From headphones that beam light to the brain to improve mood to mind-controlled prosthetics, we bring you the most innovative stories from the world of wellness research.
PSFK has partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim to bring you a snapshot of Ten Innovative Ideas each week that are reshaping the health care industry. Continue reading below for the most exciting ideas from the past seven days.
Mood-Boosting ‘Headphones’ Send Light Directly To The Brain
The VALKEE Bright Light Headset is a light treatment solution for seasonal affective disorder that was designed to be worn like a pair of earbuds, shining light to a user’s brain via their ear canals. Light therapy targets the brain’s photosensitive areas which can cause depression and mood swings when not receiving enough light. The idea is that the artificial light substitutes the mood-elevating effects of the sun by channeling bright light directly to the brain. VALKEE’s creators claim that their approach is more effective than traditional light therapy, which usually requires light to be absorbed through a user’s eyes, since the ear canal is the thinnest part of the skull. The VALKEE headset is extremely portable, allowing users to ‘plug in’ it for the recommended 6-12 minutes per day wherever they may be.
Directly Photographed DNA Allows Unprecedented View Into Microbiology
Enzo Di Fabrizio, a physics professor at Magna Graecia University in Catanzaro, Italy, has snapped the first direct photograph of DNA using an electron microscope. Previously scientists had only been able to view the double-helix indirectly. In order to make this possible, the team built a nanoscopic landscape of water-repellent silicon pillars. After adding a solution containing strands of DNA, the water evaporated and left behind cords of bare DNA that stretched between the tiny pillars, enabling them to be photographed could. Di Fabrizio’s innovation will allow scientists to vividly observe interactions between DNA and some of life’s other essential ingredients, such as RNA.
Antimicrobial Spray Instantly Makes Any Surface Permanent Germ-Killer
Two Iraq war veterans, Nate Richardson and Davis Parker, have created an non-toxic antimicrobial additive that has been shown to permanently inhibit the growth of microbes which can cause sickness, stains, odors or declination of products. Called MonoFoil, the additive was developed as a way to protect soldiers from germs and toxins they encounter during deployment. The active ingredient in MonoFoil is an organo-functional silane technology which is designed to “disembowel” the target organism’s cell membrane on contact. When applied, the additive molecularly bonds with most surfaces making the entire application area antimicrobial. MonoFoil is currently available in the form of a spray, surface wipes and laundry detergent.
MIO Alpha Watch Accurately Monitors Heart Rate Without Bulky Equipment
Device manufacturer MIO has released a heart-rate monitoring watch called the Alpha that uses Bluetooth 4 to wirelessly sync with a smartphone or bike computer. The watch uses an electro-optical cell and a pair of light beams to track the volume of blood under the wrist, compensating for any jostling produced by exercise with an included motion sensor. The result is streamlined package that delivers a very high level of accuracy at up to a 12MPH pace without requiring any extra accessories. The Alpha is available online for $199 and will be sold in retail stores beginning in 2013.
New Bone-Mounted, Mind-Controlled Robot Arm Replicates Natural Movement
Max Ortiz Catalan, a postdoctoral student at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, has developed a technique for implanting thought-controlled robotic arms and their electrodes directly to the bones and nerves of amputees. The breakthrough will enable patients to simultaneously control several joints and motions, as well as to receive direct neural feedback on their actions. While myoelectric prostheses work by placing electrodes over the skin to pick up nerve signals that would ordinarily be sent by the brain to the limb, the new technique goes a step further, ensuring a more fluid transmission of impulses, simulating the experience of operating a real arm or hand. The first volunteers will receive their new limbs early in 2013. In preparation, patients are already undergoing virtual reality testing inside the lab.
Dissolvable Fabric Protects Against HIV & Pregnancy, Could Replace Condoms
A team of bioengineers from the University of Washington has published a paper detailing a potential new contraceptive that protects against both HIV and pregnancy through timed-drug release. Developed as an alternative to condoms, which too often go unused, the dissolvable material created with nanofibers could be inserted directly into the vagina or used to cover women’s birth control apparatus, not only blocking the sperm, but releasing antiviral drugs and spermicides as well. The initial study has shown so much promise that the team was awarded $1 million by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to further their research and development.
App Monitors Disease Outbreaks In Real Time
Researchers at Liverpool University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health have launched a free mobile application for doctors called ClickClinica that combines medical advice with real-time mapping of disease. Through a simple interface, a doctor can record what symptoms their patient has and the treatment they provided. Collect enough of these together from around the world and you get real-time look at global disease surveillance. In its first month, the app was downloaded by more than 1,000 doctors, which has already helped notify the team about several cases of disease that warrant further monitoring to stem potential outbreaks.
Easily Diagnose Lung Cancer And Tuberculosis With This Breathalyzer
Siemens is researching a method that may make it possible to diagnose tuberculosis or lung cancer at an early stage through the molecular analysis of breath samples. If the person concerned is ill, there is a shift in the relative quantities of molecules contained in his or her breath. Scientists working for the Siemens global research department are using a quadrupole mass spectrometer to identify individual molecules and determine their concentration in the patient’s breath. Preliminary tests using samples from cancer and tuberculosis patients have shown great promise, and now the process needs to be verified using a larger and more diverse group of people. Once passed this stage the technology and associated software would need to be scaled down and simplified for more practical uses.
App Silently Tracks Cell Phone Activity To Help Doctors Monitor Patients’ Well-Being
Mobile startup Ginger.io is in the process of developing an application that leverages smartphone data to help people with a variety of ailments such as diabetes and heart disease better manage their moods. The app runs silently in the background of users’ phones, collecting text message habits, call frequency, and location. All that data is analyzed and sent back to both patients via the app and doctors and researchers via an online dashboard. If you suddenly stop calling your friends, or don’t go to work for a few days for example, that could be a sign to doctors that they need to check in on you more aggressively. Healthcare professionals can also use the platform to send their patients short surveys to further get a sense of their overall well-being. Several pilots are scheduled to launch in the coming weeks to test the app’s effectiveness and further fine tune the offering.
High-Tech ‘Granny Pods’ Let Seniors Live Independently
The MEDCottage is a mobile, modular medical home that is temporarily placed on a caregiver’s property to provide rehabilitation and extended care for seniors in need. Affectionately referred to as Granny Pods, the units are equipped with sensors that alert caregivers to problems and medication reminders via computers, they can also remotely monitor vital signs and filter the air for contaminants. The 288-square-foot unit includes electricity and water connected directly to the homeowner’s utilities, a kitchen with a small refrigerator, microwave and medication dispenser, a bedroom and extra accommodation for visitors, and a handicapped-accessible bathroom.
PSFK has partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim to bring you a steady stream of inspiring news and ideas in the health and wellness space. Once each week, we will be posting an article on PSFK.com. If you would like to gain access to the full stream of content, please check out Boehringer Ingelheim’s Facebook page, where they are publishing a regular stream of inspiring and informative content.