Tag Archives: medical research

A centrifuge costing 20 cents based on a toy

Scientists at Stanford have developed a centrifuge costing 20 cents to make, based on a child’s toy, that can be used in the field to separate blood samples.

According to Stanford, Prakash and post-doctoral fellow Saad Bhamla came up with the “paperfuge” while looking at toys like tops and yo-yos for inspiration. Noticing how the disc of a whirligig spins when the cords on either side are pulled, they decided to make a slow motion video of one, only to discover that it rotated at 10,000 to 15,000 RPM.

The pair started developing prototypes using a blood capillary tube mounted on a paper disc, but they went beyond simple tinkering as they recruited three undergraduate engineering students from MIT and Stanford to create mathematical models of how the whirligig could change a pulling motion into a rotary motion. Looking at variables like disc size, string elasticity, and pulling force, they combined this with equations from the physics of supercoiling DNA to gain a better understanding of the whirligig’s mechanism.

The result was a centrifuge made of 20 cents of paper, twine, and plastic that could spin at 125,000 RPM, generate 3,000 G’s, and process samples in 1.5 minutes.

I have embedded a video explaining the paperfuge below the fold. I wonder if a variation of this on ISS could do low gravity experiments.
» Read more

Vision problems from weightlessness

This article provides an excellent review of the vision problems caused by long term exposure to weightlessness, including the efforts to study the problem on Earth.

Bottom line:

Before a human trip to Mars — a journey of six-to-nine months that NASA says it wants to achieve by the 2030s — researchers agree that VIIP [the name given to this problem] must be understood much better. VIIP could be the first sign of greater dangers to the human body from microgravity. “We’re seeing the visual and neural, ophthalmic manifestations of it,” Barratt said. “I’m fairly certain this is a bit more global than that.”

Richard Williams, the chief health and medical officer at NASA, agrees that what we do not know about VIIP still poses the biggest threat. Ironically, one of the only ways to get more knowledge is spend more time in microgravity. “The longer we stay in space, the more we’re going to learn,” Williams said.

Avoiding the period in space

New research has outlined the techniques available to female astronauts to prevent menstruation in space.

Rather than researching the consequences of women having a period in space, the researchers are recommending that women avoid them completely, something that appears to have been the policy of NASA on ISS. This is a big mistake. The whole point of having a space station is to find out the consequences to the human body imposed by weightlessness. Future space explorers will need to reproduce. We need to know now if that will be possible.

Good HDL cholesterol might not be so good

The uncertainty of science: New research now suggests an explanation for why in some cases having a high level of the supposedly good HDL cholesterol is not a good thing.

They think it is genetic, and that some people are missing the genes that help the HDL work to clean cholesterol out of the body. It is important however to recognize the uncertainties here. They still do not understand very well how this all works.

New engineering gives a man paralyzed from the waist down the ability to walk again.

Using a new exoskeleton design combined with non-invasive spinal simulation engineers have made it possible for a man paralyzed from the waist down to walk again.

Leveraging on research where the UCLA team recently used the same non-invasive technique to enable five completely paralyzed men to move their legs, the new work has allowed the latest subject, Mark Pollock, to regain some voluntary movement – even up to two weeks after training with the external electrical stimulation had ended.

Pollock, who had been totally paralyzed from the waist down for four years prior to this study, was given five days of training in the robot exoskeleton, and a further two weeks muscle training with the external stimulation unit. The stimulated and voluntary leg movements have not only shown that regaining mobility through this technique is possible, but that the training itself provides a range of health benefits in itself, especially in enhanced cardiovascular function and improved muscle tone.

The new system has been created as an amalgam of a battery-driven bionic exoskeleton that allows users’ leg movements to propel the unit in a step-by-step way, and a non-invasive external stimulator to trigger nerve signals to create the leg movements. In this way, Pollock made significant progress after being given just a few weeks physical training without spinal stimulation and then five days of spinal stimulation exercise an hour a day over a week-long period. “In the last few weeks of the trial, my heart rate hit 138 beats per minute,” said Pollock. “This is an aerobic training zone, a rate I haven’t even come close to since being paralyzed while walking in the robot alone, without these interventions. That was a very exciting, emotional moment for me, having spent my whole adult life before breaking my back as an athlete.”

His ability to walk is not achieved easily, and without extensive help and preparation fades. However, the results here are very hopeful that future developments will make it possible for paraplegics to once again walk.

Requiring scientists to document their methods caused positive results in medical trials to plunge

The uncertainty of science: The requirement that medical researchers register in detail the methods they intend to use in their clinical trials, both to record their data as well as document their outcomes, caused a significant drop in trials producing positive results.

A 1997 US law mandated the registry’s creation, requiring researchers from 2000 to record their trial methods and outcome measures before collecting data. The study found that in a sample of 55 large trials testing heart-disease treatments, 57% of those published before 2000 reported positive effects from the treatments. But that figure plunged to just 8% in studies that were conducted after 2000. Study author Veronica Irvin, a health scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, says this suggests that registering clinical studies is leading to more rigorous research. Writing on his NeuroLogica Blog, neurologist Steven Novella of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, called the study “encouraging” but also “a bit frightening” because it casts doubt on previous positive results.

In other words, before they were required to document their methods, research into new drugs or treatments would prove the success of those drugs or treatment more than half the time. Once they had to document their research methods, however, the drugs or treatments being tested almost never worked.

The article also reveals a failure of the medical research community to confirm their earlier positive results:

Following up on these positive-result studies would be interesting, says Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the executive director of the Center for Open Science, who shared the study results on Twitter in a post that has been retweeted nearly 600 times. He said in an interview: “Have they all held up in subsequent research, or are they showing signs of low reproducibility?”

Well duh! It appears the medical research field has forgotten this basic tenet of science: A result has to be proven by a second independent study before you can take it seriously. Instead, they would do one study, get the results they wanted, and then declare success.

The lack of success once others could see their methods suggests strongly that much of the earlier research was simply junk, not to be taken seriously.

NSF to help fund the development of implantable antennas

What could possibly go wrong? The National Science Foundation (NSF) is providing funding for the development of an implantable antenna for health care, including the possibility for “long-term patient monitoring.”

The project is being financed in collaboration with the National Research Foundation of Korea to create a high frequency antenna that can be permanently implanted under a person’s skin. “Antennas operating near or inside the human body are important for a number of applications, including healthcare,” a grant for the project said. “Implantable medical devices such as cardiac pacemakers and retinal implants are a growing feature of modern healthcare, and implantable antennas for these devices are necessary to monitor battery level and device health, to upload and download data used in patient monitoring, and more.”

The grant said that an implantable device could be used for “long-term patient monitoring” and “biometric tracking,” or using technology to verify a person’s identity.

Without any doubt there are many very useful applications for such an implantable device. Monitoring battery life on pacemakers is an obvious one. There will be a problem, however, if anyone but the patient can do the monitoring. I can see too many possible misuses occurring should it be in anyone else’s hands. At a minimum, there are big privacy concerns.

Billion-dollar-plus NASA medical research contract under dispute

A bidding dispute has forced NASA to again put up for bid a $1.5 billion contract for space medicine.

The dispute has to do with two dueling contractors, Wyle and SAIC, both of whom want the big bucks.

After Wyle won the Human Health and Performance contract in March 2013, SAIC filed a protest with the GAO, ultimately prompting NASA to reopen the competition.

When NASA reawarded the contract in August 2013, it chose SAIC. The following month, the McLean, Virginia-based firm — which had announced plans the previous summer to split into two companies — rebranded itself as Leidos and spun off its $4 billion government information technology and technical services unit as a publicly traded firm that kept the name SAIC and was slated to get the Human Health and Performance contract.

But Wyle filed its own protest with GAO in September 2013, arguing that NASA should discount SAIC’s lower bid — at $975 million, nearly 10 percent lower than Wyle’s — because it was submitted when the unit was still part of a much larger company with deeper pockets. This time, the GAO sided with Wyle.

The article says practically nothing about what all this money buys me, the taxpayer. And it is an awful lot of money. Is it for medical research on ISS? Is it for monitoring the health of the astronauts? Is it for biological research? What is it for exactly? I honestly can’t imagine how this kind of research or medical monitoring on ISS can cost this much. My skeptical nature has me wondering if this contract might instead be a bit inflated, much like SLS and Orion, in order to funnel pork to congressional districts to employ as many voters as possible.

Ebola patient arrives in U.S.

Doctors in charge of the specialized isolation unit for treating dangerous infectious diseases are confident that they will be able to treat the infected patients safely without the disease escaping.

I have complete confidence that a well run facility like this, with modern technology, could keep the disease isolated. The key words, however, are “well run.” I pray that this description still applies to Emory University Hospital.

A new ligament has just been discovered in the human knee.

A new ligament has just been discovered in the human knee.

[T]he Belgian doctors are the first to identify the previously unknown ligament after a broad cadaver study using macroscopic dissection techniques. Their research shows that the ligament, which was given the name anterolateral ligament (ALL), is present in 97 per cent of all human knees.

This only illustrates once again that as much as we think we know, there is always something new to discover.

A bacteria that causes urinary tract infections has been found to grow better in zero gravity than it does on Earth.

Shades of science fiction: A bacteria that causes urinary tract infections has been found to grow better in zero gravity than it does on Earth.

It was inevitable that such a bug would be found. The key here is to figure out how to keep it from getting up into space.

Astronauts on ISS this week initiated a four year study of the vision problems that scientists have discovered occur to some individuals after long exposure to weightlessness.

Astronauts on ISS this week initiated a four year study of the vision problems that scientists have discovered occur to some individuals after long exposure to weightlessness.

The pork of Obamacare

The Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), created by Obamacare, announced its first round of grants today, part of a funding program of fifty “pilot projects” totaling $30 million.

It didn’t take much research for me to conclude that, while some of this work might be useful, most of it sounds like bureaucratic claptrap. For example, consider the description Nature gives for these three grants:
» Read more