Amputee able to control prosthetic limbs through thought

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    Bobby Armiger observes Baugh handing Albert Chi, M.D., a ball. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

By simply thinking about moving his prosthetic limbs, a Colorado man is regaining control he’s missed since he lost his arms in an electrical accident 40 years ago.

Les Baugh became the first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to wear and simultaneously control two Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPL), which was developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) as part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program (RP).

In June, Baugh underwent a surgery at John Hopkins Hospital known as targeted muscle reinnervation.

“It’s a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand,” Johns Hopkins trauma surgeon Dr. Albert Chi explained in a news release. “By reassigning existing nerves, we can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform.”

“I went into the surgery knowing that he was going to move nerves in my chest. I remember when I first [came] out from under it, the pain, I’d never had, I don’t even remember the original being that much excruciating pain but I imagine probably that my mind blocked that anyway,” Baugh said in a video released by researchers.


After recovery, Baugh received MPL training at the laboratory. Researchers worked with him on the pattern recognition system that identified individual muscle contractions and how the muscles communicate with one another. That information is then translated into actual movements with the prosthetic.

Baugh was fitted with a custom socket, a type of body brace that makes neural connections with re-innervated nerves and supports the prosthetic limbs. The team then had Baugh work with the limb system through a virtual-reality  version of the MPL.

“Once the training sessions were complete and they released me and let me be the computer, basically, to control that arm, I just went into a whole different world,” Baugh said.

Baugh was able to move several objects, including an empty cup from a counter-shelf height to a higher shelf— a task that required him to coordinate the control of eight separate motions to complete.

This movement is not possible with currently available prostheses, researchers noted.

“He was able to do this with only 10 days of training, which demonstrates the intuitive nature of the control,” said APL’s Courtney Moran, clinical lead for amputee research, adding that the team was floored by what Baugh was able to accomplish.

“I think we’re just getting started at this point. It’s like the early days of the Internet, there’s just a tremendous amount of potential ahead of us and we just started down this road and I think the next five, 10 years is going to bring some really phenomenal advancements,” Mike McLoughlin, RP principal investigator, said in the news release.

The next step is to send Baugh home with a pair of limb systems so he can work on integrating them with his everyday life.

Baugh is looking forward to that day.

“Maybe I’ll be able to for once put change in a pop machine, get the pop out— simple things like that that most people never think of,” he said. “And it’s re-available to me.”

Running boy gets chopsticks lodged in throat

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     (Central European News)

No one wants their lunch to get cold, but for one young boy in China, rushing to enjoy his meal led to chopsticks being wedged in his neck, reported Central European News (CEN).

Jun Chia, 12, had run across the road from his school to buy noodles from a food stand and was rushing back to his classroom to eat his snack when he was hit by an electric scooter in the playground. The scooter, driven by the parent of one of the boy’s classmates, was going too fast, fell over, and wedged the chopsticks in the boy’s neck.

At the hospital, an X-ray revealed there was, incredibly, no damage to any of Chia’s key organs.

“We did a CT scan, which revealed that the chopsticks had missed the boy’s trachea and esophagus and key blood vessels. He was really very lucky, and we were then able to use surgery to remove the chopsticks,” medic Zhou Jen told CEN.

Because the chopsticks were made of steel, not wood, there was little risk of any complications from infection, Zhou said.

The schoolboy, who goes to school in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, is still under observation and is expected to be released by the end of the week.

Scientists find brain mechanism behind glucose greed


British scientists have found a brain mechanism they think may drive our desire for glucose-rich food and say the discovery could one day lead to better treatments for obesity.

In experiments using rats, researchers at Imperial College London found a mechanism that appears to sense how much glucose is reaching the brain and prompts animals to seek more if it detects a shortfall. In people, the scientists said, it may play a role in driving our preference for sweet and starchy foods.

Glucose, a component of carbohydrates, is the main energy source used by brain cells.

“Our brains rely heavily on glucose for energy,.. but in our evolutionary past it would have been hard to come by. So we have a deep-rooted preference for glucose-rich foods and seek them out,” said James Gardiner, who led the study and published its findings in the Journal of Clinical Investigation on Monday.

Gardiner’s team started with a hypothesis that an enzyme called glucokinase, involved in sensing glucose in the liver and pancreas, might play a role in driving glucose desire. Glucokinase is found in part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which regulates various functions including food intake.

In their experiments they first found that when rats go 24 hours without eating, glucokinase activity in an appetite-regulating center in the hypothalamus increases sharply.

The rats were given access to a glucose solution as well as their normal food pellets, called chow. When the researchers increased the activity of glucokinase in the hypothalamus using a virus, rats consumed more glucose in preference to chow. When glucokinase activity was reduced, they consumed less glucose.

Gardiner suggested that in people it might be possible to reduce glucose cravings by changing the diet, and said a drug that could act on this system may potentially prevent obesity.

“People are likely to have different levels of this enzyme, so different things will work for different people,” he said in a statement about the study.

“For some people, eating more starchy foods at the start of a meal might be a way to feel full more quickly by targeting this system, meaning they eat less overall.”




3D-printed hearts help surgeons save babies’ lives


A close-up of the 3D printed heart (James Carlson/ OSF St. Francis Medical Center)

Replicas of the human heart that are made on 3D printers could help save babies’ lives, new research suggests.

The heart replicas are designed to match every tiny detail of a baby’s heart, so they can help surgeons plan where to cut tissue, reroute piping and patch holes in children with congenital heart defects, researchers said. The new findings were presented Nov. 19 at the American Heart Association meeting in Chicago.

Though just a handful of such hearts have been used so far, the replicas have already revealed hidden Swiss cheese-like holes in one child’s heart, and in another case, inspired a repair strategy that dramatically extended the baby’s projected life span.

“From the first two cases straight out of the gate, we’ve had this dramatic impact,” said study co-author Dr. Matthew Bramlet, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Illinois, both in Peoria.

The early results suggest 3D printing hearts could dramatically improve surgeons’ understanding of defects before they go into the operating room, the researchers said. [See Images of the 3D Printed Hearts]

Tiny hearts

Children who have certain congenital heart defects such as holes in one of the four chambers of the heart or misrouted arteries and vessels often face years of complex, risky surgeries. When these fragile babies are born, doctors typically do a very quick surgery that improves blood flow just enough for them to grow. Once the little ones have doubled in size (usually when they are 6 to 9 months old), surgeons often perform more complicated repair surgery, Bramlet said.

But even the hearts of bigger babies are tiny, and the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans that are currently done to guide surgical decisions are difficult to interpret. Although researchers have 3D-printed an artificial heart sleeve, an artificial wind pipe and replicas of kidneys and livers to guide surgeries, 3D replicas of the heart were slower to come along, Bramlet said.

Holding the heart

So Bramlet and his colleagues began using detailed MRIs to design anatomically accurate replicas of the heart that were then printed at the Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center, also in Peoria.

Almost immediately, the printed hearts helped guide surgical decisions. In the very first case, doctors believed that a baby had a single hole in the wall of one of the heart’s ventricles, based on the MRI images. This kind of defect, called a ventricular septal defect, is usually patched up with a fairly straightforward technique. But the 3D-printed heart clearly revealed several Swiss-cheese-like holes in the heart that also had to be closed.

The realization helped the surgeon rethink his strategy, which reduced how long the heart had to be stopped during the surgery, Bramlet said.

In the second case, a baby had problems with the major arteries emerging from the heart’s right ventricle, as well as several holes in the heart. Normally, with the procedure used to fix these defects, doctors destroy so much heart tissue and reroute blood flow so dramatically that they essentially reduce the heart to two functional chambers. But in this case, by looking at the anatomy in 3D, the team was able to find a better work-around and spare all four of the heart’s chambers, which increased the baby’s life expectancy from 20 to 30 years to near-normal, Bramlet said.

“Holding [the heart] in her hand, the surgeon could much, much more easily determine how to appropriately perform that surgery,” Bramlet told Live Science.

Since the first repair, the team has gone on to create eight or nine heart replicas, and all of them have improved the surgeon’s understanding of the heart anatomy prior to the surgery, he said.

But the total number of hearts they’ve studied so far is small, so it’s too soon to know whether the heart replicas improve surgical outcomes, Bramlet said. Because these complicated heart defects are rare, researchers would need to set up a clinical trial at multiple sites to get enough cases, Bramlet said.

Florida mother survives C-Section complications despite 45 minutes without a pulse

Woman survives after 45 minutes without pulse

A Florida mother is home and tending to her new infant less than a month after surviving without a pulse for 45 minutes following complications from a routine cesarean section.

A spokesman for Boca Raton Regional Hospital told The Associated Press on Sunday that a team of medical workers spent three hours attempting to revive the woman after a rare amniotic fluid embolism.

Spokesman Thomas Chakurda says the doctors were preparing to pronounce her death when a blip on a monitor indicated a heartbeat. Despite going 45 minutes without a pulse, she suffered no brain damage during the Sept. 23 ordeal.

“She essentially spontaneously resuscitated when we were about to call the time of death,” said Thomas Chakurda, the hospital spokesman.

Doctors had called the family into the operating room and told them there was nothing more they could do for 40-year-old Ruby Graupera-Cassimiro.

Graupera-Cassimiro gave birth to a healthy daughter before amniotic fluid entered her bloodstream and heart and created a vacuum, stopping circulation. Doctors say condition is often fatal.

Chakurda said the woman’s survival is a story of two miracles – her resuscitation and the fact that she survived without serious brain damage.

Medical workers used shock paddles and chest compressions throughout the emergency to try and restore heart beat and circulation, Chakurda said.

“Today she is the picture of health,” he said.

Doctors had no immediate explanation for her survival, Chakurda said, calling her case one of “divine providence.”

Graupera-Cassimiro did not return a phone message left by The Associated Press on Sunday.

Dad: Son brushed up against poisonous plant, died

Dad: Son brushed up against poisonous plant, died

A garden is shown in London. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

Nathan Greenaway collapsed at the English estate where he worked and was rushed to a hospital in September, where, for five days, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the 33-year-old.

He died on Sept. 7 of multiple organ failure, and at a pre-inquest hearing this week, a potential cause was heard. Greenaway’s father did hours of research into his son’s death and believes the gardener must have brushed up against aconitum.

The deadly flower, also known as Devil’s helmet, monkshood, and wolfsbane, was indeed growing on the grounds of Millcourt House, a $6 million estate owned by a retired venture capitalist.

A histopathologist testified at the hearing that the flower “more likely than not” caused Greenaway’s death, though it’s not clear why he may have come in contact with it.

If it’s handled without gloves, the flower can cause vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, heart palpitations, and, in severe cases, paralysis of the heart and airways, theTelegraph reports.

Others testified that the toxin would have caused massive damage to the gardener’s internal organs within hours. But a lawyer for his employer isn’t convinced, and one problem is that the blood sample taken when Greenaway was admitted to the hospital has been destroyed.

According to testimony, the plant’s toxin wouldn’t have been detectable in his blood in as little as 24 hours, making samples taken after his death potentially useless, the Independent reports.

The BBC notes that aconitum poisoning is rare and typically happens when the plant is eaten; indeed, a Canadian actor died after accidentally eating the plant while camping in 2004.

Mexican boy to have tumor surgery in New Mexico


July 20, 2012: This file photo shows a Juarez-born boy suffering from massive tumor. (AP)

An 11-year-old Mexican boy suffering from a massive tumor, who drew international attention after U.S. Homeland Security Investigations helped him get treatment in New Mexico, is scheduled to have a series of surgeries in Albuquerque to remove the large growth on his shoulder.

The boy will have his first operation later this month at the University of New Mexico Hospital in what is expected to be a long road to recovery, said Kristean Alcocer, the Spanish ministry coordinator at the First Baptist Church of Rio Rancho.

“We are very, very excited,” Alcocer said. “We’ve been waiting for this for two years now and it’s finally going to happen.”

In July 2012, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations helped in picking up the boy and his parents from a neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez — a city plagued by drug cartel violence.

Federal agents helped the family seek care for the boy, known as Jose, after First Baptist Church members saw him during a missionary visit.

Federal officials wanted to keep the boy’s identity secret because his family still lives in Ciudad Juarez.

The boy was diagnosed with venous lymphangioma on his shoulder and told by doctors at the University of New Mexico Hospital that he must undergo a series of surgeries and treatments to remove the huge fluid buildup.

For the past two years the church has raised money for the boy, who is now living in Rio Rancho, Alcocer said.

Jose’s plight drew support from New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who asked federal officials to extend his stay in the U.S. so he could continue treatment.

In August, the boy was hospitalized for five weeks because of an infection, church officials said.

Alcocer said the surgeries will involve removing the tumor and reconstructing his shoulder bone. He will also have to excess skin removed, Alcocer said.

“He doesn’t want to know all the details,” Alcocer said. “But he’s ready.”

Magic mushrooms create a hyperconnected brain


File photo – boxes containing magic mushrooms are displayed at a coffee and smart shop in Rotterdam November 28, 2008. (REUTERS/Jerry Lampen)

Magic mushrooms may give users trippy experiences by creating a hyperconnected brain.

The active ingredient in the psychedelic drug, psilocybin, seems to completely disrupt the normal communication networks in the brain, by connecting “brain regions that don’t normally talk together,” said study co-author Paul Expert, a physicist at King’s College London.

The research, which was published Oct. 28 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, is part of a larger effort to understand how psychedelic drugs work, in the hopes that they could one day be used by psychiatrists in carefully controlled settings to treat conditions such as depression, Expert said. [Trippy Tales: The History of 8 Hallucinogens]

Magic mushrooms

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is best known for triggering vivid hallucinations. It can make colors seem oversaturated and dissolve the boundaries between objects.

But the drug also seems to have more long-lasting effects. Many people report intensely spiritual experiences while taking the drug, and some studies even suggest that one transcendent trip can alter people’s personalities on a long-term basis, making those individuals more open to new experiences and more appreciative of art, curiosity and emotion.

People who experiment with psilocybin “report it as one of the most profound experiences they’ve had in their lives, even comparing it to the birth of their children,” Expert told Live Science.

Making connections

Scientists have long known that psilocybin binds to a receptor in the brain for serotonin, a brain chemical that plays a role in mood, appetite and sleep, but exactly how the drug transforms the whole brain’s pattern of communication isn’t clear.

In past work, Expert’s colleagues had found that psilocybin spurred the brain into a more dreamlike state, and that the drug decreased brain activity.

In the current study, the team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brain activity of 15 healthy volunteers once after they had taken a placebo, and once after they took the hallucinogen psilocybin. (The team chose only people who had reported past positive experiences with magic mushrooms to prevent them from panicking inside the claustrophobic MRI machines.)

The team then compared the brain activity of the individuals on and off the drug, and created a map of connections between different brain regions.

Psilocybin dramatically transformed the participants’ brain organization, Expert said. With the drug, normally unconnected brain regions showed brain activity that was synchronized tightly in time. That suggested the drug was stimulatinglong-range connections the brain normally wouldn’t make. After the drug wore off, brain activity went back to normal.

Drug’s effect

Psilocybin may create a brain state akin to synesthesia, a sensory effect in which one sense stimulus (such as a number) always gets paired in the brain with another (such as a color or a sound), the researchers wrote in the paper. People with synesthesia may see certain colors when they hear music, or always see the number 3 in yellow, for instance, Expert said.

The findings could help scientists who are studying the drug as a potential treatment for depression, Expert said. Past work has found that people tend to be happier even after using psilocybin just once, but scientists would need to get a much better picture of how the drug impacts the brain before using psilocybin to treat depression, Expert said.

The research could ultimately also help answer bigger questions of the mind, like how people construct a sense of self.

“Through studies such as these we can really begin to tackle the questions of how we achieve coherent experiences of ourselves in the world around us, and understand what makes this break down,” said Mitul Mehta, a psychopharmacology researcher at King’s College London, who was not involved in the study.

After decades of blindness, man now sees with bionic eye


It’s been 33 years since Larry Hester started going blind. But thanks to a new bionic eye, the 66-year-old is experiencing vision once again, Duke Medicinereports.

Granted, “it’s not vision as we traditionally know it,” a Duke University scientist tells Duke Medicine. But “turning this device on allows him to experience a whole new world.” Hester is the first person in North Carolina, and only the seventh in the country, to receive an Argus II Retinal Prosthesis Device.

Last month, he had a sensor implanted in his eye; it gathers light signals from a camera on his glasses. On Oct. 1, the device was turned on for the first time.

Could he see? “Oh my goodness. Yes!” he said. Hester suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes gradual blindness and is shared by some 50,000 to 100,000 Americans, Today reports. Now he can identify contrasts—for instance, the difference between a door and a wall. He’s already spotted a white duck in a pond and his wife’s flowers, and the Herald-Sun reports he’s hoping to see Fourth of July fireworks. The vision has also provided a “sweet and precious moment,” his wife says. “The other night I was sitting on a dark leather chair [and] he was able to scan over and see my face because it was lighter.

Boston veterinarians help puppy ‘grow’ new leg bone


Lucy is shown before surgery to correct her right front paw, pictured left, and pictured right, is the device vets used to help correct her bone. (

A black lab is recovering after Boston veterinarians performed surgery to correct a debilitating birth defect that made it painful for her to even stand, reported.

Jessica Cantone and her fiance, Nick, brought home 2-week-old black lab puppies. One of the puppies, named Lucy, had a front paw that faced outward and prevented her from playing and walking with her sister, Lola. A local vet told Cantone that as Lucy grew, her other legs would compensate for what her front right paw couldn’t do.

But the limping only got worse, and Lucy’s leg was about an inch shorter than the other three. Veterinarians recommended Cantone bring her puppy to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) Angell Animal Medical Center for a second opinion.

There, MSPCA veterinarians performed a procedure called corrective osteotomy, cutting Lucy’s lower leg bone and using a device called a circular external fixator to re-align the bone, according to a news release. The fixator is devised to keep the two ends of the bone aligned to encourage osteogensis, in which the two ends of the bone begin to grow back together.

“For nearly a month we turned three knobs, three times per day, with a wrench to keep the pace with the growing bone — it was fantastic to know that we are literally helping her grow new bone tissue,” Cantone said in a news release posted on MSPCA’s website.

Vets expect Lucy to wear the device for a few more weeks, and then the puppy will attend physical therapy to help build her leg muscle.

“I know she’ll go home to have many years to enjoy hiking, running, walks in the park and all the other activities that have been so hard for her in the past,” Cantone said in the news release.