Tiny Injectable LEDs Help Neuroscientists Study the Brain

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new class of tiny, injectable LEDs is illuminating the deep mysteries of the brain.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis developed ultrathin, flexible optoelectronic devices – including LEDs the size of individual neurons – that are lighting the way for neuroscientists in the field of optogenetics and beyond.

Led by John A. Rogers, the Swanlund professor of materials science and engineering at the U. of I., and Michael R. Bruchas, a professor of anesthesiology at Washington University, the researchers will publish their work in the April 12 issue of the journal Science.

“These materials and device structures open up new ways to integrate semiconductor components directly into the brain,”

said Rogers, who directs the Frederick Seitz Research Laboratory at the U. of I.

“More generally, the ideas establish a paradigm for delivering sophisticated forms of electronics into the body: ultra-miniaturized devices that are injected into and provide direct interaction with the depths of the tissue.”

The researchers demonstrated the first application of their devices in optogenetics, a new area of neuroscience that uses light to stimulate targeted neural pathways in the brain. The procedure involves genetically programming specific neurons to respond to light. Optogenetics allows researchers to study precise brain functions in isolation in ways that are impossible with electrical stimulation, which affects neurons throughout a broad area, or with drugs, which saturate the whole brain.

Optogenetics experiments with mice illustrate the ability to train complex behaviors without physical reward, and to alleviate certain anxiety responses. Yet fundamental insights into the structure and function of the brain that emerge from such studies could have implications for treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, anxiety and other neurological disorders.

While a number of important neural pathways now can be studied by optogenetics, researchers continue to struggle with the engineering challenge of delivering light to precise regions deep within the brain. The most widely used methods tether the animals to lasers with fiber-optic cables embedded in the skull and brain – an invasive procedure that also limits movements, affects natural behaviors and prevents study of social interactions.

The newly developed technologies bypass these limitations with specially designed powerful LEDs – among the world’s smallest, with sizes comparable to single cells – that are injected into the brain to provide direct illumination and precise control. The devices are printed onto the tip end of a thin, flexible plastic ribbon – thinner than a human hair and narrower than the eye of a needle – that can insert deep into the brain with very little stress to tissue.

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“One of the big issues with implanting something into the brain is the potential damage it can cause,”

Bruchas said.

“These devices are specifically designed to minimize those problems, and they are much more effective than traditional approaches.”

The active devices include not only LEDs but also various sensors and electrodes that are delivered into the brain with a thin, releasable micro-injection needle. The ribbon connects the devices to a wireless antenna and a rectifier circuit that harvests radio frequency energy to power the devices. This module mounts on top of the head and can be unplugged from the ribbon when not in use.

“Study of complex behaviors, social interactions and natural responses demands technologies that impose minimal constraints,”

Rogers said.

“The systems we have developed allow the animals to move freely and to interact with one another in a natural way, but at the same time provide full, precise control over the delivery of light into the depth of the brain.”

The complete device platform includes LEDs, temperature and light sensors, microscale heaters and electrodes that can both stimulate and record electrical activity. These components enable many other important functions – for example, researchers can measure the electrical activity that results from light stimulation, giving additional insight into complex neural circuits and interactions within the brain.

The breadth of device options suggests that this wireless, injectable platform could be used for other types of neuroscience studies – or even applied to other organs. For example, Rogers’ team has developed related devices for stimulating peripheral nerves in the leg as a potential route to pain management. They also have built devices with LEDs of multiple colors, so that several neural circuits can be studied with a single injected system.

“These cellular-scale, injectable devices represent frontier technologies with potentially broad implications,”

Rogers said. His group is known for its success in the development of soft sheets of sophisticated electronics that wrap the brain or the heart or that adhere directly to the skin.

“But none of those devices penetrates into the depth of tissue,”

Rogers said.

“That’s the challenge that we’re trying to address with this new approach. Many cases, ranging from fundamental studies to clinical interventions, demand access directly into the depth. This is just the first of many examples of injectable semiconductor microdevices that will follow.”

The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Energy supported this work. Rogers is also affiliated with the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory; the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology; and the departments of bioengineering, chemistry, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois.

Source: University of Illinois

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Neurotrack to Detect Alzheimer’s Years Before Debilitating Symptoms Appear, Wins SXSW Health Prize

Being able to diagnose people with Alzheimer’s disease years before debilitating symptoms appear is now a step closer to reality. Researchers behind Neurotrack, the technology startup that took the first health prize at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) startup accelerator in Austin, says their new technology can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease up to six years before symptoms appear with 100 percent accuracy.

“It’s a computer-based visual cognitive test that is able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease six years before symptoms appear,” Elli Kaplan, chief executive officer of the Richmond, Virginia-based startup, told AFP.

Around 5.4 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the number is expected to rise to 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. However, Kaplan said, today most Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed at late stage, which leaves them with limited treatment options.

“It’s the same thing as what happened with breast cancer before they had the mammogram,” Kaplan said, according to gigaom.com. “They’re diagnosing at the equivalent of stage 4, when there’s already irreparable damage.”

Kaplan, who graduated from Harvard Business School and is a mother-of-two who lost two grandparents to Alzheimer’s disease, said Neurotrack was developed in collaboration with neuroscientists now at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

The computer-based program comes in two versions: one using an infrared camera and the other using a simple computer mouse.  The program is connected to an eye-tracking device that monitors patients’ eye movements as they compare new and old images that appear briefly on a screen.

The program analyzes patients’ eye movements and time spent looking at familiar and new images and then generates a score. Kaplan said 100 percent of subjects who scored below 50 percent on the test have gone to receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis within six years, while none of those who scored above 67 have developed Alzheimer’s.

“By monitoring the way a person moves their eyes, and watching how they view novel images versus familiar images, we’re able to detect perturbations that exist on the hippocampus,” Kaplan said, referring to the brain region responsible for memory.  Past research has shown that the hippocampus is also the first part of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s “Every human being has an instinctive preference for novelty and that’s one of the things that we are testing,” she said, according to AFP.

Kaplan said that the initial users of Neurotrack will be pharmaceutical companies to help them develop new drugs to prevent, or at least slow the progression of the neurodegenerative disease. She added that down the line, Neurotrack would then be rolled out to doctor’s offices and research hospitals. She added that the technology could also be developed into a smartphone and tablet app that consumers can use at home.

“We’re actually working on this,” Kaplan explained to AFP. “We are not very far away from a technology that will work on your (mobile) phone or on your tablet.”

“In 10 years, our hope is that there will be a pill that you can take (to combat Alzheimer’s). You’d simply go in for an annual screening test-and if you get the news that you are on a trajectory for Alzheimer’s, you’d be able to do something about it,” she added.

Other health startups that competed at the SXSW accelerator include Docphin, a web-based platform for healthcare professionals to access and share medical research and Careport Health, which helps hospitals find appropriate after-care treatment for their patients.

Source: Counsel & Heal

Microchip Implant Lets Blind Patients See Shapes

An eye-implanted chip from Retina Implant has restored patients’ ability to discern light during its latest trial, according to German researchers.

The device works in a similar fashion to the newly FDA approved Argus II retinal prosthesis to return limited vision in patients with photoreceptor cell diseases like retinitis pigmentosa.

Unlike that system, however, light is picked up via 1,500 pixels on a retinal implant instead of an eyeglass-mounted camera. The signal is boosted by a coil implanted in skin behind the ear and sent back to so-called bipolar cells still active on the retina, which in turn send an image to the brain through regular neural circuits. A small battery mounted behind the ear — the only external sign of the device — contains controls for brightness and contrast.

The recent trial let 8 out of 9 patients see in varying degrees, with three in the study even able to read letters and see the faces of family members. Given that the Argus II finally crossed the FDA’s bionic eye barrier, hopefully we won’t have to wait nearly as long for research like this to become a product.

Source: Engadget

How Artificial Intelligence Could Revolutionize Healthcare

Could supercomputers like IBM’s Watson one day replace human physicians? It’s a question that’s been swirling for years, and one that receives more thorough treatment from Jonathan Cohn, in a recent essay for the Atlantic.

As Cohn explains, researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York are currently using Watson to help train physicians, in the hopes of one day deploying it in hospitals to help doctors make diagnoses — something that could potentially mitigate costly human errors.

IBM says Watson is still a few years away from wide deployment, but its ability to learn and process information has already sparked dreams of a doctor-less future, with some enthusiasts saying artificial intelligence may disrupt healthcare in the same way that the internet revolutionized the media.

“Specifically, they imagine the application of data as a ‘disruptive’ force, upending health care in the same way it has upended almost every other part of the economy—changing not just how medicine is practiced but who is practicing it,” Cohn writes. “In Silicon Valley and other centers of innovation, investors and engineers talk casually about machines’ taking the place of doctors, serving as diagnosticians and even surgeons—doing the same work, with better results, for a lot less money.”

Source: The Verge

Argus II Becomes First “Bionic Eye” to Gain Approval for Sale in U.S.

While the word prosthesis usually evokes images of artificial legs, arms, and these days even sophisticated thought-controlled hands, an entirely new class of replacement body part has now become a reality – the bionic eye. One of the pioneers in this field is California-based Second Sight and the company has now announced that its Argus II System has received U.S. market approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The result of two decades of R&D and US$200 million in public and private investment, the Argus II System began clinical trials in the U.S. back in 2007 and won approval for sale in Europe in 2011.

The system is designed to treat near blindness caused by retinitis pigmentosa – a degenerative disease said to affect approximately 100,000 Americans. It consists of a tiny video camera mounted in glasses that is wirelessly linked to a receiver and microelectrode array implanted onto the patient’s retina. This microelectrode array, which spans 20 degrees of the visual field, then stimulates the remaining cells in the retina with electrical pulses that travel down the optic nerve to the brain. While it does not restore normal sight, patients can learn to interpret these signals and gain a significant increase in visual capabilities to the point where they can perceive colors, recognize large letters and locate objects.

“It is incredibly exciting to have FDA approval to begin implanting the Argus II and provide some restoration of vision to patients blinded from RP. In the patients that have been implanted to date, the improvement in the quality of life has been invaluable,” said Mark Humayun, MD, PhD, Cornelius Ping’s Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Ophthalmology, Biomedical Engineering, Cell and Neurobiology, Doheny Eye Institute at University of Southern California. “The fact that many patients can use the Argus implant in their activities of daily living such as recognizing large letters, locating the position of objects, and more, has been beyond our wildest dreams, yet the promise to the patients is real and we expect it only to improve over time.”

The Argus II is expected to become available later this year. “With this approval, we look forward to building a strong surgical network in the United States and recruiting new hospitals that will offer the Argus II retinal implant,” said Robert Greenberg, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Second Sight.

The Second Sight video below runs us through how the Argus II system works.

Source: Gizmag

Two Infected with Bird Flu in Southwest China

Two people in southwest China have tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus and are critically ill, state news agency Xinhua said on Sunday, citing the Chinese health ministry.

A 21-year-old woman and 31-year-old man in Guiyang had tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus on Sunday after developing symptoms on February 2 and February 3 respectively, Xinhua cited health authorities as saying.

“They are in critical condition and medical workers are carrying out emergency treatment,” the health ministry was quoted as saying. “No epidemiological connections have been found between the two cases.”

Millions of Chinese are currently travelling in crowded buses and trains across the country to celebrate the Lunar New Year, raising the risk of the spread of infectious diseases.

People who had close contact with the patients are under medical observation but none have fallen ill, the news agency said.

The pair did not have contact with fowls before they fell ill, Xinhua said. In most cases, victims had direct contact with infected birds, mostly chickens. The virus is especially abundant in the faeces and respiratory secretions of affected birds.

The H5N1 virus mainly affects birds, but occasionally jumps to people. Experts fear it may mutate into a form that could spread easily among humans who have no natural immunity against it.

The H5N1 virus has infected more than 600 people since it was first detected in Hong Kong in 1997 and is usually fatal.

Source: Reuters

Infrascanner 2000 Does Rapid CT Screening

ow here is a medical device that does seem to hail from the future – the Infrascanner 2000 which is capable of performing rapid CT screening even when one is in the field.

The device looks like a modern, technologically advanced version of a magic wand, and it will rely on Near Infrared technology in order to function as a portable CT. A hematoma can be detected through the measurement of light absorption by both halves of the brain. When it “sees” a normal brain, it ought to show symmetrical light absorption. Should there be any differences between one side or the other, this will most likely be hematoma. As extravascular blood builds up, the amount of light absorbed would be greater, revealing the trauma along the way.

Already approved by the FDA in 2011, the Infrascanner 2000 functions as a triage measure in order to diagnose the need for immediate intervention before proper hospital care is dispensed. It takes approximately two minutes for each rapid CT screening session, and while not pricing details have been revealed, it ought to be on sale Stateside soon.

Source: Ubergizmo

GE Developing Robotic System for Hospitals

Presently, when an operation is going to be performed at a hospital, people first locate all the instruments that the surgeon will require, inspect them, arrange them on a tray, sterilize them, and then deliver them to the operating room. According to General Electric’s GE Global Research division, however, robots could do all of those things better. To that end, the group has recently partnered with GE Healthcare and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, in a US$2.5 million two-year project to develop just such robots.

Drawing upon data from the Institute of Medicine, GE states that “between 44,000 and 98,000 patients die every year due to preventable medical errors accounting for a $12-$25 billion cost to the U.S healthcare system.” The company hopes that by removing the human error factor from the process, the use of an automated robotic system will bring those numbers down.

Not only should this reportedly save lives and money, but it should also allow more patients to be processed within a given time, and free up staff to perform other duties – which admittedly could include being unemployed.

The backbone of the system will include a “mash-up” of technologies such as robotics, RFID (radio frequency identification), and computer vision. Every aspect of the system will be based around that common backbone, allowing human users in different hospitals to customize and configure it according to their needs – as opposed to having to develop a complete system from scratch.

The system would include mobile robots, for delivering and retrieving instruments

The system would include mobile robots, for delivering and retrieving instruments

All surgical instruments will be given a unique ID, so that they can be identified by the various specialized robots. One of the biggest challenges may lie in teaching the robots to handle and test those instruments, although GE does have an existing base to build upon.

“The technologies we’re investigating have been used to automate manufacturing processes in industrial settings for years, and we believe they, in combination with a new level of intelligence, can have a substantial impact in hospitals,” said Lynn DeRose, Principal Investigator and Auto-ID technology expert with GE Global Research. She provides more information in the video below.

Once completed, a prototype of the system will be tested at a veteran’s hospital. In an unrelated project, the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center recently replaced the human workers in its pharmacy with a robotic system.

GE researches use of robots for hospital sterile processing Youtube Video

Source: Gizmag

Healthspot Replaces Doctor’s Office with a Telepresence Kiosk

Telepresence physicians have been predicted since Hugo Gernsback foresaw the “radio doctor” in the 1920s. HealthSpot of Dublin, Ohio takes this idea a step further with its HealthSpot Station. It’s a telepresence kiosk that acts as an alternative to the traditional doctor’s office.

In the United States, there is increasing pressure on the health system, yet the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2025 there will be a physician shortage of 130,000. Billed as a telehealth system, the HealthSpot Station is a telepresence kiosk designed to take pressure off a beleaguered health care system by providing a private area where acute care patients can speak to a physician over a high-definition video conference system.

It’s purpose is to act as an alternative to urgent care centers and emergency rooms while giving physicians a way to use their time more efficiently. There is an attendant on duty to answer questions and provide assistance and inside the kiosk is a suite of digital instruments to aid diagnosis, such as a pulse oximeter, blood pressure cuff, dermascope, patient touchscreen, video conference screen, otoscope and stethoscope. In addition, there are antibacterial surfaces and UV-C lighting.

HealthSpot sees the kiosk being used in a wide variety of locations including grocery stores, hospitals, doctors and specialists offices, emergency rooms, large businesses, rural communities, military bases, schools, nursing homes and remote villages in developing countries.

The video below introduces the HealthSpot Station.

Youtube Video

Via: Gizmag

FDA Approves Robot Doctor

The FCC approves consumer electronics devices for the masses, but what about the FDA? Well, they make sure that all things medical are fit for public service, and the latest candidate to gain approval from this regulatory board is the first robot doctor developed by iRobot. Wait a minute here, doesn’t iRobot churn out Roombas? Yup, that is correct, and the robot doctor in question here is the RP-VITA that comes in the form of a telepresence robot. It will rely on a large display with an iPad interface to enable a doctor to examine a patient remotely, and it works swell in pre-op and post-op situations, not to mention during surgery as well.

This FDA clearance is significant, since it proves that a robot is able to move about safely and independently through a fast-paced, chaotic and demanding hospital , and would also mark a rather significant technological milestone for the robotics and healthcare industries.

The RP-VITA is currently on sale by InTouch Health, where it will fall under the guise of the company’s latest flagship remote presence device. iRobot has plans to explore adjacent market opportunities for similar robots, and we do wonder what other kinds of medical robots are on their way.

Press Release

Source: Ubergizmo