Prosthetic Limb Restores Amputees’ Sense of Touch
Nov13

Prosthetic Limb Restores Amputees’ Sense of Touch

Thanks to ongoing neurological research at the Revolutionizing Prosthetics department at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), we are seeing incredible breakthroughs in the advancement of prosthetic limbs. The latest development enables amputees to not only control their robotic limbs with their minds, but to feel with them, too. Limbs Need to Communicate Prosthetic limbs have two jobs: to transmit information from a person’s brain to an object (e.g., “Grab the object from the table”), and to transmit information from an object to a person’s brain (e.g., “You now have the object in your hand”). Justin Sanchez, program manager at DARPA, says “Without feedback from signals traveling back to the brain, it can be difficult to achieve the level of control needed to perform precise movements.” Anatomy of DARPA’s New Robotic Limb Scientists have long been able to create limbs that can be controlled by a person’s brain; communicating data back up to the brain has been a bit more difficult. To enable both lanes of communication, Sanchez and his team placed electrodes on various parts of one patient’s brain; specifically, the parts responsible for recognizing sensations like pressure and for controlling body movement. They then connected those electrodes to the patient’s mechanical hand. The hand DARPA used, developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University, included state-of-the-art technology that sent electronic signals to the brain when the person touched an object with his prosthetic hand. As part of their study, the research team blindfolded the patient and touched individual fingers on his hand at random; the patient was able to identify which finger they were touching nearly 100% of the time. When researchers touched two fingers at once, he laughed and asked if they were playing a trick on him. At that point, it became clear how well the hand was actually working. Room for Growth: The Future of Prosthetic Technology DARPA’s technology, which essentially builds a network between a person’s brain, their prosthetic limb, and an object, opens up a number of doors for the future. DARPA is presently working on the paper that will document the details of their findings; after peer review and publication, other researches will be able to use it to modify the direction of their own studies. While the DARPA hand is a huge leap in upper-limb prosthetics, there still is room for improvement. Its movement is still more robotic and jumpy; there’s a lot of work to do before we can say we’ve truly recreated the versatility and maneuverability of the human hand. Some have asked about the possibility of adding temperature sensors and focused, nerve-to-nerve sensitivity. Aesthetics...

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New Graphene Research Looks to Kirigami for Inspiration
Aug10

New Graphene Research Looks to Kirigami for Inspiration

Kirigami, a form of origami, is an ancient Japanese art that involves cutting paper into complex and intricate designs. Anyone who has folded and snipped paper to create a snowflake design has dabbled in kirigami. Researchers at Cornell University recently experimented with kirigami as well, although they were definitely not creating snowflakes. Instead, they made some intriguing new discoveries with graphene research, which may soon change medicine and nanotechnology in far-reaching ways. Graphene is a recently discovered microscopic crystalline form of carbon. At a thickness of only one atom, graphene has superior electrical conductivity and flexibility. It has won the attention of researchers who are looking for ways to incorporate it into electronics, energy-saving lighting systems, medical technology, and more. Beyond Paper Snowflakes When researchers realized that a sheet of graphene behaved in a fashion very similar to a sheet of paper, able to crumple and bend but not stretch, they imagined ways that graphene could be manipulated into shapes. Based on a paper kirigami model, the scientists cut the graphene into hexagonal shapes to create hinges and springs on an atomic scale. Graphene, while extremely soft, is also very sticky, so researchers used a liquid similar to soapy water in order to make the micro-scale cuts and create it into the desired shapes. The hinge, even being only one atom thick, was opened and closed about 10,000 times before warping. Even at full extension, the spring did not lose its conductive properties. These findings have the potential to change the focus and progress of nanotechnology. From Nerve Sensors to Nanoscale Robotics For medical applications there is the potential that a single cell could be monitored with a graphene sensor. If physicians wanted to know if a single neuron in the brain or if a nerve ending on the skin was firing its signal correctly, a graphene sensor would be so tiny and so flexible that, theoretically, its excellent conductive properties would allow it to measure activity of that single cell. This would usher in a new era of personalized medical treatment. Technologically speaking, the ability to create flexible, nanoscale robots would no longer be the stuff of science fiction. Nanobots, powered by graphene circuits, could be ingested and used to diagnose ailments from an entirely new perspective. Flexible graphene sensors could be incorporated into materials that would serve as the muscle fibers of functioning cybernetic limbs or automatons. Cell phones and smart watches would become obsolete with the ability to install nanoscopic sensors directly into the skin. Further research is ongoing. The graphene kirigami will have to function outside of a liquid solution to be viable in medical...

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“Smart Insulin Patch” Could Bring Relief to Millions with Diabetes
Jul13

“Smart Insulin Patch” Could Bring Relief to Millions with Diabetes

A team of doctors and biomedical engineers at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University have developed a precise and convenient patch that could preclude the need of many diabetics ever having to give themselves insulin injections again. Injections can be painful, and if administered improperly, can lead to adverse health effects for the patient. Individuals with type 1 and advanced type 2 diabetes are required to frequently monitor their blood glucose level with finger pricks and control it with diet and insulin shots. An incorrect dose of insulin can lead to blindness, amputations, coma or even death. A “smart insulin patch” has now been developed that could make injections obsolete for most diabetics once human testing has been completed. The patch is small, smaller than the size of a penny, and it has more than 100 microscopic needles covering its surface, each of which measures glucose levels and contains it’s own supply of insulin. The patches can be placed anywhere on the diabetic’s body. They release glucose fast, and they’re made from nontoxic materials. When glucose levels get too high, the appropriate amount of insulin is released into the user’s blood. Factors such as a patient’s weight and sensitivity to insulin are accounted for to make sure that each person gets a safe level of insulin from the patch. They’re engineered to imitate beta cells that naturally produce insulin in the human body and recreate the functions of pancreatic cells. When beta cells sense that there’s too much sugar in the body, they trigger the release of insulin. Using natural materials, the researchers were able to create artificial vesicles that function in the same way. Successful trials of the patch have been performed with mice. The team discovered that glucose levels in mice were satisfactory stabilized within 30 minutes and remained that way for several hours. Mice are known to be  less sensitive to insulin than humans so the hope is that the “smart insulin patch” will be even more effective in people with stable glucose levels lasting longer than in the mice trials. The ultimate goal is to develop a “smart insulin patch” that diabetics would only need to change after a few days. Researchers are planning on moving forward with additional pre-clinical tests and then on to human clinical trials.   If the patch performs as hoped, it could result in the eradication of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia in diabetes patients. That possibility alone, could affect the lives of over 387 million diabetics across the...

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4 Wearables That Just Might Give You Superpowers
Feb24

4 Wearables That Just Might Give You Superpowers

Have you always dreamed of being a superhero? While the wearable industry is still dreaming up a multitude of functional designs, there are a few ideas that we’re really excited about. Augmented Muscles Kineseowear is a form of artificial muscle that can be programmed to react in a variety of ways. You could experience a quick trigger while on a run so that you know where to turn, or you might even be guided through the motions of a new dance. While it won’t be turning you into The Hulk, it could be ideal for correcting your form during yoga, weightlifting exercises, and other athletic sessions. Improved Control Have no motor skills? Ouijiband could be used to gently guide your hand and take the tremor out of your muscles, allowing you to experience better control than ever before. Whether drawing or perhaps even completing a surgical operation, you would be certain not to make any sudden movements. Not only could this help for a variety of technical skills, but it could be promising for those with diseases like Parkinson’s. Hidden Identity What’s a superhero without his or her secret identity? The Snapchat IRL could sense camera flashes and then create another flash, in order to make sure that you’re never captured by the paparazzi. Snapchat IRL would also enable you to talk to people in private in person — basically making it so that your clandestine activities cannot be photographed or eavesdropped. Better Hearing Have you ever wanted to just drown it all out? Lalala can isolate sounds for you and noise-cancel anything that you don’t want to hear. Often, the problem in listening isn’t that volume is too low, but instead that other ambient noises are interfering. Lalala could connect you to anyone, even in a crowded room, and ensure that you are able to pay attention to absolutely everything they have to say.   Of course, wearable technology hasn’t progressed very far yet — but who knows what’s to come in the future?...

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A $34 Smartphone Gadget That Can Detect HIV in 15 Minutes
Feb19

A $34 Smartphone Gadget That Can Detect HIV in 15 Minutes

Over the years, mobile phones have rapidly progressed from bulky, glorified walkie-talkies to a device capable of performing nearly all the functions of a desktop computer. In today’s world, the ubiquitous smartphone has become an incredibly versatile tool for everyone, including scientists and engineers. One recent invention proves just how advanced and life-altering this technology has become. Columbia University biomedical engineering researchers Tiffany Guo and Tassaneewan Laksanasopin have created a device capable of detecting HIV and syphilis in 15 minutes – and its diagnostic powers rely upon a smartphone! The device attaches to any iPhone or Android device through the audio jack and, with one finger prick, a patient drops a small sample of blood onto a cassette that contains a microfluidic chip. That cassette is then inserted into the device and, after just 15 minutes, the results of the test are displayed on the smartphone’s screen. It does all of this, yet costs only $34 dollars to manufacture. The affordable gadget was tested during a small clinical trial in Kigali, Rwanda. During that time, 96 patients participated and researchers concluded that the invention is on par with the most accurate HIV diagnostic tests on today’s market. The implementation of such a device in third-world countries where HIV spreads rapidly could save thousands. This is especially apt in the cases of pregnant women who, as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports, can lower the risk of passing the disease onto their offspring to under one percent if the HIV is detected early and they are able to begin antiviral medication. The idea was first conceived in 2007, but took off in 2013 when researchers thought it would be advantageous to harvest the power, portability and affordability of smartphones. “We saw that the smartphone as this ubiquitous device that already had a lot of the components that we wanted,” Guo said. “So we stripped our dongle down to the essentials of what we needed for our assay—very simple optics and very simple fluid control.” The next step for the device is to seek approval from the World Health Organization, which would allow it to be used to help diagnose thousands of patients in needy countries all over the...

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New Robot Makes Creating New Life Forms Easy
Nov21

New Robot Makes Creating New Life Forms Easy

It’s entirely possible that the biggest changes in society during this century will come about due to innovations in biotechnology. One of the most talked about is the OpenTrons project. This open-source liquid-handling robot was developed in the Brooklyn, New York community biolab, Genspace. With open-source technology, anyone is able to build, modify or copy the the work depending on their personal preference, and can do so at the ridiculously low price of $35, the price of a Raspberry Pi microcomputer.  The popularity of 3-D printing has helped dramatically reduce the price of a basic OpenTrons to $2,000 by making it possible to cheaply and accurately duplicate the mechanical components. The thinking is that, much like people who work together coding to develop computer websites, software and apps, those working in Genspace-type facilities across the world will collaborate on biotech projects. One of the projects backers says this project is built for researchers who are not interested in programming but are interested in using simple interfaces.  Using robots eliminates the need for researchers to perform mind-numbingly repetitive jobs that lend themselves to errors caused by lapses in concentration. Other similar projects include Modern Meadow, which attempts to keep animals alive by “printing” such things as leather and meat through means of biotech, and synthetic biology tries to create genetic breakthroughs in such things as life-saving drugs and fertilizer by piecing together new organisms. One of the hopes is that standard lab protocols will be established in order to produce regular data that can then be duplicated. The end result would be that researchers could spend their time using their minds to think up new possibilities instead of becoming laborers who works with their...

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