We humans like to think of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution on the planet, but that’s just a conceit. It takes humans roughly twenty years to reproduce, whereas some bacteria can make copies of themselves every 20 minutes. Countless generations of bacteria have honed and perfected their genomes into extremely evolved biological machines.
Most bacteria are harmless, and some are quite useful, even tasty – witness the lactofermented pickles and sauerkraut I made this summer. But some bacteria are pathogenic nightmares that have swarmed over the planet and caused untold misery and billions of deaths. For most of human history it has been so – the bugs were winning. Then a bright period dawned in the early 20th century – the Era of Antibiotics. At last we were delivered from the threat of pestilence, never more to suffer from plague and disease like our unfortunate ancestors. Infections were miraculously cured with a simple injection or pill, childhood diseases were no longer reaping their tragic harvest, and soldiers on the battlefield were surviving wounds that would have festered and led to a slow, painful death.
Now it seems like this bright spot of relief from bacterial disease might be drawing to an end. Resistant strains of bacteria are in the news these days, and the rise of superbugs seems inevitable. But is it? Have we run out of tools to fight back? Not quite yet as it turns out. But there’s a lot of work to do to make sure we win this battle.
Continue reading “How Biohackers are Fighting a Two-front War on Antibiotic Resistance”
It happens with every generation – we’re born, our parents care for us and nurture us, we grow up, they grow old, and then we switch roles and care for them. Soon it’ll be my turn to be the caregiver to my parents, and I recently got a preview of things to come when my mom fell and busted her ankle. That it wasn’t the classic broken hip was a relief, but even “just” a broken ankle was difficult enough to deal with. I live 40 minutes away from the ‘rents, and while that’s not too bad when the visits are just the weekly dinner at Grammy’s, the time and the miles really start to add up when the visits turn into every other day to make sure Mom’s getting around OK and Dad is eating and sleeping.
I was sorely tempted to hack some kind of solution to give myself a rudimentary telepresence, but I couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t have either been unacceptably intrusive (think webcams) or difficult to support from an IT perspective. Mom’s pretty handy with the iPad and she Skypes with my brother and his family out in California, but beyond leveraging that I was tapped out for ideas that I could easily deploy and would deliver sufficient value beyond the support burden within the time frame of healing the ankle. Consequently, I spent a lot of time in the car this summer.
This experience got me to thinking about how intergenerational caregiving will change with the rise of pervasive technology. The bad news: we’re still going to get old, and getting old sucks. The good news is, I think technology is going to make things easier for caregivers and elders alike. We have an incredible range of technology experiences among the generations present right now, from my parents who can remember phones without dials and nights spent listening to the radio, to my daughter’s generation that is practically growing up with supercomputers in the palms of their hands. How each generation ages and how it embraces technology as a solution for age-related problems are going to be vastly different.
Continue reading “The Race to Develop Technology that Enhances Elder Care”
The most complicated and fascinating gadget you will ever own is your brain. Why not pay tribute to this wonder by creating a 3D scale model that you can print yourself? If you have had a full-head MRI scan, it is simple to take this data and create a 3D model that you can print out on any 3D printer. Here’s how to print your brain.
To begin, you are going to need an MRI scan. Unfortunately, the low-field MRI that [Peter Jansen] is working on won’t quite cut it (yet): you’ll have to get the pros to do it. The type of scan also matters, because we want a scan that focusses in on the brain itself, not the bits around it. What type you get depends on what your doctor wants to know, as the radiologist can run a lot of different scans and analysis of the data to show different types of tissue. After looking through the scans that I got, I settled on one that was labelled eB1000i(BRAIN) With and Without Contrast. To a radiologist, that information means a lot, telling you what type of scan it is, and that it was done with a contrast agent, a metal dye that is injected to make water-rich tissues (like my brain) more visible. The number refers to something called the diffusion weighting, which helps the doctor look for swelling that can indicate things like strokes, tumors, etc. There’s a good guide to some of the jargon here.
Continue reading “You Own Your MRI Brainscan; Do Something Interesting With It”
Chances are pretty good you’ve had a glowing probe clipped to your fingertip or earlobe in some clinic or doctor’s office. If you have, then you’re familiar with pulse oximetry, a cheap and non-invasive test that’s intended to measure how much oxygen your blood is carrying, with the bonus of an accurate count of your pulse rate. You can run down to the local drug store or big box and get a fingertip pulse oximeter for about $25USD, but if you want to learn more about photoplethysmography (PPG), [Rajendra Bhatt]’s open-source pulse oximeter might be a better choice.
PPG is based on the fact that oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin have different optical characteristics. A simple probe with an LED floods your fingertip with IR light, and a photodiode reads the amount of light reflected by the hemoglobin. [Rajendra]’s Easy Pulse Plugin receives and amplifies the signal from the probe and sends it to a header, suitable for Arduino consumption. What you do with the signal from there is up to you – light an LED in time with your heartbeat, plot oxygen saturation as a function of time, or drive a display to show the current pulse and saturation.
We’ve seen some pretty slick DIY pulse oximeters before, and some with a decidedly home-brew feel, but this seems like a good balance between sophisticated design and open source hackability. And don’t forget that IR LEDs can be used for other non-invasive diagnostics too.
We’ve all likely watched an episode of “Star Trek” and admired the level of integration on the sick bay diagnostic bed. With its suite of wireless sensors and flat panel display, even the 1960s imagining of the future blows away the decidedly wired experience of a modern day ICU stay. But we may be getting closer to [Dr. McCoy]’s experience with this radar-based respiration detector.
[Øyvind]’s build, which takes the origin of the term “breadboard” to heart, is based on a not-inexpensive Xethru module, which appears to be purpose-built for detecting respiration. The extra-thick PC board seems to house the waveguides internally, which is a neat trick but might limit how the module can be deployed. The module requires both a USB interface and level shifter to interface the 2.8V levels of the module to the 5V Arduino Uno. In the video below, [Øyvind]’s prototype simply lights an RGB LED in response to the chest movement it detects, but there’s plenty of potential for development here. We’ve seen a laser-based baby breathing monitor before; perhaps this systems could be used to the same end without the risk of blinding your tyke. Or perhaps better diagnostics for sleep apnea patients than an intrusive night in a sleep study lab.
Clocking in at $750USD for the sensor board and USB interface, this build is not exactly for the faint of heart or the light of wallet. But as an off-the-shelf solution to a specific need that also has a fair bit of hacking potential, it may be just the thing for someone. Of course if radar is your thing, you might rather go big and build something that can see through walls.
Continue reading “Arduino Radar Watches You Breathe”
In a perfect futuristic world you have pre-emptive 3D scans of your specific anatomy. They’d be useful to compare changes in your body over time, and to have a pristine blueprint to aid in the event of a catastrophe. As with all futuristic worlds there are some problems with actually getting there. The risks may outweigh the rewards, and cost is an issue, but having 3D imaging of a sick body’s anatomy does have some real benefits. Take a journey with me down the rabbit hole of 3D technology and Gray’s Anatomy.
Continue reading “We Should 3D Scan People”
In March of 2014, I knew my eight year old daughter was sick. Once borderline overweight, she was now skeletally thin and fading away from us. A pre-dawn ambulance ride to the hospital gave us the devastating news – our daughter had Type 1 diabetes, and would be dependent on insulin injections for the rest of her life.
This news hit me particularly hard. I’ve always been a preparedness-minded kind of guy, and I’ve worked to free myself and my family from as many of the systems of support as possible. As I sat in the dark of the Pediatric ICU watching my daughter slowly come back to us, I contemplated how tied to the medical system I had just become. She was going to need a constant supply of expensive insulin, doled out by a medical insurance system that doesn’t understand that a 90-day supply of life-saving medicine is a joke to a guy who stocks a year supply of toilet paper. Plus I had recently read an apocalyptic novel where a father watches his 12-year old diabetic daughter slip into a coma as the last of her now-unobtainable insulin went bad in an off-grid world. I swore to myself that I’d never let this happen, and set about trying to find ways to make my own insulin, just in case.
Continue reading “The Biohacking Movement and Open Source Insulin”