New Biotech Breakthroughs that Will Change Medicine

* Walking Simulator :Stroke victims are being tricked into recovering more quickly with a virtual-reality rehabilitation program developed at the University of Portsmouth in Britain. As patients walk on a treadmill, they see moving images that fool their brains into thinking they are walking slower than they are. As a result, patients not only walk faster and farther, but experience less pain while doing so.

* Autonomous Wheelchair: MIT researchers have developed an autonomous wheelchair that can take people where they ask to go. The chair learns about its environment by listening as a patient identifies locations—such as "this is my room" or "we're in the kitchen"—and builds maps using Wi-Fi, which works well indoors (unlike GPS). The current model, which is now being tested, may one day be equipped with cameras, laser rangefinders and a collision- avoidance system.

*Smart Contact Lens: Glaucoma, the second-leading cause of blindness, develops when pressure builds inside the eye and damages retinal cells. Contact lenses developed at the University of California-Davis contain conductive wires that continuously monitor pressure and fluid flow within the eyes of at-risk people. The lenses then relay information to a small device worn by the patient; the device wirelessly transmits it to a computer. This constant data flow will help doctors better understand the causes of the disease. Future lenses may also automatically dispense drugs in response to pressure changes.

*Speech Restorer: For people who have lost the ability to talk, a new "phonetic speech engine" from Illinois-based Ambient Corporation provides an audible voice. Developed in conjunction with Texas Instruments, the Audeo uses electrodes to detect neuronal signals traveling from the brain to the vocal cords. Patients imagine slowly sounding out words; then the quarter-size device (located in a neck brace) wirelessly transmits those impulses to a computer or cellphone, which produces speech.

*Rocket-Powered Arm: Adding strength to prosthetic limbs has typically required bulky battery packs. Vanderbilt University scientist Michael Goldfarb came up with an alternative power source: rocket propellant. Goldfarb's prosthetic arm can lift 20 pounds—three to four times more than current prosthetics—thanks to a pencil-size version of the mono-propellant rocket-motor system used to maneuver the space shuttle in orbit. Hydrogen peroxide powers the arm for 18 hours of normal activity.


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