Technology

Smart Wound Dressing

Smart Wound Dressing Emits Light When Dressing Needs to Come Off

The human skin provides a natural barrier to pathogens and serves as the first line of defense against harmful microbes. When the skin’s integrity is broken via cuts, sores, or other wounds, the site of broken skin potentially becomes an entryway for a systemic infection. Hence, good wound care is crucial from developing sepsis, or widespread infection that can lead to multi-organ failure, particularly in people with chronic diseases, e.g. diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or those who are immunocompromised, e.g. receiving chemotherapy, immunotherapy, battling active HIV infection.

Good wound care technique is largely dependent on the specific characteristics of the wound: nature of wound, size, amount of exudate, illness that can exacerbate wound, etc. However, one thing clinicians agree on is that the wound should be kept covered until a temporary barrier, like a scab, forms to prevent infection. Checking on status of wound healing may require frequent dressing changes, which can be detrimental to proper healing. As a result, Swiss scientists collectively from University Hospital Zurich, Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique (CSEM), EMPA, and ETH Zurich developed a type of smart wound dressing called Flusitex—short for fluorescence sensing integrated into medical textiles.

Flusitex works by monitoring the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the wound. When normal healing is progressing well, pH jumps to 8 before resting around 5 or 6. If the wound’s healing trajectory deviates from standard healing protocols, or the wound becomes chronic, pH may oscillate between 7 and 8. Integrated into the smart wound dressing are pyranine and benzalkonium chloride molecules. Pyranine is a pH-sensitive fluorescent dye, which enable the dressing to fluoresce when a UV light is shined on the bandage at an internal pH of 7.5—an indication the chronic wound is on the verge of healing—which alerts clinicians to leave the dressing alone. Benzalkonium chloride, an antiseptic, is particularly known for killing Staphylococus aureas bacteria, which are commensal on the human skin and may cause opportunistic infections if allowed to enter the wound bed.

To make Flusitex more accessible and user-friendly, scientists are exploring ways to allow an app and camera from a smartphone to interpret fluorescing pH changes on the smart wound dressing so that users can monitor wound healing progress from home.

Soy Air Filter

Biodegradable Soy Air Filter Works Better than Standard Filters

An inexpensive, environment-friendly, biodegradable soy air filter was created by scientists at Washington State University, collaborating with the University of Science and Technology in Beijing, that can filter out gases, like carbon monoxide, that conventional air filters cannot. Poor air quality impacts the inhabitants of several industrialized cities worldwide, of which repeated exposure to toxins can lead to health issues, such as asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease.

The research teams developed the soy-based air filter using natural purified soy protein and bacterial cellulose (polysaccharide that give cell wall of plants and microbes their strength). Soy has 18 functional chemical groups that can be exploited to capture toxic air pollutants on a molecular scale. An acrylic acid treatment was used to expose, or unwind, the amino acid groups that enable the soy-based filter to trap both small particulate air matter and chemical pollutants that people living in severely polluted regions inhale on a regular basis.

Currently available air filters are made of plastic, and in some cases glass and petroleum, with micron-sized fibers that can filter small particles found in smoke, soot, and vehicle exhaust. However, gaseous air pollutants, like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, and other organic volatile compounds (VOCs) escape typical filters—not to mention synthetic materials used to create standard air filters can also contribute to air pollution.

Cellulose used to engineer the soy air filters is a natural structure that’s already used in several biomedical applications, such as adhesives, wound dressings, plastics, and scaffolds for tissue regeneration, and is an inexpensive and earth-friendly material. Gelatin and cellulose-based filters have also been developed by the scientists, which are being applied to disposable paper towels to increase its strength and absorbency so less waste is created.

With the goal of maintaining a sustainable Earth, the researchers hope to improve the health and welfare of the public utilizing cheap, biodegradable materials to improve overall quality of life and balance out new emerging technology that may not be as green-friendly.

Earpiece Seizure Sensor

Epileptic Episodes Can Be Predicted with an Earpiece Seizure Sensor

A team of epileptologists, or seizure disorder experts, from the University Hospital Bonn, in association with Cosinuss—a technology company that specializes in wearable tech—have developed EPItect, an earpiece seizure sensor meant to be worn as a hearing aid and functions alongside a smartphone to forewarn the wearer of an impending seizure.

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by unprovoked recurring seizures, which can include sensory disturbance, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. Seizures usually occur due to a sudden increase of electrical activity in the brain. Monitoring uncontrolled epileptic epsiodes entails an overnight hospital stay while connected to an electroencephalography device to measure brainwave activity.

EPItect works by detecting signs that indicate an imminent seizure, such as an accelerated heart rate and increased frequency of certain movement patterns, e.g. getting up and down for no real reason, buttoning and unbuttoning a jacket, twitching, lip smacking, and momentary syncope. The information is sent to a smartphone that is keyed into a central database that matches the signs with its algorithm. Once confirmed as a positive sign, an alert is sent to the patient, family members, and the physician.

Seizures can occur while asleep. Hence, EPItect can help physicians accurately keep track of the frequency and severity of seizures, and tailor medications so that the most effective treatment can be used to help curb seizures, which can cause cardiac arrest and other serious complications and injuries.

The team of scientists has managed to pare down the earpiece seizure sensor into an earbud. Work is undergoing to further decrease the gadget size and advance it into clinical trials for the purpose of monitoring epileptic episodes to help decrease seizure attacks.

Pressure-Monitoring Socks

Foot Ulcer Prevention with Pressure-Monitoring Socks for Diabetics

A team of scientists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is creating pressure-monitoring socks, dubbed SenseGo, to detect and alert the wearer when too much pressure is exerted on an area. This wearable technology is being designed with diabetics in mind to prevent foot ulcers from occurring.

The socks are machine washable and contain several micro-fabricated pressure sensors that are connected to a microprocessor—a mini-computer with its own central processing unit (CPU) that accepts digital data and releases processed information from a set of preprogrammed parameters stored in its memory. When the sensors detect tremendous pressure applied in a single region, the wearer receives an alert on their smartphone through an app, which also indicates the area of the foot where the immense pressure was detected so the user can change posture, change into better-fitting shoes, or otherwise deal with the situation to alleviate the pressure.

Due to constant spikes in blood glucose levels, diabetics are at increased risk of neuropathy—damage to the nerves—that increases their likelihood of losing sensation in their feet and toes. As a result, excessive pressure may be exerted in one region of the foot, in which prolonged pressure degrades the skin’s integrity, forming ulcers.

Diabetics need to have their feet checked regularly and wear special support shoes to help balance out the pressure. With pressure-monitoring socks to supplement any foot care, the wearer is alerted before any ulcer formation occurs, saving time and resources that would be allotted to treating the ulcer.

There is no release date for SenseGo socks but researchers are currently working on the final version for market release.

New Nebulizer Device

New Nebulizer Device Better at Delivering Medications than Injections and Inhalers

Researchers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have developed a new nebulizer device dubbed Respite engineered to deliver higher doses of medication into the lungs at a faster rate than traditional nebulizers, while fitting comfortably in the palm of one’s hand. Asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and lung cancer sufferers may greatly benefit from this new technology.

Utilizing several AA batteries, Respite works by producing surface acoustic waves—a specific form of sound wave that travels parallel to the surface of a material that exhibits elasticity—on a small microchip device measuring 2 cm by 1 cm. The sound waves agitate the liquid medicine resting in a compact drug vial and convert it into an aerosol, or mist, to be inhaled by patients through a mouthpiece at the end of the device. Current nebulizers deliver medication at 0.4 mL/minute, in which the fine mist that’s generated cannot be used to deliver insulin, protein, peptides, or DNA. On the other hand, Respite can deliver medication at a rate of up 3 mL/minute, with a resulting mist that’s thicker and heavier that can potentially aerosolize larger molecules and carry them directly into the lungs.

The research team tested Respite with monoclonal antibodies for lung cancer and stem cells for lung regeneration in hopes of developing a low-cost, cancer drug-delivery mechanism. Success came when they tested a DNA flu vaccine using the prototype on a sheep subject, which elicited comparable immune response as that of an injection. The scientists are also looking into nonmedical applications, such as cosmetics and surface and equipment sterilization.

As the new nebulizer device is made ready for market slated to be released sometime in the next five years, RMIT researchers are looking to streamline the device so that it uses less battery power and ultimately sell it for less than $50 US.

Portable Vital Signs Measuring Device

Portable Vital Signs Measuring Device Hits Homes Soon

Viatom CheckMe is a portable vital signs measuring device that monitors heart rate, systolic blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and temperature, potentially saving people with chronic medical conditions several trips to the emergency department by simply checking their vital signs routinely at home.

People with chronic diseases, like hypertension, can benefit from regular blood pressure screenings. However, sphygmomanometers are bulky and unwieldy, making them difficult to use one-handed. Viatom CheckMe is a compact “tricorder” device that measures, analyzes, and records systolic blood pressure, heart rate, electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, blood oxygen levels (SpO2), and temperature, using built-in cableless sensors and liquid-crystal display (LCD) interface that enables the user to calibrate and operate the tech by following the series of prompts initiated once it’s turned on.

Vital signs are measured in 20 seconds within the palm of the user’s hands. The device is fashioned with three electrodes located on the front, back, and left side, where both right and left hands have to be positioned just right to get the correct ECG signals. If signal is weak, the left thigh and right hand can also be used. A photodiode sensor lies on the top right to measure SpO2 levels when the right index or middle finger is inserted. Systolic blood pressure can be checked daily after it has been calibrated with a mercury manometer, usually performed by a physician. The device also comes retrofitted to accommodate an external cable for both ECG and SpO2 readings. Lastly, the device comes equipped with an infrared thermometer that measures temperature on the user’s forehead.

Readings can be transmitted via Bluetooth or an app to a mobile device, in which 10 hours of data can be saved and stored. A “Home” mode is available that reminds users to take their medications and comes with an installed 3D motion detector that converts Viatom CheckMe into a pedometer that counts steps taken, distance traveled, while calculating burned calories and fat.

The portable vital signs measuring device is slated to hit Bloomingdale’s in New York starting August and priced around $249 US to be sold under the brand name BodiMetrics.

Smartphone Microscope

Identifying Parasitic Worms Made Easy with New Smartphone Microscope

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.5 billion people, or 24 percent of the world’s population, sustain infections caused by parasitic worms, in which sub-Saharan Africa is known to be affected the greatest with river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. Both are testable and treatable with medications as long as the patient is also not infected with the Loa loa worm, in which the medication can cause death. To prevent such complications, scientists at University of California Berkeley have developed CellScope Loa, a smartphone microscope that detects the presence of Loa parasites within two minutes with a drop of blood.

CellScope Loa consists of a 3D-printed plastic base, where the smartphone slides in, and outfitted with LED lights, USB port, gears, and microcontrollers, with a Bluetooth-enabled controller board. Using Bluetooth as the interface, an app designed for the smartphone microscope channels the base and creates a video as the blood sample is analyzed in front of the phone’s camera. An algorithm then sorts through the video footage, detects the parasites, and displays the worm count on the screen.

River blindness is transmitted by the bites of blackflies and caused blindness in 50 percent of the afflicted males in West Africa, according to the WHO. Lymphatic filariasis is spread by mosquitoes and causes a disease called elephantiasis which is characterized by massive swelling of the arms, legs, and genitals. An antiparasitic drug called ivermectin is effective in treating both conditions but only when a large Loa count is absent. Otherwise, the medication can cause severe or fatal brain damage.

Traditional method of detecting Loa worms in the bloodstream is to transport the sample back to a laboratory and manually count the worms under a microscope. With CellScope Loa, the need to transport and set the sample into a smear is ruled out, saving time and resources.

A trial run of CellScope Loa was performed in Cameroon, and the accuracy of detecting parasitic worms through the smartphone microscope was equivalent to that of traditional methods.

Smartphone Plug-In Accessory

Smartphone Plug-In Accessory Aims to Diagnose HIV and Syphilis in 15 Minutes

A team of researchers from Columbia University have developed a smartphone plug-in accessory to identify HIV and syphilis markers in 15 minutes with a drop of finger-prick blood, reducing the cost of the conventional-run test from an upwards of $18,000 to $34.

Typically, such tests are performed by means of a biochemical process called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which utilizes expensive equipment and test results may not be available up to a few weeks. The smartphone accessory can pick up HIV antibodies and both treponemal-specific antibodies for syphilis and non-treponemal antibodies for an active syphilis infection in 15 minutes. Using the audio jack as its power source and a method to transmit data, the device consists of microfluidic disposable cassettes that contain reagents to detect the three antibodies from a drop of blood. Employing the physical principle of vacuum pressure, a thumb is pressed down to initiate the negative-pressure activated sequence that floods the test chamber with test reagents from a prefilled cassette.

A field test was implemented in Rwanda among 96 subjects, of which 97 percent recommended the test due to its speedy performance, simple test procedure, and the dongle’s ability to test for multiple diseases. The scientists noted the test’s tendency to procure false-positive results and recognize the need to fine-tune the method.

In developing and underdeveloped nations, the smartphone plug-in accessory can prove to be a boon in identifying HIV and syphilis infections in pregnant women since they can be transmitted to fetuses. Early detection is key to prevent permanent harm to the unborn child. The appeal of such a contraption is potentially high even in developed nations like the United States where the escalating cost of health care has no ceiling.

Vision-Correcting Display

Vision-Correcting Display Technology Can Make Corrective Lenses Obsolete

Researchers at University of California (UC), Berkeley, along with their collaborating partners at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have developed a vision-correcting display so that people with farsightedness would be able see images and text clearly without the aid of glasses and contact lenses. The new vision-correcting display technology was engineered to help people with presbyopia, a common farsighted condition occurring in middle and old age characterized by loss of lens elasticity.

The prototype setup consists of a printed pinhole screen wedged between two clear plastic layers placed onto an iPod display to boost image clarity. Pictures and text are enhanced by merging computational light field optics and an innovative algorithm designed by UC Berkeley scientists. The algorithm “deconvolutes” the light that enters the pinhole by tailoring the strength of each direction of light that radiates from an individual pixel (the smallest controllable element of a picture represented on a screen) so the user can see a sharp image. The new vision-correcting display technology is an improvement of older versions that generated low-contrast images.

With this new vision-correcting display technology, researchers hope to also assist people with higher order aberrations, which cannot be rectified by glasses. Contact lenses are not an option as they won’t fit people with abnormal curvature of the cornea or lens.

As electronics moguls like Samsung, LG, and Nokia are increasingly investing in display technologies, the need to incorporate vision-correcting display technologies with screens becomes necessary as displays become evermore omnipresent and vital to everyday life.

So far, the prototype arrangement only caters to a single user’s visual impairment and is not effective if the user moves. For the near future, scientists envision a thin screen protector-like application that can be affixed onto displays, with state-of-the-art eye tracking technology that would allow displays to easily adapt to user’s head movements and position, along with a “multi-way correction” for shared displays so that people with different visual impairments all see a clear image.

Smartphone App That Screens Hearing

hearScreen: A New Smartphone App That Screens Hearing Loss

According to the World Health Organization, permanent crippling hearing loss affects 360 million people worldwide, of which more than 32 million are children. In developing nations and rural areas, approximately 80 percent of people with hearing loss have no way to detect it. Audiometers are typically used in developed nations to screen hearing and determine any deficits, but the machines are bulky and expensive and require trained professionals to handle the apparatus. A Dutch audiologist developed hearScreen, a new smartphone app that screens hearing inexpensively while being very portable and easy-to-use.

Hearing, particularly in children, is essential for proper language development, speaking ability, and communication skills. Even slight hearing defects can heavily impact a child’s competency in a classroom setting where lessons can easily get lost within the noisy environment. However, early detection of hearing loss in children and babies, with immediate intervention, can greatly diminish the detrimental effects of hearing loss. The hearScreen initiative, led by an audiologist from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, was designed to screen hearing in the elderly and children efficiently and economically.

hearScreen can be downloaded onto a low-cost smartphone and automatically calibrates and monitors background noise to ensure accurate test results, according to standards. The screening takes one minute. Then the data can be uploaded to a central monitoring server where it can be stored for evaluations later.

Field trials of hearScreen have been tested in primary healthcare settings and schools and the app has proven to be just as effective and accurate as the gold standard: audiometry tests using an audiometer.

With a smartphone app that screens hearing, early detection and vital intervention of premature hearing loss can be sustained in third world, developing and rural regions where audiometers and trained specialists are not easily accessible.