All posts by Emily Waltz

Spermato-WHOA-a! Human Sperm Don’t Swim Like We Thought

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/imaging/spermatowhoaa-human-sperm-dont-swim-like-we-thought

For more than three centuries scientists have believed that human sperm swim by swishing their tails in a side-to-side, symmetrical motion. But that’s because we’ve been looking at them with 2D microscopes.

Using state-of-the-art 3D microscopy, a piezoelectric device, and mathematics, researchers in Mexico discovered how sperm really move: They spin, with a wonky asymmetrical wiggle. The researchers reported their discovery today in the journal Science Advances.

“It’s 2020 and we all thought we knew how sperm actually swim, and we couldn’t have been more wrong,” says Hermes Gadêlha, a senior lecturer in the Department of Engineering Mathematics at the University of Bristol. Gadêlha collaborated on the project with colleagues at the Image and Computer Vision Laboratory at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Astronaut Bioengineers Human Cartilage in Space Using Magnetic Fields

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/astronauts-bioengineer-human-cartilage-in-space

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has successfully assembled human cartilage using the power of magnetism. 

The feat was achieved using a magnetic levitation bioassembly device installed onboard the station. The machine enables clusters of human cells to assemble into tissue structures, without the use of a physical scaffold. The experiment was described in a paper published today in the journal Science Advances

“One could imagine not too far in the future that if we colonize Mars or do long-term space travel, we might want to do experiments where we build functional tissues in space, and test them in extraterrestrial environments,” says Utkan Demirci, a researcher at Stanford and an author of the paper.  

Imagine getting a space-related injury that rips off your skin or bone, and being able to patch it up with bioengineered tissue—like the movie “Ad Astra,” where people live, work and receive medical treatment on the red planet.

Entering a Building May Soon Involve a Thermal Scan and Facial Recognition

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/entering-a-building-may-soon-involve-a-thermal-scan-and-facial-recognition

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

The temperature of your body is no longer considered private information. That’s the stance that businesses around the world are taking as they install thermal imaging cameras, often equipped with facial recognition technology, in their buildings in an attempt to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Airports, office buildings, fast food restaurants, government offices, hospitals, shopping centers, universitiesall sorts of places are rapidly adopting the technology. It’s a movement one might call the automation of temperature checks. 

The goal is to spot—and turn away—anyone walking into an establishment with a fever. This theoretically reduces the spread of the virus and brings some peace of mind to people in the building. Or, at the very least, it provides some legal protection for the establishments, which can point to the technologies to show that they’ve taken measures to protect their occupants from the virus. 

Can Sensors That Detect Coronavirus in the Air Help Economies Reopen Safely?

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/sensors/chemical-sensors/devices-monitor-coronavirus-in-the-air

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

As businesses scramble to find ways to make workers and customers feel safe about entering enclosed spaces during a pandemic, several companies have proposed a solution: COVID-19 air monitoring devices. 

These devices suck in large quantities of air and trap aerosolized virus particles and anything else that’s present. The contents are then tested for the presence of the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. 

Several companies in the air quality and diagnostics sectors have quickly developed this sort of tech, with various iterations available on the market. The devices can be used anywhere, such as office buildings, airplanes, hospitals, schools and nursing homes, these companies say. 

But the devices don’t deliver results in real time—they don’t beep to alert people nearby that the virus has been detected. Instead, the collected samples must be sent to a lab to be analyzed, typically with a method called PCR, or polymerase chain reaction. 

This process takes hours. Add to that the logistics of physically transporting the samples to a lab and it could be a day or more before results are available. Still, there’s value in day-old air quality information, say developers of this type of technology. 

“It’s not solving everything about COVID-19,” says Milan Patel, CEO of PathogenDx, a DNA-based testing company. But it does enable businesses to spot the presence of the virus without relying on people to self-report, and brings peace of mind to everyone involved, he says. “If you’re going into a building, wouldn’t it be great to know that they’re doing environmental monitoring?” Patel says.

PathogenDx this year developed an airborne SARS-CoV-2 detection system by combining its DNA testing capability with an air sampler from Bertin Instruments. The gooseneck-shaped instrument uses a cyclonic vortex that draws in a high volume of air and traps any particles inside in a liquid. Once the sample is collected, it must be sent to a PathogenDx lab, where it goes through a two-step PCR process. This amplifies the virus’s genetic code so that it can be detected. Adding a second step to the process improves the test’s sensitivity, Patel says. (PCR is also the gold standard for general human testing of COVID-19.

Patel says he envisions the device proving particularly useful on airplanes, in large office buildings and health care facilities. On an airplane, for example, if the device picks up the presence of the virus during a flight, the airline can let passengers on that plane know that they were potentially exposed, he says. Or if the test comes back negative for the flight, the airline can “know that they didn’t just infect 267 passengers,” says Patel. 

In large office buildings, daily air sampling can give building managers a tool for early detection of the virus. As soon as the tests start coming back positive, the office managers could ask employees to work from home for a couple of weeks. Hospitals could use the device to track trends, identify trouble spots, and alert patients and staff of exposures.

Considering that many carriers of the virus don’t know they have it, or may be reluctant to report positive test results to every business they’ve visited, air monitoring could alert people to potential exposures in a way that contact tracing can’t. 

Other companies globally are putting forth their iterations on SARS-CoV-2 air monitoring. Sartorius in Göttingen, Germany says its device was used to analyze the air in two hospitals in Wuhan, China. (ResultsThe concentration of the virus in isolation wards and ventilated patient rooms was very low, but was higher in the toilet areas used by the patients.)

Assured Bio Labs in Oak Ridge, Tennessee markets its air monitoring device as a way to help the American workforce get back to business. InnovaPrep in Missouri offers an air sampling kit called the Bobcat, and Eurofins Scientific in Luxembourg touts labs worldwide that can analyze such samples.

But none of the commercially available tests can offer real-time results. That’s something that Jing Wang and Guangyu Qiu at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, or Empa, are working on.

They’ve come up with a plasmonic photothermal biosensor that can detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 without the need for PCR. Qiu, a sensor engineer and postdoc at ETH Zurich and Empa, says that with some more work, the device could provide results within 15 minutes to an hour. “We’re trying to simplify it to a lab on a chip,” says Qiu. 

The device combines an optical sensor and a photothermal component that harness localized surface plasmon resonance sensing transduction and the plasmonic photothermal effect. But before the device can be tested in the real world, the researchers must find a way, on-board the device, to separate the virus’s genetic material from its membrane. Qiu says he hopes to resolve this and have a prototype ready to test by the end of the year.

Back to Work: Wearables Track Social Distancing and Sick Employees in the Workplace

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/wearables-track-social-distancing-sick-employees-workplace

As shuttered businesses make plans to resume on-site operations, many plan to outfit their employees with new, anti-pandemic gear: wearable tech that could prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside the workplace.

Ford employees are experimenting with smartwatches that vibrate when workers come within six feet of each other. The accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has developed an app that turns employees’ phones into contact tracing devices, notifying them when they’ve been exposed to a coworker with the novel coronavirus. 

Other employers are considering equipping their workforces with wearables—separate from their phones—that are capable of granular on-site and indoor location tracking and contact tracing. CarePredict recently rolled out such devices for senior living facilities

In fact, in a survey of 871 finance executives at companies in 24 countries, 21 percent said they were eyeing location tracking and contact tracing for their workforces, according to PwC, which conducted the survey and posted it online this week.  

How Facebook and Google Track Public’s Movement in Effort to Fight COVID-19

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/telecom/wireless/facebook-google-data-publics-movement-covid19

How we move about in our communities—where we go and how often—greatly affects the spread of COVID-19. And few know our whereabouts better than Facebook and Google

So, in an effort to help researchers combat the pandemic, the two companies say they are now making their troves of GPS-based mobility data available. The data comes from users who opt in to location services on the companies platforms and is provided for public health use in an aggregated, anonymized way. 

Such data is vital to public health researchers’ efforts to understand trends in population movement and predict the spread of the disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Local government officials can use the data to make informed decisions on travel and social distancing interventions.

Data for Good

Both Facebook and Google are providing information about where people are going, but the companies differ in the way they are releasing the information.

Facebook, through its Data for Good program, provides mobility datasets and maps directly to researchers upon request. Facebook generates the data in file formats that support epidemiological models and case data.

“We’re sharing the data in a way that public health researchers can use,” says Laura McGorman, policy lead for Facebook’s Data for Good program. “Once a researcher signs a license agreement, they can request data through our mapping portal and get it the next day,” she says.

The mobility datasets let researchers look at population movement between two points, movement patterns such as commutes, and whether people are staying close to home or visiting many parts of town. Facebook’s is the only source of mobility data in machine-readable format” that is global and free of charge, says McGorman.

Data for Good started three years ago as an initiative to help track evacuations and displacement after natural disasters. It has since expanded to address disease and, most recently, COVID-19. The company gathers its information from people using Facebook on their mobile phones with the location history feature enabled. Data is aggregated to protect individual privacy.

Scientists have used Facebook’s data in several ways over the last few weeks to study the pandemic. For example, scientists at the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, Washington used Facebook’s mobility data to study how social distancing measures and a stay-at-home orders have affected movement near Seattle. They found that population movement indeed declined, which led to reduced transmission of the virus. 

Separately, researchers in Italy used Facebook’s mobility data to analyze how lockdown orders affect economic conditions and create an economic segregation effect. A report from the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan used Facebook’s data to show that travel restrictions reduced the spread of the virus. 

Facebook’s program is also supplying the bulk of the data for the COVID-19 Mobility Data Network. The recently-formed group, composed of a network of epidemiologists, uses mobility data to generate daily situation reports for decision makers who are implementing social distancing interventions.

Google’s mobility tracking tool

Separately, Google on April 3 announced that it had launched a mobility tracking tool called COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports. The web-based tool is available freely to the public and provides insights on how communities have reduced or increased their visits to certain types of places. 

The public can go to the website and choose a region, such as a state or country. The tool then generates graphs on a downloadable PDF displaying the percentage change in visits over the last few weeks to places such as retail stories, pharmacies, parks, places of work and public transportation hubs in that region. 

In the county where Indianapolis is located, for example, people have reduced their visits to grocery and pharmacy stories by 17% and to other retail locations by 45%, since February 23. Visits to parks, however, have increased 54%.  

In a blog post highlighting the resource, Google executives wrote that they believe the mobility reports could help shape business hours, inform delivery service offerings, or indicate a need to add additional buses or trains to a particular public transportation hub. 

The company pulls the data from Google users who have opted in to location tracking services. The information is aggregated and anonymized, and does not provide real-time data in an effort to protect privacy.

Mobility data similar to that from Facebook and Google have already informed decisions of government officials. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on April 2 issued a statewide order for residents to stay at home after he reviewed mobility data released by tech startup UnacastThe information, gleaned from mobile phone location data, showed that people in some regions, such as Nashville, had significantly reduced their daily travel, but people in many other Tennessee counties had not. This convinced Lee that a statewide order was necessary. 

Beyond mobility

Both Facebook and Google are releasing other kinds of data to coronavirus researchers and the public. Data for Good offers population density maps as well as social connectedness indices. The latter relies on aggregated, anonymous friendship connections on Facebook to measure the general connectedness of two geographic regions.

That type of information can help predict the spread of the virus and where to put resources. Researchers at NYU used the social connectedness data to show that geographic regions with strong social ties to two early COVID-19 hotspots—in New York and Italy—had higher cases of the illness. Separately, an organization funded by the World Bank used Facebook’s population density data to help determine where coronavirus testing facilities and extra beds should be located.  

Google and Apple last week announced an ambitious effort to provide the technological support for digital contact tracing. The strategy would allow people with certain Bluetooth-enabled apps to find out if they have been in the vicinity of people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Digital contact tracing has been touted by public health specialists as a strategy to help reopen the economy in a safe way, but privacy and ethical considerations have been hotly debated. 

Testing the Tests: Which COVID-19 Tests Are Most Accurate?

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/diagnostics/testing-tests-which-covid19-tests-are-most-accurate

Global regulators have largely stepped out of diagnostics manufacturers’ way to enable them to quickly bring COVID-19 tests to the public. That has led to a deluge of testing options on the market, and in many cases, the reliability and accuracy of these tests is unclear. 

That led us to wonder: Is anyone testing the tests? 

We found one organization that’s on it. The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, or FIND, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, is evaluating its way through a list of over 300 COVID-19 tests manufactured globally, and today published its first results. 

FIND’s effort, which it is undertaking in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), involves running thousands of coronavirus samples through the tests and comparing their performance against a gold standard. The organization will rank the tests based on sensitivity.

How Do Coronavirus Tests Work?

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/diagnostics/how-do-coronavirus-tests-work

Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has finally moved from relying entirely on a single, flawed diagnostic test to having what may soon be an onslaught of testing options available from private entities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration over the last three weeks has authorized the emergency use of more than 20 diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.

Those add to the hundreds of tests that researchers are developing globally. The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Geneva, Switzerland keeps a running global list of COVID-19 tests that, as of 3 April, neared 400. 

To help our readers sort through the deluge of diagnostics, here, we provide a simple explainer on coronavirus testing.

Halting COVID-19: The Benefits and Risks of Digital Contact Tracing

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/ethics/halting-covid19-benefits-risks-digital-contact-tracing

As COVID-19 sweeps through the planet, a number of researchers have advocated the use of digital contact tracing to reduce the spread of the disease. The controversial technique can be effective, but can have disastrous consequences if not implemented with proper privacy checks and encryption. 

Ramesh Raskar, an associate professor at MIT Media Lab, and his team have developed an app called Private Kit: Safe Paths that they say can do the job while protecting privacy. The software could get integrated into a new, official WHO app touted as the “Waze  for COVID-19.” IEEE Spectrum spoke with Raskar to better understand the risks and benefits of digital contact tracing. 

Big Data Helps Taiwan Fight Coronavirus

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/big-data-helps-taiwan-fight-coronavirus

In late January, as the novel coronavirus began spreading through China, computer scientists modeling the outbreak ranked Taiwan the region with the second highest risk of importation of the virus. The island sits just 130 km off the coast of mainland China and shuttles thousands of passengers to and from the mainland daily.

But so far Taiwan reports that it has largely mitigated the spread of the pathogen. Fewer than 50 cases of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, had been confirmed on the island as of March 11. South Korea, by contrast, had confirmed nearly 8,000 cases.

Taiwan owes its success largely to the emergency implementation of big data analytics and new technologies, according to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)authored by individuals in California and Taipei.

Taiwan officials from the beginning of the viral outbreak “did a very detailed mapping of who got it from whom,” and were able to stop a lot of transmission early, says Chih-Hung Jason Wang, director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention at Stanford University, who co-authored the opinion article.

Notably, officials integrated Taiwan’s national health insurance database with its immigration and customs database. This enabled the government to track the 14-day travel histories and symptoms of its citizens, nearly all of whom have an identifying national health insurance (NHI) card. All hospitals, clinics and pharmacies were given access to this information for each patient.

Taiwan restricted entry for foreign travelers from the most affected regions, and for those allowed entry, officials tracked them with mobile technologies. Foreign visitors are asked to scan a QR code that takes them to an online health declaration form where they provide contact information and symptoms. People placed under quarantine are given government-issued mobile phones and monitored with calls and visits.

“They incentivized people to be truthful” on their health declaration forms, says Wang. “If you are placed in the high risk group, the government will help you get care. If you get sick by yourself, you’ll have to wander around the hospital trying to get help.”

Taiwan also relied on old-fashioned face-to-face check-ins. Households were grouped into wards, or sections, and a chief was named for each ward. “So [authorities] will say to the chief, ‘There’s a person under quarantine in your ward, why don’t you go check on them and bring them some food,’” says Wang. “In an epidemic, you have to be nice to people, otherwise they’ll hide their symptoms.”

To manage resources, Taiwanese officials used IT to estimate the region’s supply of masks, negative pressure isolation rooms, and other health provisions. They set price limits on masks and rationed them using individuals’ NHI cards and an online ordering mechanism. Soldiers were sent to work at mask factories to ramp up production.

Overseeing all the action is the National Health Command Center. “They set that up in a compound on the seventh floor of Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control,” says Wang. “There are data analysts in there and reporters; it can host up to a hundred people 24/7.”

These actions are part of Taiwan’s emergency epidemic response plan, which it devised after the 2003 SARS outbreak in China. Under Taiwan’s Communicable Disease Control Act, in the event of a crisis, officials can activate the plan, giving the government powers it wouldn’t normally have.

Taiwanese officials activated the emergency plan January 20 and since then have implemented over 124 action items, according to the JAMA report.

Penalties for noncompliance with the temporary orders are steep. Profiteering off prevention products like masks, or spreading false information about COVID-19 can bring a penalty of years in jail and fines over a hundred thousand US dollars. One couple was fined USD $10,000 for breaking a 14-day quarantine rule. Three Hong Kong visitors who “disappeared for a week” were tracked down, fined USD $2,350 each, and transferred to designated quarters for medical isolation, according to the JAMA report.

Taiwan’s heavy-handed government actions might not go over well in a country such as the United States. But Wang says the measures, so far, have been well received in Taiwan, in part because they were planned ahead and implemented on a temporary basis.

He and his coauthors write that it is unclear “whether the intensive nature of these policies can be maintained until the end of the epidemic and continue to be well-received by the public.”

Taiwan’s emergency measures have probably not halted community-based transmission of COVID-19. Like the rest of the world, the number of officially confirmed cases in Taiwan is likely far fewer than the true number on the ground, since there are people who have the disease and don’t know it, or have such mild symptoms that they don’t seek care or get tested. “It’s impossible not to have more cases,” says Wang.

Software and Genetic Sequencing Track the Coronavirus’s Path

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/genetic-sequencing-and-online-software-tools-track-caronaviruss-path

As the deadly new coronavirus permeates the planet, scientists are using genetic sequencing and an open-source software tool to track its transmission. 

The software tool, called Nextstrain, can’t predict where the virus is going next. But it can tell us where new cases of the virus are coming from. That’s crucial information for health officials globally, who are trying to determine whether new cases are arriving in their countries through international travel, or being transmitted locally.

This type of analysis, called genomic epidemiology, “is extremely valuable to public health,” says James Hadfield, a computational scientist working on Nextstrain. “The sooner we can turn around this data, the better the response can be.”

The novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, first emerged in December in China, where it has infected over 80,000 people. It has since spread to more than 85 countries [PDF], with the largest concentrations of cases so far in South Korea, Iran, and Italy. More than 250 cases had been confirmed in the United States at press time. 

How Computer Scientists Are Trying to Predict the Coronavirus’ Next Moves

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/predicting-the-coronavirus-next-moves

Computer scientists tracking the deadly coronavirus epidemic have been working diligently to predict the virus’ next moves. The novel virus, which causes a respiratory illness dubbed COVID-19, has taken the lives of more than 2,100 people. It first emerged in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and has since infected more than 75,000 people, mostly in China. The numbers of new cases have begun to drop in China, but concern is growing over expanding outbreaks of COVID-19 in Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Thailand. 

Alessandro Vespignani, a computer scientist at Northeastern University in Boston who has developed predictive models of the epidemic, spoke with IEEE Spectrum about computational efforts to thwart a global pandemic. His team has developed a tool, called EpiRisk, that estimates the probability that infected individuals will spread the disease to other areas of the world via travel. The tool also tracks the effectiveness of travel bans.

Mum No More: 3D Printed Vocal Tract Lets Mummy Speak

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/bionics/mummy-3d-printed-vocal-tract

The coffin that holds the mummified body of the ancient Egyptian Nesyamun, who lived around 1100 B.C., expresses the man’s desire for his voice to live on. Now, 3,000 years after his death, that wish has come true.

Using a 3D-printed replica of Nesyamun’s vocal tract and an electronic larynx, researchers in the UK have synthesized the dead man’s voice. The researchers described the feat today in the journal Scientific Reports

“We’ve created sound for Nesyamun’s vocal tract exactly as it is positioned in his coffin,” says David Howard, head of the department of electrical engineering at Royal Holloway University of London, who coauthored the report. “We didn’t choose the sound. It is the sound the tract makes.”

How Do Neural Implants Work?

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/what-is-neural-implant-neuromodulation-brain-implants-electroceuticals-neuralink-definition-examples

It sounds like science fiction, but a neural implant could, many years from now, read and edit a person’s thoughts. Neural implants are already being used to treat disease, rehabilitate the body after injury, improve memory, communicate with prosthetic limbs, and more. 

The U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) have devoted hundreds of millions of dollars in funding toward this sector. Independent research papers on the topic appear in top journals almost weekly.

Here, we describe types of neural implants, explain how neural implants work, and provide examples demonstrating what these devices can do. 

Are Your Students Bored? This AI Could Tell You

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/ai-tracks-emotions-in-the-classroom

Journal Watch report logo, link to report landing page

A professor finishes a lecture and checks his computer. A software program shows that most students lost interest about 30 minutes into the lecture—around the time he went on a tangent. The professor makes a note to stop going on tangents.

The technology for this fictional classroom scene doesn’t yet exist, but scientists are working toward making it a reality. In a paper published this month in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, researchers described an artificial intelligence (AI) system that analyzes students’ emotions based on video recordings of the students’ facial expressions.

The system “provides teachers with a quick and convenient measure of the students’ engagement level in a class,” says Huamin Qu, a computer scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who co-authored the paper. “Knowing whether the lectures are too hard and when students get bored can help improve teaching.”

With DNA Data Storage, 3D-Printed Bunnies Carry Their Own Blueprints

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/dna-of-things

Every living thing contains DNA that provides the codes for its existence, and now inanimate objects can have that, too.

In a paper published today in Nature Biotechnology, researchers described how they 3D printed a bunny-shaped trinket that contained DNA encoding the digital instructions for its fabrication. That means that tomorrow, or a thousand years from now, someone could, with merely a piece of that bunny, decode the DNA stored in it, and learn exactly what the trinket looked like, or even 3D print a clone.

The experiment demonstrates that digital information can be stored as DNA in free-form objects. One might call it the DNA of things. 

DARPA Seeks Pathogen Detectors That Use CRISPR to Run 1,000 Tests at Once

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/diagnostics/darpa-wants-scifi-pathogen-detectors

The U.S. Department of Defense has put out a call to researchers to develop devices that detect pathogenic threats by performing up to 1,000 diagnostic tests in fewer than 15 minutes.

The devices ideally would determine the presence of a pathogen, and useful details about it, such as whether it’s a drug resistant variety, the severity of the infection, and any co-infections.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which makes investments in breakthrough technologies on the military’s behalf, will oversee the initiative. 

Scientists have endeavored to make this sort of diagnose-anything, “Star Trek”-inspired device previously, without a lot of success. But DARPA is betting that new technology that leverages gene-editing techniques can achieve this goal.

If the project budget is approved by the White House, DARPA will be able to award more than US $60 million to proposers. An information session will be held in Atlanta on 11 December. DARPA program manager Renee Wegrzyn spoke with IEEE Spectrum about her vision for the these powerful devices. 

Bionic Pacemaker Controlled By Neural Network Reverses Heart Failure in Rats

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/bionic-pacemaker-neural-network-heart-rats

For more than 60 years, the pacemaker—a device implanted in the chest that delivers electrical pulses to the heart—has served as the ticker’s ticker, producing a steady beat for hearts that can’t do it on their own.

The device has prolonged countless lives, but even the most sophisticated pacemakers ignore a significant biological fact: Healthy hearts don’t beat steadily like a metronome. They speed up as we inhale and and slow down as we exhale. 

Focusing on this natural variation, called respiratory sinus arrhythmia, may be the key to improving the pacemaker. “Devices have to listen to feedback from the body,” says Julian Paton, a professor at the University of Bristol, in the UK, who is leading some of the research in this area. “We need smarter devices.”

In a paper published this week in the Journal of Physiology, Paton and his colleagues describe a smarter pacemaker that puts natural variation back into a failing heart, helping it to work more efficiently. 

The device reads the electrical signals generated by each breath, and paces the heart accordingly. In rats with heart failure, the device increased the amount of blood their hearts could pump by 20%, compared with monotonic pacemaking, according to the study. ​

“People are beginning to think about ways in which pacemakers could become more intelligent, but there’s nothing on the market that has demonstrated such a profound increase in heart rate,” says Paton.

Current pacemakers adjust heart rate by responding to changes in the body in relatively rudimentary ways, such as with accelerometers or by detecting increases in body temperature. Some newer devices can pace the heart based on respiration. But those devices track average respiration over a period of time, says Paton. “That’s not what we’re doing. We’re modulating the heart based on every breath,” he says.

The device features a neural-network-based analog chip developed by Paton’s coauthor Alain Nogaret at the University of Bath. In the rat experiments, it recorded electrical activity from the rat’s diaphragm muscles, which contract during inhalation. The chip interprets the signals conveyed to it by a lead in real time using Hodgkin-Huxley equations—mathematical modeling of how action potentials in neurons are initiated and propagated. The device then delivers electrical stimulation to the left atria of the heart, prompting it to beat in sync with breathing. 

The advantage of using an analog device, compared with digital, is that it can respond quickly to changes in input from the body, says Paton. The device is scalable and can be miniaturized to the size of a postage stamp.

If the research progresses to humans, Paton says his team will not need to record signals from the diaphragm muscle. Instead, they will be able to integrate the device into conventional pacemakers, and gauge breathing by measuring electrical changes in chest resistance. 

Paton’s work is among several approaches researchers are taking to modernize the pacemaker. Other groups aim to power pacemakers more efficiently, including powering them with the heart itself, and making them out of graphene so they can run on light. Some groups are developing optical pacemakers using a genetic engineering technique called optogenetics, rather than hardware, to trigger cardiac cell contraction.

Drones: For When Medical Intervention Has to Get There Before an Ambulance Can

Post Syndicated from Emily Waltz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/drones-beat-new-york-city-ambulances

Medical drones carrying emergency supplies can reach 911 callers in New York City significantly faster than ambulances, according to new research.

The study pitted commercial drones against emergency medical service  (EMS) serving part of Brooklyn, New York. First responders from EMS arrived on the scene of emergencies in about 9.5 minutes on average during the study period, while the drones arrived in about 6.5 minutes. 

“Three minutes might very well represent the difference between life and death,” says Mark Hanna, a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, who orchestrated the study. Hanna presented his results last week at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2019 National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.