A treadmill that trips you... for science

As part of research on how to make better prosthetic legs, Vanderbilt University engineers put people on a treadmill and made them stumble. Over and over. By better understanding peoples' stumble reflex, they hope to improve the computer-controlled stumble response in prosthetics. But to learn how people catch themselves, they had to trip them first. And that required building a stumble device into a treadmill. From Vanderbilt University:

Andrés Martínez strode briskly on the treadmill, staring straight ahead and counting backwards by seven from 898, a trick to keep his brain from anticipating the literal stumbling block heading his way: a compact 35 pounds of steel specifically designed to make him fall.

Special goggles kept him from looking down. Arrows on an eye-level screen kept him from walking off the sides. A harness attached to a ceiling beam kept him safe. Sure enough, when a computer program released the steel block, it glided onto the treadmill, and the Vanderbilt University PhD student struggled to stay on his feet...

“Not only did our treadmill device have to trip them, it had to trip them at specific points in their gait,” said Shane King, a PhD student and lead author on the paper. “People stumble differently depending on when their foot hits a barrier. The device also had to overcome their fear of falling, so they couldn’t see or feel when the block was coming.”

"A novel system for introducing precisely-controlled, unanticipated gait perturbations for the study of stumble recovery" (Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation) Read the rest

Fecal transplant blamed in death

Fecal transplants are the hottest thing in emergent medicine, restoring balance to guts nuked by antibiotics and resistant infections, but there are risks. DIY is not the way to go...

Two patients contracted severe infections, and one of them died, from fecal transplants that contained drug-resistant bacteria, the Food and Drug Administration reported on Thursday. As a result, the agency is halting a number of clinical trials until the researchers conducting them can demonstrate that they have procedures in place to screen donated stool for dangerous organisms, said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the agency’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. In an interview, he did not specify how many trials would be suspended, but said it was “not just a few.”

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First drone delivery of organ for human transplant

My late brother Mark was a transplant surgeon. He told me how sometimes he'd be woken up in the middle of the night to fly to a nearby city to retrieve, say, a kidney, from someone who had just died (frequently in a motorcycle crash), then carry the organ on a plane to another city where he'd install the kidney into a waiting patient, and then fly back home. (He felt it important to personally retrieve the organ that he'd then be transplanting.) I thought of that process while reading about the first drone delivery of a donated kidney that resulted in a successful transplant for a 40-year-old woman who had been on dialysis for 8 years. The drone delivery system was designed by researchers from the University of Maryland and organ donation nonprofit the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland. The kidney only traveled three miles but was a major step forward. From the New York Times:

The team’s leader, Dr. Joseph R. Scalea, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he pursued the project after constant frustration over organs taking too long to reach his patients. After organs are removed from a donor, they become less healthy with each passing second. He recalled one case when a kidney from Alabama took 29 hours to reach his hospital.

The drone used in this month’s test had backup propellers and motors, dual batteries and a parachute recovery system, to guard against catastrophe if one component encountered a problem 400 feet in the air.

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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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HPV immunization has "wiped out cases of cervical pre-cancer" in Scotland

In the UK, the routine vaccination of young girls has virtually eradicated new cases of cervical cancer associated with human papilomavirus.

Researchers said the vaccine has nearly wiped out cases of cervical pre-cancer in young women since an immunisation programme was introduced 10 years ago. They found the vaccine had led to a 90% cut in pre-cancerous cells. And they said the effects of the programme had "exceeded expectations". Over the last decade, schoolgirls across the UK have routinely received the HPV vaccine when they are 12 or 13.

Boys are now vaccinated too.

HPV vaccination is very controversial in America and only a few states require it. Studies show that getting the vaccine doesn't increase risky sexual behavior among teens, but to be discussing it that way in the first place accepts a frame of reference that can never allow progress. Loudly, the arguments are about whether "risky sex" is worse than cancer. Quietly, the arguments are about God punishing those who have sex before marriage. To participate in debates like this is to instantly lose them. Read the rest

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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Shapeshifting microrobots to travel through your bloodstream

Continuing the quest to design robots that could travel through our bodies to deliver drugs and cure disease, researchers at EPFL and ETH Zurich demonstrated tiny shape-shifting microrobots that swim through blood vessels. Made from hydrogel nanocomposites, the microbots can fold into various shapes for easy travel through tight spaces and flowing with dense, viscous, or fast-moving liquids. The microbots are peppered with magnetic nanoparticles so that they can be "steered" with an external magnetic field. From EPFL:

“Our robots have a special composition and structure that allow them to adapt to the characteristics of the fluid they are moving through. For instance, if they encounter a change in viscosity or osmotic concentration, they modify their shape to maintain their speed and maneuverability without losing control of the direction of motion,” says (EPFL researcher Selman) Sakar.

These deformations can be “programmed” in advance so as to maximize performance without the use of cumbersome sensors or actuators. The robots can be either controlled using an electromagnetic field or left to navigate on their own through cavities by utilizing fluid flow. Either way, they will automatically morph into the most efficient shape.

"Smart microrobots that can adapt to their surroundings" (EPFL)

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The surgeon who removed his own appendix

On April 29, 1961, Dr. Leonid Rogozov was in Antarctica in a blizzard when his stomach began to hurt. Badly. The only physician on the Soviet Antarctic Expedition, Rogozov realized his appendix needed to come out before it burst and killed him. Rogozov's only choice was to take the matter into his hands. He roped in a meteorologist and a driver to assist. From MDLinx:

Dr. Rogozov assumed a semi-reclined position designed to allow him to perform the operation with minimal use of a mirror...

“It was frequently necessary to raise my head in order to see better, and sometimes I had to work entirely by feel,” Dr. Rogozov wrote. “General weakness became severe after 30 to 40 minutes, and vertigo developed, so that short pauses for rest were necessary.”

Toward the end of the operation, Dr. Rogozov nearly lost consciousness and he feared he would not survive....

After resection of the severely diseased vermiform appendix (including a 2 × 2 cm perforation at the base), antibiotics were introduced into the peritoneal cavity, and he closed the wound...

Understandably, he described his postoperative condition as “moderately poor,” although signs of peritonitis resolved during the next 4 days. At 5 days post-surgery, his fever diminished, and the sutures were removed by day 7. After 2 weeks, he was back to work.

(via Historic) Read the rest

Turns out that injecting semen into your arm doesn't cure back pain after all

A man in Ireland repeatedly injected semen into his arm in the hopes that it would cure his back pain. He instead got a subcutaneous abcess and had to get professional help. [via Gizmodo]

Drs. Dunne, Murphy and Rutledge report:

A 33 year old male was seen complaining of severe, sudden onset lower back pain. He reported lifting a heavy steel object 3 days prior and his symptoms had progressed ever since. This gentleman had a history of chronic low back pain without neurology. Thorough physical exam of the upper and lower limbs revealed an erythematous papule with a central focus on the medial aspect of his right upper limb. His ASIA score for neurology was normal and non-contributory. The patient disclosed that he had intravenously injected his own semen as an innovative method to treat back pain. He had devised this “cure” independent of any medical advice. ... The case also demonstrates the risks involved with medical experimentation prior to extensive clinical research in the form of phased trials inclusive of safety and efficacy assessments.

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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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Ho ho no: risk of suffering a heart attack is 40% higher on Christmas Eve

The world is full of shitty holiday gifts: socks, piggy banks with no money in them and Star Wars action figures of characters that had MAYBE four minutes of screen time (I'M NOT VENTING, YOU'RE VENTING). But they all pale in comparison to the present that more people receive on Christmas Eve than on any other day of the year:

From USA Today:

Christmas Eve is the worst day of the year for heart attacks, researchers found, with risk rising nearly 40 percent. More specifically, research showed that most heart attacks hit around 10 p.m. that day.

The observational study analyzed the timing of 283,014 heart attacks reported to the Swedish coronary care unit registry between 1998 to 2013. Findings were published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The BMJ.

“We do not know for sure but emotional distress with acute experience of anger, anxiety, sadness, grief, and stress increases the risk of a heart attack,” researcher David Erlinge at Lund University’s Department of Cardiology, told The Telegraph. "Excessive food intake, alcohol, long distance traveling may also increase the risk."

According to the study and surprising maybe no one, the folks most prone to suffer a holiday heart attack tend to be over 75 years old or who have a medical history that includes diabetes or coronary artery disease. That said, scientists will have to spend considerably more time in the lab in order to nail down the exact reason why Christmas Eve myocardial infarction is a thing. Until they've got it all sorted out, it's likely a good idea to spend Christmas Eve and other holidays with the friends and family that make your life worth living--having someone around who can dial 911 is a win. Read the rest

The incredible story of Susan Potter, the "immortal corpse"

In the year 2,000, Susan Potter, then 72, donated her body to medicine. After Potter died, scientists froze her corpse, sliced it into 27,000 slivers thinner than a human hair, photographed each slice, and created "the world’s most advanced virtual cadaver using the highest-quality imagery of an entire human body in existence." Not only is the virtual cadaver an incredible accomplishment but so is National Geographic's story about Potter and the lead researcher, Dr. Vic Spitzer Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Simulation at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Why? Because National Geographic followed this incredible story of the Visible Human Project for almost two decades, from before Potter died through the completion of the simulation. Watch the documentary above. From National Geographic:

Are you interested in working with us before you die? (Spitzer) finally asked (Potter). Are you interested in giving us more than just your body—in giving us your personality and knowledge?

Spitzer wanted to videotape her while she was living and record her talking about her life, her health, her medical history. Your pathology isn’t that interesting to the project, Spitzer told Potter. But if I could capture you talking to medical students, when they’re looking at slices of your body, you could tell them about your spine—why you didn’t want the surgery, what kind of pain the surgery caused, and what kind of life you led after the surgery. That would be fascinating.

“They’ll see her body while they’re hearing her stories,” he explained, adding that video and audio of her would make her more real and introduce the element of emotion to students.

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Giant blood clot shaped like the lung it came out of

A patient suffering from heart failure reportedly coughed up a huge blood clot that somehow retained the shape of the lung passages it had blocked. The Atlantic's Haley Weiss reports that "Doctors Aren’t Sure How This Even Came Out of a Patient"

In Wieselthaler’s case, blood eventually broke out of his patient’s pulmonary network into the lower right lung, heading directly for the bronchial tree. After days of coughing up much smaller clots, Wieselthaler’s patient bore down on a longer, deeper cough and, relieved, spit out a large, oddly shaped clot, folded in on itself. Once Wieselthaler and his team carefully unfurled the bundle and laid it out, they found that the architecture of the airways had been retained so perfectly that they were able to identify it as the right bronchial tree based solely on the number of branches and their alignment.

He died a few days later. I looked it up. Sorry. Read the rest

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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