November 5, 2017

Some recent articles on medical research and technology

Nintendo Wii-inspired microchip turns 2D ultrasound machines into 3D imaging devices

A Nintendo Wii controller has inspired scientists to convert a portable ultrasound into a cheap 3D scanner. Scientists used a common microchip costing just £7 ($10) that tracks how your smartphone or controller is oriented to convert current hospital ultrasound machines. It produced an instant 3D model similar in quality to a CT scan or MRI that are five times more expensive. It is also portable enough to be used in casualty to let doctors instantly know if a patient suffers internal bleeding or provide pregnant women with cheaper 3D scans of their babies.

The fingernail sized chip mounts onto a traditional plastic ultrasound probe that slides over a patient's skin, relaying two dimensional pictures of internal organs or unborn babies. Just like the Wii video game controller, the chip registers the probe's orientation and ten uses software to seamlessly stitch hundreds of individual slices of the anatomy together in 3D.

Professor Joshua Broder, lead researcher from of Duke University, North Carolina, explained: 'With 2D technology you see a visual slice of an organ, but without any context, you can make mistakes.'These are problems that can be solved with the added orientation and holistic context of 3D technology. Professor Broder said the idea came to him while playing with a Nintendo Wii gaming system with his son. With the game console's ability to accurately track the exact position of the controller, he wondered about just sticking the controller to an ultrasound probe with duct tape.  The technology is now being tested in clinical trials to determine how it fits in the flow of patient care.

Doctors replace boy’s skin using breakthrough gene therapy, stem cells

In a breakthrough treatment, researchers at a burn unit in Europe found a way to replace 80 percent of a boy’s skin using a combination of gene therapy and stem cells. The grafted skin attached to his body has continued to replace itself, even months later.  The patient –- a boy who was 7 years old at the time of the treatment –- was born with a rare skin condition called junctional epidermolysis bullosa. The condition causes the outer layer of the skin to peel away easily from the lower skin layers, making it incredibly fragile and prone to injury....In this case, the treatment may have been lifesaving. The patient arrived at the hospital with a life-threatening bacterial skin infection spread over much of his body. Over the following weeks, his doctors tried everything they could to treat him without success.  Out of options, his treatment team was preparing to start end-of-life care when his parents pleaded with them to try an experimental therapy.

Single injection of stem cells could banish back pain for up to three years

Stem cell injections into the spine ease the discomfort of around half of chronic lower back pain sufferers for two years, with some even being symptom-free three years later, a study found. Researchers believe injected stem cells re-inflate vertebrae that have dried and cracked by causing water to trap between discs. Such treatments could resolve the opioid endemic that killed 33,000 people in the US in 2015 alone, with half of such painkiller prescriptions being due to chronic lower back pain.

Researchers from the drug manufacturer Mesoblast in Melbourne injected stem cells into 100 people with degenerative disc disease, which accounts for around 22 percent of cases of chronic lower back pain. The stem cells were extracted from the bone marrow of donors and grown in a lab to create large quantities. Results reveal one stem cell injection helped around half of the study's participants to experience no back pain for two years. Some of the participants have been pain-free for three years. Almost half of those treated became mobile and dropped 15 points on a 100-scale disability score versus just 13 percent receiving a placebo.

Feeling hungry or full is down to our BONES

We've long been told that a part of our brain controls our appetite – but a new study suggests that our bones also play a key role. A hormone they produce, called osteocalcin, has been shown to affect how we metabolize sugar and fat. It has also been associated with insulin sensitivity, which is linked to developing type 2 diabetes.

Professor Mathieu Ferron, of the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM), spent the last decade studying osteocalcin. ... He says osteocalcin is produced by osteoblasts, the same cells responsible for making our bones. The hormone builds up in bone, and then, through a series of chemical reactions, is released into the blood.  'When it is first produced in osteoblasts, osteocalcin is in an inactive form,' he explained. 'What interested us was understanding how osteocalcin becomes active so as to be able to play its role when released into the blood.' His lab demonstrated that an enzyme, which acts like molecular scissors, is required
Professor Ferron's team succeeded in identifying the protein furin which causes osteocalcin to become active and the hormone is then released into the blood. He said: 'We demonstrated that when there was no furin in bone cells, inactive osteocalcin built up and was still released, but this led to an increase in blood glucose levels and a reduction in energy expenditure and insulin production.' Professor Ferron explained that deleting these 'scissors' also had an unexpected effect: it reduced the mice's appetite.

The iPhone ultrasound device that can spot CANCER

Dr John Martin diagnosed his own stage four cancer last summer - using only his iPhone. The 59-year-old doctor is a vascular surgeon and the chief medical officer at Butterfly Network, a company that has invented a handheld ultrasound machine that can connect to an iPhone called the Butterfly iQ.  While the product was being tested for FDA clearance in July, Dr Martin decided to scan his own neck using the device because he felt a mass in his throat. The results that popped up on his phone screen revealed he had metastatic cancer. It had started in his tongue and throat and spread to his neck. After surgery, it was downgraded to stage three and now, coming to the end of six weeks of radiation, doctors say he looks set to be cured.

A new blood test could predict from the earliest stage of pregnancy whether a woman will go on to suffer a miscarriage.

The test, carried out in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, can also predict if a woman is at risk of giving birth prematurely or developing pre-eclampsia, a potentially fatal condition causing high blood pressure. Researchers from the Laboratory for Reproductive Medicine and Immunology in San Francisco discovered molecules in the blood that predict these birth complications with up to 98 per cent accuracy.  More research is needed before the test could be rolled out – but the findings have been hailed as 'very promising'.

Algorithm can identify suicidal people using brain scans

Scientists have trained a computer program to identify people with suicidal thoughts based on their brain scans. The study is small, but the method could one day be used for diagnosing mental health conditions, researchers say....The algorithm isn't perfect — and a medical test would have to be. It may also not become widely used since brain scans are expensive. But “it’d be nice to have this additional method,” says study author Marcel Just, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Thirty-four volunteers participated in the study: 17 with suicidal thoughts and 17 without. The volunteers read 30 words that were either positive (“bliss”), negative (“cruelty”), or related to death (“suicide”) and thought about the meanings while undergoing a type of brain scan called fMRI.  Researchers found that the responses to six words — “death,” “trouble,” “carefree,” “good,” “praise,” and “cruelty” — showed the biggest differences between the two groups of participants. So, they gave a machine-learning algorithm these results for every person except one.
Posted by Jill Fallon at November 5, 2017 11:36 PM | Permalink