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A probe that assesses mitochondrial redox state in real-time by shining a laser light on a tissue to obtain vital information about cell health.

Tiny Laser Device Predicts Cardiac Arrests

A laser-based device has shown it can predict cardiac arrests in rats during open-heart surgery—and it could someday raise the standard of medical care by doing the same for human patients. The amazing predictive quality comes from determining whether or not living cells are receiving enough oxygen to remain healthy and function properly.

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Pear Therapeutics receives FDA clearance for an app to treat substance use disorder

First Prescription App for Substance Abuse Approved by FDA

Drug and alcohol users will soon be able to get prescriptions for a mobile app that could help them stay clean. Developed by Pear Therapeutics in Boston and San Francisco, the app helps people recovering from addiction stay on track while participating in outpatient treatment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week approved the prescription-only software for the American market. 

The FDA’s decision marks the first time in the United States that software has been approved to treat disease, says Corey McCann, founder and CEO of Pear Therapeutics. The company plans to make the digital therapeutic available commercially in 2018, he says. 

The app, called reSET, is aimed at people with substance use disorders involving alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and stimulants. Patients prescribed the software must be involved in some type of outpatient treatment. Only a prescription will enable the patient to unlock the software and use it. 

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A teenage girl looks sad

Cincinnati Schools Roll Out Tech to Identify Teens Likely to Attempt Suicide

At 10 public schools in Cincinnati, middle and high school students will have a new app looking out for them this year. When a student from those schools goes to the health clinic for a talk with the staff psychologist, an iPhone app will listen to the conversation and flag those students it considers likely to attempt suicide.

There’s a dire need for tech that can detect young people who need help. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only by accidents.

The tech, which has been tested in the Cincinnati schools during the past two years, comes from John Pestian, director of the computational medicine lab at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “The school psychologist just turns on the app as they’re talking to the kid,” Pestian explains. “The app is ‘listening’ and does its natural language processing in real-time. It looks for linguistic and acoustic patterns to classify if the kid is at higher risk of suicide.”

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mass-spec attachment resembles pen, held on lab slide of tissue to diagnose cancer during surgery

Handheld Mass-Spectrometry Pen Identifies Cancer in Seconds During Surgery

Scientists have invented a gentle, handheld device that can determine within seconds whether tissue is cancerous or not. The tool could give surgeons precise information during an operation about which tissues should be removed or preserved.

The pen-shaped instrument, which relies on the chemical analysis technique mass spectrometry, was developed by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin. It is described in a report published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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photo: Person holds up a box with smartphone camera facing his face to take a selfie of his eyes to detect early signs of pancreatic cancer via a new app

Eye Scans to Detect Cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease

It is said that eyes are the window to the soul. Well, what about the window to our health?

We recently reported on two AI systems trained to detect eye diseases, specifically diabetic retinopathy and congenital cataracts. Now, we’ve found groups extending that concept to illnesses beyond the eye. Two new projects pair imaging systems with advanced software in an effort to catch early symptoms of pancreatic cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

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mouse brain showing heat bloom

Magnetothermal Genetics: A Fourth Tool in the Brain-Hacking Toolbox

A scientist wanting to hack into an animal’s brain used to have three different tools to choose from: electric current, drugs, and light. Now there’s a fourth: magnetic fields. In a paper published last week in the open-access journal eLife, scientists at the University at Buffalo used magneto-thermal genetics to manipulate brain cells in mice, enabling the researchers to control the animal’s behavior.

Magneto-thermal genetics has been previously shown to activate neurons in anesthetized rodent brains, but this is the first time anyone has reported using the tool to manipulate animal behavior, says Arnd Pralle, the University at Buffalo biophysicist who led the research.

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A small fixed-wing drone flies through the sky and drops a package with a parachute attached

Africa Leads the World on Drone Delivery: Flights to Begin in Tanzania in 2018

Drone delivery is finally getting off the ground. And the action is happening in East Africa.

Zipline, a pioneering drone startup that began delivering blood packs to Rwanda’s remote hospitals in October 2016, today announced a major expansion into Tanzania. In early 2018 the company will begin flying its delivery drones to more than 1000 health care facilities around Tanzania, bringing urgently needed medicines and supplies to big hospitals and tiny rural clinics alike.

Keller Rinaudo, founder and CEO of Zipline, says that “the richest companies in the world” are still trying to figure out how to make instant drone delivery work as a commercial service (as IEEE Spectrum has noted in it’s coverage of Google’s Project Wing and Amazon’s Prime Air). Meanwhile, the world’s first on-demand delivery service is already up and running in Rwanda.

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Photo Illustrations: Straw Lab

Virtual Reality Platform Created For Lab Animals

Scientists have devised a virtual reality platform for lab animals. Let that sink in. Zebrafish have swum with the aliens from the video game Space Invaders, mice were afraid of virtual heights, and fruit flies circled illusory obstacles.

This new holodeck for animals can help researchers see how freely-moving animals respond to a variety of illusions—work that could help scientists better understand human genes and brain circuitry, researchers say. The researchers, from the Vienna Biocenter in Austria, detailed their findings in today’s edition of the journal Nature Methods

A gif shows a VR environment created for lab animals, where images are projected on the walls of a circular chamber.
Image: Straw Lab
Researchers controlled a fly's position (red dot) and flight direction by providing visual stimuli.

FreemoVR, immersed animals in arenas where the walls or floors were computer displays. Each screen depicted photorealistic images that accounted for each animal’s perspective as it walked, flew, or swam.

Up to 10 high-speed cameras monitored the precise 3D position of each animal. FreemoVR then updated its video imagery within milliseconds of each animal's movements to create the 3D illusion that they were moving in environments that changed in response to their actions.

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A man wearing a robotic exoskeleton stands in front of the fridge; the Amazon Echo sits on the counter nearby.

How a Paraplegic User Commands This Exoskeleton: "Alexa, I'm Ready to Walk"

For a person who’s been navigating the world in a wheelchair, it’s a pretty powerful thing to be able to issue the commands: “Alexa, I’m ready to stand up,” and “Alexa, I’m ready to walk.”

Bionik Labs’ ARKE is the latest robotic exoskeleton that enables paraplegic people to rise to their feet and walk using their paralyzed legs. And it’s the first to integrate the hardware with the Amazon Echo platform, allowing exoskeleton users to control the device with simple voice commands addressed to Amazon’s Alexa, the virtual assistant used in home automation. 

ARKE is still a prototype; the company hopes to bring it to market within the next few years. Company cofounder and COO Michal Prywata says the ARKE’s voice-control system will set it apart from the few exoskeletons that are already available to consumers, because it will make the ARKE easy to use in the home. “There’s a huge opportunity for us in the home exoskeleton market, which hasn’t been tapped into yet,” he says.

With the voice commands, users can trigger the exoskeleton’s basic actions—standing up and sitting down, walking and stopping—and tweak parameters like stride length.

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The Human OS

IEEE Spectrum’s biomedical engineering blog, featuring the wearable sensors, big data analytics, and implanted devices that enable new ventures in personalized medicine.

Eliza Strickland
New York City
Emily Waltz
Megan Scudellari

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