Porcupine quills are sharp AF and inspiring a new kind of surgical staple

From Deep Look:

The quills of North American porcupines have microscopic backward-facing barbs on the tips. Those barbs make the quills slide in easy but very difficult to remove.

Researchers at Harvard are looking to porcupine quills for inspiration in designing a new type of surgical staple that would also use tiny barbs to keep itself lodged into the patient’s skin. This helps because traditional staples curve in under the skin to keep the staple in place. This creates more damage and can provide a place for bacteria to infect the wound.

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Do you suffer from latchkey incontinence?

In a recent scientific study on overactive urinary bladder syndrome, researchers used the term "latchkey incontinence" to describe "the loss of urine that occurs when one arrives home and puts the key in the lock of one’s front door." From MEL Magazine:

According to Jamin Brahmbhatt, a urologist in Florida, peeing is a much more complex dance between the mind and body than you might think. “The ability to control how you urinate requires a balance between the muscles and your nerves around your bladder and your urethra working in synch,” he explains. “Some of these functions happen automatically, and some require manual control by the muscles that you naturally control. So when urine is filling up inside your bladder, your bladder naturally expands. When you go to the bathroom, your sphincter around your urethra will relax and your bladder will start to squeeze. This process sounds simple, but it does require the muscles around your urethra, which we call your pelvic floor, to all work and synch.”

He continues, “To keep your bladder healthy, I recommend my patients empty their bladder before they start having extreme ‘got-to-go’ feelings. There’s only so much the bladder can tolerate, and this process gets more complicated with the presence of a prostate, which naturally grows as men get older. All these processes can also be affected by diabetes, strokes, infections and many other medical problems.”

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Curious robotic syringe-in-a-pill completes successful human trial

The RaniPill is another syringe that you can swallow to deliver drugs to the bloodstream from the inside. It's triggered by an interesting and complex mechanism involving a chemical reaction that inflates a tiny polymer balloon to push the needle into the intestinal wall. Rani Therapeutics just completed a successful 20-person trial using a pill that shoots blanks. From IEEE Spectrum:

Working from the outside in, the RaniPill consists of a special coating that protects the pill from the stomach’s acidic juices. Then, as the pill is pushed into the intestines and pH levels rise to about 6.5, the coating dissolves to reveal a deflated biocompatible polymer balloon.

Upon exposure to the intestinal environment, a tiny pinch point made of sugar inside the balloon dissolves, causing two chemicals trapped on either side of the pinch point to mix and produce carbon dioxide. That gas inflates the balloon, and the pressure of the inflating balloon pushes a dissolvable microneedle filled with a drug of choice into the wall of the intestines. Human intestines lack sharp pain receptors, so the micro-shot is painless.

The intestinal wall does, however, have lots and lots of blood vessels, so the drug is quickly taken up into the bloodstream, according to the company’s animal studies. The needle itself dissolves...

Participants passed the remnants of the balloon within 1-4 days.

(Founder Mir) Imran calls the device a robot though it has no electrical parts and no metal. “Even though it has no brains and no electronics, it [works through] an interplay between material science and the chemistry of the body,” says Imran.

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Incredibly rare pair of semi-identical twins

Semi-identical twins -- a boy and girl who are identical on their mother's side but share only 78% of their father's genome -- have been identified in Brisbane, Australia. This is only the second known case, ever. From the BBC:

"The mother's ultrasound at six weeks showed a single placenta and positioning of amniotic sacs that indicated she was expecting identical twins," (said Prof Nicholas Fisk whose team at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospita cared for the children when they were born in 2014).

"However, an ultrasound at 14 weeks showed the twins were male and female, which is not possible for identical twins."

If one egg is fertilised by two sperm, it results in three sets of chromosomes, rather than the standard two - one from the mother and two from the father.

And, according to researchers, three sets of chromosomes are "typically incompatible with life and embryos do not usually survive".

The identity of the twins has not been revealed.

A scientific paper about these rare humans was published the New England Journal of Medicine: "Molecular Support for Heterogonesis Resulting in Sesquizygotic Twinning"

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Syringe-pill injects you on the inside

Biomedical engineers prototyped a pill that integrates a syringe to inject insulin into the floor of the stomach. From Science News:

The shape is designed to guide the device to rest, cap down, on the floor of the stomach. There, it sticks a needle tip composed almost entirely of insulin a few millimeters into the mucus membrane lining the stomach. Once the insulin needle tip dissolves, the device passes through the rest of the digestive system.

Thanks to the dearth of sharp pain receptors inside the stomach, the tiny injection “is unlikely to cause any discomfort,” says study coauthor Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and MIT.

"An ingestible self-orienting system for oral delivery of macromolecules" (Science) Read the rest

This toilet seat checks your heart health

Smart toilets that analyze urine and poop in the bowl have been demonstrated for years, but now Rochester Institute of Technology engineers have integrated multiple kinds of biosensors into the toilet's seat. The WiFi-enable systems tracks EEG, blood oxygen levels, and the heart's pumping force. From IEEE Spectrum:

If the monitoring system works as expected, the device could help catch early signs of heart decline and decrease the number of hospitalizations for heart patients.

To test their seat, the team gathered blood pressure and blood oxygenation measurements from 18 volunteers in a laboratory who were instructed to sit on the seat but not urinate, defecate, or talk. Urination and defecation can shift readings since they put minor stress on the body, says Conn. While the system currently operates with algorithms that analyze signal quality, in the future Conn also plans to incorporate algorithms to identify and reject those inevitable bathroom moments from the data set. But even if a person is fidgety on the toilet and the system fails to record a clean signal, there is always the next time. “If you’re not going to pick it up in the morning, you might pick it up at night. People are going to continuously use this seat,” says (researcher Nicholas) Conn.

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Smart jock strap: testicle sensor device helps improve sperm count

Fertility doctors often advise men that wearing boxers instead of briefs lowers scrotal temperature and possibly increase sperm count. The CoolMen device takes that idea to the extreme, instrumenting the wearer's testicles with temperature, pulse, and motion sensors while also cupping them in a specific position conducive to coolness. From the Polish start-up CoolTec:

CoolMen is an innovative device that stabilizes the temperature of the testicles in the optimum range. In a short time, CoolMen significantly improves semen parameters, contributing to increased fertility of the pair.

CoolMen can record data about temperature and time of use as well as types of activity (sleep, sitting, physical activity) by wirelessly transferring it to the mobile application on the smartphone. These data can then be analyzed by the andrologist to improve the treatment process...

CoolMen has been designed to be completely invisible under clothing, providing full discretion during use.

CoolMen (CoolTec)

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Sealing up wounds with a laser beam

OK, it's not quite Dr. Crusher's dermal regenerator (seen above), but Arizona State University researchers have demonstrated a laser system for sealing wounds. The system involves a sealing paste -- made from silk protein mixed with gold nanorods -- that bonds with skin when heated with a laser. From IEEE Spectrum:

To use a laser to seal skin, one must focus the heat of the light using some sort of photoconverter. (Chemical engineer Caushal) Rege’s lab opted for gold nanorods and embedded them in a silk protein matrix purified from silkworm cocoons. A silk protein called fibroin binds to collagen, the structural protein that holds together human skin cells. When near-infrared light hits the gold nanorods, they produce heat and activate the silk and skin to create bonds, forming a sturdy seal...

They are currently watching how the laser-activated seals hold up in living rats. If that goes well, they’ll move to pigs, and perhaps eventually, humans.

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New 3D printed corneas could save millions of people's vision

Researchers have spent decades exploring methods to 3D print organs for transplant but progress is slow due to the complex structure of, say, a kidney or pancreas. Precise Bio, a startup founded by scientists from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, claim that the first real success will come from 3D-printed corneas. They've already conducted animal studies and are building a roadmap toward human trials. From IEEE Spectrum:

Corneas could be the first mainstream application of bioprinting, (Precise Bio CEO Aryeh) Batt says, in part because they have a layered structure that’s a good match for the technology. Each layer consists of different types of cells and fibers, which the printer could lay down in sequence, and these layers don’t contain blood vessels or nerves. What’s more, putting a new kind of transplant in the eye is inherently safer than implanting one deep in the body, since physicians could easily check for signs of trouble and could remove the tissue if anything seemed wrong.

There’s certainly a need for more corneas in the world, says Kevin Corcoran, president and CEO of the Eye Bank Association of America. In 2017, his members supplied nearly 51,000 transplantable corneas to patients in the United States, and also sent more than 26,000 abroad. Internationally, “there is a tremendous amount of unmet demand,” he says. “It’s estimated that 10 million people suffer from corneal blindness globally, primarily because they lack access to effective and affordable treatment.”

Part of Precise Bio’s proprietary approach is its printer, which uses a technique called laser-induced forward transfer to propel droplets of bioinks onto a surface.

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Swallow this vibrator to relieve constipation

Currently undergoing clinical trials, the Vibrant capsule is a tiny vibrator inside a capsule that you swallow to relieve constipation. Don't worry though because according to the web site, "the capsule is controlled by an algorithm." Whew. From Vibrant Ltd:

Constipation relief is achieved by the capsule’s vibrations on the large intestinal wall, consequently inducing natural peristaltic activity, generating additional spontaneous bowel movements.

The capsule is activated by a base unit that transfers the data to the capsule.

The capsule operates inside the large intestine and is washed out of the body with the bowel movement. It meets the highest safety standards, using biocompatible materials.

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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

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