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This Week in Tech

Medical Tech

Three specific news events make this week's blog focus on medical tech.

Item 1: Reading your mind

Perhaps the most astounding and amazing piece of news focuses on a chip implanted in the brain of a paralysed man that has allowed him to regain some control over and use of his hand. I feel this statement should not only be bolded but be in tripple bold, italic, underlined, with a marching ants border, a cycling rainbow of flashing neon colours and a siren going off to attract attention!!!!

In Summary:

  • Patient paralysed after diving into a sandbank in the sea (can move his neck, shoulders and biceps).
  • Has a chip implanted into the motor cortex of his brain (just above his left ear).
  • Chip has is the size of a pencil eraser head (on the back of a pencil) and has 96 microelectrodes to read signals from the brain.
  • Scientists plug a cable into the patient and connect it to a computer.
  • A 'sleeve' containing 130 electrodes is wrapped around the patients forearm.
  • Patient thinks about movements for his hand and the computer reads the signals from the chip.
  • Computer matches the signals to the correct electrodes to stimulate the muscles in the arm and cause the hand to move.
  • This technique only works in the lab with the patient connected to the computer.
  • After 15 months of training, research and programming the patient is able to (amongst other things):
    • open and close his hand
    • move individual fingers
    • pick up and manipulate objects
    • pick up a bottle and pour its contents into a cup
    • move and control his wrist

Read more here:

Item 2 : Reading your device

A man forgets to take his anti-seizure medication. Predictably, later that day he has a seizure at his workplace. He is taken to the emergency room where everything seems normal - except for his heart rate which is faster than it should be and irregular (does not follow the rhythm of a normal heart beat). He is given medication and after a while his heart rate is measured again. His heart rate is normal but still irregular. The doctors need to know when the irregularity started - if the arrhythmia started in the last 48 hours the doctors can try to reset the heart rate electrically (like the paddles used to shock a heart into activity after the heart stops beating). If the arrhythmia has been around for longer, resetting the heart electronically could dislodge a clot in the heart and cause a stroke.

Luckily the patient was wearing a fitbit which measured and tracked his heart rate and, by looking at the app on his phone the doctors could tell that the arrhythmia started when he had his seizure. They were able to shock his heart into a normal rhythm and send him off home a healthy happy man.

This is not the only case of a device readings preventing heart problems. A 62 year old Canadian man felt unwell - thought he was getting the flu or something. He sat down to rest and started playing with his Apple Watch. He saw that his pulse was extremely high (210) and so asked for an ambulance to be called. He was treated - and the doctor said that most people don't know their pulse, go home and rest and then suffer a second heart attack later that kills them. His watch saved his life.

Read more here:

Item 3: Robots in Durban

Not so revolutionary, but quite astonishing to see is the use of the Da Vinci Si robotic surgical tool used in Durban for the first time this week. The News 24 article contains photos and a video of the robot in action. Such tools allow for much more precise control in surgery, less trauma to the body than normal surgery / laparoscopy and therefore higher and faster recovery rates for the patient.

Also in the news:

  • Google's new bipedal robot is the best at walking so far, from Business Insider. A video worth watching.
  • Playing cellphone games can be fatal. Investigations into the Train crash in Germany that killed 11 and injured 85 people in February has found that the train controller was distracted by playing games on his phone an set the incorrect signals causing a head on collision between two trains. From: BBC News
  • Mybroadband.co.za has a chart that shows how employment in South Africa's ICT sector is distributed. This Graph definitely deserves a place on your notice board.

Until next week, happy teaching!

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