Category Archives: BiomedNews

Battery-less pacemaker tests out

X-ray image of installed pacemaker showing wir...
X-ray image of installed traditional pacemaker showing wire routing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new pacemaker, designed without battery or wires, is implanted directly into the heart and gets its energy wirelessly from radio frequency radiation transmitted by an external battery pack. It can also control electrical signals to all four chambers of the heart. The prototype, developed by researchers from Rice University and others, was presented at the recent Texas Heart Institute (THI) at the IEEE’s International Microwave Symposium (IMS) in Honolulu. The wireless transmitter can be up to a few centimeters away.

Traditional pacemakers use electrical signals to keep the heart beating steadily, but they are planted in the upper side chest so that doctors can access them easily to replace the onboard batteries with minor surgery. The signals transmit to the heart via wires called leads, which are known sometimes to lead to bleeding or infection.

This new pacemaker can even act as a defibrillator when needed. Worked flawlessly on a pig.

It’s sure got a lot going for it. Only thing we worry about is: Even if the external transmitter is very small, how’s the patient going to keep it always within the required distance without wearing some kind of external pack – something that could be way too easy to damage or lose?

Further work underway. Read more here on the wireless, battery-less pacemaker.

New tool against MRSA – Stem cells in silver scaffolding

Image in the public domain and ...
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus – MRSA, magnified 4780x

Osteomyelitis is a debilitating bone infection that can result when MRSA invades bone tissue following surgery. Now a team of scientists at University of Missouri led by Elizabeth Loboa, Dean of UM’s College of Engineering, has created silver-coated scaffolds that are seeded with fat-derived stem cells that can be triggered to create bone. The silver ions stave off MRSA while generating new bone.

Take a look at the video describing this revolutionary study here. More about this exciting discovery can be found at the University of Missouri website here.

Imagine: the end of antibiotics in sight. Here’s more from a brilliant TED talk on healing with a cell instead of a pill.

Having a “good death” in America webinar Sept 29

Being Mortal book by Atul Gawande
Being Mortal book by Atul Gawande

Recently attended a 14-week course based on the book Being Mortal. In it we examined in detail all aspects of end-of-life scenarios, including the right to choose the timing of one’s own death.. It was a sobering look at how our health care system conspires to wrest from us the right to make independent choices for ourselves. In the U.S. we commit tremendous resources to extending life but pay comparatively little attention  to  planning and care that honors patients’ end-of-life wishes. As a result, too many people suffer unnecessary treatments and end up spending their final moments in hospitals instead of at home. A rising chorus of experts and authors say this needs to change.

The Center for Health Journalism will host a webinar on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET that will give an overview of the problem, discuss how changes to our health care system could help, and offer insights on how journalists might spur more conversations on how we approach death in America.
The panel will feature Prof. Leonard Schaeffer, the Judge Robert Maclay Widney chair and professor at the University of Southern California. Previously, Schaeffer served as the founding chairman and CEO of WellPoint (now Anthem), one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies. He’ll be joined by Ann Neumann, author of “The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America” (2016) and a visiting scholar at The Center for Religion and Media at New York University.
For more information and to register, click here.

Reducing falls in elders via treadmill training plus virtual reality

Omnidirectional treadmill immersive simulator
Omnidirectional treadmill immersive simulator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over a period of two-plus years researchers tested two groups of older people (60-90 years) who’d experienced at least two falls prior to the start of the study, according to a recent Lancet article. One group received treadmill training only, three times each week. The other group received the same treadmill training but with an added component of virtual reality (VR) – audio/visual presentation of winding pathways, obstacles and other challenges that required the participant to pay careful attention.

Results showed dramatic improvement in the rate of falls in the months after the experimental training among those in the treadmill-plus-VR as opposed to a virtually unchanged rate of falls among those who had treadmill-only training.

So, it appears that having to navigate trails and overcome obstacles makes the mind-body unit more responsive to its surroundings – thus providing greater stability and protection for future ventures.

Who pays for medical breakthroughs?

So cool the discoveries/breakthroughs that are being made in medicine today. Who knows how many of us will die just before they invent the drug or procedure or protocol that will save the life of someone with the same condition ten years later? But how do we finance these breakthroughs?
Besides the issue of getting new treatments through the R&D and approval process, there’s always the question of who will be willing to pick up the tab for them. As the U.S. moves to significantly reduce healthcare costs, everyone is worried that “the scientific trajectory towards more personalized treatments will be squelched by the countervailing pressure to pay only for treatments deemed most effective in large populations of patients.” How do insurance coverage decisions affect changes in the R&D and investment process? What influence can patient groups have on setting priorities in the research that may pit comparative treatment effectiveness against personalized medicine?
Video: Plenary – Who will pay for tomorrow’s medical breakthroughs?  If you haven’t got a whole hour to listen, the segment from marker 30:00 to 51:16 covers a good amount of information.


Nanotechnology helps visualize how cancer cells spread

Golden silk spider Photo credit: Wikipedia
Golden silk spider Photo credit: Wikipedia

Cancer cells are incredibly flexible about promoting their own movement and growth in the body. They can travel through blood vessels as thin as spider silk. They even change their shape to do so, yet are still able to divide and cluster into colonies in those very skinny spaces. That spreading through the body is called metastasis, and it’s what makes cancer turn deadly.

Researchers are now putting nanotechnology to work to help decipher exactly how cancer cells perform this extraordinary feat. An article in Nanotechnology Now reports:

The researchers trapped live cancer cells in the tubular membranes and, with optical high- and super-resolution microscopy, could see how the cells adapted to the confined environment. Cell structures significantly changed in the nanomembranes, but it appeared that membrane blebbing — the formation of bulges — at the cells’ tips helped keep genetic material stable, an important requirement for healthy cell division.

For more details, check out this one-minute video on how scientists used microtubular membranes to study how cancer cells divide in capillaries.


Save the date – Biotech & law conference May 5-7, 2016

The first annual Biotech & the Law Global Conference, May 5-7, 2016, takes place this year at the Monona Terrace Conference Center in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference constitutes an international gathering of biotech researchers, lawyers, and business leaders coming together to network across disciplines and make new professional connections.

Wisconsin, claiming a history of biotech innovation that reaches back more than a century, offers a unique culture of public-private tech transfer that supports over 1600 businesses and earns the state the moniker, “Biotech’s Third Coast.”

The conference presents a unique opportunity for professionals to earn continuing education and take advantage of the resources of Madison’s academic and business communities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Morgridge Institute for Discovery, and a host of private and public interests in the health care, agriculture, and environmental science fields.

Registration is now open for Biotech & the Law on the conference website.

Related articles

Marker in cells mutated back to stem-cell-state may be able to predict cancer

English: Pathway of stem cell differentiation
English: Pathway of stem cell differentiation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

News of a marker that may serve as a way to predict which cells will become cancer comes out of a recent study by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital. Scientists were able to isolate a substance that appeared in a cell that had reverted to its stem-cell-state and then became cancerous in zebrafish that subsequently developed melanoma.

“The spark for that change was in the crestin gene, which should only be active in embryonic tissue but became inappropriately activated again, resulting in melanoma,” according to the article online at One of the authors of the study said “the beginning of cancer occurs after activation of an oncogene or loss of a tumor suppressor, and involves a change that takes a single cell back to a stem cell state.”

Now a fish is not a human being, so this information is a long way from having practical application in your doctor’s office. But the principle behind this discovery will guide further research and additional hoped-for developments.

Non-depressed heart failure patients have 80% lower risk of early death

Millions of Americans suffer from heart failure, and it’s the leading cause of hospitalization for people over 65. It comes in four stages, from mild to severe, and is a progressive and always eventually fatal disease. But the course of the disease can be profoundly affected by other factors.

In an ongoing study of heart failure patients, after adjusting for factors such as sex, age, hypertension, severity of heart failure, and comorbidities, moderate to severe depression remained a predicting factor for all-cause mortality for heart failure patients. In other words, if you’re depressed and have heart failure, you’re five times more likely to die an early death than a similar patient who isn’t depressed.

Now, add that fact to this one: heart failure patients who exercise more have fewer hospitalizations and better outcomes on all scores. Another recent study examined how levels of social support and barriers to exercise affected heart failure patients’ willingness to keep up with exercise programs. Not surprisingly, when patients completed surveys about the types of support they received and their barriers to exercise, those who had worse situations in regard to finances, weather, transportation, and/or childcare had less success in adhering to exercise regimens. And those with reduced barriers did, in fact, exercise more and have better outcomes.

Medical experts can only surmise why exercise helps depression, but there’s clear evidence that it does. So, what is the cost of having millions of heart failure patients regularly re-hospitalized versus helping reduce those social barriers and giving them the chance to experience longer and better-quality lives?

Sausages made with berries

English: Schwartz's smoked meat medium fat Mon...
English: Schwartz’s smoked meat medium fat Montreal Quebec 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember when scientists first discovered “antioxidants” back in the 1990s? These molecules began to be touted as miracle-workers, and food and drink purveyors took off in hot pursuit of profits. But since then, further sober consideration has heated up the debate as to how beneficial they are. Read this from Harvard Health about the true value of antioxidants for good health.

Meanwhile, researchers at Lund University in Sweden, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and four other European research institutions have launched a joint project to create a way to produce sausages and smoked meats made with antioxidants extracted from berries. The ultimate aim is to reduce the risk of colon cancer, one of the most common cancers in Sweden.

World Health Organisation (WHO) recently classified smoked and processed meat products as Group 1 carcinogens, the same group that includes tobacco products and alcohol. Hmmm. So, are all those Italian eating the Mediterranean diet—which includes generous portions of sausages and smoked “salumi“—quaking in their boots? Unlikely, since their way or eating has long been considered the gold standard of diets for long life.

Simply explained, the project involves extracting antioxidants from plants and berries, and then prepare [sic] meat products with these antioxidants. Animal testing will afterwards show whether this reduces the occurrence of cancer or not.

The question is, can extracted isolated antioxidants have the same effects as the complete “package of antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and other substances found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains” that are known to help prevent a variety of chronic diseases? Research in this area has generally come up empty. It’ll be interesting to see where this one goes.