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.
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.
Although there are many skilled and dedicated types of health care professionals, nurses are often the main point of contact between the medical establishment and a patient. You will probably spend more time with your nurse–especially in a hospital setting–than any other health care provider. Every patient’s needs are different, so it isn’t surprising that nurses sometimes improvise unique solutions to help their patients be more comfortable or recover faster.
That’s the idea guiding an innovative program called MakerNurse–an initiative backed by MIT and the Robert W. Johnson Foundation. The idea is to encourage nurses to be makers. One of the project’s cofounders, Anna Young, had found nurses in Central America making do with what they had on hand and naturally acting as makers. “We saw a nurse repair a stethoscope diaphragm with an overhead transparency,” she said. Young noted that often nurses didn’t realize the significance of their making–it was just how they got through the day.
After a failed crowdfunding campaign, MobilECG has gone open source. MobilECG is a medical grade 12 lead electrocardiograph. A 12 lead system is quite a bit more complex than some of the ECG systems we have featured in the past. [Péter], the founder and designer of the device attempted to fund it through an Indiegogo campaign. While MobilECG is relatively cheap, medical certifications are not. The campaign didn’t reach its goal of $230,000 USD. [Péter] tried again with a grass-roots donation round at his website. That round also fell short of [Péter’s] goal to keep working on the project. Rather than let his hard work go to waste, [Péter] has made the decision to release his hardware and software to the community. The hardware is licensed under CERN OHL v1.2. The software is released under the humorously named WTFPL.
While we’re not ECG experts, the basic hardware design appears to be sound. MobileECG is based around the Texas Instruments ADS1278 octal analog to digital converter. Two AVR microcontrollers are used, an ATTiny24, and an ATUC64. The analog design incorporates such niceties as lead off detection and defibrillator protection. It should be noted that there are some known bugs in the design, [Péter] mentions he can be contacted with questions. The software seems to be in an early state, and would require quite a bit of work to get it to a final design. While we do wish [Péter] had better luck with his campaign, we’re always glad to see designs released into the open source community.
Vintage electronics are awesome, and old medical devices doubly so. When [Murtaugh] got his hands on an old ultrasound machine, he knew he had to tear it apart. Even if he wasn’t able to bring it back to a functional state, the components inside make for great history lesson fifty years after being manufactured.
This very primitive ultrasound machine was sold by Siemens beginning in 1963 as a, “diagnostic ultrasound unit for the quick evaluation of cerebral hemorrhage after accidents.” This is barely into the era of transistors and judging from [Murtaugh]’s teardown, nearly the entire device is made of vacuum tubes, capacitors, and resistors. The only solid state component in this piece of equipment is a bridge rectifier found in the power supply. Impressive stuff, even today.
In the end, [Murtaugh] decided this device wasn’t worth repairing. There were cracks all the way through a PCB, and he didn’t have any of the strange proprietary accessories anyway. Still, this junkyard score netted [Murtaugh] a bunch of old tubes and other components, as well as a nifty CRT that came with a wonderful ‘Made in West Germany’ label,.