Medgadget has been around for a good ten years now, covering the developments in medical technology better than anyone else. There is no other news source that’s as obsessively focused on reporting the technological developments that are changing clinical practice and patient care. Looking back on the past year of our coverage, we’d like to share what new trends and which new medical gadgetry we have found most exciting, revolutionary, and beneficial for patients in 2014.
Flexible electronics are able to wrap around irregular tissue shapes and conform to their motion in order to sense, and one day even respond, to different physiological parameters. A number of teams around the world are working on this technology and it will soon find its way into our bodies. Fear not though, being a cyborg will be a healthy and painless experience.
On that note, Google announced it’s working on a glucose sensing contact lens for diabetics to be able to get readings without having to prick their fingers for blood. The idea is that the lens will transmit glucose level readings sampled from tear fluid directly to a smartphone for review anywhere and at any time.
John A. Rogers of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a leading scientist in the field of flexible electronics, partnered with a team from Washington University in St. Louis to create a flexible electronic sleeve that was wrapped around a beating heart of a rabbit to monitor its electrical activity in 3D at an unprecedented resolution. This development may soon lead to heart wraps that can sense and respond to arrhythmias in a highly precise manner and if the power to compress is added to the wrap you may even have an automatic cardiac augmentation device as well.
Professor Rogers is also behind a flexible skin patch that can record ECG and EEG signals and pass those wirelessly to a smartphone or other device.
3D Printing in Medicine
3D printing has captured the popular imagination lately, but in the last year we’ve seen it used in medicine to help replace bones, bring prosthetic devices to people in war-torn regions, and even help in preparing for surgeries.
Some of our favorite stories include Project Daniel in South Sudan and a similar project by the University of Toronto and Autodesk Research in Uganda that allows local people to create prosthetic arms using 3D printers. Not having to rely on expensive devices and outside expertise, trained teams of local engineers are able to provide custom prostheses to those touched by war. Even where peace has reigned, high school students are able to print prosthetic arms for their neighbors.
Some of the more radical uses of 3D printing technology include a woman in Holland who received a brand new skull and a man in the United Kingdom had his face reconstructed following an accident with the help of 3D printed components. Additionally, one-to-one replica skulls are being created from patient CT scans to prepare surgeons for challenging facial transplant procedures.
In China we saw printed titanium vertebral implants successfully used to address uncommon orthopedic conditions and to conform to unusual patient anatomies, while at the University of Michigan a tracheal splint to save a baby’s life was printed and implanted in a groundbreaking procedure.
Still in pre-clinicial trials, but foreshadowing what we might see very soon in human patients, a drove of sheep successfully received printed meniscus replacements in their knees.
Smart Powered Prostheses
A man with both arms missing due to an accident received two highly articulating powered prosthetic arms at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory that he is able to control with his mind. Electrodes were connected from his stumps to the new arms that pass through a computer for interpretation. After a bit of practice, the man was able to do some pretty complex tasks. Though the system is still in development, it’s a sure sign that future amputees won’t be so dependent on others and will be able to regain their own abilities thanks to technology such as this.
A prosthetic hand with tactile sensors on the fingertips that lets its user actually feel what it’s touching. The first experimental user of the hand, who had electrodes placed within his remaining arm that passed on the tactile signals, was able to tell how hard he was gripping objects and what shape they were, even while blindfolded.
A quadriplegic man was able to move his arm thanks to Neurobridge technology developed by an R&D nonprofit called Battelle. The group developed a chip that’s implanted into the brain’s region responsible for hand motion, which is able to read the electrical signals and transmit them, decoded, to a powered prosthetic arm. The man is now able to rotate his hand, make a fist, and pinch his fingers together, all intuitively as though it’s his native arm.
XStat Rapid Hemostasis System
Lead poisoning can come in different forms, and if your patient is severely bleeding, whether on the battlefield or in an ambulance, gauzes and external pressure may not be enough. The XStat device was unveiled this year to quickly stop deep bleeding wounds by injecting a bunch of tablet-sized pellets that quickly expand and fill the wound space.
It’s as easy to use as a syringe, allowing for reliable hemostasis in seconds without having to carefully stuff the wound site with gauze when time is of the essence. To help remove the expanded pellets once the patient reaches the hospital, each of the pellets contains a radiopaque marker to quickly spot them under X-ray.
Diabetes Monitoring/Glucose Control
In the flexible electronics section above, we already mentioned the glucose sensing contact lens that Google is working on. In the meantime, diabetics still have to have their fingers pricked on a daily basis. That’s why there’s now the Genteel lancing device that promises nearly pain-free pricks anywhere on the body. It creates a vacuum around the sampling site, vibrates the spot, and pierces the skin within .018 of a second.
Perhaps pin pricks may not be necessary after all, thanks to a laser-based glucometer being developed at Princeton University. The device uses mid-infrared light to look into the dermal interstitial fluid that correlates with glucose within the blood.
Beta-O2, an Israeli company that recently came out of stealth mode, has developed a bio-artificial pancreas that is already going to clinical trials at the Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden. The ßAir device is essentially a bioreactor that contains islets of Langerhans, cells that produce insulin and glucagon, functioning much like a healthy pancreas would, but in a radically different form factor.
Before we see a reliable artificial pancreas, we already have devices that in some ways mimic the functionality of a pancreas. A fairly big development for diabetics is the FDA approval of the Animas Vibe insulin pump that pairs up with the Dexcom G4 PLATINUM continuous glucose monitor. The two devices partner to keep glucose levels under control, and thanks to DEXCOM’s trending capabilities, the system can proactively respond to help keep blood glucose within range.
Radiological Imaging Equipment: The Big Stuff
At the University Medical Center Utrecht in The Netherlands, a room is being built that will house a clinical linear accelerator and a 1.5 Tesla MRI machine. The never-before-seen combination will permit interventional radiologists to visualize and target tumors in the same session. This will hopefully allow for much more accurate tumor treatment since the imaging and therapy can be performed at the same time and while the patient is in the same position during both procedures.
GE unveiled the GE SIGNA Pioneer, a 3.0 T MRI machine that drastically reduces imaging times, often by up to 2/3. Additionally, the scanner includes an upgraded version of the company’s SilentScan technology that, as the name implies, brings much needed quiet to the MR imaging suite.
Siemens unveiled a new SOMATOM Definition Edge CT scanner that is able to perform dual-energy imaging using a single-source X-ray tube. Previous single-source CT systems relied on fast kV-switching for dual-energy imaging, which may impair image quality and increase radiation dose. Siemens’ TwinBeam technique allows simultaneous acquisition of high and low kV datasets in a single CT scan.
If you’re getting a CT scan, you’ll be happy to know that it can also provide bone mineral density values without having to get a separate exam. The MindwaysCT software can do this from just about any contrast-free abdominal or pelvic CT scan, even from a virtual colonoscopy.
When a serious cardiac arrhythmia strikes, a defibrillator is often the only thing preventing the death of the patient. Yet, automatic external defibrillators (AED) are still a rare sight in most places and getting one to the patient must be done in a matter of minutes. A student at TU Delft University in Holland developed a flying drone that has an AED built-in. The drone, still a prototype, would be controlled by emergency responsders to get to the patient at which point anyone able to help can quickly access the electrode pads, prep the patient, and begin defibrillating in seconds.
Medtronic Micra, World’s Smallest Pacemaker
At the end of last year, Medtronic introduced its Micra pacemaker that actually sits inside the ventricular cavity and doesn’t have any leads that are often the cause of pacemaker complications. Now it’s pacing actual patients after initial implants have been installed.
It’s implanted in an entirely minimally invasive fashion, delivered to the heart via the femoral vein and made to grab onto the endocardial tissue with built-in metal grippers.
The hope is that such devices, thanks to their small size and nature of implantation, will lead to easier surgeries and better outcomes for patients without having to undergo revisions caused by poorly positioned or dysfunctional leads.
And that’s a wrap for 2014, which has been an exciting year for medical technologies. We’d like to thank you for being our readers for 10 years and look forward to new medical technologies coming next year. In the meantime, a Happy New Year. Be safe, healthy, and keep on reading!