Smart Sutures Become WiSe

A team at the Wireless Bioelectronics Lab at the National University of Singapore led by [Dr John Ho] announced the results of their new Wireless Sensing (WiSe) smart sutures program last month. Their system consists of a specially prepared patch of polymer gel (the sensor) which is sewn into the wound using a silk suture coated with a conductive polymer. An external reader scans the sensor to monitor the status of the wound.

The concept is not unlike a NFC public transportation card, although with simplified electronics. There is no microcontroller or digital data being transferred. Rather, the sensor behaves like a tuned tank. The gel on the sensor was designed to degrade if the wound becomes infected, changing capacitance of the sensor structure and thus shifting its resonant frequency.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to experience surgery, no doubt the surgeon and nurses drove home the importance of diligent monitoring of the wound for early signs of infection. These smart sutures allow detection of wound infection even before symptoms can seen or felt. They can be used on internal stitches up to 50 mm inside the body. More details can be read in this paper, and we covered another type of smart sensor back in 2016.

Hacking When It Counts: Surgery Fit To Save A Future King

When we picture the Medieval world, it conjures up images of darkness, privations, and sickness the likes of which are hard to imagine from our sanitized point of view. The 1400s, and indeed the entirety of history prior to the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, was a time when the merest scratch acquired in the business of everyday life could lead to an infection ending in a slow, painful death. Add in the challenges of war, where violent men wielding sharp things on a filthy field of combat, and it’s a wonder people survived at all.

But then as now, some people are luckier than others, and surviving what even today would likely be a fatal injury was not unknown, as one sixteen-year-old boy in 1403 would discover. It didn’t hurt that he was the son of the king of England, and when he earned an arrow in his face in combat, every effort would be made to save the prince and heir to the throne. It also helped that he had the good fortune to have a surgeon with the imagination to solve the problem, and the skill to build a tool to help.

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Surgery Robot Is A Real Cut Up

A robot that performs surgery is a serious thing. One bug in the control system could end with disaster. Unless of course, you’re [Michael Reeves], in which case disaster is all part of the fun. (Video, embedded below.)

Taking inspiration from The da Vinci Surgical System, [Michael] set out to build a system that was faster, while still maintaining precision. He created a belt drive gantry system, not unlike many 3D printers, laser cutters, or woodworking CNC machines. Machines like this often use stepper motors. [Michael] decided to go with [Oskar Weigl’s] ODrive and brushless motors instead. The ODrive is on open source controller which turns off the shelf brushless motors — such as those found in R/C planes or hoverboards, into precision industrial servos. Sound familiar? ODrive was an entrant in the 2016 Hackaday Prize. [Michael] was even able to do away the ubiquitous limit switch by monitoring current draw with the ODrive.

It all adds up to a serious build. But this is [Michael “laser eye” Reeves] after all. The video is meant to be entertaining, with a hidden payload of education and inspiration. The fun starts when he arms the robot with a giant kitchen knife and performs “surgery” on a pineapple. If you want to know what happens when mannequins and fake blood enter the picture, then watch the video after the break.

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Hacking Surgery: Suspended Animation May Be Here

Suspended animation is a staple of science fiction. Need to take a 200 year trip to another star system? Go to sleep in some sort of high-tech coccoon and wake up at your destination. We saw it in Star Trek, 2001, and many other places. Doctors at the University of Maryland have reprtedly put at least one patient in suspended animation, and it isn’t to send them to outer space. The paper (behind a paywall, of course) is available if you have the medical background to wade through it. There’s also a patent that describes the procedure.

Trauma surgeons are frustrated because they often see patients who have been in an accident or have been shot or stabbed that they could save if they only had the time. A patient arriving at an ER with over half their blood lost and their heart stopped have a less than 5% chance of leaving the ER without a toe tag. By placing the patient in suspended animation, doctors can gain up to two hours to work on injuries that previously had to be repaired in mere minutes.

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Bird Beats Cancer With The Help Of A 3D-Printed Prosthetic

It’s a reasonable certainty that 3D-printing is one day going to be a huge part of medicine. From hip implants to stents that prop open blood vessels to whole organs laid down layer by layer, humans will probably benefit immensely from medical printing. But if they do, the animals will get there first; somebody has to try this stuff out, after all.

An early if an unwilling adopter of 3D-printed medical appliances is [Jary], a 22-year-old Great Pied Hornbill, who recently received a 3D-printed replacement for his casque, the large, mostly hollow protuberance on the front the bird’s skull leading out over the upper beak. There’s no known function for the casque, but it had to be removed since cancer was destroying it and [Jary] wouldn’t have fared well post-surgically without one. Working from CT scans, the veterinary team created a model of the casque as well as a jig to guide the saw during surgery. There’s no word on what filament was used, but we’d guess PLA since it’s biocompatible and available in medical grades. The video below shows some of the surgery; it’s interesting to note that the prosthetic started out natural colored but quickly turned yellow as [Jary] preened with oils from glands near his tail feathers, just like a natural casque would.

Hornbills live to about 40 years old, so [Jary] is just middle-aged. Here’s hoping that he lives a long, happy life in return for being a pioneer in 3D-printing for medical and surgical appliances.

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Decellularization: Apples To Earlobes

Our bodies are not like LEGO blocks or computers because we cannot swap out our parts in the living room while watching television. Organ transplants and cosmetic surgery are currently our options for upgrades, repairs, and augments, but post-transplant therapy can be a lifelong commitment because of rejection. Elective surgery costs more than a NIB Millenium Falcon LEGO set. Laboratories have been improving the processes and associated treatments for decades but experimental labs and even home laboratories are getting in on the action as some creative minds take the stage. These folks aren’t performing surgeries, but they are expanding what is possible to for people to do and learn without a medical license.

One promising gateway to human building blocks is the decellularization and recellularization of organic material. Commercial scaffolds exist but they are expensive, so the average tinkerer isn’t going to be buying a few to play with over a holiday weekend.

Let’s explore what all this means. When something is decellularized, it means that the cells are removed, but the structure holding the cells in place remains. Recellularizing is the process where new cells are grown in that area. Decellularizing is like stripping a Hilton hotel down to the girders. The remaining structures are the ECM or the Extra Cellular Matrix, usually referred to as scaffolding. The structure has a shape but no functionality, like a stripped hotel. The scaffolding can be repopulated with new cells in the same way that our gutted hotel can be rebuilt as a factory, office building, or a hospital.

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Jerri Nielsen: Surviving The Last Place On Earth

There may be no place on Earth less visited by humans than the South Pole. Despite a permanent research base with buildings clustered about the pole and active scientific programs, comparatively few people have made the arduous journey there. From October to February, up to 200 people may be stationed at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station for the Antarctic summer, and tourists checking an item off their bucket lists come and go. But by March, when the sun dips below the horizon for the next six months, almost everyone has cleared out, except for a couple of dozen “winter-overs” who settle in to maintain the station, carry on research, and survive the worst weather Mother Nature brews up anywhere on the planet.

To be a winter-over means accepting the fact that whatever happens, once that last plane leaves, you’re on your own for eight months. Such isolation and self-reliance require special people, and Dr. Jerri Nielsen was one who took the challenge. But as she and the other winter-overs watched the last plane leave the Pole in 1998 and prepared for the ritual first-night screening of John Carpenter’s The Thing, she had no way of knowing what she would have to do to survive the cancer that was even then growing inside her.

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