For centuries, medics have been forced to deal with cuts and lacerations by simply binding up wounds with bandages and wraps. Time has led to refinements in this process, replacing cloth with sterile bandages. But the basic process has remained the same. But now, severe cuts and bleeding have a new enemy, thanks to a new breed of clamping devices.
One such device is the iTClamp Hemmorage Control System, which won an award for top innovation in 2012 and was recently approved by the FDA. Basically, this clamp is placed over an open wound and then controls bleeding by sealing the edges shut to temporarily create a pool of blood under pressure and thereby form a clot that helps reduce more blood loss until surgery.
This past summer, the clamp got its first field test on a man who fell prey to a chainsaw wound on his upper arm just outside of Olive Branch, Mississippi. The hospital air crew who arrived on scene quickly determined that a tourniquet would not work, but were able to stop the bleeding and stabilize the patient within minutes, at which point they transported him to the Regional Medical Center of Memphis.
The clamp was invented by Dennis Filips, who served three tours in Afghanistan as a trauma surgeon for the Canadian Navy. With the saving of a life in the US, he has watched what began as an idea turn into a dream come true:
To have our first human use in the US turn out so well is thrilling, and we look forward to getting the iTClamp into the hands of first responders across the country and around the world.
The clamp is currently being sold for around $100 via various distributors across the US, and it’s available in Canada and Europe as well. At that price it could very well end up being adopted not only by first responders, but climbers and other adventurers looking to beef up their first-aid kits — and maybe the cautious chainsaw wielders among us as well.
And be sure to check out this video simulation of the iTClamp in action:
Tubercle bacillus, aka. Tuberculosis or TB, is a very common, very infectious, and if untreated, very lethal disease. A well dated illness, its origins can be traced back to early Neolithic Revolution, and is often attributed to animal husbandry (specifically, the domestication of bovines). And in terms of the number of people carrying it, and the number of deaths associated with it, it is second only to HIV.
Because of this and the fact that the disease remains incurable – the only way to combat it is with early detection or experimental vaccines – it is obvious why medical researchers are looking for better ways to detect it. Currently, the standard test for tuberculosis involves inserting a hypodermic needle into a person’s arm at a very precise angle and depth, using a small trace of genetically modified TB to elicit an immuno-reaction.
As anyone who has undergone this test knows (as a teacher, I have had to endure it twice!), it is not a very efficient or cost effective way of detecting the deadly virus. In addition to being uncomfortable, the telltale symptoms can days to manifest themselves. Hence why Researchers at the University of Washington hope to replace this test with a painless, near-automated alternative – a microneedle patch that they say is more precise and even biodegradable.
For their study, which was recently presented in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, the scientists used microneedles made from chitin – the material that makes up the shells sea creatures and insects and is biodegradable. Each needle is 750 micrometers long (1/40th of an inch) and is coated with the purified protein derivative used to test for tuberculosis.
In terms of its application, all people need do is put it on like a bandage, which ought to make testing on children much easier. For the sake of testing it, the team tested its microneedle patch on guinea pigs and found that the reaction that occurs via the hypodermic needle test also appeared using the patch. But the best aspect of it is the fact that the patch does not require any invasive or difficult procedures.
In a school news release, Marco Rolandi – assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Washington and lead author of the study – had the following to say:
With a microneedle test there’s little room for user error, because the depth of delivery is determined by the microneedle length rather than the needle-insertion angle. This test is painless and easier to administer than the traditional skin test with a hypodermic needle.
The researchers report that they now plan to test the needle patch on humans and hope to make the patch available in the near future. However, the long-term benefits may go beyond stopping TB, as Rolandi and his team hope that similar patches will be developed for other diagnostic tests, such as those used to detect allergies. As anyone who has undergone an allergen test will tell you (again, twice!), its no picnic being pricked and scraped by needles!
As always, the future of medicine appears to be characterized by early detection, lower costs, and less invasive measures.
The name Jack Andraka is already one that researchers and medical practitioners are familiar with. Roughly a year ago, the 16-year old boy developed a litmus test that was capable of detecting pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal forms of the disease and one of the most difficult to treat. And given that his method was 90% accurate, 168 times faster than current tests and 1/26,000th the cost, it’s title wonder why he’s considered something of a wonder kid.
Well, it seems boy genius is at it again! Shortly after receiving first place at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), Andraka assembled a crack team of young scientists and began working on a handheld, non-invasive device that could help detect cancer early on. Much like Scanadu, the company that recently release a sensor for testing vitals, Andraka and his team were looking to create a genuine tricorder-like device.
And while their group – known as Generation Z and which was formed from the other 2012 finalists – is working towards such a device, Andraka presented his own concept at this year’s ISEF. Apparently, what he built is modeled on a tradition raman spectrometer – a device that can be used to detect explosives, environmental contaminants, and cancer in the human body.
A conventional raman spectrometer is extremely delicate, can be as large as a small car, and cost up to $100,000. By contrast, the one designed by Andraka costs only $15 and is the size of a cell phone. According to Andraka, a raman spectrometer works by “[shooting] a powerful laser at a sample and tells the exact chemical composition.” Such a device also relies on a liquid nitrogen cooled photodector to examine the chemical composition of whatever material is currently being examined.
Those powerful lasers alone can cost up to $40,000, so Andraka swapped out the big lasers for an off-the-shelf laser pointer and replaced the photodetector with an iPhone camera. According to Andraka, the results are comparable, at a fraction of the size and, more importantly, the cost. So once more, the boy genius has presented medical science with a cheap, effective means of early detection, something which could save lives and millions in health care costs.
Andraka admits that this device was pretty much all his, but he plans to incorporate it into the tricorder design that he and his colleagues in Generation Z are developing. Once realized, the resulting device will be competing for the Tricorder X Prize – a ten million dollar grant that is given to any entrant that can create a handheld mobile platform that can diagnose 15 diseases across 30 patients in just three days.
But of course, they will have some stiff competition, not the least of which will come from Scanadu, which just happens to have the backing of NASA’s Ames Center. But then again, the world loves an underdog. And when it comes to medical devices, cancer, and other diseases of the body, its clear that Andraka and his peers are just getting started!
And be sure to check out this video with highlights from the 2013 ISEF:
Ending terminal illness is one of the hallmarks of the 21st century, with advances being made all the time. In recent years, efforts have been particularly focused on findings treatments and cures for the two greatest plagues of the past 100 years – HIV and cancer. But whereas HIV is one of the most infectious diseases to ever be observed, cancer is by far the greater killer. In 2008 alone, approximately 12.7 million cancers were diagnosed (excluding non-invasive cancers) and 7.6 million people died of cancer worldwide.
Little wonder then why so much time and energy is dedicated to ending it; and in recent years, a number of these initiatives have begun to bear fruit. One such initiative comes from the Mayo Clinic, where researchers claim they have developed a new type of software that can help classify cancerous lung nodules noninvasively, thus saving lives and health care costs.
It’s called Computer-aided Nodule Assessment and Risk Yield, or Canary, and a pilot study of the software recently appeared in the April issue of the Journal of Thoracic Oncology. According to the article, Canary uses data from high-resolution CT images of a common type of cancerous nodule in the lung and then matches them, pixel for pixel, to one of nine unique radiological exemplars. In this way, the software is able to make detailed comparisons and then determine whether or not the scans indicate the presence of cancer.
In the pilot study, Canary was able to classify lesions as either aggressive or indolent with high sensitivity, as compared to microscopic analyses of the lesions after being surgically removed and analyzed by lung pathologists. More importantly, it was able to do so without the need for internal surgery to allow a doctor to make a visual examination. This not only ensures that a patient could receive and early (and accurate) diagnosis from a simple CT scan, but also saves a great deal of money by making surgery unnecessary.
As they say, early detection is key. But where preventative medicine fails, effective treatments need to be available. And that’s where a new invention, inspired by Velcro comes into play. Created by researchers at UCLA, the process is essentially a refined method of capturing and analyzing rogue cancer cells using a Velcro-like technology that works on the nanoscale. It’s called NanoVelcro, and it can detect, isolate, and analyze single cancer cells from a patient’s blood.
Researchers have long recognized that circulating tumor cells play an important role in spreading cancer to other parts of the body. When the cells can be analyzed and identified early, they can offer clues to how the disease may progress in an individual patient, and how to best tailor a personalized cancer treatment. The UCLA team developed the NanoVelcro chip (see above) to do just that, trap individual cancer cells for analysis so that early, non-invasive diagnosis can take place.
The treatment begins with a patient’s blood being pumped in through the NanoVelcro Chip, where tiny hairs protruding from the cancer cells stick to the nanofiber structures on the device’s surface. Then, the scientists selectively cut out the cancer cells using laser microdissection and subject the isolated and purified cancer cells to single cell sequencing. This last step reveals mutations in the genetic material of the cells and may help doctors personalize therapies to the patient’s unique form of cancer.
The UCLA researchers say this technology may function as a liquid biopsy. Instead of removing tissue samples through a needle inserted into a solid tumor, the cancer cells can be analyzed directly from the blood stream, making analysis quicker and easier. They claim this is especially important in cancers like prostate, where biopsies are extremely difficult because the disease often spreads to bone, where the availability of the tissue is low. In addition, the technology lets doctors look at free-floating cancer cells earlier than they’d have access to a biopsy site.
Already, the chip is being tested in prostate cancer, according to research published in the journal Advanced Materials in late March. The process is also being tested by Swiss researchers to remove heavy metals from water, using nanomaterials to cling to and remove impurities like mercury and heavy metals. So in addition to assisting in the war on cancer, this new technology showcases the possibilities of nantechnology and the progress being made in that field.
It was only a matter of time, I guess. But we really should have known that with all the improvements being made in biometrics and biotechnology – giving patients and doctors the means to monitor their vitals, blood pressure, glucose levels and the like with tiny devices – and all the talk of how it looked like something out of science fiction that it wouldn’t be long before someone took it upon themselves to build a device right out of Star Trek.
It’s known as a the Scanadu Scout, a non-invasive medical device that is capable of measuring your vitals simply by being held up to your temple for a mere 10 seconds. The people responsible for its creation are a startup named Scanadu, a group of research and medtech enthusiasts who are based at the NASA Ames Research Center. For the past two years, they have been seeking to create the world’s first handheld medical scanner, and with the production of the Scout, they have their prototype!
All told, the device is able to track pulse transit time (to measure blood pressure), temperature, ECG, oximetry, heart rate, and the breathing rate of a patient or subject. A 10 second scan of a person’s temple yields data that has a 99% accuracy rate, which can then be transmitted automatically via Bluetooth to the user’s smartphone, tablet or mobile device.
The device has since been upgraded from its original version and runs at a rate of 32 bits (up from the original 8). And interestingly enough, the Scouts now runs on Micrium, the operation system that NASA uses for Mars sample analysis on the Curiosity rover. The upgrade became necessary when Scanadu co-founder Walter De Brouwer, decided to add an extra feature: the ability to remotely trigger new algorithms and plug in new sensors (like a spectrometer).
One would think that working with NASA is effecting his thinking. But as Brouwer points out, the more information the machine is capable of collecting, the better is will be at monitoring your health:
If we find new algorithms to find relationships between several readings, we can use more of the sensors than we would first activate. If you know a couple of the variables, you could statistically predict that something is going to happen. The more data we have, the more we can also predict, because we’re using data mining at the same time as statistics.
One of the Scout’s cornerstone algorithms, for example, allows it to read blood pressure without the inflating cuff that we’ve all come to know and find so uncomfortable. In the future, Scanadu could discover an algorithm that connects, age, weight, blood pressure, and heart rate with some other variable, and then be able to make recommendations.
Everyone who pre-orders a Scout has their data sent to a cloud service, where Scanadu will collect it in a big file for the FDA. Anyone who opts-in will also gain access to the data of other users who have also elected to share their vitals. Brouwer explains that this is part of the products early mission to test the parameters of information sharing and cloud-medical computing:
It’s going to be a consumer product in the future, but right now we are positioning it as a research tool so that it can be used to finalize the design and collect data to eventually gain regulatory approval. In the end, you have to prove how people are going to use the device, how many times a day, and how they are going to react to the information.
In the future, De Brouwer imagines this kind of shared information could be used for population scanning, kind of like Google Flu Trends does, except with data being provided directly from individuals. The focus will also be much more local, with people using the Scout’s stats to able to see if their child, who suddenly has flu symptoms, is alone of ir other kids at their school are also sick. Pandemics and the outbreaks of fatal diseases could also be tracked in the same way and people forewarned.
Naturally, this raises some additional questions. With it now possible to share and communicate medical information so easily between devices, from people to their doctors, and stored within databases of varying accessibility, there is the ongoing issue of privacy. If in fact medical information can be actively shared in real-time or with the touch of a button, how hard will it be for third parties to gain access to them?
The upsides are clear: a society where health information is easily accessible is likely to avoid outbreaks of infectious disease and be able to contain pandemics with greater ease. But on the flip side, hackers are likely to find ways to access and abuse this information, since it will be in a public place where people can get at it. And naturally, there are plenty of people who will feel squeamish or downright terrified about the FDA having access to up-to-the-moment medical info on them.
It’s the age of cloud computing, wireless communications, and information sharing my friends. And much as people feel guarded about their personal information now, this is likely to take on extra dimensions when their personal medical info is added to the mix. Not a simple or comfortable subject.
But while I’ve still got you’re here, no doubt contemplating the future of medicine, take a look at this video of the Scanadu Scout in action:
Welcome everyone to my first special-request piece! As some of you who read this blog regularly may know, I was recently done a solid by a friend who brought the existence of my latest book (Whiskey Delta) to the attention of Max Brooks, Mr. World War Z man himself! Because of this, I told him he was entitled to favor, redeemable whenever he saw fit. Especially if the favor he did me allowed me to make it big!
Much to my surprise, he called it in early. Yes, instead of waiting for me to become a success and demanding 50 grand and pony, he asked that I do a tribute piece in honor of Israeli Independence Day, one that acknowledges the collective scientific, medical and technological achievements of this nation.
So hang tight. Not the easiest thing in the world to sum up an entire nation’s contributions in several fields, but I shall try. And for the sake of convenience, I broke them down into alphabetical order. So to my Israeli readers and those with family in the Levant, Shalom Aleichem, and here we go!
Aerospace: When it comes to space-based research, aviation and aeronautics, Israel has made many contributions and is distinguished as one of the few nations outside of the – outside of the major space players – that is able to build and launch its own communications, navigation and observation satellites. This is performed through the Israel Aerospace Industries(IAI), Israel’s largest military engineering company, in cooperation with the Israel Space Agency, which was created in 1982.
What’s more, Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology, is home to the Asher Space Research Institute (ASRI), which is unique in Israel as a university-based center of space research. In 1998, the Institute built and launched its own satellite – known as the Gerwin-II TechSAT – in July 1998 to provide communications, remote sensing and research services for the nation’s scientists.
Israel’s first ever satellite, Ofeq-1, was built and launched using the locally-built Shavit launch vehicle on September 19, 1988. Over the course of its operational history, Ofeq-1 has made important contributions in a number of areas in space research, including laser communication, research into embryo development and osteoporosis in space, pollution monitoring, and mapping geology, soil and vegetation in semi-arid environments.
AMOS-1 and AMOS-2, which were launched in 1996 and 2003 respectively. AMOS-1 is a geostationary satellite that also has the honor of being Israel’s first commercial communications satellite, built primarily for direct-to-home television broadcasting, TV distribution and VSAT services. AMOS-2, which belongs to the Spacecom Satellite Communications company, provides satellite telecommuncations services to countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Additional space-based projects include the TAUVEX telescope, the VENUS microsatellite, and the MEIDEX (Mediterranean – Israel Dust Experiment), which were produced and launched in collaboration the Indian Space Research Organizations (ISRO), France’s CNES, and NASA, repsectively. In addition to conducting research on background UV radiation, these satellites are also responsible for monitoring vegetation and the distribution and physical properties of atmospheric desert dust over the a large segment of the globe.
Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, was also a member of the crew that died aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Ramon was selected as the missions Payload Specialist and trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, from 1998 until 2003. Among other experiments, Ramon was responsible for the MEIDEX project in which he took pictures of atmospheric aerosol (dust) in the Mediterranean. His death was seen as a national tragedy and mourned by people all over the world.
According to the Thomson Reuters agency, in a 2009 poll, Israel was ranked 2nd among the 20 top countries in space sciences.
Alternative Fuel and Clean Energy: When it comes to developing alternative sources of energy, Israel is a leader in innovation and research. In fact – and due in no small part to its lack of conventional energy resources – Israel has become the world’s largest per capita user of solar power, with 90% of Israeli homes use solar energy for hot water, the highest per capita in the world.
Much of this research is performed by the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, a part of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (in Beersheba). Pictured above is the Ben-Gurion parabolic solar power dish, the largest of its kind in the world. In addition, the Weizman Institute of Science, in central Israel, is dedicated to research and development in the field of solar technology and recently developed a high-efficiency receiver to collect concentrated sunlight, which will enhance the use of solar energy in industry as well.
Outside of solar, Israel is also heavily invested in the fields of wind energy, electric cars, and waste management. For example, Israel is one of the few nations in the world that has a nationwide network of recharching stations to facilitate the charging and exchange of car batteries. Denmark and Australia have studied the infrastructure and plan to implement similar measures in their respective countries. In 2010, Technion also established the Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP), a multidisciplinary task-force that is dedicated to alternative fuels, renewable energy sources, energy storage and conversion, and energy conservation.
Private companies also play a role in development, such as the Arrow Ecology company’s development of the ArrowBio process, which takes trash directly from collection trucks and separates organic from inorganic materials. The system is capable of sorting huge volumes of solid waste (150 tons a day), salvaging recyclables, and turning the rest into biogas and rich agricultural compost. The system has proven so successful in the Tel-Aviv area that it has been adopted in California, Australia, Greece, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.
Health and Medicine: Israel also boasts an advanced infrastructure of medical and paramedical research and bioengineering facilities. In terms of scientific publications, studies in the fields of biotechnology, biomedical, and clinical research account for over half of the country’s scientific papers, and the industrial sector has used this extensive knowledge to develop pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and treatment therapies.
In terms of stem cell research, Israel has led the world in the publications of research papers, patents and studies per capita since the year 2000. The first steps in the development of stem cell studies occurred in Israel, with research in this field dating back to studies of bone marrow stem cells in the early 1960s. In 2011, Israeli scientist Inbar Friedrich Ben-Nun led a team which produced the first stem cells from endangered species, a breakthrough that could save animals in danger of extinction.
Numerous sophisticated medical advancements for both diagnostic and treatment purposes has been developed in Israel and marketed worldwide, such as computer tomography (CT) scanners, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems, ultrasound scanners, nuclear medical cameras, and surgical lasers. Other innovations include a device to reduce both benign and malignant swellings of the prostate gland and a miniature camera encased in a swallowable capsule used to diagnose gastrointestinal disease.
Israel is also a leading developer of prosthetics and powered exoskeletons, technologies designed to restore mobility to amputees and people born without full ambulatory ability. Examples include the SmartHand, a robotic prosthetic hand developed through collaboration between Israeli and European scientists. ReWalk is another famous example, a powered set of legs that help paraplegics and those suffering from partial paralysis to achieve bipedal motion again.
Science and Tech: In addition, Israeli universities are among 100 top world universities in mathematics (Hebrew University, TAU and Technion), physics (TAU, Hebrew University and Weizmann Institute of Science), chemistry (Technion and Weizmann Institute of Science), computer science (Weizmann Institute of Science, Technion, Hebrew University, TAU and BIU) and economics (Hebrew University and TAU).
Israel is also home to some of the most prestigious and advanced scientific research institutions in the world. These include the Bar-Ilan University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the University of Haifa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research in Beit Dagan, the Israel Institute for Biological Research and the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.
Israel has also produced many Noble Prize Laureates over the years, four of whom won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. These include Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion, two of three researchers who were responsible for the discovery ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation in 2004. In 2009, Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science was one of the winners for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. In 2011, Dan Shechtman of the Technion was awarded the prize for the discovery of quasicrystals.
In the social sciences, the Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Daniel Kahneman in 2002, and to Robert Aumann of the Hebrew University in 2005. Additionally, the 1958 Medicine laureate, Joshua Lederberg, was born to Israeli Jewish parents, and 2004 Physics laureate, David Gross, grew up partly in Israel, where he obtained his undergraduate degree.
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly’s Economic and Financial Committee adopted an Israeli-sponsored draft resolution that called on developed countries to make their knowledge and know-how accessible to the developing world as part of the UN campaign to eradicate hunger and dire poverty by 2015. The initiative is an outgrowth of Israel’s many years of contributing its know-how to developing nations, especially Africa, in the spheres of agriculture, fighting desertification, rural development, irrigation, medical development, computers and the empowerment of women.
Water Treatment: And last, but certainly not least, Israel is a leader in water technology, due again to its geography and dependence and lack of resources. Every year, Israel hosts the Water Technology Exhibition and Conference (WaTec) that attracts thousands of people from across the world and showcases examples of innovation and development designed to combat water loss and increase efficiency.
Drip irrigation, a substantial agricultural modernization, was one such developed which comes from in Israel and saved countless liters of farm water a year. Many desalination and recycling processes have also emerged out of Israel, which has an abundance of salt water (such as in the Dead Sea and Mediterranean), but few large sources of freshwater. The Ashkelon seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant, the largest in the world, was voted ‘Desalination Plant of the Year’ in the Global Water Awards in 2006.
In 2011, Israel’s water technology industry was worth around $2 billion a year with annual exports of products and services in the tens of millions of dollars. The International Water Association has also cited Israel as one of the leaders in innovative methods to reduce “nonrevenue water,” (i.e., water lost in the system before reaching the customer). By the end of 2013, 85 percent of the country’s water consumption will be from reverse osmosis, and as a result of innovations in this field, Israel is set to become a net exporter in the coming years.
It’s hard to sum up the accomplishments of an entire nation, even one as young and as geographically confined as Israel. But I sincerely hope this offering has done some justice to the breadth and width of Israel’s scientific achievements. Having looked though the many fields and accomplishments that have been made, I have noticed two key features which seem to account for their level of success:
Necessity: It’s no secret that Israel has had a turbulent history since the foundation of the modern nation in 1948. Due to the ongoing nature of conflict with its neighbors and the need to build armaments when they were not always available, Israel was forced to establish numerous industries and key bits of infrastructure to produce them. This has had the predictable effect of spilling over and inspiring developments in the civilian branches of commerce and development as well. What’s more, Israel’s location in a very arid and dry region of the world with few natural resources to speak of have also demanded a great deal of creativity and specialized resource management. This in turn has led to pioneering work in the fields of energy, sustainable development and agricultural practices which are becoming more and more precious as Climate Change, population growth, hunger and drought effect more and more of the world.
Investment: Israel is also a nation that invests heavily in its people and infrastructure. Originally established along strongly socialist principles, Israel has since abandoned many of its establishment era practices – such as kibbutz and equality of pay – in favor of a regulated free market with subsidized education and health care for all. This has led to a successive wave of generations that are strong, educated, and committed to innovation and development. And with competition and collaboration abroad, not to mention high demand for innovation, this has gone to good use.
And with that, I shall take my leave and wish my Israeli readers at home and abroad a happy belated Independence Day! May peace and understanding be upon you and us all as we walk together into the future. Shalom Aleichem!
With recent advances being made in flexible electronics, researchers are finding more and more ways to adapt medical devices to the human body. These include smart tattoos, stretchable patches for organs, and even implants. But what of band-aids? Aren’t they about due for an upgrade? Well as it happens, a team of chemical engineering at Northeastern University are working towards just that.
Led by associate professor Ed Goluch, the team is working towards the development of a “smart bandage” that will not only dress wounds, but can monitor infections and alert patients to their existence. Based around an electrochemical sensor that is capable of detecting Pseudomonas aeruginosa – a common bacteria that can kill if untreated – this bandage could very prove to be the next big step in first aid.
According to Goluch, the idea came to him while he was studying how different bacterial cells behave individually and he and his colleagues began speaking about building other types of sensors:
I was designing sensors to be able to track individual cells, measure how they produce different toxins and compounds at the single-cell level and see how they change from one cell to another and what makes one cell more resistant to an antibiotic.
Naturally, addition research is still needed so that smart band-aids of this kind would be able to detect other forms of infections. And Goluch and his colleagues are quite confident, claiming that they are adapting their device to be able to detect the specific molecules emitted by Staphylococcal – the bacteria responsible for staph infections.
So far, Goluch and his team have tested the system with bacteria cultures and sensors. The next step, which he hopes to begin fairly soon, will involve humans and animals testing. The professor isn’t sure exactly how much the sensor would cost when commercialized, but he believes “it’s simple enough that you’d be able to integrate it in a large volume fairly cheap.”
At this rate, I can foresee a future where all first-aid devices are small patches that are capable of gathering data on your wounds, checking your vitals, and communicating all this information directly to your PDA or tablet, your doctor, or possibly your stretchable brain implant. I tell ya, it’s coming, so keep your apps up to date!
It’s known as Mind-Machine-Interface, the ability to interface and control machines using only your mind. And thanks to a number of dedicated researchers in various fields, it’s no longer the stuff of science fiction. With mind-controlled prosthetics, bionic limbs, and the growing field of machine-enabled telepathy, the day may soon come when people can interface, access and control machinery with just a few thoughts.
But of course, that raises all kinds of concerns about invasive procedures, whether surgery will be needed in order to implant devices into the human brain that can translate brainwaves into commands. Alternately, where non-invasive means are involved, it can take some time to calibrate the machinery to respond to the user’s nerve impulses. As those awful infomercials say, “there has be a better way!”
As it turns out, electrical engineer Todd Coleman and his team at the University of California at San Diego has been working on a way to use wireless flexible electronics that one can apply on the forehead just like temporary tattoos. Building on the emerging field of biomedical electronics, these tattoos will be able to read brainwaves and allow a person to control electronic devices without the need for surgery or permanent implants.
The devices are less than 100 microns thick, the average diameter of a human hair, and consist of circuitry embedded in a layer or rubbery polyester that allow them to stretch, bend and wrinkle. The devices can detect electrical signals linked with brain waves and incorporate solar cells for power and antennas that allow them to communicate wirelessly or receive energy.
Of course, other elements can be added as well, like thermal sensors to monitor skin temperature and light detectors to analyze blood oxygen levels, making it both a health monitoring patch and a fully-integrated control device. Combined with health patches that are being developed for use internally, an entire health network can be created that allows for every aspect of a patients health to monitored in real-time, anticipating and predicting health problems before they flare up.
Currently, Coleman and his colleagues are pursuing the application of using these patches to monitor premature babies to detect the onset of seizures that can lead to epilepsy or brain development problems. The devices are also being commercialized for use as consumer, digital health, and medical device. But the potential for their use is staggering, even alarming.
For example, these devices can also be put on other parts of the body, such as the throat. When people think about talking, their throat muscles move even if they do not speak, a phenomenon known as subvocalization. Electronic tattoos placed on the throat could therefore behave as subvocal microphones through which people could communicate silently and wirelessly to each other.
However, a more alarming application is in the industrial and defense field, which is being pursued by the startup MC10 in Cambridge, Mass. In the course of their research, Coleman and his colleagues found that individuals who were hooked up to a computer through large caps studded with electrodes were able to remotely control airplanes and a UAV over cornfields in Illinois. Such is not possible with these tattoos at present, but Coleman admits that he and his colleagues are “working on it”.
But even more alarming than this is the long term implications of what this could mean for us as a species, which is that electronics could one-day enable wireless peer-to-peer brain communication – aka. machine-enabled telepathy. With devices that can read and transmit brainwaves and vocal information, it would no longer be necessary for people to use radios, phones, email, or any other means of communication to talk to one another.
Simply tune in, subvocalize or think what you want to convey – and boom! instant messaging and perfected! Lord knows the art of diplomacy might suffer, and we can forget about sarcasm, tact, or shades of meaning. Society may very well breakdown or people will just have to grow thicker skin as everyone is forced to communicate what they really think to each other!
In recent years, scientists have been working towards electronics that come in flexible and ultra-thin packages. Back in 2011, this bore fruit as researchers from the University of Illinois unveiled the world’s first health monitoring patch, an ultra-thin device which looked like a temporary tattoo, but packed enough sensors in its flesh to monitor a person’s vitals. As a testament to the rate at which technological developments happen these days, improvements are already being made on the concept and design.
For example, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of California recently announced the creation of what they are calling the “smart tattoo”. This device is a step up from the previous one, as it contains “ion-selective electrodes” which go beyond monitoring just your vitals. According to the collaborative team, this patch is made up of “sensors that detect the pH or salt levels of the skin, as well minerals like potassium, and even blood oxidation.”
In other words, this patch can monitor athletic performance at a granular level, but without any of the bulk or wiring of older sensors. It also means that for the first time, detailed athletic response testing would no longer be limited to the walls of a sports clinic, but could be done daily by the athlete herself. What’s more, the nature of the design and relative cost are in keeping with a mass production model and mass market appeal.
This last aspect is an important indicator since one of the hallmarks of technological progress is the ability to create devices which go beyond matters of life and death and are able to address our daily concerns. In addition to proving that the technology is becoming more commonplace, it’s also a sign of growing affordability and availability. With this latest development, it seems that smart tattoos are doing just that.
Another example comes from Sano intelligence, a 2012 health startup that announced that they are in the testing phase of a smart tattoo that reads a wearer’s blood markers. This patch would be especially useful to diabetics, for whom blood monitoring is a constant hassle and often required invasive measures, such as needles. If the patch proves successful, diabetics everywhere would not only be able to forgo finger pricking and needles, but would also be freed of the burden of having to carry around bulky devices.
Finally, there was the news from Cambridge Massachusetts, where another startup company named MC10 announced early in 2012 that they had created a “stretchable electronics” patch that was applicable not only to skin, but to human clothing and even organs. By mounting nanoscale electronics to a flexible, stretchable patch, the company hopes to be able to produce sensors that can monitor any number of health functions, from the more mundane things like heart-rate and hydration, to brain, heart, tissue, and organ function.
What is especially exciting about all of this is not so much the technology involved, but the fact that it is leading to an era where patients will have a far greater degree of control over their own health and monitoring. No longer will we be dependent on clinics and doctors for every single matter relating to our health, from checkups to surgery. Now we can take care of the former ourselves, making our information available to our doctor or specialist as needed, and going in for only serious or life-threatening procedures. This, in addition to leading to a more health-conscious public, could also bode well for medical costs.
Since it’s development as a viable technology, 3-D printing has presented us with some very interesting possibilities. In addition to objects made of plastic, metal, and possibly meat (a proposed idea still in development), printers may be used to create something else entirely: cartilage! Yes, in a recent announcement, scientists at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine claimed to have pioneered an approach to replace damaged cartilage.
The process combines two low-cost techniques – electronspinning and inkjet/bioprinting – to create the world’s first class of synthetic implantable biomaterial. The first is a method that that is used to create synthetic, polymer-based nanoscale-fibrous materials for implants and wound dressing, while the second is currently used to create tissue and organ material.
Each process is viable, but comes with its own share of shortcomings. Electrospun materials typically don’t have the ability to promote cellular growth, nor do they have the flexibility needed for cartilage replacement. And inkjet printed materials lack the structure and strength needed to support the loads that cartilage carries. But by merging to two systems together, the researchers at Wake Forest to overcome these limitations and create something viable.
Their hybrid approach alternates microscopic layers of electrospun fiber and printed, living cartilage cells cultivated from rabbit ears, thus generating an artificial cartilage pad that is suitable for implanting. An eight-week study in mice showed that the implanted pads developed cellular structure similar to natural cartilage, while separate mechanical strength tests demonstrated that it was equivalent to the real thing.
For medical practitioners, the benefits of this breakthrough are obvious. Natural cartilage not only takes a long time to heal, it has almost no ability to regrow itself. At present, doctors rely on approach that combines removing small sections of damaged cartilage with microscopic grafts. However, neither of these methods are effective at restoring the cushioning, lubricating tissue that allows for full range of motion or impact on the limbs. What’s more, the long term effects of bone on bone contact can require eventual joint replacement.
Though the research is still in the early stages, the initial results have been quite positive. With time, and assuming the results continue to be as positive, we could be looking at a cheap and effective way to rehabilitate damaged limbs.