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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Internal Power Pills

Arguably the biggest hurdle to implanted electronics is in the battery. A modern mobile phone can run for a day or two without a charge, but that only needs to fit into a pocket and were its battery to enter a dangerous state it can be quickly removed from the pocket. Implantable electronics are not so easy to toss on the floor. If the danger of explosion or poison isn’t enough, batteries for implantables and ingestibles are just too big.

Researchers at MIT are working on a new technology which could move the power source outside of the body and use a wireless power transfer system to energize things inside the body. RFID implants are already tried and tested, but they also seem to be the precursor to this technology. The new implants receive multiple signals from an array of antennas, but it is not until a couple of the antennas peak simultaneously that the device can harvest enough power to activate. With a handful of antennas all supplying power, this happens regularly enough to power a device 0.1m below the skin while the antenna array is 1m from the patient. Multiple implants can use those radio waves at the same time.

The limitations of these devices will become apparent, but they could be used for releasing drugs at prescribed times, sensing body chemistry, or giving signals to the body. At this point, just being able to get the devices to turn on so far under flesh is pretty amazing.

Recently, we asked what you thought of the future of implanted technology and the comment section of that article is a treasure trove of opinions. Maybe this changes your mind or solidifies your opinion.

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Modular Blocks Help Fight Disease

When engineering a solution to a problem, an often-successful approach is to keep the design as simple as possible. Simple things are easier to produce, maintain, and use. Whether you’re building a robot, operating system, or automobile, this type of design can help in many different ways. Now, researchers at MIT’s Little Devices Lab have taken this philosophy to testing for various medical conditions, using a set of modular blocks.

Each block is designed for a specific purpose, and can be linked together with other blocks. For example, one block may be able to identify Zika virus, and another block could help determine blood sugar levels. By linking the blocks together, a healthcare worker can build a diagnosis system catered specifically for their needs. The price tag for these small, simple blocks is modest as well: about $0.015, or one and a half cents per block. They also don’t need to be refrigerated or handled specially, and some can be reused.

This is an impressive breakthrough that is poised to help not only low-income people around the world, but anyone with a need for quick, accurate medical diagnoses at a marginal cost. Keeping things simple and modular allows for all kinds of possibilities, as we recently covered in the world of robotics.

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Eating A QR Code May Save Your Life Someday

QR codes are easy to produce, resistant to damage, and can hold a considerable amount of data. But generally speaking, eating them has no practical purpose. Unfortunately the human digestive tract lacks the ability to interpret barcodes, 2D or otherwise. But thanks to the University of Copenhagen, that may soon change.

A new paper featured in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics details research being done to print QR codes with ink that contains medicine. The mixture of medicines in the ink can be tailored to each individual patient, and the QR code itself can contain information about who the drugs were mixed for. With a standard QR reader application on their smartphone, nurses and care givers can scan the medicine itself and know they are giving it to the right person; cutting down the risk of giving patients the wrong medication.

The process involves using a specialized inkjet printer to deposit the medicine-infused ink on a white edible substrate. In testing, the substrate held up to rough handling and harsh conditions while still keeping the QR code legible; an important test if this technology is to make the leap from research laboratory to real-world hospitals.

In the future the researchers hope the edible substrate can be produced and sent to medical centers, and that the medicinal ink itself will be printable on standard inkjet printers. If different medicines were loaded into the printer as different colors, it should even be possible to mix customized drug “cocktails” through software. Like many research projects it seems likely the real-world application of the technology won’t be as easy as the researchers hope, but it’s a fascinating take on the traditional method of dispersing medication.

QR codes have long been a favorite of the hacker community. From recovering data from partial codes to using them to tunnel TCP/IP, we’ve seen our fair share of QR hacks over the years.

[Thanks to Qes for the tip]

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Automate The Freight: Medical Deliveries By Drone

Being a cop’s kid leaves you with a lot of vivid memories. My dad was a Connecticut State Trooper for over twenty years, and because of the small size of the state, he was essentially on duty at all times. His cruiser was very much the family vehicle, and like all police vehicles, it was loaded with the tools of the trade. Chief among them was the VHF two-way radio, which I’d listen to during long car rides, hearing troopers dispatched to this accident or calling in that traffic stop.

One very common call was the blood relay — Greenwich Hospital might have had an urgent need for Type B+ blood, but the nearest supply was perhaps at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The State Police would be called, a trooper would pick up the blood in a cooler, drive like hell down I-95, and hand deliver the blood to waiting OR personnel. On a good day, a sufficiently motivated and skilled trooper could cover that 45-mile stretch in about half an hour. On a bad day, the trooper might end up in an accident and in need of blood himself.

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I’m A Tricorder, Not A Doctor, Jim!

Machine learning and automated technologies are poised to disrupt employment in many industries — looking at you autonomous vehicles — and medicine is not immune to this encroachment. The Qualcomm Tricorder competition run by the X-Prize foundation has just wrapped, naming [Final Frontier Medical Devices]’s DxtER the closest thing available to Star Trek’s illustrious medical tricorder which is an oft referenced benchmark for diagnostic automation.

The competition’s objective was for teams to develop a handheld, non-invasive device that could diagnose 12 diseases and an all-clear result in 24 hours or less without any assistance. [Dynamical Biomarkers Group] took second place prize worth $1 million, with [Final Frontier Medical devices] — a company run by two brothers and mostly financed by themselves and their siblings — snagging the top prize of $2.5 million. DxtER comes equipped with a suite of sensors to monitor your vitals and body chemistry, and is actually able to diagnose 34 conditions well in advance of the time limit by monitoring vital signs and comparing them to a wealth of medical databases and encyclopediae. The future, as they say, is now.

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