Woman Gets Diabetes, Builds Own Pancreas

For the most part, when we break out the soldering iron to make a project for ourselves – we do so for fun. Sometimes we do so for necessity. Rarely do we, however, do so to save our own lives.  [Dana Lewis] is one of the 30 million people in the US who suffer from diabetes. It’s a condition where the pancreas fails to make insulin, resulting in a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream. Managing the levels of insulin and sugar in their bodies is a day-to-day struggle for the millions of diabetics in the world. It’s a great deal more for [Dana], however. She sleeps with machines that monitor the glucose levels in her blood, but lives with constant worry.

“I was afraid at night because I am a super-deep, champion sleeper,” Lewis said, “I sleep through the alarms on the device that are supposed to wake me up and save my life…”

What she needed was the glucose data from the device and use it to trigger a louder alarm. It wasn’t long until she found someone who had done just this. Using a Raspberry Pi, she was able to capture the data and then alarm her via her phone. She then setup a web interface so others could see her data and call her if she didn’t wake.

The next step is obvious. Why not make the state of the insulin pump a function of the data? And thus, a sort of artificial pancreas.

The project is open source for anyone to use and improve upon. She was placed on a list for the 100 most creative people in the US for 2017. We’re not strangers to the idea of an artificial pancreas, but it’s always great to see people using things we make video game consoles out of to save lives.

Thanks to [Dave Zzzz] for the tip!

The Physics of Healing: Radiation Therapy

Few days are worse than a day when you hear the words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, and fear of death all attend the moment when you learn the news, and nothing can prepare you for the shock of learning that your body has betrayed you. It can be difficult to know there’s something growing inside you that shouldn’t be there, and the urge to get it out can be overwhelming.

Sometimes there are surgical options, other times not. But eradicating the tumor is not always the job of a surgeon. Up to 60% of cancer patients will be candidates for some sort of radiation therapy, often in concert with surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be confusing to some people — after all, doesn’t radiation cause cancer? But modern radiation therapy is a remarkably precise process that can selectively kill tumor cells while leaving normal tissue unharmed, and the machines we’ve built to accomplish the job are fascinating tools that combine biology and engineering to help people deal with a dreaded diagnosis.

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Introducing The Mobility Unlimited Challenge

If you take a walk across the centre of your city, you will find it to be a straightforward experience with few inconveniences. The occasional hold-up at a pedestrian crossing perhaps, or maybe a crowd of people in a busy shopping area. If however you take the same walk in the company of a wheelchair user you are likely to encounter an entirely different experience. The streets become a nightmare of obstacles to avoid and inaccessible areas requiring a detour, and suddenly what had been a pleasurable experience becomes a significant effort. Despite building and planning code updates to improve the situation, and millions of dollars invested in ramps, lifts, and other improvements, there remain so many problems to be addressed. Meanwhile legislators and the general public imagine that something has been done, the accessibility box has been ticked, and they can move on to the next thing that captures their attention.

The paralympian athlete [Tatyana McFadden] is an ambassador for the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge, a global competition with the aim of improving mobility for people with disabilities. She’s written a piece introducing the challenge from her informed point of view as a wheelchair user, and makes the point that the basic design of a chair has not significantly changed since the 1930s. Her sentence: “There may be more hype around Bitcoin, but innovators could have far more impact if they turned their attention to how they can make the freedom to move available to all.” is one to make those of us with an interest in technology stop and think. To introduce the challenge they’ve released a glossy video, and we’ve placed it below the break.

As part of this year’s Hackaday Prize, we had an Assistive Technologies section that attracted some fantastic entries. That demonstrates that our community has plenty of people with the required skills, experience, and ideas to make a difference, and we hope that some of them might be among the entries for the Mobility Unlimited competition. If it excites your interest, we’d like to urge you to give it a second look.

A word of warning though – take care to avoid the Engineer Saviour Trap.

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A Callout: Parts for an Iron Lung

Polio was a disease that devastated the United States in the 1950s, but with concerted efforts towards vaccination, is now on the verge of eradication. With the disease a distant memory for most, it’s easy to miss the fact that there are still those suffering the effects of the disease decades after its initial strike.

The iron lung was an invention that helped keep thousands of sufferers alive, by breathing for those who had lost the ability through the degenerative effects of the disease. A small handful of people are still relying on those machines today, and there’s a problem – who is around to keep these machines running?

The story is a powerful one, made up of interviews with those who still rely on their machines on a daily basis to stay alive. Particularly poignant is Lillard’s account of the repairman who came to fix her machine, and tried to leave before putting it back together. As someone who needs the machine operational to survive, this obviously wasn’t going to cut it.

Overall, these are people who have relied on help from friends, neighbours, and local tinkerers to help keep their machines running long after the companies responsible have long stopped supporting the hardware. This has led to an unenviable situation for Lillard herself – she’s no longer able to purchase replacement collars that seal her neck to the machine, as the subsidiary of Phillips responsible only has ten left in the country and will no longer sell to her. Naomi Wu and others are organising on Twitter to find a way to remanufacture these parts. If you’re in the know, or otherwise have the expertise, get involved or throw your ideas down in the comments.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard dark stories of medical equipment from years past – the story of the Therac-25 is particularly chilling.

[via Gizmodo]

Shockingly, DARPA’s Brain Stimulator Might Not be Complete Nonsense

Where does your mind jump when you hear the mention of electroshock therapy? The use of electrical current to treat various medical conditions has a long and controversial history. Our fascination with the medical applications of electricity have produced everything from the most alarming of patent medicines to life-saving devices like pacemakers and the Automatic External Defibrillator.

The oldest reference I could find is the use of the torpedo fish to allegedly cure headaches, gout, and so on in 43 CE. Incidentally, Torpedo torpedo is an awesome species name.

Dosage: Apply live fish as needed to face? Source

Much more recently, there has been interest in transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). In essence, it’s a technique by which you pass an electrical current (typically about 2 milliamps) between strategically positioned electrodes on your head. The precise reason to do this is a bit unclear; different journal articles have suggested improvements in cognition, learning, and/or the potential treatment of various diseases.

I think most of us here spend a lot of time studying. The idea that a simple, noninvasive device can accelerate that is very attractive. We’ve covered a few people building their own such devices.

Unfortunately, what we want to be true is irrelevant. Superficially, this looks like a DARPA-funded panacea with no clearly established mechanism of action. Various commercial products are being sold that imply (but as usual, don’t directly state) that tDCS is useful for treating pretty much everything, with ample use of ‘testimonials’.

While tDCS can be prescribed by a physician in some countries to complement a stroke rehabilitation regime, for off-label purposes you may as well just go apply a fish to your face. Let’s dig into the literature and products that are out there and see if we can find the promise hiding amidst the hype.

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Bionic Eye Trial Approved

Pixium Vision, a French company, has received the approval to begin in-human trials of a miniature wireless sub-retinal implant. Named PRIMA, the device may help those with advanced dry age-related macular degeneration get improvements in their eyesight. The company is in talks to also conduct trials in the United States.

The PRIMA implant is a photovoltaic chip about 2mm square and only 30 microns thick. That’s tiny, but the device has 378 electrodes. The patient uses a device that looks like a conventional pair of glasses but contains an integrated camera that sends data wirelessly to a small pocket-sized image processing computer. This computer then commands the glasses to send data to the implant via invisible infrared light. The chip converts the light to electrical impulses and conducts them to the optic nerve. You can see a video about how the system works below.

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Turn Medical Imaging From 2D Into 3D With Just $10

One of the modern marvels in our medical toolkit is ultrasound imaging. One of its drawbacks, however, is that it displays 2D images. How expensive do you think it would be to retrofit an ultrasound machine to produce 3D images? Try a $10 chip and pennies worth of plastic.

While — of all things — playing the Wii with his son, [Joshua Broder, M.D], an emergency physician and associate professor of surgery at [Duke Health], realized he could port the Wii’s gyroscopic sensor to ultrasound technology. He did just that with the help of [Matt Morgan, Carl Herickhoff and Jeremy Dahl] from [Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering] and [Stanford University]. The team mounted the sensor onto the side of the probe with a 3D printed collar. This relays the orientation data to the computer running software that sutures the images together into a complete 3D image in near real-time, turning a $50,000 ultrasound machine into its $250,000 equivalent.

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