Like the Prometheus “Pups,” Now Doctors Can Map Your Esophagus

Remember that scene in Prometheus where the scientist guy takes those silver balls from his backpack and started “mapping” the inside of the crazy alien mound thing?

Prometheus pupsWell, watch this:

This is the work of the good folks at Massachusetts General Hospital — you’re looking at a pill-sized, tethered endoscope that the docs can use to create a scan of the inside of your esophagus!  That is some pretty amazing stuff!  I think this is also a great time to say that Mass General also won the #1 Hospital in the US award from US News and World Report!  This is important to me, especially given the source of the little pill-sized endoscope.  This didn’t come from a company that does this for a living, this came from a hospital.  To me, this is huge news!  This is a hospital solving a problem that needed solving.

From the article at Nature magazine, posted in January:

Now, researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston have invented a tethered, pill-sized endoscope that that allows doctors to construct an image of a person’s esophagus in microscopic detail within a few minutes—and all without anesthesia, intense training or causing pain. Their work was published today in Nature Medicine.

“A lot of people have reflux but don’t feel the pain of heartburn,” says MGH pathologist Gary Tearney, who led the study. These patients are at high risk for developing cancer, because they usually have no reason to get their esophagus inspected. “[Our device] really opens up screening to many more people,” Tearney says.

The new experimental endomicroscope device looks like a penny-sized, clear plastic pill, attached to a long piano wire that runs to a computer console. It can be swallowed with a cup of water. Because it is tethered, the pill can then be sent up and down the length of the esophagus, where it scans and generates an image.

The device works via optical frequency domain imaging (OFDI), a technique similar to ultrasound but using infrared light. The researchers first generate a beam of light, and then split it into two with mirrors. One beam is sent into a detector where it serves as a reference; the other is sent through the tether, into the pill, where it is directed into the tissue.

In the esophagus, the light beam is focused on an area roughly the diameter of a human hair and then spun around axially 20 times per second. Like in ultrasounds, the properties of the light after it reflects off tissue can be measured. When it is sent back to a detector and compared with the reference beam, the difference between the two can be used to reconstruct a thin cross section of the esophagus in microscopic detail. By stacking these cross-sections together, researchers can create a three-dimensional image of the esophagus in a method similar to CT scan reconstructions.


Have you ever had an endoscopic procedure?  Like the ones where they stick the camera down your throat or even maybe a colonoscopy, where they go in the back way?  Let me tell you — I’ve had both, and they both f****ng suck sh** through a tube, and hard.  Consider that when you think of this pill-sized endoscope.  This thing can be swallowed by the patient with little or no anasthesia, long procedures, or even pain from the patient.  This is absolutely awesome.  Finally, something that allows doctors to grab a 3D scan of your esophagus without being in pain while it’s happening.

Check out some awesome images of this pill!  This first image, the sort-of schematic, is actually huge, just click on it:


An image of the device’s scan:nm.3052-F2

The pill itself:Pill_endoscope_web

An image of the pill being held by a technician, showing the size and scale of the device:Pill_endoscope2_web

If you want to see the entire abstract, which is awesome, go here and check it out!

Thanks, Prometheus, BioOpticsWorld, and Nature!

Preliminary Report Shows Stem Cells Reversed Macular Degeneration

This is crazy.  I just read a report in the journal The Lancet about a trial that’s taking place with embryonic stem cells and human subjects with macular degeneration.  The preliminary report actually shows that the patients have experienced some restoration of their vision.  Two patients are being utilized in this study – one with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy and one with dry age-related macular degeneration.  From the study:

Although there is little agreement between investigators on visual endpoints in patients with low vision, it is encouraging that during the observation period neither patient lost vision. Best corrected visual acuity improved from hand motions to 20/800 (and improved from 0 to 5 letters on the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study [ETDRS] visual acuity chart) in the study eye of the patient with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, and vision also seemed to improve in the patient with dry age-related macular degeneration (from 21 ETDRS letters to 28).

Hey, did you hear?  Lemme just make sure that everybody heard:  STEM CELLS ARE BEING USED TO HELP RESTORE VISION AND ARE SHOWING SIGNS OF SUCCESS.  AWE-SOME!

OK – first, what is macular degeneration?  We’re basically talking about vision loss here that results from some sort of degeneration of the maculaThese two macular degeneration subjects have interesting vision deficiencies.  Presentation on Stargardt’s Dystrophy, from Wikipedia:

Those with Stargardt disease are sensitive to glare; overcast days offer some relief. Vision is most noticeably impaired when the macula (center of retina and focus of vision) is damaged, leaving peripheral vision more intact. Symptoms usually appear before age 20. Symptoms include wavy vision, blind spots, blurriness, impaired color vision, and difficulty adapting to dim lighting.  Some patients are able to drive. Many patients use magnifiers to help them see, and wear sunglasses to slow the development.

The other one, in this case, is a general dry age-related macular degeneration.  There are two kinds of this vision-killing degeneration, a wet kind and a dry kind:

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a medical condition which usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field (the macula) because of damage to the retina. It occurs in “dry” and “wet” forms. It is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment in older adults (>50 years). Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life.

Starting from the inside of the eye and going towards the back, the three main layers at the back of the eye are the retina, which contains the nerves; the choroid, which contains the blood supply; and the sclera, which is the white of the eye.

The macula is the central area of the retina, which provides the most detailed central vision.

In the dry (nonexudative) form, cellular debris called drusen accumulate between the retina and the choroid, and the retina can become detached. In the wet (exudative) form, which is more severe, blood vessels grow up from the choroid behind the retina, and the retina can also become detached. It can be treated with laser coagulation, and with medication that stops and sometimes reverses the growth of blood vessels.[1][2]

Although some macular dystrophies affecting younger individuals are sometimes referred to as macular degeneration, the term generally refers to age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD).

Age-related macular degeneration begins with characteristic yellow deposits (drusen) in the macula, between the retinal pigment epithelium and the underlying choroid. Most people with these early changes (referred to as age-related maculopathy) have good vision. People with drusen can go on to develop advanced AMD. The risk is considerably higher when the drusen are large and numerous and associated with disturbance in the pigmented cell layer under the macula. Recent research suggests that large and soft drusen are related to elevated cholesterol deposits and may respond to cholesterol-lowering agents.


Check out the original article at The Lancet.  Very, very cool news.

Thanks, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, and WebVision!

Amyloidosis Gets Illuminated By X-Rays

Any Dr. House fans out there?  I am totally raising my hand.

If you watch the medical shows, you might hear Dr. House or Foreman say something about Amyloidosis, Lupus, or Sarcoidosis.  Someone inevitably says “it’s not lupus,” and House makes a smarmy comment about always being right.  That first condition, Amyloidosis, just got some press that I thought was pretty interesting.

Amyloidosis is  a weird unexpected buildup of the amyloid beta protein in organs of the body; it causes all kinds of really bad conditions, some of which are not well understood.  Amyloid beta protein plaque buildup is known for being present in Alzheimer Disease patients, and can affect the heart, nervous system, GI tract, liver, kidneys, and is a very nasty little monkey.  The protein builds up and just causes the organ to fail.  Unfortunately there is no cure yet, but medicines improve someone’s quality of life, from what I have been reading.

The search for a cure is ongoing, and after two paragraphs of rambling I am finally going to get to the story!  Scientists have had some success with using very high powered x-ray beams to image the amyloid beta plaques; this is a very difficult task for any imaging technology because of the amyloid size – around one millionth of a meter.  In a press release from Brookhaven National Lab, where the big Synchrotron light source lives and where the testing took place, the process is discussed:

“These plaques are very difficult to see, no matter how you try to image them,” said Dean Connor, a former postdoctoral researcher at Brookhaven Lab now working for the University of North Carolina. “Certain methods can visualize the plaque load, or overall number of plaques, which plays a role in clinical assessment and analysis of drug efficacy. But these methods cannot provide the resolution needed to show us the properties of individual Aß plaques.”

A technique developed at Brookhaven, called diffraction-enhanced imaging (DEI), might provide the extra imaging power researchers crave. DEI, which makes use of extremely bright beams of x-rays available at synchrotron sources such as Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source, is used to visualize not only bone, but also soft tissue in a way that is not possible using standard x-rays. In contrast to conventional sources, synchrotron x-ray beams are thousands of times more intense and extremely concentrated into a narrow beam. The result is typically a lower x-ray dose with a higher image quality.

Also, on how the beam works:

To make a diffraction-enhanced image, x-rays from the synchrotron are first tuned to one wavelength before being beamed at an anatomical structure or slide. As the monochromatic (single wavelength) beam passes through the tissue, the x-rays scatter and refract, or bend, at different angles depending on the characteristics of the tissue. The subtle scattering and refraction are detected by what is called an analyzer crystal, which diffracts, or changes the intensity, of the x-rays by different amounts according to their scattering angles.

The diffracted beam is passed onto a radiographic plate or digital recorder, which documents the differences in intensity to show the interior structural details.

Finding out how to see this amyloid plaque buildup is a very useful tool in tracking Alzheimer’s in patients because if we know what to look for, we can possibly see into the future a little in testing and make predictions that could save lives.  Testing has been done on mice, but the procedure still delivers too high a radiation dose for human testing.  Part of the process towards using the technique clinically is to lower that dosage, obviously.

amyloid plaque buildup

Thanks, BNL and Medgadget!

Bacteria Can Grow Wires to Communicate?! RUN!

Don’t worry, it’s not like Night of the Replicating Bacteria By Means of Nucleic Fax Transmission or anything – at least not yet.  Scientists have discovered that certain bacteria are capable of creating nanowires to communicate with each other in little nano-networks.  People have suggested that they look similar to neural networks, and we’ve discovered that most, if not all bacteria, develop these wires.

From the abstract of the publication:

Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 produced electrically conductive pilus-like appendages called bacterial nanowires in direct response to electron-acceptor limitation. Mutants deficient in genes for c-type decaheme cytochromes MtrC and OmcA, and those that lacked a functional Type II secretion pathway displayed nanowires that were poorly conductive. These mutants were also deficient in their ability to reduce hydrous ferric oxide and in their ability to generate current in a microbial fuel cell. Nanowires produced by the oxygenic phototrophic cyanobacterium Synechocystis PCC6803 and the thermophilic, fermentative bacterium Pelotomaculum thermopropionicum reveal that electrically conductive appendages are not exclusive to dissimilatory metal-reducing bacteria and may, in fact, represent a common bacterial strategy for efficient electron transfer and energy distribution.

What can this lead us to discover?  Are we looking at something that could lead the way into new ways of understanding and fighting cancer?  Perhaps a new approach to fighting HIV and AIDS?  Maybe this will lead to making the best strawberry yogurt known to man – who knows.  We’re still way early in the learning process with these nanowires, but I have to believe that we’re in for some interesting and exciting news.  Hopefully our country will look into this discovery as a means of furthering our understanding of the improvement of human life and not the creation of some kind of super weapon that turns people into piles of cherry Jello.

Check out the article in Wired’s “From the Fields” series, and thanks to The Daily Galaxy!

bacteria nanowires

Verilux UV-C Wand – Like An Ultraviolet Light Saber

We know our pal Ultraviolet Light and the ninja germ killing abilities it possesses – and now a company called VeriLux has created the Cleanwave UV sanitizing wand.  It’s like a UV light saber to smack germs in the mouth.  Verilux says, about the CleanWave:

Originally developed for sanitizing hospitals and clean rooms, UV-C light technology can now be safely and easily used in your home! UV-C light has the ability to eliminate 99.9% of household germs, bacteria and viruses in seconds, without harmful chemicals. The Verilux Cleanwave Sanitizing Light Wand is a convenient and easy way to safely kill the harmful germs that lurk throughout your home. With a new improved design that is slim, and lightweight, this wand is very easy to use and perfect for eliminating potentially dangerous allergens, bacteria, and germs from a baby rooms, kitchen counters, flatware, bedding, sofas, bathroom surfaces, and just about anywhere within the home. The Verilux Cleanwave sanitizing light wand is also safe, featuring a safety shut-off that turns the UV-C bulb off when the wand it tipped upside down to prevent harmful exposure to your eyes and skin. This is a feature that has been overlooked by many manufacturers of UV-C light wands and we are very pleased that Verilux has included it on their wand!

You hold this thing over surfaces for between 10-20 seconds, and you’ve crippled the genes of the germs, if not killed them all together.  99.9% of those little punks will be destroyed, so breathe easy.  I imagine I’d be making that stupid VWOOOWV noise every time I used this thing, too.

The Verilux Cleanwave sanitizer is running around a hundred bucks.  Check it out.

verilux cleanwave

Home CSI – Do I Really Want to Know???

I’m chuckling at myself right now – and I’m not sure if it’s because I would be going everywhere playing David Carruso with this light gadget, or if it’s because it even popped up at all.  The MicroBlue Forensic Evidence Detector Kit is a UV pen light and amber shield that detects traces of blood, urine, saliva…  and other pure unpleasantries that could have been left behind.  As Dave Chappelle says, “do you find semen at a crime scene, or do you look for it?”

CSI light

and for your enjoyment, a video of David Carrusso one-liners:

Gross yourself out with the MicroBlue Forensic Evidence Detector light here.

Breastlight – Early Detection


Breast Cancer has taken a dear friend from me, and plagues other friends of mine.  Over 40,000 people will die of breast cancer this year – that’s over 40,000 too many.  A company called PWB Health Limited has created a device using red light to allow women to do a better job of breast self-examination – the BreastLight uses red light to shine through the breast tissue and illuminate veins, tissue, and any masses or abnormalities.  This is not a subsitute for mammogram screening, but gives women more confidence in their self-exams.

From the BreastLight website:

Breastlight allows you to look inside rather than outside the breast. To be effective, it has to be used in a dark room. The product works by shining a bright red light through the breast tissue. The light passes through the breast tissue and reveals dark areas where blood is present. It is therefore quite normal to see a pattern of veins but, if there is a dark cluster, this is a potential abnormality that should be checked out

Breastlight can be used by women of all ages, particularly menopausal or post-menopausal women when the density of the breast tissue has changed. It is also useful for women with fibrous breasts that always feel lumpy. The Breastlight will distinguish between normal breast tissue and areas where blood vessels are present that could indicate a potential abnormality.

Technical Explanation
Breastlight is designed to give the maximum light transmission through the breast tissue. Even so, only a small fraction of the light will pass through completely – and this is what you will see when you use the product. That’s why it’s important to use Breastlight in a very dark room.

We use red light to give the best contrast and enable you to see the maximum detail. The light is completely harmless and has no invisible rays. You can use Breastlight as often as you like with no side effects.

When the light hits a blood vessel in your breast it is absorbed by haemoglobin. This makes the veins in your breast appear as dark lines.

Malignant lumps have an increased blood supply to feed them so any dense areas may indicate an abnormality. Fluid filled cysts, however, will not absorb the light.

Someday we will hopefully figure out how to stop breast cancer from taking people from the world.  Until then, any product that helps self-detection and prevention is a win.  Breastlight is $115.00 USD or £77.50 GBP.



The image above shows the BreastLight in use – unfortunately showing a mass

Mini UV-C Disinfectant Wand

I feel like there has been a ton of info on ultraviolet light lately as a germicidal method.  I just ran across an article giving a review on this little mini-UV class C light that sanitizes surfaces:


Okay, now is it me, or is that lady way too happy to be using her mini-wand on the ol’ porcelain throne?  She is thrilled!  Using the Germ Guardian UV-C Mini Sanitizer Wand is not only good for killing bacteria, but it must be a hoot too!

Simply pass the Germ Guardian Mini Sanitizer Wand over surfaces to kill up to 99% of bacteria and viruses.  Also fights unwanted odors and allergens like mold spores and dust mites. Ideal for – toilets, showers, phones, computers, sinks, countertops, bedding and shoes. Take it with you when you travel!

I guess it’s pretty easy to use – button on, button off operation, and it’s good on batteries. It has a safety device in it that turns the lamp off if it’s tilted up – probably to prevent eye damage – which, according to Scott Merrill over at CrunchGear, was kind of a pain in practice although a good idea in theory.

Gosh, even I’m excited for the lady nuking that toilet!


Blue Light Kills the MSRA Staph Bacteria

There’s an article about to be published in a medical journal about the Methicilin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MSRA) germ – apparently blue light is the bacteria’s kryptonite.  Scientists and researchers have found that ultraviolet light permanently damages the bacteria about 90% of the time – enough to make a breakthrough.

From the article:

In a study that will appear in the April 2009 issue of the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, researchers from the New York Institute of Technology, in Westbury, NY, detail how shining blue light on cultures containing MRSA damages them permanently and causes up to a 90.3 percent reduction of the infections. The light has to be in the 470-nanometer wavelength, and tests concluded that the higher the dosage, the more bacteria are killed.

In addition to working so efficiently, the therapy does not involve additional medication, and, furthermore, it doesn’t harm the patients by subjecting them to UV radiation, like other techniques do. High-dose photo-irradiation was proven to almost completely annihilate two of the most potent strands of the Staph, namely the US-300 strain of CA-MRSA and the IS-853 strain of HA-MRSA, which are very widespread in the United States and represent the most commonly-acquired infections in the community, and the hospital, respectively.

Go, ultraviolet light!


Thanks, Softpedia News!