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Monday, August 20, 2012

It Stands for What?

One hundred years ago, more or less, a fictional character named Tom Swift was first introduced.  He was a young inventor who loved adventure.  Over the years, new series of books have been introduced with this Tom and later his son, Tom, Jr.  

Some of the inventions in the Tom Swift novels include: a photo telephone, a portable movie camera, a rifle with electric bullets, a house on wheels (house trailer), and an electric locomotive.  All of these books with these ideas were published before any real items were invented.

In 1969, a NASA researcher named Jack Cover started developing a new weapon.  He completed the device in 1974 and named it after his childhood hero, Tom Swift.  He called it a Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle, or TASER.  

I have always wondered what that acronym stood for.  It isn't anywhere close to what I imagined. 

Now you have heard something interesting.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Custom made body part

In the medical field, new advances are always being made in the quest to repair and replace broken body parts.  This is the story of one of those new techniques.

Organ transplants have been performed for many decades.  It has always required strong medication to keep the body from rejecting the alien organ.  Until now.

In 2008, a Colombian woman named Claudia Castillo was the first to receive a new procedure in the area of transplantation.  She needed a new trachea.  Her original had been damaged from tuberculosis.  The doctors were able to take a donor trachea, and using chemicals and enzymes, they were able to "wash away" all the cells from it, leaving a tissue scaffold made of cartilage.  Then, taking both cells that lined Castillo's windpipe and her own stem cells (immature cells from bone marrow), they were able to regenerate the trachea into a living organ.  Because the cells came from the recipient, no anti-rejection medicine was needed.  They had tricked her body into believing this new body part was her own.   Only four days after the transplantation, the new windpipe was "almost indistinguishable from adjacent normal airways."

Here is one account of that surgery.

How cool is that?  Think of the possibilities!

In the summer of 2011, surgeons in Stockholm, Sweden, tried a new version of the artificial trachea.  A man from Eritrea had cancer so advanced that emergency surgery was his only chance of survival.  (Where was he from?  Eritrea. I had never heard of it!  It is a small country on the continent of Africa not far from Egypt. They have been independent from Ethiopia since 1991.)

Doctors didn't have time to wait for a donor trachea, so they made a 3D image of his damaged windpipe, and then made a synthetic scaffolding out of polymer plastic.  This was bathed in the recipients own stem cells and in two days was ready to be transplanted.  The size and shape was custom-made for him.  The surgery was a success.

Here is a picture of what it looks like.  

Not every surgery has been successful.  There was another with this artificial scaffolding done on an American.  It seemed to go well, but he only survived four months.  Here is the story from Baltimore.

In the case of a 9-month-old infant born without a trachea, they used a biodegradable polymer scaffold that will dissolve over time as it is replaced with the child's own cartilage.  This way it will grow with her.

Now you have heard something interesting.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Embrace for babies

An incubator can cost up to $20,000 and requires electricity.  Many premature and low birth weight babies born in 3rd world countries live in rural areas with no electricity. Access to a hospital is difficult at best.  In many of these cultures, the babies are not named for the first month because so many of them die, many from hypothermia.  They have no fat on their bodies and cannot keep warm.  The mothers try various ways to keep them warm, from heating towels in the frying pan and wrapping the baby, to holding the child over hot coals.  But still, many die.  Those who survive are faced with a life full of health problems because so much of their energy went to trying to stay warm that their organs suffer. In India, more babies die every year than in any other country in the world.

In 2008, Stanford University put together a unique class.  It was multi-disciplinary and was called Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability.  One of the assignments for the students was to come up with an incubator (one use of an incubator is for warmth) for premature and low birth weight infants that would not only keep them warm, but use no electricity and cost less than $200.
Four of the students, Jane Chen, Rahul Panicker, Naganand Murty and Linus Liang, teamed up on the project.  Among the four, their schooling already consisted of a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, an Aerospace Engineer, and a Masters in Computer Science.  What they came up with was sheer genius!

Here it is.

It looks like a sleeping bag for a baby.  A pouch filled with paraffin wax and water is heated - either with an electric warmer or with boiling water being poured over it - and the pouch is slipped inside a pocket in the bag.  The baby is wrapped up inside the bag and the wax keeps the baby warm for 4-6 hours.  The inside of the bag is seamless so that bacteria won't collect, and it can be washed in boiling water.  It took two years of prototypes before this one came about.  The company, Embrace, is currently in India getting the distribution and training under way.  Then they will move to other countries.

It is hoped that over the next 5 years, 100,000 babies can be saved.

Now you have heard something interesting.

Just a personal note....

About a year ago, I signed up for a Netflix account.  Wow, it was fun! Instant movies and tv episodes. This was better than any "on-demand" offer on the satellite tv subscriptions we had in the past. One of my favorite shows was on Netflix.  The old Dick Van Dyke show.  I watched every episode.  Then on to Nova, Murder, She Wrote, and Andy Griffith.

My work is mostly in my basement.  Sewing for a living, and mostly working by myself, makes for a very boring day. In the past I had amused myself by listening to audio books and podcasts.  It was a great mix of learning and earning a living.  Then I got Netflix and it opened a new vista of entertainment.  I was hooked.

When my children were young, I noticed a very strong correlation between electronic games and tv vs. creativity.  When one went up, the other went down.  It was so obvious to me.  We didn't own a gaming system then.  Occasionally we would rent a Nintendo and some games and they would play to their hearts content for a few days. It was for specific days like New Year's Eve or for one of their birthdays.  I am sure they often felt like the odd man out among their friends because we didn't own one.  I am sure other mothers felt like my children were deprived.  One year a neighbor gave my son their used Nintendo when they upgraded.  (I was so proud of him a year or so later at the young age of 13 when he gave it to someone for Christmas who really longed for one.)

Anyway, what has not been so obvious to me is what has happened in the past year.  The movies and tv episodes that I have watched on Netflix have been good shows.  Nothing R rated or that would bring down my attitude.  But just like with my children, when my watching went up, my creativity and learning plummeted.

Yesterday I cancelled my Netflix account. I am excited to experience the rebound of what I have lost.  So many things to learn and books to read.  I'm sure my blog will be affected, too.

I am not saying Netflix is bad, but there needs to be a balance of things in our lives for us to be balanced.  I have an addictive side to my personality, and could not control the amount of time spent watching.  The only solution for me was to quit cold turkey.  Pushing that cancel button was a one-time decision and much easier than making the decision over and over again that I had seen enough for one day.

Now, on to some serious blogging.