1. The first robot doctorResearchers from the Chinese tech company, iFlytek, in collaboration with Tsinghua University, has been able to create the country’s first robot doctor. With the aim of assisting doctors in clinical diagnosis and seeing patients, this is the first robot to pass the country’s national-level qualification test for doctors.
Every year, roughly 530,000 people in China sit for the exam, and with the robot having achieved a score of 456 compared to the national pass mark of 360. Utilising the robot’s self-learning and problem-solving abilities, the new robot-doctor will be fielded in hospitals to assist doctors in the near future.
2. Botox, an answer to migraines in the young
Researchers from the University of California have found that Botox injections can help in treating migraines headaches in children and teenagers. The small study which looked at migraines in children over a five-year period, found that Botox injections assisted in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.
In 2010, Botox was approved as a preventative treatment for migraines in adults but, not in children, due to concerns over its safety and effectiveness. This new study opened the potential of introducing Botox as a treatment for children as an alternative to present treatments.
Early trials have shown no long-term side effects and the team hopes to expand its results with further studies and a larger sample size. The research goal of the team is to obtain FDA approval for the use of Botox in children with migraines.
3. A more comfortable mammogramFor many women, the mammogram has always been an uncomfortable but necessary examination that one simply has to endure. Now, Boston-based General Electrics (GE) has designed a new mammography system, Pristina. It is designed to make the experience more comfortable for women, while also provides better diagnostic results.
First fielded in the Massachusetts General Hospital in October, the new system has a hand-held remote that allows patients to control the level of pressure exerted during the scan. Moreover, this system has already received approval by the FDA in September after it was found to be equally effective as current measures of mammography.
“We have women in our community who have hesitated to get a mammogram because of the fear and discomfort,” said Dr Constance Lehman, the director of breast imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We hope they see this as an alternative they might try.”
More than just taking the pain and discomfort out of the exam, the new system also improves upon ergonomic measures to ensure women have an as pleasant experience as possible. With positive results from its initial rollout, GE is planning to continue to roll out its new system across Europe and the United States.
4. Scientists and surgeons create virtual brain cellsUnveiled by the The Allen Institute for Brain Science, a team of scientists and surgeons in Seattle have successfully created a three-dimensional computer reconstruction of living human brain cells. These virtual cells are highly unique as they not only capture the shape and anatomy of living cells, but also the electrical pulses that they generate.
According to Christof Koch, chief scientist and president of the institute, “scientists have had to rely primarily on animals to study the electrical behaviour of living brain cells” until recently. "But in order to understand what makes us who we are, we really need to study the human brain," Koch adds.
These ground-breaking virtual cells hold the key to better understanding brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia. However, for the time being, Koch and his team are laying down the groundwork for this unprecedented field of research.
The team is currently building up a database on human cells and actively comparing it with animal brain cells to gain a better understanding of the present database derived from animal cell data. In it for the long run, the institute recently received renewed funding from the National Institutes of Health to further expand its research into these virtual cells.
5. Spider silk helps make better hearing aids
Engineers from Binghamton University has harnessed the sound-sensing capabilities of spider silk to produce more sensitive hearing aids. By coating the super-fine silk in gold, the engineers produced a silk capable of conducting electricity and incorporating it into the microphone array, which are then incorporated into hearing aids.
“The microphone consists of super-thin fibres that move with the air in a sound field,” says Ron Miles, a mechanical engineer at Binghamton University who created the microphone. “The fibres are driven by viscous forces in air, like those that cause tiny dust particles to float around in a slight breeze.”
Traditional hearing aids rely on air pressure changes, while spider silk can convert air movements into audio signals instead. Moreover, there is also the additional benefit of picking up lower-frequency sounds that helps to improve the audio quality of hearing aids. MIMS
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