cross with the traditional thread very often, which maximizes light available to be emitted over the skin. It also makes the fabric quite soft. The fabric can be sewn into pajamas where the light-emitting part faces in, so no light is shining towards the baby’s eyes, meaning there’s no need for sunglasses.

"POF-yarn weaves: controlling the light out-coupling of wearable phototherapy devices" (Biomedical Optics Express)

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This robot crawls up your butt to examine your colon

A colonoscopy is a very unpleasant selfie. The medical procedure involves having a long, thin, flexible camera inserted up your rectum and into your large intestine to look for ulcers, polyps, and tumors. Nobody looks forward to this. To improve the process, researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder's Advanced Medical Technologies Laboratory designed a worm-like soft robot that employs a wavelike motion, similar to the way the bowel moves, to make its way up your large intestine. From their research abstract:

Traditional colonoscopy requires highly trained personnel to be performed. Additionally, current devices may cause discomfort and carry the risk of perforating the bowel wall. In this paper, a soft three modular section robot is designed, modeled, controlled and tested. Each of the robotic sections has three degrees of freedom, one translation and two rotations. The robot uses a peristaltic motion to translate, inspired by the motion generated by the bowel.

The robot uses nine independently controlled Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) springs as its actuators and a novel silicone rubber skin provides the passive recovery force to expand the springs to their original state. It also incorporates three air tubes, one for each section, to provide forced convection reducing the cooling time of the SMA springs.

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The daring doctors experimenting with psychedelic medicines

Rolling Stone's Mac McClelland tells the story of the physicians bravely breaking the law by treating patients with MDMA, ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, and other hallucinogens. From RS:

As an internal-medicine specialist, Dr. X doesn't have any patients who come to him seeking psychotherapy. But the longer he does the work, the more "I'm seeing that consciousness correlates to disease," he says. "Every disease." Narcolepsy. Cataplexy. Crohn's. Diabetes – one patient's psychedelic therapy preceded a 30 percent reduction in fasting blood-sugar levels. Sufferers of food allergies discover in their journeys that they've been internally attacking themselves. "Consciousness is so vastly undervalued," Dr. X says. "We use it in every other facet in our life and esteem the intellectual part of it, but deny the emotional or intuitive part of it." Psychedelic therapy "reinvigorated my passion and belief in healing. I think it's the best tool to achieving well-being, so I feel morally and ethically compelled to open up that space."...

"If we didn't have some idea about the potential importance of these medicines, we wouldn't be researching them," says Dr. Jeffrey Guss, psychiatry professor at NYU Medical Center and co-investigator of the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Project. "Their value has been written about and is well known from thousands of years of recorded history, from their being used in religious and healing settings. Their potential and their being worthy of exploration and study speaks for itself."

Optimistic insiders think that if all continues to go well, within 10 to 15 years some psychedelics could be legally administrable to the public, not just for specific conditions but even for personal growth.

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Thinnest-ever electronic tattoos are capable of precision health monitoring

The graphene temporary tattoo seen here is the thinnest epidermal electronic device ever and according to the University of Texas at Austin researchers who developed it, the device can take some medical measurements as accurately as bulky wearable sensors like EKG monitors. From IEEE Spectrum:

Graphene’s conformity to the skin might be what enables the high-quality measurements. Air gaps between the skin and the relatively large, rigid electrodes used in conventional medical devices degrade these instruments’ signal quality. Newer sensors that stick to the skin and stretch and wrinkle with it have fewer airgaps, but because they’re still a few micrometers thick, and use gold electrodes hundreds of nanometers thick, they can lose contact with the skin when it wrinkles. The graphene in the Texas researchers’ device is 0.3-nm thick. Most of the tattoo’s bulk comes from the 463-nm-thick polymer support.

The next step is to add an antenna to the design so that signals can be beamed off the device to a phone or computer, says (electrical engineer Deji) Akinwande.

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Patient's fart in surgery causes fire, severe burns

A patient at Tokyo Medical University Hospital was undergoing laser surgery on her uterus when she farted, apparently starting a fire that badly burnt her.

"When the patient's intestinal gas leaked into the space of the operation (room), it ignited with the irradiation of the laser, and the burning spread, eventually reaching the surgical drape and causing the fire," according to a report from the hospital.

(The Straits Times) Read the rest

Teenager dies from hickey

A 17-year-old boy in Mexico City has died after reportedly receiving a hickey from his 24-year-old girlfriend. According to physicians, the hickey suction likely caused a blood clot that traveled to his brain, resulting in a deadly stroke. It's rare for a hickey to cause a stroke but it does happen. From WWMT:

In a 2010 case... reported in a New Zealand Medical Journal where a 44-year-old woman was rushed to the hospital after losing movement in her arm due to a hickey on her neck, Doctors weren't sure why the woman was having a stroke, but then noticed a bruise on her neck and realized the suction on a major artery created a blood clot. According to an interview with the doctor who treated the woman, Dr Teddy Whu, the clot was in the "artery underneath where the hickey was" (and the clot traveled to the woman's heart.)

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This is the country's largest collection of brains

When the zombie apocalypse breaks out, the Harvard Brain Bank will resemble the scene at a cheap casino buffet's peel-and-eat shrimp table.

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This tiny camera can be injected with a syringe

University of Stuttgart researchers used 3D printing to fabricate a tiny three-lens camera that fits on the end of an optical fiber no wider than two human hairs. Eventually, the technology could lead to a new kind of very thin endoscope for looking inside the human body. According to the researchers, the camera delivered "high optical performances and tremendous compactness." From Phys.org:

(The camera) can focus on images from a distance of 3.0 mm, and relay them over the length of a 1.7-metre (5.6-foot) optical fibre to which it is attached.

The "imaging system" fits comfortably inside a standard syringe needle, said the team, allowing for delivery into a human organ, or even the brain.

"Endoscopic applications will allow for non-invasive and non-destructive examination of small objects in the medical as well as the industrial sector," they wrote (in their scientific paper).

Below, the lens (blue) was fabricated directly on the optical fiber (red). The fiber and camera are emerging from a hollow, 27 gauge syringe needle:

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Elderly man kills wife because they couldn't afford her medicine

William J. Hager of Port St. Lucie, Florida is a 86 year old man who confessed to shooting his 76 year old wife, Carolyn Hager, in her sleep, because the couple could no longer afford her medications, leaving her in pain and wanting to die. Read the rest

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