News Bites brings you 5 weekly news in bite-sized form.

1. Pencil-like device to predict chances of pre-term delivery

A "pencil-looking" non-invasive device has promised to accurately predict the chances of pre-term delivery up to three months in advance, revolutionising the prevention of premature birth, scientists have said.

The device will save the NHS £1 billion a year by alerting doctors about the accumulations of moisture in the cervix, providing them a chance to intervene and artificially prolong pregnancy.

The new test has been trialled at an NHS hospital in Sheffield, where GPs and nursing staff are using the device. Currently, gynaecologists rely on time-consuming and expensive procedures such as ultrasounds or fetal fibronectin swabs, which usually yield many false positives and, even when accurate, can only predict premature birth a few days.

The test, which takes only 15 seconds, uses wireless technology to send a "red, amber, green" signal to a computer indicating how likely a premature birth is. It is set to roll out across the NHS within three years, and can accurately predict premature birth from as early as 20 weeks gestation.

2. Tourniquet inflates vein to allow easier needle insertion

The Vacuderm. Photo credit: Oberon Ltd
The Vacuderm. Photo credit: Oberon Ltd

Nottingham researchers have developed a tourniquet to help doctors and nurses who have trouble inserting needles into patients' veins. The tourniquet, called Vacuderm, will help inflate the vein so that a needle can be easily inserted to take blood.

The inventor Dr Arash Bakhtyari said that the Vacuderm works very simply. The dome part of the device is pumped to create a vacuum, which expands the vein ready for cannulation, saving time and money, reducing infection and limiting patient and practitioner stress.

Final clinical trials are set to take place in the next few months at the Royal Derby Hospital's emergency department before launching globally later in the year. A children's version is also in developmental stages.

3. Light to monitor blood clots during surgery

Aristide Dogariu, a professor from the University of Central Florida has invented a way to use light to continuously monitor a surgical patient's blood, providing a real-time status during life-and-death operations. Dogariu's team believe that in some situations it could replace the need for doctors to wait while blood is drawn from a patient and tested.

During surgery, especially cardiovascular surgery, a blood clot can lead to life-threatening conditions by shutting down the heart-lung machine used to circulate the patient's blood. However every 20 to 30 minutes, blood must be withdrawn and taken to a lab for a test that can take up to 10 minutes, slowing the process with gaps of time with absence of information.

The technology uses an optical fibre to beam light through a patient's blood and interpret the signals that are reflected. The back-scatter of the light determines how rapidly red blood cells are vibrating. Slow vibrations mean blood is coagulating and a blood thinner is needed to prevent it.

4. Regenerating ear hair cells now a possibility

Albert Edge, director of the Tillotson Cell Biology Unit at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School in Boston and his team, have found a way to regenerate hair cells in the ear, that tend to be killed over time due to loud noises, certain medications and chemotherapy.

Working with a mouse model and a donated cochlea, the researchers also looked at similar regenerative cells in the body such as the progenitor cells lining the intestine.

Molecules in the intestine were extracted and used in the inner ear. Results were positive when the progenitor cells were proliferated and continued to form functional hair cells. The hair cells were tested on very young mice, adult mice and a patient with a tumour near the cochlea. The technique is currently being perfected.

5. Cheap home-printable 'smart tattoos' to monitor health

Smart tattoo printed by an inkjet printer. Photo credit: Waseda University
Smart tattoo printed by an inkjet printer. Photo credit: Waseda University

Researchers from Waseda University have developed ultra-thin electronic tattoos to monitor a person's health, or the amount of alcohol ingested. While 'smart tattoos' have been developed before, this new method allows the tattoos to be printed cheaply on a home inkjet printer.

Black lines conduct electricity onto an elastic nanosheet, which are connected to components such as chips and LEDs that are sandwiched between the nanosheets. The nanosheet is 50 times more elastic and flexible than other polymer nanosheets and is only 750 nanometres thick.

The film sticks to the skin much like a temporary tattoo, eliminating the need for glue, tapes or chemical bonding. The researchers have tested the tattoo on an artificial skin model and found that it is able to work for several days. The technology is expected to be applied on human-machine interfaces and sensors for fields of medicine, healthcare and sports training. MIMS

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