Imagine a day when a bioprinter filled with a patient’s own cells can be wheeled right to the bedside to treat large wounds or burns by printing skin, layer by layer, to begin the healing process. That day is not far off.

Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) scientists have created such a mobile skin bioprinting system—the first of its kind—that allows bi-layered skin to be printed directly into a wound.

“The unique aspect of this technology is the mobility of the system and the ability to provide on-site management of extensive wounds by scanning and measuring them in order to deposit the directly where they are needed to create skin,” said Sean Murphy, Ph.D., a WFIRM assistant professor who was lead author of the paper published this month in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal.

Affecting millions of Americans, chronic, large or non-healing wounds such as diabetic pressure ulcers are especially costly because they often require multiple treatments. It is also estimated that burn injuries account for 10-30 percent of combat casualties in conventional warfare for military personnel.

The major skin cells— and epidermal keratinocytes—are easily isolated from a small biopsy of uninjured tissue and expanded. Fibroblasts are cells that synthesize the extracellular matrix and collagen that play a critical role in wound healing while keratinocytes are the predominant cells found in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin.

The cells are mixed into a hydrogel and placed into the bioprinter. Integrated imaging technology involving a device that scans the wound, feeds the data into the software to tell the print heads which cells to deliver exactly where in the wound layer by layer. Doing so replicates and accelerates the formation of normal skin structure and function.

The researchers demonstrated proof-of-concept of the system by printing skin directly onto pre-clinical models.

The next step is to conduct a clinical trial in humans. Currently, to treat wounds and burns are the “gold standard” technique, but adequate coverage of wounds is often a challenge particularly when there is limited availability of healthy skin to harvest. Skin grafts from donors are an option, but risk immune rejection of the graft and scar formation. With the WFIRM bioprinter system the researchers could see new skin forming outward from the center of the wound and this only happened when the patient’s own cells were used, because the tissues were accepted and not rejected.

“The technology has the potential to eliminate the need for painful skin grafts that cause further disfigurement for patients suffering from large wounds or burns,” said WFIRM Director Anthony Atala, M.D., and a co-author of the paper. “A mobile bioprinter that can provide on-site management of extensive wounds could help to accelerate the delivery of care and decrease costs for patients.”

“If you deliver the patient’s own cells, they do actively contribute to wound healing by organizing up front to start the much faster,” said James Yoo, M.D., Ph. D, who led the research team and co-authored the paper. “While there are other types of wound healing products available to treat and help them close, those products don’t actually contribute directly to the creation of .”

Mobile bedside bioprinter can heal wounds [Medicalxpress]

Motion sickness can be a debilitating condition for many people, preventing them from traveling and engaging in various activities such as sailing. There are a few drugs available to control motion sickness, but they have side effects such as drowsiness and for many people are simply a choice of choosing one discomfort over another.

A new device, developed by Otolith Labs, a company out of Washington, DC, may soon become a new, drug-free option for managing the symptoms of motion sickness.

The Otolith device consists of a vibrating gadget, attached to a headband, that is placed behind the ear. The vibrator works on the principle of bone conduction, that some hearing aids utilize, to stimulate the vestibular system. The signals that are delivered are essentially random white noise, the purpose of which seems to be to confuse the brain into ignoring motion signals altogether.

Motion sickness results from conflicting signals reaching the brain, the brain becoming confused as it can’t reconcile what the eyes and vestibular system are telling it. The Otolith device seems to disrupt the vestibular system’s signal so much that the brain automatically starts to disregard it completely, and the conflict between signals essentially disappears.

The technology is already proving itself in initial trials, but there’s a lot more work left to prove it in larger trials, as well as get a grasp on the actual underlying mechanism that it’s activating.

Electronic Headband for Drug-Free Motion Sickness Therapy [Medgadget]

 

It’s no secret that spider silk is one of nature’s most incredible materials. It’s light and stretchy, as strong as steel and tougher than Kevlar – and now scientists have discovered a weird new ability. A team led by MIT has found that when exposed to a certain level of humidity, spider silk suddenly shrinks and twists, which could make it useful in artificial muscles.

Although the two motions happen at the same time, only the shrinking was previously known. This “supercontraction” was found to occur in response to moisture, which is believed to help keep the fibers taut in the morning dew. After all, tight fibers conduct vibrations better, so the spider can better hear the dinner bell.

But while investigating this reaction to humidity, the team working on the current study discovered it wasn’t just shrinking but twisting too. The researchers suspended a weight from silk as a makeshift pendulum, then cranked up the humidity in a chamber. To their surprise, the pendulum started spinning once the humidity reached a certain point.

To figure out just how this twisting occurs, the team examined spider silk in the lab and created computer models of its molecular makeup. The culprit turned out to be an amino acid called proline, which is found in a key silk protein called MaSp2. Water molecules were found to break some of its hydrogen bonds in an uneven way, kicking off the spinning motion.

The team also found that the rotation only ever goes in one direction, and starts when relative humidity hits about 70 percent. While the scientists aren’t yet sure why the spider needs fibers that twist when wet, there are plenty of useful applications in robotics or other devices.

“Silk’s unique propensity to undergo supercontraction and exhibit a torsional behavior in response to external triggers such as humidity can be exploited to design responsive silk-based materials that can be precisely tuned at the nanoscale,” says Anna Tarakanova, an author of the study. “Potential applications are diverse: from humidity-driven soft robots and sensors, to smart textiles and green energy generators.”

Spider silk’s strange reaction to moisture could lead to better artificial muscles [New Atlas]

It’s a sad fact that children can develop arthritis, and while some end up going into remission, the disease becomes much worse in others. A new machine-learning technique is reportedly able to predict which kids will fall into which category, allowing for their treatment to be tailored accordingly.

Scientists from the University of Toronto started out with a collection of clinical data relating to 640 arthritic children, which was gathered between 2005 and 2010. That dataset included each patient’s symptoms, along with their outcomes. Machine learning algorithms were then used to sift through all of that information, looking for recurrent patterns.

What it discovered was that most of the children could be sorted into one of several groups, depending on the area of their body in which the joint pain was present – those areas included the pelvic region, fingers, wrists, toes, knees and ankles. Some of the patients, however, didn’t fit neatly into one group, as their joint pain wasn’t localized. It was these children who took longer to go into remission, ultimately faring worse than the others.

It is now hoped that as soon as a patient is identified as belonging to that last non-group, doctors can set about administering fairly potent medications, perhaps improving the outcome. On the other hand, if it’s determined that a child is likely to soon enter remission anyway, the use of medication can be minimized – this will both reduce costs, and spare the patient from unnecessarily enduring side effects.

A paper on the research, which also involved Prof. Quaid Morris and recently-graduated student Simon Eng, was published this week in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Machine learning used to improve outcome for arthritic kids [New Atlas]

Our ability to throw a ball, walk down a sidewalk, or talk without mumbling is in part because of proprioception, the ability for us to intuitively know where our feet are, how our hands our moving, and what the mouth is doing. Without proprioception, we’d have to look down at our feet on every step to make sure everything is going well. Users of prosthetic devices face this issue every day, but researchers at  École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, EPFL, the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa and the A. Gemelli University Polyclinic in Rome, have now come up with a way to give prostheses the ability to relay their position to the user, as well as provide the important sense of touch.

Amputees outfitted with a new prosthetic arm are able to identify the shape, size, and other basic features of objects they’re only allowed to touch with the device. The device works by electrically stimulating nerves left over in the patient’s stump, which carry information to the brain and recreate the necessary sensations. This is done using implanted electrodes that are able to carefully stimulate the target nerves.

“Our study shows that sensory substitution based on intraneural stimulation can deliver both position feedback and tactile feedback simultaneously and in real time,” said Silvestro Micera, one of the leaders of the research. “The brain has no problem combining this information, and patients can process both types in real time with excellent results.”

A good deal of training is still necessary for patients to learn how to interpret the signals and to adjust to the arm. Nevertheless, the two people that went through the training using the new device were able to accurately feel the nature of objects about three quarters of the time.

Prosthetic with Sense of Touch Lets Patients Know Its Location [Medgadget]

How many fad diets, fancy workouts and health trends have you tried over the years? Before you try the latest craze (celery juice, anyone?), maybe you should check in with your DNA. Vitagene DNA Ancestry Test Kit & Personal Genetic Reports gives you actionable health plans based on your DNA for $69.

Workouts and diets are not one size fits all — an individual’s genetics play a big role in getting fit and healthy. Vitagene will help you develop your own personalized plan to meet your goals. Just swab your cheek and send it off and Vitagene will help you become the master of your body by supplying you with actionable health plans.

Vitagene will help you learn what supplements to take, which workouts will be best for your body and what you should be eating. You’ll receive customized meal plans, tailored macronutrient percentages, gluten sensitivity information and more. And aside from helping you run your body, you’ll also be learning about your global ancestry.

This Cool Service Gives You A Health Plan Based On Your DNA [New Atlas]

For people with type 2 diabetes, regular insulin injections are a part of everyday life, but that’s not the most comfortable routine. Plenty of work has gone into developing an insulin pill as a less invasive alternative, but that comes with its own challenges. Now, an MIT team has created a new design for a capsule that houses a microneedle made of insulin, which injects the hormone through the stomach lining.

Delivering insulin orally might sound simple enough, given how common pills are for many medicines. But the stomach is a hostile environment, and the harsh acids there can neutralize many drug compounds before they can get to work. Unsurprisingly, much of the work in developing insulin pills has gone into protective coatings that help it survive the journey until it can deliver the insulin payload.

But the MIT researchers have taken a different approach. A few years ago the team created a pill coated in tiny needles, which injected medicine into the intestinal lining as it passed through. Now the design has been refined so it only has one needle, which injects the drug into the wall of the stomach.

The new capsule is roughly the size of a blueberry and is made of a biodegradable polymer. The mechanical components inside are quite complex: There’s a microneedle made of freeze-dried insulin, and a stainless steel spring coiled up and held back by a disk made of sugar. When the sugar dissolves in the stomach acid, the spring flicks out and pushes the microneedle into the stomach lining.

Once the tip of the needle is inserted, the insulin dissolves into the bloodstream at a consistent rate – in this test that took about an hour, but the rate can be tweaked by the researchers. After the payload has been delivered, the capsule then passes through the digestive system harmlessly.

To make sure the needle comes in contact with the stomach wall and stays there, the capsule has a high, steep dome so it will always roll and come to rest on the flat side, where the needle pops out from. This design, the team says, was inspired by the leopard tortoise, which has a similar-shaped shell that lets it get back on its feet if it ever finds itself on its back.

The team tested the capsule in pigs, and found that it was effective at delivering up to 5 milligrams of insulin into the animals’ bloodstreams. This is on a level comparable to the amount in a regular insulin shot.

The researchers say the tests show that the method could be an effective alternative to self-injections for insulin, as well as other treatments delivered the same way.

“We are really hopeful that this new type of capsule could someday help diabetic patients and perhaps anyone who requires therapies that can now only be given by injection or infusion,” says Robert Langer, senior author of the study.

As promising as the capsule seems, it’s far from the only method in development. Other oral insulin delivery systems are in the works, including a pill from Oramed that is currently in Phase 2b trials. If that works, its relative simplicity compared to the MIT capsule could see it being favored. Either way, it looks like the daily insulin injection is on its way out.

imec, a research and innovation hub for nanoelectronics and digital technologies, has announced a hydrogel-based smart contact lens that incorporates a silicon microchip, integrated LED light, and radiofrequency (RF) antenna for wireless energy transfer. Belgium-based imec claims that the new lens paves the way for integrated sensors or drug delivery capabilities, whereby a contact lens could continuously monitor for signs of ocular diseases, and even administer treatments.

Ghent University and SEED Co., a contact lens manufacturer based in Japan, collaborated with imec to develop the device. Designing flexible electronic components and seamlessly integrating them into a soft hydrogel lens were major challenges in creating the new device.

The lens needed to be oxygen-permeable, wrinkle-free, thin, and comfortable to wear, while maintaining electrical functionality. The researchers conducted significant optimization to achieve these properties.

The lens incorporates a blue LED light that is powered by a radiofrequency antenna. The antenna should also allow for any integrated sensors to transmit data to a handheld device for analysis. At present, the device represents a proof-of-concept, and imec hopes to expand its capabilities in the future.

Medgadget asked Prof. Herbert De Smet of Ghent University and imec, some questions about the system.

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us some background on this type of technology and the current state of the art.

Herbert De Smet: Globally, quite some effort has been spent on realizing so-called ‘smart contact lenses’ — contact lenses that contain electronics to increase the functionality of the lens in many possible ways. Most efforts have focused on hard lenses made of rigid gas permeable material or on soft lenses made of silicone, both of which are materials that are still relatively compatible with standard electronics integration technologies. However, we are one of the only groups in the world that has demonstrated the capability of integrating functional electronics in hydrogel-based soft contact lenses.

Medgadget: What types of ocular diseases could a smart contact lens be useful for monitoring and treating?

Herbert De Smet: Smart contact lenses could offer adaptive optical correction for presbyopia patients. They can also offer a solution for people with iris deficiencies, such as aniridia or coloboma. As reported in our research, we have prepared the technological platform to integrate sensors that continuously or regularly monitor bodily parameters such as the concentration of certain substances in the tear fluid. The sensors can be powered and also read out wirelessly. Our partner, SEED, is presently assessing which parameter would be the most important for a first use case.

Smart Contact Lenses are Here: Interview with Prof. Herbert De Smet of Imec [Medgadget]

It was just a couple of months ago that L’Oréal announced My Skin Track UV, a wearable battery-free device that measures its user’s ultraviolet light exposure. Well, the company has now unveiled My Skin Track pH, a wearable that monitors the pH levels of its user’s skin.

According to L’Oréal, pH imbalances in the skin can produce inflammatory responses, which may in turn lead to or worsen conditions such as dryness, eczema, and atopic dermatitis. That’s where My Skin Track pH comes in.

Developed by L’Oréal’s La Roche-Posay skincare division in partnership with Epicore Biosystems, it takes the form of a thin-film sticker that is adhered to the skin of the user’s inner arm. Microfluidic channels within the device then draw in trace amounts of sweat. After five to 15 minutes, the pH content of that sweat causes two dots on top of the device to change color.

Utilizing their smartphone’s camera, users proceed to take a photo of those dots. An accompanying app analyzes their color, and from that deduces the skin’s pH levels. If those levels are out of whack, the app advises users on what action to take.

And in case you’re wondering about just pressing a strip of pH paper against your skin to get the same results, we asked – it turns out that quite a large amount of sweat would be required, and even then the reading wouldn’t be very accurate.

Plans call for My Skin Track pH to be trialled through select US La Roche-Posay dermatologists, with an eye towards releasing a direct-to-consumer product late this year.

Microfluidic sticker measures skin’s pH levels [New Atlas]

When someone has had blood vessel surgery, it’s important for doctors to check that the vessel doesn’t become blocked as it heals. Such blockages could someday be detected earlier and more easily than ever, thanks to an experimental new biodegradable blood flow sensor.

Developed at California’s Stanford University, the implantable device takes the form of a capacitive strip that’s wrapped around a blood vessel at one end, and that is attached to an antenna at the other.

As blood pulses through the vessel, it presses on the sensor’s inner surface, causing its shape to change. That shape-change alters the device’s capacity to store an electrical charge. Using an external device to wirelessly “ping” the antenna, doctors are able to read that capacity, and thus determine the rate at which blood is flowing. If the flow is starting to decrease, then action may need to be taken.

The sensor – which is based on technology previously developed for touch-sensitive robot skin – requires no battery, and harmlessly biodegrades after the vessel has healed. It has already been successfully tested on the artery of a live rat, that vessel obviously being much smaller and difficult to monitor than that of a human.

A smartphone or wearable device could likely serve as the external reader, although it’s also possible that an electronic sticker on the skin could be used. In any case, it should be possible to wirelessly transmit readings to the internet, so doctors could check on patients’ progress without requiring them to come into the office.

Bodybuilding, as its name pretty much implies, is all about gettin’ big muscles. And while a tape measure can be used to measure the growth of those muscles every now and then, XLFLEX is designed to motivate users by providing them with ongoing real-time measurements as they’re working out.

Developed by Texas-based startup Visual Gains, XLFLEX takes the form of a belt that is worn over the biceps, triceps, forearms, thighs or calves. While the user is pumping iron, a sensor in the sweat-proof device continually measures the changing circumference of that muscle. Measurement data (in a choice of inches or centimeters) is displayed on an integrated LCD screen, plus it’s transmitted by Bluetooth to an iOS/Android app on the user’s smartphone.

Depending on where the device is being worn, its LCD display can be electronically flipped over in order to appear rightside-up to the user. It can also be reversed, so it appears the right away around when viewed in a mirror, or it can simply be blanked out in order to keep prying eyes from seeing its numbers.

The app, meanwhile, not only lets users track their progress over time, but also allows them to set size goals for different muscles – it alerts them when those goals are met. Additionally, it’s capable of monitoring multiple XLFLEX devices (worn on various parts of one user’s body) simultaneously.

It should be noted that the product is intended for users who are already pretty far along the bodybuilding road, as its minimum arm-circumference size is 12 inches (30.5 cm). It maxes out at 25 inches (63.5 cm).

If you’re interested, XLFLEX is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. A pledge of US$135 will get you a single unit, assuming it reaches production. The planned retail price is $289.

XLFLEX measures muscles in real time [New Atlas]

Despite advances in malaria treatments over the past few decades, the disease still kills around half a million people globally every year. Finding a better way to diagnose the illness, and subsequently treat it early, is a major goal for scientists. A team of researchers just revealed an innovative new salvia test that promises to quickly and cheaply screen for the presence of malaria parasites up to a week before any symptoms appear.

The only way to confidently diagnose malaria currently is through blood testing, which requires laboratory infrastructures, and well-trained clinicians literally examining the samples using microscopes to detect levels of the parasite. More recently scientists have developed what are called antigen-based “rapid diagnostic tests” (RDTs), which take a skin prick of blood and offer a diagnostic assessment within 20 minutes. While RDTs are hugely helpful in remote areas without access to more comprehensive laboratory services, they are not completely reliable and still require invasive blood sampling.

There have been several recent advances in the way of breath and odor-based markers being used to detect malarial infections. The science is incredibly promising, however, translating these discoveries into a cheap and effective diagnostic tool has proven a little more challenging. Picking up these air-based malaria-signaling compounds with elaborate gas chromatography-mass spectrometry devices is one thing, developing sensitive and cost-effective biosensors that can do the same in remote clinical environments is something else altogether.

“What if we can identify a child before they get sick because there’s something in their saliva,” says Rhoel Dinglasan, a researcher working on the project from the University of Florida. “If we get to them earlier, they can be cured well before they get the disease.”

The new saliva-based malaria test homes in on a specific protein that is vital to the survival of a common malaria parasite called Plasmodium falciparum. The test can identify the presence of the parasite using this protein biomarker in less than 20 minutes after a person spits into a small test tube.

The test is called SMAART (Saliva-based Malaria Asymptomatic and Asexual Rapid Test) and it is being developed by a start-up founded in South Africa called ERADA. Benji Pretorius, ERADA’s Managing Director, hopes the test can be rolled out into clinical use as soon as 2020.

“The introduction of SMAART is going to play a major part in achieving effective diagnostic testing and surveillance; as well as prevention and treatment of this disease, and therefore will be a major catalyst in meeting the WHO’s 2030 target to reduce malaria incidence and mortality by 90 percent,” says Pretorius.

The new research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Motion sickness can be a debilitating condition for many people, preventing them from traveling and engaging in various activities such as sailing. There are a few drugs available to control motion sickness, but they have side effects such as drowsiness and for many people are simply a choice of choosing one discomfort over another.

A new device, developed by Otolith Labs, a company out of Washington, DC, may soon become a new, drug-free option for managing the symptoms of motion sickness.

The Otolith device consists of a vibrating gadget, attached to a headband, that is placed behind the ear. The vibrator works on the principle of bone conduction, that some hearing aids utilize, to stimulate the vestibular system. The signals that are delivered are essentially random white noise, the purpose of which seems to be to confuse the brain into ignoring motion signals altogether.

Motion sickness results from conflicting signals reaching the brain, the brain becoming confused as it can’t reconcile what the eyes and vestibular system are telling it. The Otolith device seems to disrupt the vestibular system’s signal so much that the brain automatically starts to disregard it completely, and the conflict between signals essentially disappears.

The technology is already proving itself in initial trials, but there’s a lot more work left to prove it in larger trials, as well as get a grasp on the actual underlying mechanism that it’s activating.

Electronic Headband for Drug-Free Motion Sickness Therapy [Medgadget]

For some time now, scientists have known that electrical currents can help heal chronic wounds. And while there are electrotherapy units that are in use, they can be quite bulky and complex. That’s why researchers have created an “electric bandage” that’s powered by the motion of the body.

Developed by a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the bandage is hard-wired to a band that is worn around the patient’s torso. That band contains electronic components known as nanogenerators, which harvest energy from the movement of the wearer’s ribcage as it expands and contracts while they breathe.

This results in low-intensity electrical pulses, which are delivered from the band and into electrodes within the bandage. These in turn are in contact with the injured tissue. When lab-tested on rats, the technology was able to heal full-thickness skin wounds within three days, as opposed to the 12 days that it would take ordinarily.

It was also found that unlike the higher-intensity current delivered by some electrotherapy devices, the pulses administered by the bandage pose no risk of tissue damage. Additionally, the gentler current was better at encouraging fibroblast skin cells to line up (which is a key step in the wound-healing process), and to produce biochemical substances that promote tissue growth.

The scientists are now further investigating just how the pulses help wounds to heal. They’re also planning on testing the technology on pigs, and are adapting the nanogenerators to harvest energy from movements as subtle as skin twitches or heartbeats. It is thought that the finished commercial product should be fairly inexpensive, as the nanogenerators are made from relatively common materials, and the bandages are easy to fabricate.

A new smart clothing line promises to help you get your yoga moves right when you’re at home and without an instructor. It’s called Pivot Yoga and it claims to give feedback through small sensors on the clothes that can tell you whether you’re in the right position.

“We know how hard it is to learn yoga, how much yogis want to improve, and how many yogis want to practice at home,” Joe Chamdani, who’s the CEO and co-founder of TuringSense, the developer behind Pivot Yoga, said in a press release.

The Pivot Yoga clothes are supposed to “look, feel, breathe, wash, and perform” like regular yoga clothes, but also maintain a wireless connection to the company’s mobile app. You can take online yoga classes through the app and the sensors will insert a “live avatar” of your body into the video so you can easily compare your movements with the teacher’s.

The app has voice control capabilities so you’re supposed to be able to tell it to pause and start again. The app will say, “Garments detected,” and then you can command it to start by saying, “Begin.” You address the smartphone’s voice assistant by saying, “Pivot, how’s this look?” and the assistant will respond to correct your posture with lines like, “Move your right knee six inches.” You can also cast the app to an Apple TV, any compatible Chromecast device, a Samsung TV from 2013 or newer, or connect it directly via HDMI.

While the premise of the app and clothes sounds like it’d be a huge boon to yogis, it’s difficult to see how the sensors are able to give accurate readings of a body’s movements while the body is in motion. Pivot tells The Verge, “It’s a big challenge, since every yogi’s body is different, and a good question. We’ve designed the clothes so that sensor movement is relatively rare. And we’re designing the clothes and the entire system so that any remaining sensor movement is handled automatically.”

That seems to imply the clothes stay relatively still while a person is moving, which might not be the most comfortable fit, and definitely means that Pivot is constrained from offering a wide variety of sizes. (Indeed, the clothes are available in XS to XL, but there’s no sizing chart to indicate the precise ranges these sizes run.)

The clothes charge by Micro USB and run on 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi. They’re made of aluminum, leather, fabric, and plastic. There’s a non-replaceable battery that gives roughly five hours of continuous use, according to Pivot. You’re able to machine wash the clothes in cold water, but you cannot put them in the dryer.

Pivot costs $99 for the top and pants, and the online videos cost $19 per month. The app is only available on iOS 11 or higher for iPhone 7 and up, although the company says an Android version is “expected later.” Preorders are now available, and they’re currently only open to residents in the US and Canada. Pivot tells The Verge the clothes can be expected to ship in spring 2019.

We’ve already heard about “microneedle” patches that near-painlessly deliver medication through the skin. Well, scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore have now taken the same approach to treating eye diseases. They’ve developed a tiny patch laden with even tinier needles, which get poked into the eyeball.

While eye drops are the most frequently-used means of delivering medication to the eye, they have a problem – much of the medication simply gets washed out of the eye by tears. One alternative involves using hypodermic needles to inject medication right into the inside of the eye, although patients have to go to a clinic for each injection, plus of course it’s not a pleasant procedure. Additionally, it can cause infections.

The NTU Singapore patch reportedly combines the painlessness and ease-of-use of eye drops with the effectiveness of injections. Developed by a team led by Prof. Chen Peng, it’s made of hyaluronic acid, which is naturally found in the eye. The device measures 2 by 2 mm in its current configuration (a larger version is in the works, see photo below), and its underside contains nine tiny needles that can be loaded with medication. Each needle is thinner than a human hair, and is pyramid-shaped for optimal tissue penetration.

The patch simply gets pressed once against the cornea (the surface of the eye) and then withdrawn, apparently causing very little discomfort. When it’s pulled away, however, the microneedles break off and remain in the outer layer of the cornea. They then proceed to slowly dissolve, gradually dispensing their payload of medication into the eye as they do so.

In lab tests, the technology has been used to deliver an antibody known as DC101 to mice with corneal vascularisation – this is a condition in which blindness can result from blood vessels growing into the cornea. After just a single 1-microgram dose, there was a 90-percent reduction in the area of blood vessels within the animals’ corneas. By contrast, in a group of mice that received a single and much larger 10-microgram dose of the medication in drop form, there was no significant reduction.

Additionally, one week after treatment with the patch, no puncture wounds were visible on the surface of the eyes.

“The microneedles are made of a substance found naturally in the body, and we have shown in lab tests on mice that they are painless and minimally invasive,” says Peng. “If we successfully replicate the same results in human trials, the patch could become a good option for eye diseases that require long-term management at home, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.”

Patch delivers medication by breaking needles off in the eye [New Atlas]

With holiday festivities around the corner, ’tis the season to ensure you and your loved ones get enough zzz’s. Innovative Swannies blue light blocking glasses are not only stylish, but also help improve the quality and duration of sleep by providing an all-natural solution to filtering out blue light before bedtime.

This includes blue light emitted by electronic devices – from smartphones and tablets to television and computer screens – that are known to affect the body’s natural release of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep and potentially reducing the quality of sleep.

Unlike other blue light blocking glasses that are intended to help screen-addicted Americans prevent eye strain and discomfort but do not block enough blue light to prevent sleep disruption, Swannies – worn up to two hours before bed – have been proven in studies to help users fall asleep quicker and sleep deeper and longer.

With frames available in a variety of colors and styles – for both adults and kids – there’s something for everyone on your shopping list.

Swannies retail from $69 to $89, depending on the model, with prescription lenses starting at $179.

After over a decade of development, the world’s first full-body medical scanner has produced its first images. The groundbreaking imaging device is almost 40 times faster than current PET scans and can capture a 3D picture of the entire human body in one instant scan.

Called EXPLORER, the full-body scanner combines positron emission tomography (PET) and X-ray computed tomography (CT). Following years of research, a prototype, primate-sized scanner was revealed in 2016. After expansive testing, the first human-sized device was fabricated in early 2018.

Developed in a collaboration between scientists from UC Davis and engineers from Shanghai-based United Imaging Healthcare, the very first human images from the scanner have finally been revealed. The results are being described as nothing short of incredible and the research team suggests EXPLORER could revolutionize both clinical research and patient care.

“The level of detail was astonishing, especially once we got the reconstruction method a bit more optimized,” says Ramsey Badawi, chief of Nuclear Medicine at UC Davis Health. “We could see features that you just don’t see on regular PET scans. And the dynamic sequence showing the radiotracer moving around the body in three dimensions over time was, frankly, mind-blowing. There is no other device that can obtain data like this in humans, so this is truly novel.”

The new EXPLORER scanner offers remarkable improvements over current imaging systems. As well as offering faster scans, producing a whole-body image in as little as 20 to 30 seconds, the device is effectively up to 40 times more sensitive than current commercial scanning systems.

This means the scanner can produce detailed images using significantly lower doses of radiation tracers than are currently needed. The higher sensitivity also allows clinicians to image certain molecular targets that are beyond the limits of current scanning systems.

“The tradeoff between image quality, acquisition time and injected radiation dose will vary for different applications, but in all cases, we can scan better, faster or with less radiation dose, or some combination of these,” says Simon Cherry, from the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Perhaps the most exciting and novel application of this new scanning system is its ability to capture entire body images in single momentary scans. Current PET systems are fundamentally slow and inefficient due to the necessity of having to scan single slivers of the body at one time. Over a long stretch of 30 or 40 minutes all these smaller images are aggregated into a larger 3D image, however this significantly limits the ability of clinicians to measure the effects of something moving across the entire body in real time.

The EXPLORER promises an entirely new kind of diagnostic imaging that could, for example, measure blood flow or the way a person takes up glucose, in real time across the entirety of the body. The new imaging system still has some testing and verification ahead before it moves into commercial production but Cherry is optimistic it shouldn’t be too long before it is available to hospitals and research bodies worldwide.

“I don’t think it will be long before we see at a number of EXPLORER systems around the world,” says Cherry. “But that depends on demonstrating the benefits of the system, both clinically and for research. Now, our focus turns to planning the studies that will demonstrate how EXPLORER will benefit our patients and contribute to our knowledge of the whole human body in health and disease.”

Currently, if you want to measure someone’s blood oxygen levels, you have to use one of those oximeters that clips onto their finger. An experimental new system, however, is able to check those levels anywhere on the body – and that could mean big things for the field of medicine.

Traditional oximeters use LEDs to shine red and near-infrared light through the skin on one side of a translucent part of the body, typically a fingertip or an ear lobe. Lighter-colored oxygen-rich blood absorbs much of the infrared light, while darker oxygen-poor blood absorbs much of the red light. Therefore, by analyzing the ratio of the two types of light that make it through to the other side of the body part, the oximeter is able to determine the blood oxygen levels.

As mentioned, though, there are only a few places on the body where such devices can be used.

In 2014, a team of grad students at the University of California Berkeley created thin, flexible oximeters incorporating printed organic LEDs. More recently, they also developed a method of determining blood oxygen levels by analyzing light that’s reflected back from the blood, as opposed to passing through it. Those two technologies have now been combined in the new system.

It incorporates a multi-point grid array of alternating red LEDs, near-infrared LEDs and photodiodes, all of which are printed onto a flexible plastic sheet. That array can then be placed on any part of the body, where it will shine the two types of light down through the skin, analyzing the amounts of both that are reflected back out.

So far, prototypes have successfully been used to measure blood oxygenation levels on the forearm of one volunteer, and on the forehead of another. In the latter case, the participant breathed air with progressively lower concentrations of oxygen, causing the concentrations in his blood to drop accordingly – the flexible oximeter was found to measure those changing levels just as accurately as a traditional fingertip-mounted model.

It is now hoped that once developed further, the technology could be used for things such as mapping oxygenation within skin grafts, or monitoring oxygen levels in transplanted organs.

“All medical applications that use oxygen monitoring could benefit from a wearable sensor,” says Prof. Ana Claudia Arias, who led the study. “Patients with diabetes, respiration diseases and even sleep apnea could use a sensor that could be worn anywhere to monitor blood-oxygen levels 24/7.”

It’s no secret that jobs which involve a lot of bending, twisting or reaching can cause debilitating injuries. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to remember to do those things the right way. The wearable Kinetic Reflex is designed to help workers in that regard, by alerting them to unsafe postures.

Equipped with an inertial measurement unit (an accelerometer/gyroscope combo), the Reflex is worn on the user’s belt or waistband. As they go about their daily duties in a factory, warehouse or other setting, it detects when they’re performing high-risk actions such as lifting objects by bending at the back instead of at the knees.

When this happens, it provides the user with a real-time alert by gently vibrating, and displaying a warning on its screen.

Additionally, at the end of each shift, the Wi-Fi-equipped device transmits its data to a central computer-based dashboard, where supervisors can review each of their workers’ safety habits. That dashboard additionally shows how all of the workplace’s detected unsafe postures are distributed amongst different tasks, so action can be taken in areas where the risk is the greatest.

The device itself is water- and impact-resistant, and can run for a claimed 15 hours per charge of its battery. Along with simply detecting and recording unsafe postures, it can also be used to set goals, in which it helps workers try to stay below a given number of warnings each day – this feature allows workers to compete against one another, with an incentive being provided to whoever is shown to be the safest.

The Reflex was initially released last year, and has reportedly been shown to reduce unsafe postures by up to 84 percent, along with reducing musculoskeletal injuries by 40 percent within 12 months of use, and reducing reports of worker back pain by 56 percent. This month, Kinetic received US$4.5 million of seed funding, which should result in increased production and availability of the device.

Workplaces utilizing the technology pay an annual fee of $200 to $400, depending on the number of devices being used.

Belt-worn device lets workers know when they’re risking injury [New Atlas]

The World Heath Organization classifies smoking as a global epidemic and the single most preventable cause of death in the world, accounting for around five to six million deaths every year. Many researchers are hunting for new ways to help people shake this damaging addiction, from a vaccine that prevents the pleasurable effects of nicotine to magnetic pulses delivered to the brain that help dampen substance dependence.

A team at The Scripps Research Institute has been working on a novel technique for a number of years, attempting to engineer an enzyme that breaks nicotine down before it can reach the brain. The scientists revealed a major breakthrough back in 2015, initially discovering a natural enzyme called NicA2 in soil from a tobacco field that is produced by a bacteria known as Pseudomonas putida.

Since then, the team has been working to optimize the enzyme, making it more potent in hunting down and destroying nicotine in an animal’s bloodstream and staying in the bloodstream longer. The newly developed enzyme is called NicA2-J1, and from the latest animal studies it is proving incredibly effective in reducing nicotine blood levels in rats.

A new article published in the journal Science Advances chronicles the most sophisticated animal testing of the enzyme to date. In rat models developed to mimic a human addiction to nicotine, the animals displayed incredibly low levels of nicotine in their bloodstream after being treated with the new enzyme. Even more importantly, the animals did not display significant signs of withdrawal after receiving the enzyme.

“What’s unique about this enzyme is that it removes enough nicotine to reduce the level of dependence, but leaves enough to keep the animals from going into severe withdrawal,” explains Olivier George, principle investigator on the project.

The study also examined the longer term effects of the enzyme, particularly in regards to relapse into addiction. Nicotine was withheld from the animals for 10 days, after which they were given an injection of nicotine to see if additive tendencies were reawakened. The animals originally treated with NicA2-J1 displayed significantly reduced addictive behavior compared to the untreated rats, suggesting the enzyme has long-term beneficial effects.

One of the intriguing aspects of this research is that the scientists are working to eliminate nicotine in the bloodstream before it reaches the brain. So unlike other new techniques being researched that often home in on the addictive brain mechanisms at play, this method stops the drug from getting to the brain in the first place.

“This is a very exciting approach because it can reduce nicotine dependence without inducing cravings and other severe withdrawal symptoms, and it works in the bloodstream, not the brain, so its side effects should be minimal,” says George.

Needless to say these results have not been replicated in human subjects yet, but the researchers are confident that after years of work they are ready to move into human trials with the first enzyme effective at destroying nicotine while in the bloodstream. Safety and efficacy in humans are still major hurdles than need to be overcome but if the research continues to progress, this treatment may be an incredibly useful new smoking cessation aid that could save the lives of millions around the world.

Enzyme to help smokers quit by eliminating nicotine in the blood before it reaches the brain [New Atlas]