4 innovative medical devices by budding young scientists

20170513090000, Bee Kee Ng
Vanessa Restrepo-Schild
Vanessa Restrepo-Schild, 24, student and researcher at Oxford University led the team in the development of a new synthetic, double layered retina which closely mimics the natural human retinal process. Photo credit: Oxford University
While many youngsters are enjoying the time of their lives, there are young scientists who devote their time to creating medical devices, thus create potential medical tools that could help improve the health of many people and advance the future of medicine.

Below are four examples of creative medical creations by the whiz kids from different corners of the world.

1. Julian Rios Cantu

The Eva bra, made by Julian Rios Cantu, 18, will be an early warning system for breast cancer symptoms. Photo credit: Higia Technologies/BBC
The Eva bra, made by Julian Rios Cantu, 18, will be an early warning system for breast cancer symptoms. Photo credit: Higia Technologies/BBC

A teenager from Mexico, Julian Rios Cantu was only 13 when he had a particular motivation to invent a bra to detect breast cancer. Late detection of his mother’s breast cancer had almost taken her life.

Since then, Cantu started researching the disease and came up with the idea of a breast cancer-detecting bra, now named the Eva bra. The bra, which is still in the prototype stage, had subsequently led Cantu and his three friends to win the top prize at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.

According to Cantu, the Eva bra will be an early warning system for breast cancer symptoms. Cancerous tumours may cause different skin temperatures due to increased blood flow, hence, biosensors in the Eva bra would be able to measure, record and notify changes in the temperature. The user would need to wear it for 60 to 90 minutes a week for accurate measurements.

Despite being at the early stages, Anna Perman from Cancer Research UK commented, “It's great to see young people like Julian getting into science and having ideas that could help with cancer diagnosis.”

She added that rigorous testing would be required to ensure that the innovation would benefit patients.

2. Vanessa Restrepo-Schild

The retina replica consists of soft water droplets (hydrogels) and biological cell membrane proteins. Photo credit: Oxford University
The retina replica consists of soft water droplets (hydrogels) and biological cell membrane proteins. Photo credit: Oxford University

To help the visually impaired, artificial retinal studies have been conducted, but so far only rigid and hard materials have been used in research. Recently, Vanessa Restrepo-Schild, a 24-year-old doctoral student and researcher from the Department of Chemistry at Oxford University, successfully developed the first biological and synthetic soft tissue retina.

The study led by Restrepo-Schild could revolutionise the bionic implant industry as well as the development of new and less invasive technologies that assimilate to human body tissues.

The synthetic, double layered retina mimics the natural human retinal process very closely with hydrogels and biological cell membrane proteins stored in the retina replica. It is designed based on the concept of a camera to help build pictures from what is being viewed.

"The synthetic material can generate electrical signals, which stimulate the neurons at the back of our eye just like the original retina," said Restrepo-Schild.

With further clinical trials, the first synthetic retina is expected to offer fresh hope to the visually impaired and treat degenerative eye conditions, such as retinitis pigmentosa.

3. Samantha and Michelle Marquez

Daughters of a chemist and a chemical engineer, Samantha and Michelle Marquez, from Virginia were only 18 and 15 respectively when they started carrying out research for school projects. Since young, they were always encouraged to ask questions and seek answers.

In her seventh grade school project, Samantha created “celloidosomes”, three-dimensional structures built from living cells that act as a container for other particles. She suggested that these structures could be used innovatively for organ repair and delivery of drugs to the body along with other applications.

On the other hand, Michelle explored music and emotions in her research by analysing brain activity. She discovered the link between highly complex sounds and negative emotions while low complexity music is associated with positive emotions.

The sisters were recognised at the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).

4. Jack Andraka

Born in Maryland, Jack Andraka was only 14 when he began developing an easy early-detection test for pancreatic cancer. With the guidance of a Johns Hopkins professor, he succeeded by the end of the school year.

The test is reported to take only minutes to complete, which Andraka claimed to be faster, cheaper and more sensitive than the existing medical standard. Even though his invention requires peer-review and more rigorous testing, Andraka had earned a grand prize at the Intel ISEF in 2012.

From there, he won the attention of major news organisations and became a frequent speaker at TEDTalk. MIMS

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