Tag Archives: medicine

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.

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.

Seven surgeries made possible by 3D printing

Link here. In all but one case, 3D printing was used to replace bones of the human body with 3D produced parts. The last surgery, however, illustrated the vast potential of this technology, where engineers used it to produce a duplicate of a child’s heart so that surgeons could plan the complex surgery required to fix it.

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.

Better medicine through engineering

For me, the last eight months have been very interesting when it comes to medical treatment. I have had my left hand rebuilt to eliminate chronic pain, I had my heart inspected to make sure it was working properly, and this week I had the retina in my right eye re-attached using some very clever engineering.

For once, this essay will not be about the politics of medicine and the disaster of Obamacare, which is still ongoing. Instead, I will outline how freedom and human creativity has now made possible a whole range of modern medical techniques that are either improving the quality of life for patients or literally saving their lives.
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Scientists are considering revising the guidelines for heart risk as determined by your cholesterol levels.

The uncertainty of science: Scientists are considering revising the guidelines for heart risk as determined by your cholesterol levels.

The ATP IV committee has pledged to hew strictly to the science and to focus on data from randomized clinical trials, says committee chairman Neil Stone, a cardiologist at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago. If so, Krumholz argues, LDL [cholesterol] targets will be cast aside because they have never been explicitly tested. Clinical trials have shown repeatedly that statins reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, but lowering LDL with other medications does not work as well. The benefits of statins may reflect their other effects on the body, including fighting inflammation, another risk factor for heart disease. [emphasis mine]

In other words, the assumption that’s been pushed for more than a decade that lowering your cholesterol will lower your risk of heart attack has never been tested or proven. If this isn’t science by myth I don’t know what is.

Astronaut Sunita Williams completed first simulated triathlon in space this past weekend on ISS.

Astronaut Sunita Williams completed the first simulated triathlon in space this past weekend on ISS.

After “swimming” half a mile (0.8 km), biking 18 miles (29 km), and running 4 miles (6.4 km), Williams finished with a time of one hour, 48 minutes and 33 seconds, she reported. The space station has its own treadmill and stationary bike, which use harnesses and straps in place of gravity to keep astronauts from floating away. To simulate the swimming portion of the race, Williams used what’s called the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) to do weightlifting and resistance exercises that approximate swimming in microgravity.

Over-the-counter osteoporosis drug appears to keep astronauts from losing bone density on long space flights

Big news: New research on ISS now shows that the standard over-the-counter osteoporosis drugs used by millions on Earth appears to keep astronauts from losing bone density during long space flights.

Beginning in 2009, the group administered the drug to five long-stay astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), including Koichi Wakata, 48, and Soichi Noguchi, 46. The five took the drug — an over-the-counter bisphosphonate used to treat osteoporosis — once a week starting three weeks before they lifted off until they returned to Earth. The researchers then monitored the astronauts’ bone mass over time and compared the results to those for 14 astronauts that had never taken the drug.

The results showed that the 14 who had never taken the drug had average bone density loss of 7 percent in the femur, and 5 percent in the hip bone. The five astronauts on bisphosphonate, however, only had average bone density loss in the femur of 1 percent, and even a 3 percent increase in the hip bone. Calcium levels in their urine, which rise the more bone mass is lost, were also very low.

If these results hold up, they might very well solve one of the biggest challenges faced by any interplanetary traveler. Up until now, bone loss during long weightless missions never seemed to average less than 0.5 percent per month. After spending three years going to and from Mars, an astronaut could thus lose about almost 20 percent of their bone mass in their weight-bearing bones, and would probably be unable to return to Earth.

Thus, a mission to Mars seemed impossible, unless we could build a ship with some form of artificial gravity, an engineering challenge we don’t yet have the capability to achieve.

If these already tested drugs can eliminate this problem, then the solar system is finally open to us all. All that has to happen now is to do some one to two year manned missions on ISS to test the drugs effectiveness for these long periods of weightlessness.

A new study has been released detailing the vision problems experienced by astronauts on space flights longer than six months

A new study has been released detailing the vision problems experienced by astronauts on space flights longer than six months. Hat tip to Clark Lindsey.

The visual system changes discovered by the researchers may represent a set of adaptations to microgravity. The degree and type of response appear to vary among astronauts. Researchers hope to discover whether some astronauts are less affected by microgravity and therefore better-suited for extended space flight, such as a three-year round trip to Mars.

In their report, Drs. Mader and Lee also noted a recent NASA survey of 300 astronauts that found that correctible problems with both near and distance vision were reported by about 23 percent of astronauts on brief missions and by 48 percent of those on extended missions. The survey confirmed that for some astronauts, these vision changes continue for months or years after return to Earth.

Eradicating polio: not this year

The effort to eradicated polio entirely by the end of 2012 will not be met.

Afghanistan and Nigeria, two of the three remaining endemic countries, have had more cases in the first nine months of this year than in 2010 altogether. Several other countries targeted by the plan have also seen more cases to date this year compared to this time in 2010. Additionally, polio had popped up in countries where it had previously been eradicated — notably China, which went polio-free for 11 years until this summer.

Sadly, politics and culture are almost certainly the main reasons polio still survives in these countries.

Human bones taken to ISS for long space flight experiments.

Human bones were part of the cargo on board the Soyuz capsule launched to ISS today.

“The fragments of human bones will be used to study the causes and dynamics of decalcination of bone tissue in a long space flight,” the head of the experiment, Tatiana Krasheninnikova told Itar-Tass. The problem of decalcination is a headache for medics responsible for spacemen’s health. Researches in this area are conducted by scientists from many ISS member states. However it is impossible to take sample of spacemen’s bones, only their urine is being examined, and a complete picture of dynamics of changes in human bones is not clear, she noted.

Medicine in space does not have the right stuff

Medicine in space does not have the right stuff.

After 28 months, the medication stored in space generally had a lower potency and degraded faster than those stored on the ground. Six medications on the space station underwent physical changes, such as discoloration and liquefaction, while such changes only occurred in two medications stored on the ground.

Fraud in drug studies investigated

A research anesthesiologist has been stripped of his professorship, fired from a German hospital, and is under criminal investigation for forging the medical research for more than 90 papers. Key paragraph:

German medical authorities are examining 92 of Boldt’s published papers amid allegations he forged documents, tested drugs on patients without their consent and fraudulently claimed payments for operations he never performed. Twenty-nine of the 92 papers have been identified as “highly suspected” of containing forged or distorted data, authorities said.

One third or more of his peer-reviewed papers are now suspect? Isn’t it the claim of peer-review science journals that this kind of fraud is impossible because the work will be carefully reviewed by the best people, most qualified to spot any fraud in their field? Yet, in this case this system failed at least one third of the time, if not more so, and did so frequently.

To me, this is further evidence that the best method for finding fraud is not review, but independent competition. Let others challenge the result or try to duplicate it. That way, we find out very quickly whether it is real or not.

Peer-reviewed journal article a “Fraud”

Back in 1998 a peer-reviewed paper in the medical journal, Lancet, claimed that the childhood vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella vaccine could be linked to autism and other health problems. The consequence was that thousands of parents withheld vaccinations from their children, resulting in an outburst of measles that almost certainly did actual harm to many children.

This paper has now been shown to be an outright fraud.

This story raises two thoughts. First, it demonstrates clearly that just because a research paper is published in a “peer-reviewed” science journal is no guarantee that the paper will be honest, reliable, or factually accurate. As good scientists like to say, “Extraordinary results require extraordinary evidence.” Both the press and public need to be constantly skeptical about all research, regardless of where it is published.

Secondly, the reaction of the journal, Lancet, to this whole affair suggests strongly that this particular journal is even more unreliable than most. To quote:

The Lancet withdrew the article in January of last year after concluding that “several elements” of the paper were incorrect. But the journal didn’t describe any of the discrepancies as fraud.

The journal’s reaction is similar to what we saw with the climategate emails, an effort to whitewash the situation while refusing to face the problem bluntly and fix it. If the article was as fraudulent as the Wall Street Journal article above suggests, it raises serious questions about the editorial policies at Lancet. That the editors there seem uninterested in addressing these concerns acts to discredit their publication entirely. And until they deal with this issue properly, I would look very skeptically on anything they publish.

(Note that this is not the first time Lancet has published research of questionable reliability. See this story for another example.)