As we baby boomers confront various health issues as we age, it’s good to keep abreast of medical advances that may offer us hope or, in some cases, maybe just a dose of amusement.
Interestingly, some of these developments were the stuff of science fiction when we were growing up. Take a look:
Silly Putty can help track blood pressure
When we boomers were kids, one of the coolest things you could do with Silly Putty was press it on comics and transfer the image. Now researchers have discovered this polymer can measure blood pressure, pulse and respiration rate. The scientists added graphene—considered the thinnest and strongest material to exist—to Silly Putty, then measured if electrical current would pass through it. They found “G-putty” was 250 times more sensitive than a typical metal-based sensor and, when placed on a subject’s chest, was able to measure how much blood was pushing on artery walls. Who knew?
Speed bumps can help diagnose appendicitis
Apparently, how much pain patients experience when they’re driven over a speed bump is a highly reliable clinical indicator of acute appendicitis. According to a study published in the medical journal BMJ, “Asking about speed bumps may contribute to clinical assessment and could be useful in telephone assessment of patients.” So if you feel increased abdominal pain when going over a speed bump, maybe you should keep driving straight to the hospital—because delayed surgery for acute appendicitis can lead to severe infection, even death. Not funny.
Surgeons want to transplant a human head
A Russian tech geek, a Chinese surgeon and an Italian neurosurgeon walk into an operating room…sounds like the opening line of a joke, right? Well, according to an article in the Washington Post, these three folks want to be involved in the first human head transplant (the Russian is volunteering his head because he’s got a fatal genetic disorder). The neurosurgeon says the transplant could happen as early as this year (probably in China since it’s unlikely to get US or EU approval) and has a “90 percent plus” chance of success. It would require 80 surgeons (none named Frankenstein) and cost tens of millions of dollars. I’m still wrapping my head around this one…
Robot to care for the elderly at home
Remember Rosie, the household robot from The Jetsons? Well, researchers at Rice University and IBM are working on an in-home assistant for elders who wish to age in place named MERA—the Multi-purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant. MERA will monitor an individual’s heart rate and respiration, and can detect if someone falls, automatically calling a caregiver or 911. People using the device can also ask it health-related questions—like what are the signs of a stroke or heart attack—and MERA shares these messages with caregivers or providers. The device is powered by Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence and analytical software—and Jeopardy champion. Wonder if MERA plays any games…
Part-human, part-pig creature grown in lab
Remember “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” or Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly?” Well, according to STAT, a national medical newsletter from Boston Globe Media, scientists recently announced they produced a human-pig “chimera”—a hybrid created by fusing a sperm and egg from different species. The researchers injected pig embryos with human stem cells, and the chimeras began to grow organs containing human cells. These creatures weren’t allowed to develop past the fetal stage, but the experiment suggests hybrids might someday be used to grow organs for transplant, easing a dire shortage. Hmm…ethical considerations aside, what human-animal combos would you like to see?
Got stomach acid? It might be the battery of the future
Also according to STAT, biomedical engineers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital believe your churning stomach acid could power ingestible medical devices like long-acting drug-delivery capsules or sensors that can detect blood or toxins. The acid allows electrons to move between two metals, producing a small amount of current, like a battery. In an animal study, an ingestible thermometer was able to power itself for about six days while transmitting measurements every 12 seconds. Better lay off the antacids, huh?
When you think about it, it is pretty amazing what the human mind has brought to life, inspiring this haiku:
Medicine is like
science fiction: it’s the art
of the possible.
What do you think? Are there other medical advances that were—or still seem—like science fiction to you? If you could have a head transplant, whose would you want? Conversely, who would you donate your head to? Please share…