Tiny robo to tread through spine

It has been a stuff of science fiction, compressing something to microscopic size and making it travel with blood flow in the human body. In the film Fantastic Voyage, a underwater vehicle was shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the blood vessels.

Now, a team headed by Moshe Shoham of Haifa’s Technion has created a propulsion system for a miniature robot to travel through the spinal canal, powering through cerebrospinal fluid, reports livescience.com. Shoham is also the primary developer of the SpineAssist robot to aid surgeons in performing delicate spinal procedures. The requirements for a robot that moves through body cavities are strict; it must be small enough to move through the body and it must have apropulsion system that is flexible enough to work.

Devices like the PillCam, a pill-shaped camera that is swallowed to picture the complete digestive tract, are moved along by the body’s own peristalsis, and do not need their own propulsion system. “The first location we’re targeting is the spinal canal—which means the device will travel through the cerebral spinal fluid (CSS) which is clear and similar to water. It doesn’t flow too fast, but it needs propulsion,” said Shoham.

“Now we have the propulsion system, but we still don’t have the actual payload —whether it’s a camera from images, or a subsystem which would take a biopsy — that’s still in the development stage.” The robot would in essence be a freeswimming endoscope; a robot with two actuators — swimming tails — that will have a camera in the head to broadcast images to the physician outside. “This is a unique swimming mechanism that is adapted to tiny sizes and, with very low power consumption”, the Technion researchers explain. “In the future, we hope that the robot will also be able to perform biopsies and release medications for local treatment.”

Shoham estimates that it will takeseveral more years to complete the design of the robot’s payload and to further miniaturise the design. He remarks: “I believe that in the future there will be micro-robots that will be permanently implanted in our bodies and will be able to navigate to problematic points. This is a step up for micro-penetration into the human body.”

Waltz your way to a healthier heart

Johann Strauss Jr died in 1899 at age 73 of pneumonia, not a heart attack, and that may be due to his “Blue Danube Waltz” and his many other heart-healthy waltzes. Did that make Strauss the Richard Simmons of the 19th century? Well, maybe not, but Italian researchers have come up with a novel way for cardiac rehabilitation patients to exercise hearts without having to squeeze into spandex or gyrate in a gym: waltzing.

The dance proved to be just as effective as bicycle and treadmill training for improving exercise capacity in a study of 110 heart failure patients. Dancers also reported slightly more improvement in sleep, mood, and the ability to do hobbies, do housework and have sex than the others. “This may be a more effective way of getting people to exercise, and may be more fun than running on a treadmill,” said Robert Bonow, cardiology chief at Northwestern University School of Medicine. “Maybe we should try here. I’m not sure we can get Americans to waltz, but they can certainly dance.”

Exercise is crucial after people suffer heart problems, but getting people to stick with it is tough. As many as 70% drop out of traditional programmes, said Romualdo Belardinelli, director of cardiac rehabilitation at Lancisi Heart Institute in Ancona, Italy. “We have to find something that may capture the patients’ interest,” he said at an American Heart Association meeting in Chicago where he presented results of his study. They chose waltzing because it is “internationally known” and is quite aerobic, as the study ultimately verified, he said.

Even 30 minutes delay can hike death risk by 42%
Hundreds of hospitals around the country are joining the most ambitious project ever undertaken to give faster emergency room care to people suffering major heart attacks. Fewer than one-third of such patients now get their blocked arteries reopened within 90 minutes of arrival, as guidelines recommend. The risk of dying goes up 42% if care is delayed even half an hour longer.

“There’s a very, very large opportunity here to improve patient care,” said John Brush, heart specialist who helped the American College of Cardiology design the new project. Major medical groups and government agencies have endorsed the project, including the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, whose director, Elizabeth Nabel, called it the biggest heart care initiative since paramedics were trained to do CPR.

It targets heart attacks caused by a total or near-total blockage of a major artery that prevents enough oxygen from reaching the heart tissue. About a third of the 10 million worldwide are of this type. The preferred remedy is angioplasty, in which doctors snake a tube through a blood vessel in the groin to the blockage. A tiny balloon is inflated to flatten the crud, and a mesh scaffold called a stent usually is placed to prop the artery open. Guidelines have long called for a “doorto-balloon” time of 90 minutes, “but we just haven’t engineered our ERs to cut out some of these steps that aren’t needed” and cause delays, Nabel said.

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