Advances in tech to help humans live healthier, longer
*Head device ‘can reverse memory loss’ using electromagnetic waves to break up clumps of toxic proteins
*Stem cell injections boost recovery in 25 stroke patients by helping damaged nerve cells regrow in six months
*Hat could reverse balding with built-in patch that sends electrical pulses to scalp to promote hair growth
*Gene-editing technology that targets cancer, blood disorders, blindness, others enters its first human trials
*AI technology for advanced heart attack prediction as fingerprint to tailor personalised treatment for people at high risk
Scientists have recorded giant breakthroughs in technologies that could help people live healthier and longer lives.
Top on the list is a head device that zaps the brain with electromagnetic waves, which reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s (age-related mental decline) in a trial.
Eight patients with mild or moderate forms of the brain-destroying disorder took part in experimental transcranial electromagnetic treatment (TEMT).
It involved them wearing a skullcap of magnets, which sent electric pulses to break down build-ups of proteins known to stop nerve cells working properly.
Seven of the patients showed a ‘highly significant improvement’ in tests of their memory, language, attention, behaviour and moods.
NeuroEM Therapeutics, a private company, which develops the TEMT headsets in Arizona, United States (U.S.), carried out the small trial.
Its results have been so promising, it said, that the trial was extended for 17 months because the patients didn’t want to give the equipment back. During the tests patients used the TEMT headsets twice a day for an hour at a time.
TEMT works by breaking up toxic clumps of proteins called amyloid-beta and tau, the formation of which is thought to be the cause of Alzheimer’s. When these are cleared, previously blocked nerve cells in the brain are, in theory, able to return to functioning as normal.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The NeuroEM team said they have evidence this works but the extent to which it will be able to reverse or prevent the decline caused by Alzheimer’s isn’t known.
Also, pioneering stem cell injections boost recovery in 25 stroke patients by helping damaged nerve cells regrow within six months.
Twenty-five survivors had their marrow cells infused back into their blood and saw their recovery boosted by one point on a six-point scale.
Researchers at the University of Texas in Houston now hope to move forward with broader tests of the experimental therapy. The stem cells, which are essentially blank building blocks for the body to heal itself with, appear to have helped nerves regrow in the brain.
The trial comes after former Formula One champion Michael Schumacher was last week believed to have had stem cell treatment to help his brain recover from a coma he entered after a skiing accident in 2013.
The 25 patients were all given injections of their own bone marrow cells within 72 hours of turning up at a hospital with stroke symptoms. Their recovery progress was compared to 185 patients who didn’t have the infusions and was found to be moving faster.
On the Modified Rankin Scale, which measures stroke survivors’ conditions on a scale of zero to six (from perfectly healthy to dead), the stem cell patients ranked a point lower – thus less disabled – than the group which received standard treatment.
Also, an implant that resembles the wire over a champagne cork could offer a new way to tackle high blood pressure. The tiny cage-like device is implanted in an artery in the neck where specialised nerves are located that are key to the body’s natural blood pressure control mechanism.
The nerves, called baroreceptors, act as sensors that detect when artery walls are under pressure — a sign that blood pressure is rising too high — and then relay this information to the brain. As a result, the heart rate drops, causing blood vessels to dilate or widen which lowers blood pressure.
But research suggests that long‑term raised blood pressure can cause the baroreceptors to malfunction so the nerves stop responding to tension building in the artery walls — and start to interpret high blood pressure as ‘normal’.
The new device, developed by U.S.-based Vascular Dynamics, puts pressure on the sensors that resets them, so the brain believes that blood pressure is permanently raised and takes steps to bring it back down. More than 200 people are taking part in a clinical trial of the device following research showing it significantly lowered dangerously high blood pressure in a small group of patients.
A study reported in The Lancet two years ago involving 30 patients in The Netherlands and Germany who would had the device put in, showed that in the majority of patients, blood pressure reduced towards a normal level within a few months.
A trial is now under way with about 200 patients whose high blood pressure has not been controlled by medication.
Also, scientists have developed an electronic nose could spare thousands of lung cancer patients from enduring brutal side effects of immunotherapy. A trial of the gadget found it could sniff out whether patients will have an adverse reaction to the pioneering drugs with 85 per cent accuracy.
Patients breathe into the device, which then uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and takes just one minute and to identify whether or not the patient is likely to respond to immunotherapy.
Dutch researchers said the ‘eNose’ could smell volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that make up about one per cent of our exhaled breath.
The findings were published in the cancer journal Annals of Oncology.
Also, according to new research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), a technology developed using artificial intelligence (AI) could identify people at high risk of a fatal heart attack at least five years before it strikes. The findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress in Paris and published in the European Heart Journal.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a new biomarker, or ‘fingerprint’, called the fat radiomic profile (FRP), using machine learning. The fingerprint detects biological red flags in the perivascular space lining blood vessels, which supply blood to the heart. It identifies inflammation; scarring and changes to these blood vessels, which are all pointers to a future heart attack.
Also, reversing baldness could someday be as easy as wearing a hat thanks to a noninvasive, low-cost hair-growth-stimulating technology developed by engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US.
“I think this will be a very practical solution to hair regeneration,” said Xudong Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison.
Wang and colleagues published a description of the technology in the journal ACS Nano.
Based on devices that gather energy from a body’s day-to-day motion, the hair-growth technology stimulates the skin with gentle, low frequency electric pulses, which coax dormant follicles to reactivate hair production.
Also, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics, Malawi’s national adoption of affordable, rugged, neonatal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) technology as a part of routine hospital care resulted in sustained improvements in the survival of babies with respiratory illness.
A study conducted at 26 Malawi government hospitals found that the national adoption of rugged, low-cost, neonatal CPAP devices improved survival rates from 49 per cent to 55 per cent for newborns admitted with breathing problems. For newborns with severe breathing problems, survival improved from 40 per cent to 48 per cent.
Rice 360° developed the Pumani CPAP machine used in the study and supported the national rollout via a transition-to-scale grant from Saving Lives at Birth, a joint undertaking by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the governments of Norway, the United Kingdom, Canada and South Korea.
Also, researchers from BioPRIA, based at Australia’s Monash University, together with industry partner Haemokinesis, have developed the world’s first blood incubator using laser technology. This could prevent fatal blood transfusions in critically ill patients, and can detect antibodies in pregnant women that can kill a foetus.
According to results published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, these findings could bring pre-transfusion testing out of the pathology lab to point-of-care, with blood incubation time slashed to just 40 seconds, compared with the industry gold standard of five minutes.
This breakthrough has the potential improve the pre-transfusion testing of millions of patients undergoing blood transfusions across the world, especially those having major surgery, going into labour, or causalities of mass trauma and individual trauma. The detection of immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies requires incubation at 37°C, often for up to 15 minutes. But current incubation technology relies on slow thermal procedures, such as heating blocks and hot-water baths.
This delay adds to pathology costs and turnaround time, which substantially affects a patient’s chance of survival.
To address this problem, BioPRIA’s blood diagnostics team developed a laser incubation model where a targeted illumination of a blood-antibody sample in a diagnostic gel card is converted into heat, via photothermal absorption.
Also, a tiny vest could help sick babies breathe easier. It works by gently pulling on the baby’s belly to draw air into the lungs. Called NeoVest, it does away with the traditional mask and breathing tubes that get in the way of a baby feeding and bonding with its parents.
Also, scientists are beginning human trials to treat disease with the “molecular scissors” known as CRISPR/Cas9. Some people with a form of inherited blindness will have it injected into their eyes, where researchers hope it will snip out a mutation.
The answer to some genetic diseases may be a powerful “molecular scissors.” Known as CRISPR/Cas9, it has healed genetic diseases in some animals. Soon, doctors may learn how well it works in people. The first human studies to test its promise are just getting underway.
In the first group of human trials, scientists are using the technique to fight cancer and blood disorders. Other researchers are set to study how CRISPR/Cas9 works inside the human body. In one upcoming trial, people with an inherited blindness will have the molecular scissors injected into their eyes.
In one pioneering trial, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia are treating two people with recurring cancers. One has multiple myeloma (a disease that starts in the blood’s plasma cells). The other has a sarcoma. Both patients received a type of immune cell that had been programmed with CRISPR to go after cancer cells. (Similar trials are under way in China.)
Another trial is under way for two blood disorders: sickle-cell disease and beta-thalassemia (Bay-tuh Thah-lah-SEE-mee-uh). Both result from defects in the gene for hemoglobin. That’s the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells.
Also, a new electric surgery tool may someday fix nose, ear and eye problems
This painless alternative to traditional surgery uses electrochemistry to reshape tissue without causing scars.
The special tissue is cartilage (KAR-tih-lidj). It is difficult to reshape because its inner structure is very strong. It always bounces back into its original shape. The body has different types of cartilage. The form in our ears and nose is less rigid than the type in our joints, tendons and spinal discs.
Brian Wong is a surgeon who works at the University of California, Irvine. He is also a biomedical engineer. He uses engineering know-how to solve medical problems. A few years ago, Wong was looking for ways to fix a deformed nose without cutting and stitching.
The cartilage that separates the nostrils inside the nose is known as the septum. In some people, this tissue is off-center or crooked. Such a “deviated” septum can make breathing difficult. Some people might be born with the problem. A sports injury or other trauma might also alter the septum’s shape.
Traditional septum surgery is challenging. The area that needs fixing is hard to reach. The space is tiny. Cutting into cells with blades tends to damage or kill the cells, creating scar tissue. The healing can prove painful. And mistakes can be quite visible.
To avoid some of these problems, Wong had tried heating the cartilage with an infrared (Inn-fruh-RED) laser as a new way to reshape the septum without a scalpel. That is less invasive than cutting into the nose with a knife. And it worked. But the heating still damaged cells. This procedure also was expensive.
Electric current to the rescue
So Wong’s team decided to try heating the cartilage with an electric current. They started by working with a sample of cartilage in a lab dish. The current indeed lets Wong reshape the tissue — but with hardly any temperature increase.
Now a surgeon could reshape the tissue. As soon as that doctor turned off the current, the electric bonds would quickly reform. The tissue’s new shape also would become permanent.