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How is it really that a person can learn to move again after a debilitating injury? When a neurological injury such as a stroke or spinal cord injury occurs, people are left wondering how to function again. It can seem like the end of movement as they know it, a death in the way that a person has adapted to navigating their environment for years.

Depending on the type and severity of a neurological injury, the results of such an event can vary greatly. A brain injury such as a stroke disrupts the way that the brain serves as a command center for muscles, altering the way a person has learned to move and feel. A traumatic brain injury can completely alter movement, perception, and personality, depending on the area of the brain affected. Degenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis slowly attack a person’s central nervous system, causing them to have a gradual decline in physical and sensory function.

In physical therapy, clients and their families are understandably scared and frustrated after such injuries. How does a person move forward with a life-changing disease or event? The hope lies in the power of adaptation, and the ability of the human neural circuitry to rewire and allow someone to learn to navigate the world in a new way. This is called neural plasticity, and it is a powerful survival tool which optimizes our resilience in life.

The nerves in our bodies communicate with biological electrical signals much like common electrical wires. When one nerve wire is faulty, our body finds a way to establish a signal through a new route so that a message can be delivered. This is absolutely amazing, and allows people to move forward in life after a debilitating disease or injury.

People often wonder how long it will take until they feel ‘normal’ again, and the beauty of neural plasticity is that our bodies find a new ‘normal’ through rewiring the neural circuitry. The key in this recovery is that the body and brain must be forced to find the new normal through practice and repetition. Encouraging someone to use their arm after a stroke, for example, fosters new signals in the body which recover upper body movement. Practicing walking after a stroke is vital in recovering walking ability.

The central nervous system recovers by creating new synapses. Where there was a blockage in communication from the injury, new receptors and new active signals are created. This requires increased stimulation in the brain, meaning that a person must be encouraged to do an activity which may seem difficult and new given their injury. It will initially feel like a new, uncoordinated task and will slowly become more efficient with practice as the brain and central nervous system adapt.

Peripheral nerves, the ones that transmit signals from the spinal cord to the rest of the body and back, also recover in several ways. The tail of the neuron, the axon, can regrow. In addition, a number of events are set off to create new signals and stimulate recovery.

Neuroprosthetics and technologies that force a person back into movement early may stimulate this mechanism of neural plasticity for an injured person. In general, the sooner that someone can start moving, the better. More time without movement means more muscle atrophy, as well as more of the body forgetting how to move through disuse.

The body responds to the commands and stresses that are placed on it, and devices and therapies that foster a plastic response are not only positive and productive, but what allow people to survive and adapt after a life-changing injury.

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Pneumonia is a potentially fatal infection of the lungs, causing them to accumulate fluid in the air sacs. Especially dangerous for the very young, old, and immunocompromised, it must be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. Currently, the gold standard for diagnosis is a chest x-ray, which is not only inconvenient and costly, but also exposes an individual to radiation.

A staple physician accessory has always been the stethoscope, a tool for amplifying sound when listening to the internal sounds of a patient. When a doctor is listening to your heart or lungs, this requires a combination of skill with placement and auditory detection to differentiate normal and abnormal sounds. This alone is not enough to diagnose a lung infection such as pneumonia, and thus a suspected diagnosis must be confirmed with an x-ray.

A new instrument looks to improve the accuracy and ease of diagnosing pneumonia while providing an inexpensive and convenient alternative to chest x-rays. Tabla works by streamlining a series of simple steps to detect possible lung infections. A provider places the device over a patient’s sternum, and then continues to move the stethoscope around known areas of the lung while a wireless app collects diagnostic data.

As medical instruments become digitized for accuracy, interpretation of patient data and output is becoming more standardized. Tabla is a brilliant device which not only streamlines the diagnostics process for lung infections, but eases the burden of cost and minimizes exposure to radiation in the treatment of pneumonia.

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One of the great challenges in biotechnology is interfacing synthetic materials with biological ones. Our bodies are designed with an extremely complex network of tissue, vascular, and neural structures to protect us and alarm us if there is something potentially dangerous to our system. If we sit for too long, for example, we feel discomfort and shift positions instinctively. If something is pressing against our leg and threatens to disrupt normal blood circulation, we perceive this threat with pain and pressure and respond accordingly.

Amputees and prosthetists have long been facing the issue of how to interface the residual limb with a prosthetic socket. Fitting for a prosthesis introduces a synthetic limb component to a biological one, and an improperly fitted socket can cause pain, pressure sores, and expose a residual limb to infection and tissue damage. And while there has been much improvement from the crude iron prosthetics that amputees once had to endure, there is still much room to improve to make the interface closer to a natural one.

One group at MIT has sought to address this disparity by developing a variable impedance prosthetic (VIPr) socket. Using MRI imaging and surface scanning techniques, researchers were able to find the tissue depth and where the socket was most likely to place pressure on the irregular bony areas of the residual limb. A socket was then 3D printed using this data to apply the least amount of pressure when fitted to the amputee.

After testing this socket on a below knee amputee, it was found that there was a 7-21% decrease in pressure on various bony areas of the leg compared to a regular socket during walking. While there is still no perfect socket or prosthetic interface for amputees, this is a step in the right direction to protect valuable and vulnerable human tissue.

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Regenerative medicine using biotherapy and bioprinting is providing much hope for previously irreversible conditions such as burns, muscle damage, and cancer. Cells and cellular environments are extremely difficult to reproduce once they are damaged, and much of regenerative medicine focuses on how to repair what our bodies originally made so easily.  3D cell production, versus 2D cell production, mimics the organic environment of our bodies to produce cells. In biotherapy, living organisms are used as the starter in this process.

The complexity in the specificity of our cells is part of why it is so difficult to reverse cell damage. Thus, stem cells are valuable biological material due to their ability to differentiate into any type of cell based on their environment and genetic factors. A stem cell starts out as a blank slate, and by receiving environmental and genetic signals, can become virtually anything in the human body, from a kidney to a blood cell to a muscle in the leg.

Placental stem cells are organically derived and the natural byproduct during a birth. Instead of being discarded, they can provide a very important product for placental cell therapy, which helps direct cells toward regeneration and promotes healing. In biotherapy, these placental stem cells can be very valuable for the cell production process.

Pluristem, a company quickly gaining international presence, produces 3D cultured placental stem cell therapies for various conditions. The company uses a 3D platform to produce their line of PLX products, mimicking the environment of the human body for cell production. This cell therapy is developed to provide cell therapy which is easy to use and does not require genetic or tissue matching. Once the therapy is administered, it promotes the body to heal itself in the target area.

Pluristem products provided regenerative therapy for a variety previously potentially irreversible conditions. Among these is acute radiation syndrome (ARS), which involves irreversible damage to organs and bone marrrow from radiation exposure. Pluristem also aims to provide therapy for vascular conditions such as critical limb ischemia, intermittent claudication, and pulmonary arterial hypertension, all which are dangerous and can lead to decreased life span or surgery.

Pluristem is currently in its clinical trial phase, with collaborations with several universities and industry partners, including the NIH.

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Anyone that follows robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing has likely at least brainstormed a project of their own, eyeing the possibility that one day we may provide a contribution to this world. Innovative devices, however, require a solid technical foundation to be functional, and at the source of every new robotic device and artificial intelligence machine is the platform on which it runs. While we are accustomed to seeing the outcome of a project, the founders at krtkl have developed a palm-sized computer that is an all-in-one embedded platform to support the inventive process.

With intelligent connected systems such as drones, self-guided robots, 3D printers, and artificial vision in mind, krtkl’s snickerdoodle provides a springboard for creation at a price of only $65. Included in the hardware set is support for open-source software, built-in Bluetooth, WiFi, and a mobile app to support the development process. All of the technical components are outlined on the site, including extra components which are available for more processing power and other options.  Using an Android or iOS device, you can connect to snickerdoodle’s WiFi immediately to begin working on a project.

The implications of a small, integrated and portable computer designed for robotics and other intelligent systems are promising, realistic, and positive.The exciting aspect of every new project is the notion that an innovative idea has come to fruition, and something has been created which tests the limits of what we know as possible. Not having to commit to an expensive, bulky computer to attempt to build a system may open the door for many developers to attempt projects which may flourish into a brilliant product.

Funded on crowd supply with new shipments planned to ship out this October, watch the video below for more insight:

Why do we seek external advice for our health? In part, we expect providers to know more than us. This is partially through the experience of treating other patients that have had similar struggles, and also by having the background knowledge and mental data storage to make decisions that will guide us toward our goals. So, what if there was an external system that could help guide the decisions that providers make to improve our health?

Artificial intelligence is going to change the way that clinicians diagnose and treat, for the better. Any human work has the risk of error and knowledge can be variable between practitioners. Patients oftentimes don’t expect to find their providers searching their conditions or related questions on Google, but the truth is that this is common practice. Seeing a condition for the first time, with a client expecting you to provide guidance for them and keep them safe is difficult and sometimes external resources are necessary. In my first years of practice, Google Scholar and the search engine became my close alliances while I navigated many new diagnoses and patient questions.

IBM Watson seeks to provide an external network of both data and experience. It is growing to become an amazing resource for answering questions, compiling data, and helping drive logical decisions in medicine. A large cloud of data storage that learns as it compiles more data, this promises to be a close resource for clinicians by making our decisions more precise and valuable for patients. Watson’s storage allows for a diverse amount of data storage, including personal data along with genomic and clinical research. When searching for information, it will be extremely valuable and efficient to have all this information stored in one known resource.

Quality care is a combination of data and experience. Both are extremely valuable, and the combination is what makes medical decisions supreme. Without research we are unable to learn as a society and defend the decisions that we make. And it is through experience, working with thousands of people, that we begin to see patterns and apply them to our practice. People often ask, ‘have you seen this before?’ It comforts them when the answer is yes, and this is because experience gives us the power of efficiency. With a resource such as IBM Watson, providers will have the benefits of current research and data to pair with our experience.

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In the past, having a neurological injury which left someone with quadriplegia was a life sentence. With research and developing technology has emerged new hope for people left with minimal use of their arms and legs after an event such as severe stroke or spinal cord injury. Current applications are combining the use of virtual reality and electrical signals from the brain to increase people’s function and potential through brain-computer interface (BCI).

In light of the upcoming Cybathlon as well as BCI Meeting 2016, I would like to highlight a company creating much opportunity through research and development. g.tec is a biomedical engineering company that both creates products and conducts research for BCI. While many of the company’s products are inspiring and impressive, it is their BCI research system which is brilliant.

In a BCI system, a person is able to control a target by thinking, and thus using the electrical signals from their brain which are converted into electrical signals which a computer can detect and use to perform tasks. This task can either be something on a computer screen such as a game or computer application, or a robotic device which is able to pick up these signals and move in response. Much like our bodies can use our brain as the command center to tell us to pick up a pen using our left hand, a BCI system can potentially do the same, replacing a biological hand with a robotic limb.

In order for someone to control a target with their brain, there must be multiple working components. A person wears a cap with electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes, and can use motor imagery to plan a task. The electrical signals in the brain which occur while the person is planning this activity are picked up up by the EEG electrodes, amplified, and converted to electrical signals which the computer system uses to carry out the task. It is an incredibly complex and amazing feat to connect biological and computer systems seamlessly to carry out a task.

As the g.tec website elaborates, the electrical conversion from human brain to computer leads to a number of amazing applications. There is, for example, a motor rehabilitation system where a system is controlled by thought directing virtual hand activity, allowing users to control a prosthesis, wheelchair, or virtual reality environment with their mind. In essence, a person can think that they are using their right hand to spell out a word, and the computer spells out this word in response.

Another application of BCI which g.tec is working toward researching is motor rehabilitation through virtual limbs. In this system, a user imagines a limb moving, and is able to visualize this limb in virtual form on a screen. In essence, this system would allow someone with left sided paralysis after a stroke to visualize moving their left arm on a screen. This is incredibly valuable for recovery from a neurological event such as stroke, where decreased activity in the brain of controlling a limb can lead to permanent difficulty of extremity control. “Use it or lose it” unfortunately can prove to be an accurate description of limb use after a debilitating stroke.

While this technology is still emerging and by no means has reached its full potential, g.tec presents us with a diverse platform for research and development of products which will have a huge impact on those who are affected by stroke and other neurological injuries. Anyone who has observed someone with such an injury understands the frustration, disappointment, and loss of independence that such an event brings.

The BCI research system is just one of many groundbreaking products that g.tec is developing. Their site outlines many more products which perform a variety of functions, from cortical mapping to assisting people with communication limitations.