Category Archives: Medical Breakthrough

african_feet

Science is about to permanently eradicate a disease

This will be the second time ever that humanity has eradicated a disease. The last and only other time was with smallpox.

In the 1980s there were more than 3 million cases of Guinea worm disease each year. Now, there are only 2 confirmed cases and 2 suspected cases.

I’d like the last Guinea worm to die before I do – Jimmy Carter

The Carter Center in Atlanta (named after the former president Jimmy Carter) has been devoted to the cause and has been quite successful.

Their efforts have  centered around educating governments and the public about how to prevent transmission, and how to control suspected cases.

Hopefully the world can rejoice that one more human threat has been permanently defeated. Thank you Jimmy Carter and thank you science!

Don’t read this if you don’t want the ugly details: The disease is spread by drinking infected water. Larva will develop into a worm within a human host and after about a year, the worm will try to painfully exit through the skin. During this process it will spread larva into any body of water, thereby infecting others. The disease was endemic to Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan. Thank goodness the disease is almost gone for good!

Click here to learn more.

Pig

US to mutate pigs to grow human organs

They call them Chimeras, pig embreos that have been injected with human stem cells. These creations have been made by various labs around the world but are typically killed before the fetus is able to fully develop.

A research team from the University of California, Davis, is hoping to create Chimeras to solve organ transplant shortages. They will create mutant pigs that lack the genes required to make a pancreas. Then, they hope the human stems cells will fill the void and create a human pancreas within the pig. They believe the process can work for any needed organ.

Although there are many ethical concerns that have delayed research in this area, one of the major concerns is what would happen if a chimera accidentally developed a human brain. How should we treat such a creation? Should we even be allowed to make one in the first place?

Aside from the moral / ethical issues involved, one of the many interesting applications would allow individuals who need a transplant to create their missing organ within a Chimera using their own stem cells. This would create a cloned organ that is a perfect match, in good health, and young – even better quality than a traditional donor organ.

Click here to learn more.

Bionic Legs

Completely paralyzed man voluntarily moves his legs

(UCLA) A 39-year-old man who had been completely paralyzed for four years was able to voluntarily control his leg muscles and take thousands of steps in a “robotic exoskeleton” device during five days of training — and for two weeks afterward — a team of UCLA scientists reports this week.

This is the first time that a person with chronic, complete paralysis has regained enough voluntary control to actively work with a robotic device designed to enhance mobility.

Bionic Suit

In addition to the robotic device, the man was aided by a novel noninvasive spinal stimulation technique that does not require surgery. His leg movements also resulted in other health benefits, including improved cardiovascular function and muscle tone.

The new approach combines a battery-powered wearable bionic suit that enables people to move their legs in a step-like fashion, with a noninvasive procedure that the same researchers had previously used to enable five men who had been completely paralyzed to move their legs in a rhythmic motion. That earlier achievement is believed to be the first time people who are completely paralyzed have been able to relearn voluntary leg movements without surgery. (The researchers do not describe the achievement as “walking” because no one who is completely paralyzed has independently walked in the absence of the robotic device and electrical stimulation of the spinal cord.)

In the latest study, the researchers treated Mark Pollock, who lost his sight in 1998 and later became the first blind man to race to the South Pole. In 2010, Pollock fell from a second-story window and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

At UCLA, Pollock made substantial progress after receiving a few weeks of physical training without spinal stimulation and then just five days of spinal stimulation training in a one-week span, for about an hour a day.

“In the last few weeks of the trial, my heart rate hit 138 beats per minute,” Pollock said. “This is an aerobic training zone, a rate I haven’t even come close to since being paralyzed while walking in the robot alone, without these interventions. That was a very exciting, emotional moment for me, having spent my whole adult life before breaking my back as an athlete.”

Even in the years since he lost his sight, Pollock has competed in ultra-endurance races across deserts, mountains and the polar ice caps. He also won silver and bronze medals in rowing at the Commonwealth Games and launched a motivational speaking business.

“Stepping with the stimulation and having my heart rate increase, along with the awareness of my legs under me, was addictive. I wanted more,” he said.

The research was published by the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, the world’s largest society of biomedical engineers.

robotic-exoskeleton-bionic-suit

“It will be difficult to get people with complete paralysis to walk completely independently, but even if they don’t accomplish that, the fact they can assist themselves in walking will greatly improve their overall health and quality of life,” said V. Reggie Edgerton, senior author of the research and a UCLA distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology, neurobiology and neurosurgery.

The procedure used a robotic device manufactured by Richmond, California-based Ekso Bionics which captures data that enables the research team to determine how much the subject is moving his own limbs, as opposed to being aided by the device.

“If the robot does all the work, the subject becomes passive and the nervous system shuts down,” Edgerton said.

The data showed that Pollock was actively flexing his left knee and raising his left leg and that during and after the electrical stimulation, he was able to voluntarily assist the robot during stepping; it wasn’t just the robotic device doing the work.

“For people who are severely injured but not completely paralyzed, there’s every reason to believe that they will have the opportunity to use these types of interventions to further improve their level of function. They’re likely to improve even more,” Edgerton said. “We need to expand the clinical toolbox available for people with spinal cord injury and other diseases.”

What we are seeing right now in the field of spinal cord research is a surge of momentum with new directions and approaches to remind the spine of its potential even years after an injury

Edgerton and his research team have received many awards and honors for their research, including Popular Mechanics’ 2011 Breakthrough Award.

“Dr. Edgerton is a pioneer and we are encouraged by these findings to broaden our understanding of possible treatment options for paralysis,” said Peter Wilderotter, president and CEO of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which helped fund the research. “Given the complexities of a spinal cord injury, there will be no one-size-fits-all cure but rather a combination of different interventions to achieve functional recovery.

“What we are seeing right now in the field of spinal cord research is a surge of momentum with new directions and approaches to remind the spine of its potential even years after an injury,” he said.

Grace Peng, director of NIBIB’s Rehabilitation Engineering Program, said, “This is a great example of a therapeutic approach that combines two very different modalities — neuromodulation and robotic assist devices — to achieve a result that could not be realized with either approach alone. This multi-device approach, much like multi-drug therapy, may ultimately benefit patients with impaired mobility in a wide variety of rehabilitation settings.”

NeuroRecovery Technologies, a medical technology company Edgerton founded, designs and develops devices that help restore movement in patients with paralysis. The company provided the device used to stimulate the spinal cord in combination with the Ekso in this research.

Edgerton said although it likely will be years before the new approaches are widely available, he now believes it is possible to significantly improve quality of life for patients with severe spinal cord injuries, and to help them recover multiple body functions. Although his laboratory is making dramatic progress, it only is able to work with a small number of patients due to limited resources.

“We could accomplish a lot more in advancing the science and technology with more resources,” Edgerton said.

The lead author of the new research is UCLA research scientist Parag Gad. Lead co-authors were Yury Gerasimenko, director of the laboratory of movement physiology at Russia’s Pavlov Institute and a researcher in the UCLA department of integrative biology and physiology; and Dr. Daniel Lu, associate professor of neurosurgery in UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Other key UCLA contributors were research technician Sharon Zdunowski, researchers Dimitry Sayenko and Roland Roy, research associate Piia Haakana and Amanda Turner, Edgerton’s laboratory coordinator.

In addition to the Reeve foundation, the research was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (grants U01EB15521 and R01EB007615), the F. M. Kirby Foundation, the Walkabout Foundation, the Dana and Albert R. Broccoli Foundation, Ekso Bionics, NeuroRecovery Technologies and the Mark Pollock Trust.

Almost 6 million Americans live with paralysis, including nearly 1.3 million with spinal cord injuries.

By: Stuart Wolpert

CHARLIE_1

Puppies That Save Lives With Their Nose

(AFK) Meet Alfie and Charlie—the newest weapons doctors may be using to fight cancer in the future.

The two puppies, a Labrador Retriever–Poodle mix and a German Shepherd Dog, respectively, are part of a training program to learn to detect cancer in humans through a new program at University of California, Davis.

alfieDogs have been proven to be able to detect certain types of cancer at earlier stages than current screening methods can. These dogs will learn to sniff saliva, urine, and breath to see if volatile organic compounds, a waste product of cancer, are present, explains Dina Zaphiris, the dog trainer working with the physicians. The first type of cancer samples they’ll be working on are oral and laryngeal cancers. Researchers hope to be screening patients by 2018 and to eventually expand to other types of cancer.

“Our new canine colleagues represent a unique weapon in the battle against cancer,” Peter Belafsky, professor of otolaryngology, says in a press release. “It’s the first of its kind at UC Davis, and the dogs’ incredible talent for scent detection could offer us humans a real jump on diagnosing cancer much earlier and thus save many more lives.”

This type of screening will be particularly useful for cancers that are more difficult to detect in early stages, like ovarian, pancreatic, and stomach cancers.

The puppies were selected and are being trained by Zaphiris, who runs the InSitu Foundation in Chico, California, and has successfully trained more than 30 dogs to detect various types of cancer over the past 15 years. She is also collaborating with Duke University for a similar cancer-detection program.

Researchers hope to be screening patients by 2018

The trick, she explains, is finding the right dogs for the job. “I was looking for a dog that was social, high contact, and wanted to come forward and play and earn rewards—but one that wasn’t the one in the litter with the highest drive because they’ll be working with few distractions in the lab.”

Charlie was an easy pick. “I love German Shepherds for this type of work,” she says. “For them, it’s more than just the nose, it’s a matter of temperament. German Shepherds have tenacity. They’re tough. They love to work, and they’re not easily startled.”

Because the dogs will live with the doctors conducting the research after they complete 18 months of training, she had to find a hypoallergenic breed (or mixed breed, as she settled on) as the second dog because of a doctor’s wife’s allergy. “Alfie bonded with me in a confident way and showed me he wanted to work,” she told AKC.org.

The dogs will complete training in mid-2016.

Eventually, Zaphiris adds, the university wants to create an endowment and comprehensive center dedicated to this type of work and research. She hopes to offer a certification program in the future through which other dog trainers can be taught her 371-step process to training dogs for this type of work.

By: Liz Donovan

James Boysen

World’s first skull-scalp transplant

(The Independent) Texas doctors have carried out what is believed to be the world’s first partial skull and scalp transplant to help a man with a large head wound caused from cancer treatment.

MD Anderson Cancer Centre and Houston Methodist Hospital doctors announced on Thursday that they did the operation on May 22, the Associated Press said.

The recipient was Jim Boysen, a 55-year-old software developer from Austin, Texas.

Radiation treatments for a rare cancer left him with an open wound in his head that would not heal. Along with the scalp and skull, he received a new pancreas and kidney to treat lifelong diabetes.

Mr Boysen was preparing to leave the hspital on Thursday with a new kidney, pancreas and scalp and skull grafts. He said he was stunned at how well doctors matched him to a donor with similar skin and colouring.

“It’s kind of shocking, really, how good they got it. I will have way more hair than when I was 21,” he told the AP.

Last year, doctors in the Netherlands said they had replaced most of a woman’s skull with a 3-D printed plastic one. The Texas operation is thought to be the first skull-scalp transplant from a human donor, as opposed to an artificial implant or a simple bone graft.

Mr Boysen had a kidney-pancreas transplant in 1992 to treat diabetes he has had since the age of five and had been on drugs to prevent organ rejection. The immune suppression drugs raise the risk of cancer, and he developed a rare type – leiomyosarcoma.

Radiation therapy for the cancer destroyed part of his head, immune suppression drugs kept his body from repairing the damage, and his transplanted organs were starting to fail. “It was a perfect storm that made the wound not heal,” he said.

Yet doctors could not perform a new kidney-pancreas transplant as long as he had an open wound.

Houston Methodist, which has transplant expertise, partnered on the venture. It took 18 months for the organ procurement organisation, LifeGift, to find the right donor, who provided all organs for Mr Boysen. That donor was not identified.

In a 15-hour operation by about a dozen doctors and 40 other health workers, Mr Boysen was given a cap-shaped, 10-by-10-inch skull graft.

Dr Osama Gaber, director of transplantation at the Methodist Transplant Centre, said: “I’m glad the donor family had the generosity and insight to approve us doing this….to get through their grief and approve the donation of this tissue besides the organs.”

By: Andrew Buncombe

Image Credit: AP