Healing Wounds With The Power Of Electricity

Once upon a time, even a simple cut or scrape could be a death sentence. Before germ theory and today’s scientific understanding of medicine, infections ran rampant and took many lives.

While we’re now well-armed with disinfectants, dressings, and antibiotics, scientists are continuing to investigate new and unique methods to improve the treatment of wounds. As it turns out, a little electricity might actually help wounds heal faster.

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3D Printing Pills All At Once

To the uninitiated, it might seem like a gimmick to 3D print pharmaceuticals. After all, you take some kind of medicine, pour it in a mold, and you have a pill, right? But researchers and even some commercial companies are 3D printing drugs with unusual chemical or physical properties. For example, pills with braille identification on them or antibiotics with complex drug-release rates. The Universidade de Santiago de Compostela and the University College London can now 3D print pills without relying on a layer-by-layer approach. Instead, the machine produces the entire pill directly.

According to a recent report on the study, there are at least two things holding back printed pills. First, anything medical has to go through rigorous testing for approval in nearly any country. In addition, producing pills at typical 3D printing speeds is uneconomical. This new approach uses multiple beams of light to polymerize an entire tank of resin at once in as little as seven seconds.

With 3D printed drugs, it is possible to tailor release profiles for individual cases and make hybrid drugs such as a French drug that joins anticancer drugs with another drug to manage side effects. Is this a real thing for the future? Will doctors collect enough data to make it meaningful to tailor drugs to patients? Will regulators allow it? For hybrid medicine, is there really an advantage over just taking two pills? Only time will tell.

Sure, technology can help dispense pills. We know, too, that 3D printing can be useful for prostheses and medical devices. We aren’t so sure about pharmaceuticals, but in the meantime you can already order custom-printed vitamins.

Bionic Implants Can Go Obsolete And Unsupported, Too

When a piece of hardware goes unsupported by a company, it can be frustrating. Bugs may no longer get fixed, or in the worst cases, perfectly good hardware can stop working entirely as software licences time out. Sadly, for a group reliant on retinal implants from company Second Sight, the company has since stopped producing and supporting the devices that give them a crude form of bionic sight.

The devices themselves consist of electrodes implanted into the retina, which can send signals to the nervous system which appear as spots of light to the user. A camera feed is used to capture images which are then translated into signals sent to the retinal electrodes. The results are low-resolution to say the least, and the vision supplied is crude, but it gives users that are blind a rudimentary sense that they never had before. It’s very much a visual equivalent to the cochlear implant technology.

The story is altogether too familiar; Second Sight Medical Products came out with a cutting-edge device, raised money and put it out into the world, only to go bankrupt down the road, leaving its users high and dry. Over 350 people have the implants fitted in one eye, while one Terry Byland is the sole person to have implants in both his left and right eyeballs. Performance of the device was mixed, with some users raving about the device while others questioned its utility.

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Regenerative Medicine: The Promise Of Undoing The Ravages Of Time

In many ways, the human body is like any other machine in that it requires constant refueling and maintenance to keep functioning. Much of this happens without our intervention beyond us selecting what to eat that day. There are however times when due to an accident, physical illness or aging the automatic repair mechanisms of our body become overwhelmed, fail to do their task correctly, or outright fall short in repairing damage.

Most of us know that lizards can regrow tails, some starfish regenerate into as many new starfish as the pieces which they were chopped into, and axolotl can regenerate limbs and even parts of their brain. Yet humans too have an amazing regenerating ability, although for us it is mostly contained within the liver, which can regenerate even when three-quarters are removed.

In the field of regenerative medicine, the goal is to either induce regeneration in damaged tissues, or to replace damaged organs and tissues with externally grown ones, using the patient’s own genetic material. This could offer us a future in which replacement organs are always available at demand, and many types of injuries are no longer permanent, including paralysis. Continue reading “Regenerative Medicine: The Promise Of Undoing The Ravages Of Time”

Open-Source Insulin: Biohackers Aiming For Distributed Production

When you’ve got a diabetic in your life, there are few moments in any day that are free from thoughts about insulin. Insulin is literally the first coherent thought I have every morning, when I check my daughter’s blood glucose level while she’s still asleep, and the last thought as I turn out the lights, making sure she has enough in her insulin pump to get through the night. And in between, with the constant need to calculate dosing, adjust levels, add corrections for an unexpected snack, or just looking in the fridge and counting up the number of backup vials we have on hand, insulin is a frequent if often unwanted intruder on my thoughts.

And now, as my daughter gets older and seeks like any teenager to become more independent, new thoughts about insulin have started to crop up. Insulin is expensive, and while we have excellent insurance, that can always change in a heartbeat. But even if it does, the insulin must flow — she has no choice in the matter. And so I thought it would be instructional to take a look at how insulin is made on a commercial scale, in the context of a growing movement of biohackers who are looking to build a more distributed system of insulin production. Their goal is to make insulin affordable, and with a vested interest, I want to know if they’ve got any chance of making that goal a reality.

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Willem Kolff’s Artificial Organs

In my youth I worked for a paid ambulance service, and while we all lived for the emergency calls, the routine transports were the calls that paid the bills. Compared with the glamor and excitement of a lights-and-siren run to a car wreck or heart attack, transports were dull as dirt. And dullest of all were the daily runs from nursing homes to the dialysis center, where rows of comfy chairs sat, each before a refrigerator-sized machine designed to filter the blood of a patient in renal failure, giving them another few days of life.

Sadly, most of those patients were doomed; many were in need of a kidney transplant for which there was no suitable donor, while some were simply not candidates for transplantation. Dialysis was literally all that stood between them and a slow, painful death, and I could see that at least some of them were cheered by the sight of the waiting dialysis machine. The principles of how the kidneys work have been known since at least the 1800s, but it would take until 1945 for the efforts of a Dutch doctor, using used car parts and sausage casings, to make the predecessor of those machines: the first artificial kidney.

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3D Printed Tourniquets Are Not A Cinch

Saying that something is a cinch is a way of saying that it is easy. Modeling a thin handle with a hole through the middle seems like it would be a simple task accomplishable in a single afternoon and that includes the time to print a copy or two. We are here to tell you that is only the first task when making tourniquets for gunshot victims. Content warning: there are real pictures of severe trauma. Below, is a video of a training session with the tourniquets in Hayat Center in Gaza and has a simulated wound on a mannequin.

On the first pass, many things are done correctly: the handle is the correct length and diameter, the strap hole fit the strap, and the part is well oriented on the platen. As with many first iterations, it looks good on a screen, but in the real world, we all live under Murphy’s law. In practice, some of the strap holes had sharp edges that cut into the strap, and one of the printed buckles broke unexpectedly.

On the whole, the low cost and availability of the open-source tourniquets outweigh the danger of operating without them. Open-source medical devices are not just for use in the field, they can help with training too. This tourniquet is saving people and proving that modeling skills can be a big help in the real world.
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