Advanced 3D printing and manufacturing techniques that can produce soft machines could save a lot of lives in the future. They could be used to make not just soft robots for search and rescue, but also temporary organs for people on the transplant waiting list, like the artificial heart created and tested by a team of researchers from ETH Zurich. The researchers have developed a silicone heart that beats like the real organ does using a 3D-printing, lost-wax casting technique.
In the future, it could be used as an temporary heart instead of the blood pumps hospitals use today for patients waiting for a heart transplant. Since it's a single solid silicone structure, it doesn't have the usual disadvantages associated with typical pumps' metallic and plastic mechanisms, which are susceptible to complications. That's why when the team set out to create an artificial heart, they made it their goal to develop one that "is roughly the same size as the patient's own one and which imitates the human heart as closely as possible in form and function."
The team stayed true to their mission and developed a silicone heart that has a right and a left ventricle like its real counterpart. But instead of a wall in between the two, they're separated by an extra chamber inflated and deflated by pressurized air in order to mimic contractions and pump blood. It's definitely a promising creation that could change lives, but it's unfortunately far from ready.
Based on the series of tests the team conducted, its current iteration only lasts for 3,000 beats, enough to keep someone alive for 30 to 45 minutes. It begins breaking apart after that. The researchers now need to find or develop a more durable material and improve the artificial organ's performance so that it can last much, much longer than that.
Source: ETH Zurich
Heart attacks are frightening by themselves, but they're made worse by the potential for lasting damage. Even a brief interruption to blood flow could permanently destroy vital tissue that keeps your heart beating as usual. However, there might be a way to mitigate or even prevent that damage. Scientists have discovered that a light-sensitive bacteria, synechococcus elongatus, can keep oxygen coming in the midst of a heart attack. Much like a plant, the bacteria both draws on photosynthesis for energy and turns both CO2 and water into oxygen. If you expose it to light soon after the attack, you can maintain oxygen levels and increase the heart's blood-pumping ability after the attack is over.
In lab rats, the results were dramatic. Oxygen levels were 25 times higher 10 minutes after the attack, and the hearts pumped 60 percent more blood 45 minutes after the attack. If you could use this as an emergency treatment in humans, it could mean the difference between outright heart failure and a reasonably healthy patient.
The emphasis is on "if," however. It's easy to shine light into the small body of a rat; it's tougher to do that with humans, who have thicker heart muscles (and are much larger, of course). There's also the question of whether or not the bacteria are completely safe. Don't count on this solution reaching hospitals soon, if at all. Nonetheless, the discovery is promising: it suggests that there's a way to protect your heart against long-term harm even as doctors race to save you from the immediate threat.
When not stealing blue collar jobs, robots are becoming Dr. House, diagnosing maladies like breast and skin cancer with aplomb. Scientists at the University of Adelaide have pushed it to a morbid new level, however, with an AI system that can tell if you're going to die. By analyzing CT scans from 48 patients, the deep learning algorithms could predict whether they'd die within five years with 69 percent accuracy -- "broadly similar" to scores from human diagnosticians, the paper says.
Luckily, foretelling such dire consequences may help doctors to stave them off. "Predicting the future of a patient is useful because it may enable doctors to tailor treatments to the individual," lead author Dr. Luke Oakden-Rayner told the University of Adelaide. "Instead of focusing on diagnosing diseases, the automated systems can predict medical outcomes in a way that doctors are not trained to do, by incorporating large volumes of data and detecting subtle patterns."
For this study, the system was looking for things like emphysema, an enlarged heart and vascular conditions like blood clotting.The deep learning system was trained to analyze over 16,000 image features that could indicate signs of disease in those organs. Machines have become adept at it surprisingly quickly, even though it's "something that requires extensive training for human experts," said Oakden-Rayner.
The goal was not to build a grim diagnostic system, and the AI only analyzed retrospective patient data. Rather, the team is looking to lay the groundwork for algorithms that can diagnose your overall health, rather than just spotting a single disease. They also want to "motivate the use of routinely collected, high resolution radiologic images as sources of high quality data for precision medicine," according to the paper. In other words, they're encouraging more scans as a way to improve the results of future diagnostic systems.
"Our research opens new avenues for the application of artificial intelligence technology in medical image analysis, and could offer new hope for the early detection of serious illness, requiring specific medical interventions," says Oakden-Rayner.