Posts with «health» label

Robot performs complex 'keyhole' intestinal surgery on pigs without human aid

A robot has successfully performed "keyhole" intestinal surgery on pigs without any aid from humans, according to a study from John Hopkins University (published in Science Robotics). What's more, the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) handled the tricky procedure "significantly better" than human doctors. The breakthrough marks a significant step towards automated surgery that could one day help "democratize" patient care, the researchers said. 

Laparoscopic or keyhole surgery requires surgeons to manipulate and stitch intestines and other organs through tiny incisions, a technique that requires high levels of skill and has little margin for error. The team chose to do "intestinal anastomosis" (joining two ends of an intestine), a particularly challenging keyhole procedure.  

Soft tissue surgery in general is hard for robots due to the unpredictability. To deal with that, the STAR robot was equipped with specialized suturing tools and state-of-the-art imaging systems that could deliver extremely accurate visualizations. 

John Hopkins

Specifically, it had a "structural light–based three-dimensional endoscope and machine learning–based tracking algorithm" to guide the robots. "We believe an advanced three-dimensional machine vision system is essential in making intelligent surgical robots smarter and safer," said John Hopkins professor Jin Kang. On top of that, STAR is the first robotic system that can "plan, adapt and execute a surgical plan in soft tissue with minimal human intervention," said first author Hamed Saeidi. Using all that technology, the STAR robot successfully performed the procedure in four animals

Laparoscopic surgery is minimally invasive compared to regular surgery, which helps ensure better patient outcomes. However, because it takes so long to master, there's a relatively small pool of doctors able to do it.

"Robotic anastomosis is one way to ensure that surgical tasks that require high precision and repeatability can be performed with more accuracy and precision in every patient independent of surgeon skill," said senior author Axel Krieger from John Hopkins. "We hypothesize that this will result in a democratized surgical approach to patient care with more predictable and consistent patient outcomes."

Moderna begins early-stage trials of mRNA-based HIV vaccine

Moderna has begun early-stage clinical trials of an HIV mRNA vaccine, the company announced this week. On Thursday, it administered the first doses of a shot it co-developed with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative to volunteers at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Like the company’s COVID-19 vaccine, the new treatment uses messenger RNA to “trick” the human body into producing proteins that will trigger an immune response. Moderna hopes the shot will induce a specific class of white blood cells known as B-cells, which can then turn into broadly neutralizing antibodies. Those proteins are “widely considered to be the goal of HIV vaccination, and this is the first step in that process,” according to the company.

As part of the trial, Moderna plans to test both a primary vaccine and a booster shot. The Phase 1 trial will involve 56 healthy, HIV-negative adult participants. The company will give 48 of those individuals the mRNA vaccine. Thirty-two of that group will also receive the booster shot. To the final eight involved in the first trial, the company will only administer the booster shot. Moderna says it will then monitor the entire group for six months to gauge the safety of the vaccine. It also plans to examine the immune response the vaccine triggers at the molecular level to determine if it’s effective.

Messenger RNA technology could lead to treatments for a host of deadly diseases, including malaria, but a breakthrough against HIV would be particularly noteworthy. According to statistics from the US government, approximately 1.2 million Americans have the virus, which can lead to the deadly AIDS disease. While outcomes for HIV patients have improved significantly since the ‘90s thanks to the development of new treatments and medication, no HIV vaccine has successfully passed early clinical trials.

US surgeons implant genetically altered pig kidneys in a brain-dead patient

A group of surgeons from the University of Alabama at Birmingham has proven that it's possible to genetically alter a pig so that its kidneys can be used on human transplant patients. The doctors have transplanted kidneys from a genetically altered pig into the abdomen of a brain-dead man, and as The New York Times has reported, the procedure was described in a paper published in the American Journal of Transplantation

According to the doctors, the kidneys from the pig started producing urine as soon as 23 minutes after the procedure and continued to do so for three days. The patient's kidneys were fully removed, and his body didn't show signs of rejecting the transplanted organs. This is the latest in a series of developments wherein organs from genetically altered pigs were successfully transplanted into humans. In late 2021, NYU Langone Health doctors attached a pig kidney onto the blood vessels of a brain-dead patient's upper leg. And, just a few days ago, doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine transplanted a pig's heart into a live patient as part of an experimental procedure.

The UAB surgeons performed the procedure with consent from the family of the recipient, James Parsons, who wanted to be an organ donor. They're now naming this type of study after him. While the recipient was brain dead in this case, it's a big step towards a clinical trial involving live patients that they're hoping would start later this year. Dr. Jayme Locke, the team's lead surgeon, said this wasn't a one-off experiment, and that the hope is to "advance the field to help... patients." The doctor who serves as director to UAB's Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program added: "What a wonderful day it will be when I can walk into clinic and know I have a kidney for everyone waiting to see me."

Based on data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there are currently 90,272 people on the waiting list for kidney transplant. In addition, around 3,000 new patients are added to the waiting list for the organ each month. Dr. Locke said "kidney failure is refractory, severe and impactful" and that "it needs a radical solution." She hopes to be able to offer life-saving pig kidney transplants to patients within the next five years.

All-in-one diabetes devices could take the hassle out of insulin injections

People with diabetes have more than a few hassles, particularly at meals. They not only have to measure their blood glucose levels and inject the right amount of insulin, but carry all the relevant equipment with them. MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers might soon eliminate many of the headaches, though. They're developing all-in-one devices (not pictured) that measure glucose, calculate the necessary insulin dose and inject you accordingly.

The first device includes the blood-drawing lancet, glucose test strips and an insulin needle. Users would first take a photo of their meal using a smartphone app to estimate the food volume and carbohydrate levels. After that, they'd start the automated process of collecting blood, calculating glucose (again through the app) and delivering the appropriate amount of insulin.

The second gadget would only need one needle jab — it would build the glucose sensor into the insulin needle and inject the appropriate amount of insulin. You'd have to wait five to ten seconds, but you wouldn't have to stick yourself twice.

The technology is still some ways off. While the first device would use parts that were already FDA-approved, it hasn't been tested in humans. The second, meanwhile, uses a new sensor type that will likely require more work to be testable with humans. Scientists have filed patents for both devices and are hoping to work with companies on further development.

There's a strong motivation to bring these devices to market, at least. People with diabetes would only need to use one device at meals, and with the hybrid sensor/needle might suffer less pain. That, in turn, could encourage consistent treatment that improves your overall wellbeing.

Wandercraft's latest exoskeleton lets paraplegics walk with a more natural gait

Paris-based Wandercraft has announced that it's latest "Atalante" exoskeleton has been updated to give paraplegic and other patients a more natural gait during rehabilitation exercises. It also received a Medical Device Regulation (MDR) certificate in Europe, allowing patients and medical staff to use the device more widely. Finally, it's taken a step closer to personal exoskeletons with additional funding.

The last time I saw Wandercraft's first-generation exoskeleton was over four years ago, which is ages in the field of robotics. However, I recently got a chance to see the latest model in use with paraplegic patients, and chat with them and the team behind Atalante. 

Steve Dent/Engadget

Exoskeletons (or exos, as they're called in the industry) are powered "wearable robots" adapted to each user, designed to aid in walking rehabilitation treatments and restore a patient's mobility. Atalante is Wandercraft's second-generation exo with a more advanced design and features than the original model. It comes with a remote to operate it and a new app that lets a physiotherapist and patient fine tune movements and exercise programs. It uses two sets of removable batteries that allow for continuous use.

The new model is much smaller, more streamlined and more comfortable for patients, thanks to new hardware, tweaks in the fit and more intelligent software. It's now self balancing, so it's easier to control for both patients and physiotherapists. Although it's not yet approved to be used alone, Wandercraft showed me a video demonstrating that it can self balance, even when shoved off kilter. It also offers features that make it easier to get in and out, along with the "Wander Balance" feature that allows for easy "verticalization" to help the patient stand up.

The device automatically generates optimized and adjustable kinematics according to a each patient's morphology, with the settings allowing for custom exercises. The latest feature is "RealGait" (shown above) which allows for physiological walking with adjustable speeds. "CustomGait" allows the pace, step length and mass center to be changed, while "ActiveGait" lets the user change the assistance effort from 0 to 100 percent. That feature also includes an "EarlyGait" setting for first steps, along with the new RealGait setting. 

Those features, plus smaller changes make Atalante far more useful. "We've improved half turns so they happen on a spot rather than taking up a lot of space," Wandercraft CEO Matthieu Masselin told me. "We've redesigned things like the attachments and padding. That allows the patient to get in an out more quickly, move more comfortably and get more walking done in each session — which means more rehabilitation and re-education benefits."

All of that is enabled by numerous sensors and software that can make adjustments on the fly, Wandercraft told me. The device's "sense of balance" makes the various gait patterns possible, while also giving the patient and physiotherapist confidence that the device (which is still not light at 130 pounds) won't tip over. 

Steve Dent/Engadget

Wandercraft allows some patients to use Atalante for rehabilitation purposes and I saw it in action with Arbiha, a paraplegic patient who has used it for multiple sessions. The device was suspended from the ceiling and operated by a physiotherapist for safety reasons, but the plan is to one day have a version that can be used in the real world without assistance. 

It was striking how easily she was able to walk during a relatively long one hour session. The exo therapy offers some clear benefits like stimulation of the cardiovascular/lymphatic systems and training for the arms and other supporting muscles, but it goes well beyond that. 

Steve Dent/Engadget

"It boosts both my body and my spirits," Arbhia told me. "It gives me a cardiovascular workout that I couldn't get otherwise. Being upright for a fairly long period of time helps my balance, too, as you lose that aspect when you don't stand up. I have a digestive malady and the walking therapy has also helped stabilize that, which is something I didn't expect at all."

Wandercraft's eventual goal is a personal exoskeleton that can be used as an assistance device at home or in the streets. To that end, the company just received $45 million in financing to help it fulfill that "mobility for all" mission. "With the team we have, the financing we've received and the technology developed, we're confident that we can one day have our exos on the streets and in people's homes," said Masselin. "But we still have a lot of work to do." 

Withings' Body+ smart scale is 41 percent off for today only

If you're seriously sticking to your New Year's resolution this time around to live a healthier lifestyle and want a digital scale to monitor the changes to your body, Withings has one on sale. The Withings Body+ smart scale is currently available for $58.50 on Amazon. That's not quite its all-time low for the device, but it is 41 percent off its retail price of $100. 

Buy Withings Body+ Digital Wi-Fi Smart Scale at Amazon - $58.50

The Withings Body+ connects to the internet via WiFi and automatically syncs your information with the Health Mate app. While it can't measure your heart rate like the the brand's latest scale can, the Body+ is capable of almost all the things you'd expect from a smart scale. It can monitor your weight in pounds, kilograms or stones, measure your body fat and water percentage and determine your muscle and bone mass. Withings says its weight measurements are accurate to within 100 grams. 

You can also share the scale with your whole household, and maybe even some houseguests, since it monitor data for up to eight people. The scale can apparently identify each user, and each one can access their personal histories. And yes, the scale can track healthy weight gain for pregnant individuals, has a baby mode for the youngest members of the family and an Athlete mode, presumably for those extra serious about achieving their goals. Finally, the Health Mate app can also help you manage your daily calories and let you access your data using voice control through Alexa.

You can only get the Body+ scale at a discount within the day, and there's less than 20 hours left for the deal as of this writing.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

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Rapid COVID tests will soon be fully covered by insurance in the US

With the COVID-19 Omicron variant surging in the US and elsewhere, testing is key to allowing work, school and entertainment activities to continue. With rapid test kits in short supply, though, some retailers are making them unaffordable by gouging customers. Now, the Biden administration has announced that testing kits must be covered by private insurance, The Wall Street Journal has reported. 

People covered by private health insurance can be reimbursed for up to eight tests a month per individual. To make things simpler, the White House is encouraging insurers to partner with retailers and pharmacies so people can pick up tests without paying up front or submitting a claim. The tests are available without deductibles, coinsurance or co-payment, so a family of four on the same health plan could be reimbursed for 32 tests a month, for instance. For such programs, reimbursement would be limited to $12 per test. 

Today’s action further removes financial barriers and expands access to Covid-19 tests for millions of people.

The new policy doesn't apply to Medicare, which counts more than 60 million seniors at higher risk for COVID-19 complications. However, Medicaid for low income folks already covers at-home COVID-19 tests authorized by the FDA. The administration also plans to make tens of millions of free tests available to uninsured Americans at health clinics and other sites, according to The New York Times

Some insurers said that the administration is acting too late and that it didn't address the shortage of at-home tests. However, one national association of coverage providers said that the new plan "takes steps to mitigate the real risks of price gouging, fraud and abuse."

Having enough diagnostic tests will be key to slowing down the Omicron wave that is starting to overwhelm health systems in the US and elsewhere. It can help get infected people isolated or into treatment more quickly, reducing potential transmission and hospital workloads. 

That will become even more important given authorization for antiviral pills from Pfizer and Merck that can help high-risk patients with mild to moderate COVID symptoms — provided they're diagnosed in time. "This policy will help millions of families afford COVID tests that allow them to be in school, visit family members and live their lives," Georgetown University's Sabrina Corlette told the WSJ

Surgeons successfully transplant genetically modified pig heart into human patient

In a desperate effort to save the life of a 57-year-old man, doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have accomplished a medical first. Per The Associated Press, this past Friday, surgeons successfully transplanted a pig heart into a patient as part of an experimental procedure.

In doing so, they showed a genetically modified animal organ could survive and function within the human body without immediate rejection. Three days after the procedure, David Bennett, the individual who underwent the surgery, is alive and “doing well,” according to the hospital.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the procedure on compassionate grounds. Bennett was ineligible for a traditional heart transplant and had run out of other options. “It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” he said in a statement before doctors operated on him.

Scientists have tried to save humans with animal organs for decades. One of the most notable attempts occurred in 1984 when doctors grafted a baboon heart into Stephanie Fae Beauclair, an infant born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The congenital disorder left her body incapable of circulating blood properly. Baby Fae, as she was better known, survived for 21 days before her body eventually rejected the transplanted organ.

According to The New York Times, what makes this latest procedure different is doctors used a heart that had been genetically modified to remove four genes that encode a molecule that causes the body to reject the orphan organ. They also inserted six human genes to make the immune system more tolerable of the foreign tissue. Whether the experiment represents a breakthrough will depend on what happens next. Bennett’s body could still reject the pig heart. For the moment, however, he’s alive, and doctors are understandably excited about what this could mean for patients.

“If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering,” Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s xenotransplantation program, told The Associated Press. That would be a dramatic change from the status quo. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, more than 100,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list, and 17 individuals die every day waiting for an organ transplant.

Sleep Number says its latest smart bed will adapt to your needs as you get older

Sleep Number is back at CES this year with the latest version of its 360 smart bed. The company has packed more features into the product, such as the ability to monitor body temperature. The graphite-infused foam mattress can cool or heat each side of the bed to maintain each person's preferred temperature throughout the night. The Climate360 mattress also has such a feature. The smart bed can warm your feet to help you drift off too.

As with the current model, there's a snoring detection function. That can prompt the bed to raise your head to mitigate moderate snoring. In addition, the bed can tilt entirely to open your airway and help you breathe more easily while keeping your spine properly aligned.

One of the core ideas behind the latest model is that it's designed to adapt to your changing needs. For instance, it can be raised or lowered to help those who are pregnant, have an injury or are simply getting a little older to get in and out of bed.

Sleep Number

The 360 smart bed offers sleep tracking, and will provide details on things like how long and well you slept. Eventually, it may be able to monitor for signs of insomnia, sleep apnea or cardiac events and alert the sleeper about possible conditions. Software updates should add more features and insights over time.

The revamped 360 smart bed will be available in 2023. Pricing is expected to start at $1,099.

Sleep Number also announced some smart furniture that's designed to complement the bed. Features include mobility aids, individual noise reduction tech, ambient lighting and a built-in charging and storage pocket. The company will start shipping the furniture next year too.

Follow all of the latest news from CES 2022 right here!

Nike sues Lululemon over its Mirror home gym product and apps

Back in June 2020, Lululemon got into the flourishing home gym market in the midst of the pandemic by purchasing home fitness startup Mirror for $500 million. Now, Nike has filed a lawsuit against the company over Mirror, accusing it of patent infringement. According to CNBC and The Wall Street Journal, Nike's lawsuit allege that Mirror — a full-size interactive mirror that brings a live fitness instructor into the user's home — and its apps use technologies that it invented and patented. 

The sports apparel giant specifically mentioned that it filed a patent application in 1983 for a device that can prompt users to exercise, monitor their heart rate, determine their speed while running and the calories they burned. Nike also has a number of mobile apps for fitness, including the Nike Run Club and Nike Training Club. 

Nike sent Lululemon a list of patents it allegedly infringed on back on November 3rd. As you'd expect, the company more known for making yoga pants and other types of gym clothes disagreed with Nike's assessment. A spokesperson told the publications in a statement that the patents "in question are overly broad and invalid." They also said that Lululemon is confident in its position and "look forward to defending it in court."

Mirror operates as a standalone company within Lululemon, putting the workout clothes-maker in direct competition with the likes of Peloton and Tonal. Lululemon CEO Clavin McDonald previously said that the purchase was all about connecting with consumers, because they're bound to spend more the more they engage with the brand. Last month, however, the company halved its sales forecast for the device, calling 2021 "a challenging year for digital fitness." 

This isn't the only patent-related legal battle Lululemon is embroiled in. Last year, it filed a patent infringement lawsuit of its own against Peloton, alleging that the design the other company used for a new line of leggings and sports bras infringe on its intellectual property.