Saturday, December 29, 2012

Your star trek future will be arriving shortly.

Last year was huge for wearable and implantable medical devices. Researchers here in Corvallis and around the world made significant progress toward developing new technologies that will facilitate a boom in telemedical devices and services in the years to come.
Advances include the manufacturing of flexible organic implantable transistors and systems on a chip designed to be worn by patients. These allow for real-time diagnostics and the facilitation of telemedicine to implantable devices that are wireless and even self propelled.

But you may be wondering what exactly wearable medical devices are, how they work, and how they are related to telemedicine. Telemedicine is simply an expansion of the traditional doctor-patient relationship into the cloud. With the recent advances in information technology and mass manufacturing of advanced computer components, health care professional can now remotely diagnose patients by combining small, cheap sensors with the near-ubiquity of wireless internet and cell phones.

Power in Radio Waves
Researchers here at Oregon State University have developed a bandage-sized system-on-a-chip (SOC) that is powered by the ambient radio frequency (RF) waves that abound in our digital society—specifically, from cell phones and other RF devices within 15 feet of the SOC. The underlying technology used in the development of the chips could potentially even derive power from body heat and movement.
These SOCs are being designed with the intent of facilitating telemedicine via the remote monitoring of vital signs and other important health markers. By being powered by ambient RF the engineers were able to shrink the SOC down to the size of a postage stamp and reduce manufacturing costs to pennies per unit. The units can transmit a plethora of body measurements, including pulse rate and other cardiac-related features, perspiration, temperature, brain activity, and levels of physical movement.
Patrick Chiang, an associate professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said in a university press release that he and his team of graduate and undergraduate researchers had developed a SOC that incorporated traditionally bulky components into a postage stamp-sized device powered by ambient RF.
“Current technology allows you to measure these body signals using bulky, power-consuming, costly instruments,” Chiang told OSU. The researchers achieved significant improvements in power consumption, and feel that they can now make important biomedical measurements more portable, convenient, and affordable. These SOCs will be undergoing clinical trials; they would enable doctors and nurses to monitor patients from home and know immediately when cardiac events, falls, or other health-related events happen.
“The entire field of wearable body monitors is pretty exciting,” Chiang told OSU. “By being able to dramatically reduce the size, weight and cost of these devices, it opens new possibilities in medical treatment, health care, disease prevention, weight management and other fields.”
But the work of Chiang and his colleagues is likely not at all limited to medical care—if temperature, perspiration, and pulse rate can be monitored, the chips could even be useful to law enforcement agencies in lie detector systems.

Pedometers Made Simple
Another example of the sensing and data collection hardware can be found at the University of California in Los Angeles where researchers have developed a wearable sensor called Smart Insole for analyzing the gait of patients.
According to their paper, published in Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Pervasive Technologies Related to Assistive Environments, “Patients or users can wear Smart Insole for gait analysis in daily life instead of participating in gait lab experiments for hours.” Their system would enable real-world, real-time analysis which would generate data that could be used in conjunction with smart phones or other mobile devices for “fall prevention, life behavior analysis, and networked wireless health systems.”

Remote Monitoring
On the communication, software, and hardware side of the equation, Dr. Roozbeh Jafari, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas in Dallas, has developed a small microcomputer system, no bigger than a button, specially designed to use less power and more efficiently analyze human movements. His system, depending on the modules or sensors attached to it, can be used to monitor the health or status of individual patients remotely. His main breakthrough was in optimizing the software that runs the system and in shrinking the hardware it runs on to the size of a button. Systems like this may soon be incorporated into hospital gowns or even consumer clothing.
In a press release from his university, Jafari said, “Growing demand for healthcare monitoring applications requires students, engineers, and healthcare professionals to design, develop, deploy, and operate wearable systems.”

Shocking Advancements
A patent has already been awarded to Zoll Medical Corporation of Chelmsford Massachusetts for a “wearable medical treatment device.” The device described in the patent is supposed to be capable of sensing, for example, the cardiac state of an individual. In the event of a crisis such as a heart attack or stroke, it would not only alert authorities but also could potentially deliver the necessary shocks to revive the patient or stop an arrhythmia.

Organic Implants
Going beyond wearable devices, researchers at the University of Tokyo developed the world’s first “flexible organic transistor that is robust enough to survive the high temperature medical sterilization process.” Because of problems with voltage and fears of infection from contaminants, organic transistors have not been used in medical implants up to this point, despite their benefits.
This advancement will pave the way for even smaller sensors that cannot just be worn temporarily in clothing, but can be implanted to give healthcare professionals an even higher resolution picture of your health without having to actually see you or put you at risk of infection by coming into contact with a sick individual in a waiting room. It may also enable earlier detection of potentially life-threatening health conditions before they become acute.

Swimming Through Veins
In what seems to be right out of the science-fiction tale Fantastic Voyage, researchers at Stanford University have demonstrated a device that is small enough to literally swim through your veins searching out foreign bodies.
According to a university press release, “Poon’s devices consist of a radio transmitter outside the body sending signals inside the body to an independent device that picks up the signal with an antenna of coiled wire. The transmitter and the antennae are magnetically coupled such that any change in current flow in the transmitter induces a voltage in the other wire. The power is transferred wirelessly and can be used to run electronics on the device and propel it through the bloodstream.”
The device could potentially be used for a number of applications, including specialized drug delivery, and possibly dismantling blood clots and plaques.

Star Trek Diagnostics
One California company, Scanadu, is already offering a tricorder-like device (think Star Trek) that works with smartphones to help users diagnose certain conditions and alert them when they need to seek professional help. According to their website, Scanadu is a new personalized health electronics company, with three products in its family of consumer health tools: Scanadu SCOUT, Project ScanaFlu, and Project ScanaFlo. Based at NASA-Ames Research Center, the company uses mobile, sensor, and social technology to ensure this is the last generation to know so little about its health.
If 2013 is anything like 2012 we can expect even more advances in information technology, which will mean more advances in wearable medical devices and telemedicine. There are already apps and gadgets for people to keep track of how far they have run or their blood pressure. Before long there might be apps for diagnosing more complex diseases and disorders, along with sensors and applications to help prevent the onset of debilitating conditions like diabetes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I am probably wrong and that’s okay

I am probably wrong and that’s okay.

For much of my life I was an absolutist. I believed absolutely in the power of faith, miracles, the afterlife, angels, and demons. I believed in raptures and immaculate conceptions. Above all, I knew absolutely that without the grace afforded to me by my belief in Jesus Christ I would most assuredly burn in an everlasting hell.
I knew these things to be true to my core because I regularly attended church, participated in bible studies, and felt that I had been “tested” by events in my life. I was also surrounded by individuals who, for the most part, also believed as I did. I brought my bible to high school and gave mini-sermons during lunch to friends who were equally enthused. All of this cemented in my mind the veracity of my beliefs, surely if my parents,friends, teachers, pastors, and “media” all agreed then it must be true.
Despite my zealous religiosity I quite enjoyed mathematics and chemistry, it would be the thinking styles learned in these classes that served as the seeds for my religious undoing. It was not uncommon to see me with bible and chemistry books in hand.
Despite enjoying my science classes, at the time, I was extremely skeptical of evolution because of how my pastors had framed the “debate”. I knew it was a means of separating man from God and that “scientists” were trying to attack the true story of creation. Despite the cognitive dissonance of maintaining the philosophically juxtaposed views of biblical literalism and scientific reasoning, if you had asked me if I knew what the “Truth” was, I would have answered in the affirmative.
Of course I knew the truth, the truth was that Jesus was the way, the light, etc, the science be damned. I would go on to graduate from High school in 2002, an Evangelical Baptist and receive a full ride scholarship to Northern Arizona University to study Engineering, knowing for certain who I was, where I was going, and what I was going to do.  
Unlike most,when I first came to college I joined a local church and volunteered with local christian groups just like I was supposed to, because I was certain that this was the way one should live their life. One should educate themselves not just in the world, but also in the scripture. If you had asked me at the time I would have told you that I felt “called to service”. I knew for certain that my life was on track and I was doing what I was supposed to.  
By the end of my first semester though, something had begun to happen, I began to question for the first time certain fundamental truths about my identity, my faith, and my reason for being. One of the catalysts of this change was a young woman I met on January 8th 2003 in Target. Sony Sampat was a passionate Hindi woman who was as intelligent as she was striking.
Within a week of meeting Sony, we were dating and she convinced me to take a comparative religions class that semester. Feeling secure in my beliefs I felt this would be a good way of learning how best to evangelize to those of other faiths, and to be honest it was an excuse to spend more time with her. My relationship with Sony was the first significant relationship of my life. It was passionate and it was life altering.

Sadly, as is the case with many youthful relationships ours did not last, fortunately it was an amicable breakup. We maintained contact and remained friends. A few short months later though, Sony died at age 23 from a lung infection. Already beset by doubts about my own faith from being exposed to other, older, religions. Her death forced me to deal with a fundamental truth, one central to the acceptance of Christian Dogma; without a belief in Jesus one is damned to hell.
Sony, a believer in Krishna, never had a problem with my faith and I was so enamored of her that I simply didn't dwell on our differences in faith. She was a good kind hearted person, she was clearly not “evil” and I struggled mightily with accepting that she was burning in hell because she said “Krishna” when she prayed instead of saying “Jesus” or “yahweh”.
While her death would not lead me to immediately renounce my faith it was the proverbial first domino in a long chain that would lead inexorably to me being the skeptic I am today. It was also the first instance of me truly doubting the veracity of fundamental truths in my life.
One might think that having lived the absolutist Christian life I would immediately move onto more relativistic views, sadly this was not the case. In the intervening ten years I flitted from one absolutist version of reality to another. I dabbled in Wicca, studied Buddhism, read from the Gita, listened to people speak on the Koran, and participated in more than one new age online group.
Than in 2005, I found a website called Above Top secret and would spend the next 3 years believing wholeheartedly in a great many conspiracy and alternative theories. From  the 2012 Mayan Prophecies and the Celestine Prophecies to aliens, indigo children, free energy, and the Illuminati, I knew for certain what the truth was. What I knew most certainly was that President Bush and Dick Cheney had orchestrated the 9/11 attacks and would not be leaving office. They would be forming a military dictatorship etc etc. With the peaceful transition of power, I was forced by reality to yet again question deeply held beliefs.
I was certain that I had known the truth, and in my certainty I failed to imagine just how wrong I could be. This kind of thing happened to me a lot over the last ten years and it has left an indelible mark on my psyche.
Thinking back on this time, as an avowed skeptic of most claims, ten years on, now studying Journalism, it seems almost like watching the life of another person. Who was this person so sure that truth was knowable and that he knew it?
The only thing I know now, is that I know nothing for certain. Furthermore, I know that no matter how much I know, it will never be sufficient to perfectly describe or predict any event.
My perspective is limited by my imagination, which is constrained by my worldview, which is defined by things outside of my control. Simply put, without evidence, I trust no one, least of all my own perception. We are blind to that which we cannot imagine, if we cannot imagine being wrong, we cannot see how wrong we actually are.
So I now, instead of being certain of the truth,I accept that I am probably wrong, and actively look for ways to find out just how wrong I am. The crowd tends to go with loud and proud, but the wise know that no matter how loud or how proud you are, you are still going to be wrong at some point. If you really must be certain, be certain that you are wrong. Better to be wrong about being wrong, then wrong about being right.