Biodegradable Implants Supercharge Nerve Regeneration

Controlled electrical stimulation of nerves can do amazing things. It has been shown to encourage healing and growth in damaged cells of the peripheral nervous system which means regaining motor control and sensation in a shorter period with better results. This type of treatment is referred to as an electroceutical, and the etymology is easy to parse. The newest kid on the block just finished testing on rat subjects, applying electricity for one, three, or six days per week in one-hour intervals. The results showed that more treatment led to faster healing. The kicker is that the method of applying electricity was done through unbroken skin on an implant that dissolves harmlessly.

The implant in question is, at its most basic, an RFID tag with leads that touch the injured nerves. This means wireless magnetic coupling takes power from an outside source and delivers it to where it is needed. All the traces on are magnesium. There is a capacitor with silicon dioxide sandwiched between magnesium, and a diode made from a doped silicon nanomembrane. All this is encased in a biodegradable substrate called poly lactic-co-glycolic acid, a rising star for FDA-approved polys. Technologically speaking, these are not outrageous.

These exotic materials are not in the average hacker’s hands yet, but citizen scientists have started tinkering with the less invasive tDCS and which is applying a small electrical current to the brain through surface electrodes or the brain hacking known as the McCollough effect.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

Toilet Seat Could Save Your Ass

Our morning routine could be appended to something like “breakfast, stretching, sit on a medical examiner, shower, then commute.” If we are speaking seriously, we don’t always get to our morning stretches, but a quick medical exam could be on the morning agenda. We would wager that a portion of our readers are poised for that exam as they read this article. The examiner could come in the form of a toilet seat. This IoT throne is the next device you didn’t know you needed because it can take measurements to detect signs of heart failure every time you take a load off.

Tracking heart failure is not just one test, it is a buttload of tests. Continuous monitoring is difficult although tools exist for each test. It is unreasonable to expect all the at-risk people to sit at a blood pressure machine, inside a ballistocardiograph, with an oximeter on their fingers three times per day. Getting people to browse Hackaday on their phones after lunch is less of a struggle. When the robots overthrow us, this will definitely be held against us.

We are not sure if this particular hardware will be open-source, probably not, but there is a lesson here about putting sensors where people will use them. Despite the low rank on the glamorous scale, from a UX point of view, it is ingenious. How can we flush out our own projects to make them usable? After all, if you build a badass morning alarm, but it tries to kill you, it will need some work and if you make a gorgeous clock with the numbers all messed up…okay, we dig that particular one for different reasons.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

A Very Different ‘Hot Or Not’ Application For Your Phone

Radioactivity stirs up a lot of anxiety, partially because ionizing radiation is undetectable by any of the senses we were born with. Anytime radiation makes the news, there is a surge of people worried about their exposure levels and a lack of quick and accurate answers. Doctors are flooded with calls, detection devices become scarce, and fraudsters swoop in to make a quick buck. Recognizing the need for a better way, researchers are devising methods to measure cumulative exposure experienced by commodity surface mount resistors.

Cumulative exposure is typically tracked by wearing a dosimeter a.k.a. “radiation badge”. It is standard operating procedure for people working with nuclear material to wear them. But in the aftermath of what researchers euphemistically call “a nuclear event” there will be an urgent need to determine exposure for a large number of people who were not wearing dosimeters. Fortunately, many people today do wear personal electronics full of components made with high purity ingredients to tightly controlled tolerances. The resistor is the simplest and most common part, and we can hack a dosimeter with them.

Lab experiments established that SMD resistors will reveal their history of radiation exposure under high heat. Not to the accuracy of established dosimetry techniques, but more than good enough to differentiate people who need immediate medical attention from those who need to be monitored and, hopefully, reassure people in neither of those categories. Today’s technique is a destructive test as it requires removing resistors from the device and heating them well above their maximum temperature, but research is still ongoing in this field of knowledge we hope we’ll never need.

If you prefer to read about SMD resistor hacks with less doomsday, we recently covered their use as a 3D printer’s Z-axis touch sensor. Those who want to stay on the topic can review detection hacks like using a single diode as a Geiger counter and the IoT dosimeter submitted for the 2017 Hackaday Prize. Or we can choose to focus on the bright side of radioactivity with the good things made possible by controlled artificial radioactivity, pioneered by Irène Joliot-Curie.

[via Science News]

Human Augmentation for Weight Loss

If you read almost any article about powered human implants, you will encounter the same roadblock, “it could be so much better with more powerful batteries.” Our fleshy power systems are different from electrical systems, but we are full of moving parts, so [Xudong Wang] and fellow researchers have harnessed that power (Sci Hub Alt) and turned it right back into something else our body understands.

The goal of this project is to control obesity by tricking the vagus nerve into thinking we are full as we digest our current meal. The treatment has already been proven with battery-powered implants, but this version uses the oscillations of the stomach for power and sends the generated power right where it is needed. A control group of rats showed no change over 100 days, but those with this implant shed more than a third of their body weight. This may need some tuning but its effectiveness seems to be heading the right way, and it is surgically reversible.

The device is a triboelectric generator coated in polyimide and Ecoflex™ with gold electrodes that wrap around the vagus nerve at the gastro-esophageal junction. The generator presses against the stomach from outside and the rhythm of the muscles generates the signal that the stomach is full so it becomes a loop of digesting ⇄ sated.

Another handful, of implants don’t need power from inside the body and use RFID technology.
Via IEEE Spectrum.

Adaptive Spoon Helps Those With Parkinson’s

There are a lot of side effects of living with medical conditions, and not all of them are obvious. For Parkinson’s disease, one of the conditions is a constant hand tremor. This can obviously lead to frustration with anything that involves fine motor skills, but also includes eating, which can be even more troublesome than other day-to-day tasks. There are some products available that help with the tremors, but at such a high price [Rupin] decided to build a tremor-compensating utensil with off the shelf components instead.

The main source of inspiration for this project was the Liftware Steady, but at around $200 this can be out of reach for a lot of people. The core of this assistive spoon has a bill of material that most of us will have lying around already, in order to keep costs down. It’s built around an Arduino and an MPU6050 inertial measurement unit with two generic servo motors. It did take some 3D printing and a lot of math to get the utensil to behave properly, but the code is available on the project site for anyone who wants to take a look.

This project tackles a problem that we see all the time: a cost-effective, open-source solution to a medical issue where the only alternatives are much more expensive. Usually this comes up around prosthetics, but can also help out by making biological compounds like insulin directly for less than a medical company can provide it.

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Towards Low Cost Biomedical Imaging

Medical imaging is one of the very best applications of technology — it allows us to peer inside of the human body without actually performing surgery. It’s non-destructive testing to the extreme, and one of the more interesting projects we’ve seen over the past year uses AC currents and an infinite grid of resistors to image the inside of a living organism. It’s called Spectra and it is the brainchild of [Jean Rintoul]. Her talk at the Hackaday Superconference is all about low cost and open source biomedical imaging.

We’ve seen some interesting medical imaging hacks in the Hackaday Prize over the years. There have been vein finders and even a CT scanner, but when it comes to biomedical imaging, the Spectra project is something different. Right now, it’s just good enough to image organs while they’re still inside your body, and there’s still a lot of potential to do more. Let’s take a closer look a how this works.

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Tech Tattoos Trace Two Dimensions

Flexible circuit boards bend as you might expect from a playing card, while skin stretches more like knit fabric. The rules for making circuit boards and temporary tattoos therefore need to be different. Not just temporary tattoos, there are also circuits that reside on the skin so no unregulated heat traces, please. In addition to flexing and stretching, these tattoos can be applied to uneven surfaces and remain intact. Circuits could be added to the outside of projects or use the structure as the board to reduce weight and size. Both are possible with the research from Carnegie Mellon’s Soft Machines Lab and the Institute of Systems and Robotics at the University of Coimbra.

These circuits are an improvement over the existing method which relies on cropping away metal foil with a magnifying glass, tweezers and a steady hand. Instead, silver particles are printed with an inkjet printer before the traces are coated in eutectic gallium indium which is liquid metal at room temperature. If we were to oversimplify, we might describe it as similar to a non-toxic equivalent of mercury that we have also seen used in DIY OLEDs. This is a development likely to be interesting in a range of fields from medicine to cosplay.

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