Full face transplant lets firefighter finally feel like a ‘normal guy’ again

August 25, 2016

Just one year after receiving the world’s most extensive face transplant, a firefighter in Mississippi says he feels like a ’normal guy’ for the first time since a burning building collapsed on top of him 15 years ago, the Guardian reported this week.

Speaking to reporters at NYU Langone Medical Center, Patrick Hardison, 42, said, “I’m here today because I want others to see that there is hope beyond the injury.”

As a result of the surgery performed in August, 2015, he reported that he can now see, hear, eat and breathe normally. Moreover, he no longer worries about, “people pointing and staring or kids running away crying.”

Back in 2001, Patrick Hardison was a volunteer firefighter in Senatoba, Mississippi, when a burning building came crashing down on top of him.

In the years following, he underwent 71 reconstructive surgeries before receiving the transplant. 

According to a BBC News article, the history of face transplants is very recent, only dating back eleven years.

In 2005, a French woman received a partial face transplant to replace her nose, lips and chin. Since then, there have apparently been just under 40 face transplant surgeries conducted around the world.

Yet what set’s the surgery conducted on Hardison apart is that it is said to be the first transplant to include a scalp and functioning eyelids, the Guardian informs us.

Since the transplant, doctors have also apparently removed Hardison’s breathing and feeding tubes, and made a few adjustments to his features.

In terms of his appearance, the Mississippi firefighter now looks much like he once did. There are no scars on his face, and he once again has a mop of sandy brown hair. Only now his face is rounder and his eyes smaller than before.

The transplant has also made huge practical changes on his daily life.

Prior to the surgery, his field of vision was severely restricted, he said, because doctors had partially sewn shut his eyelids to protect his eyes. 

This has changed thanks to the transplant, as he is once again able to drive and live independently. 

According to Hardison, the effect on his emotional wellbeing has also been dramatic. 

“Before the transplant, every day I had to wake up and get myself motivated to face the world,” he said. 

Now, he said, “I’m pretty much back to being a normal guy doing normal activities. My life has changed, and it has been renewed.”

Back in June, on a trip to Disney World, he said, “I swam in the pool with my children for the first time in 15 years.”

At the news conference, Hardison was joined by four of his five children. His daughter Allison, 21, also noticed a marked difference in her father.

“After the injury he wasn’t normal on the inside. He was very unhappy.” She said. “Now he’s happy with himself and happy with life.”

The Mississippi firefighter, whose donor was a 26 year old artist said to have died in a bike accident in Brooklyn, has been lucky not to have faced any issues with his body rejecting the transplant. 

Eduardo Rodriguez, chairman of the plastic surgery department at Langone, puts this down to the medication, Hardison’s children, as well as his own strength. 

Rodriguez described the man as a “remarkable individual.”

Hardison said he hopes to meet with his donor’s family in the autumn.

 

Sources include: BBC News, Guardian

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Scientists map wheat genome

July 17, 2014

Bread is a staple food for one third of the world’s population, and accounts for a huge 20 per cent of the world’s calorie intake.

In terms of science however, wheat has been rather overlooked. Until now that is.

Since 2011, scientists and members of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, have worked to find out what exactly the humble grain is made of. On Tuesday, they published the first draft genome sequence of “common” or “bread wheat”: an accomplishment which they believe could help farmers meet the ever-increasing demand for a high-quality crop – something which is particularly important in the context of climate change and an ever-growing population.

The research, published in the journal Science on Tuesday, reveals the result of what has been nearly 3 years work and around USD 68 million. The team of scientists, including researchers from Germany, the United States, the Czech Republic, and Canada has so far succeeded in deciphering the blueprint for nearly all the genes of bread wheat and roughly 60 percent of the whole genome.

The unusual size and form of the genome made the sequencing especially difficult for the team, the article said. Indeed, that of wheat contains a staggering 100,000 or so genes, 5 times more than the human genome, which contains roughly 20,000.

The largely repetitive nature of the wheat genome also made its untangling more difficult.

The advantages of the project are manifold. “Wheat improvement is crucial to ensure food security and the development of sustainable agriculture in a context of climate change and growing population,” said Frederic Choulet, plant genomicist at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), and one of the lead researchers on the project.

The new draft genome is also expected to significantly decrease the time it will take to identify and isolate genes of interest to plant breeders, such as those which express resistance to heat, stress, insects, or disease.

The consortium plans to finish the full genome within three years. “We have a clear path forward for completing high quality sequences of all bread wheat chromosomes,” said Kellye Eversole, the consortium’s executive director.

Source: The Japan Times; National Geographic

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A robot with a heart: Japanese company unveils newest creation

June 6, 2014

Japanese company Softbank has unveiled its newest design: a robot able to respond to human emotions. Using a cloud-based artificial intelligence system and an “emotional engine”, the robot, known as “Pepper”, is able to to interpret human voice tones, expressions and gestures, and perform various tasks.

In the past several different robotics companies have claimed to have created robots that read or mimic human emotions, but Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son told a press conference it is the first time in history a robot has been given a heart.

The firm said people can communicate with Pepper “just like they would with friends and family” and believes it could become a household aid to the elderly, especially in countries like Japan with rapidly ageing populations.

“Even if one can pre-programme such robots to carry out specific tasks based on certain commands or gestures, it could go long way in helping improve elderly care,” said Rhenu Bhuller, senior vice president healthcare at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

Softbank is a majority stakeholder in French company, Aldebaran Robotics. The two firms developed Pepper in collaboration. Bruno Maisonnier, founder and chief executive of Aldebaran said: “The emotional robot will create a new dimension in our lives and new ways of interacting with technology.”

Japan has one of the world’s largest robotics markets, which was estimated to be worth around 860 billion yen (approx £5 billion) in 2012.  The country employs more than 250,000 industrial robot workers. According to a trade ministry report last year, the Japanese robotics market is expected to have more than tripled in value to 2.85 trillion yen (£16.5 billion) by the year 2020.

Pepper will go on sale to the public next year for 198,000 yen ($1,930; £1,150). According to the company, it will be available at stores nationwide.

A prototype version of the robot will also serve customers in Softbank’s mobile phone stores.
Sources: BBC News; The Telegraph
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High-tech goggles allow surgeons to ‘see’ cancerous tissue

April 18, 2014

A new type of goggle currently under development in the USA has the potential to be a major breakthrough in the treatment of cancer.

Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and intrusive surgery are currently the only treatments available to doctors and surgeons when combatting cancer, which affects approximately one in every three people in some form. Removing cancerous tissue by surgical means is particularly challenging, as the difference between healthy tissue and tumorous tissue is often difficult, if not impossible, to perceive. This can often lead to cancerous cells being left behind in the body, often resulting in further bouts of surgery.

The new ‘high-tech goggles’, currently being tested at pilot stage by scientists in the USA,  could potentially be an answer to the challenges posed by detecting cancerous tissue. The goggles allow surgeons to distinguish cancerous cells from healthy tissue, by causing cancerous cells to ‘glow’. Scientists hope that the goggles will enable surgeons to remove all the affected tissue in a single surgery, leaving no part of the tumour behind.

Dr Ryan Fields, a surgeon at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, said: “The technology is quite amazing – almost like having a microscope to guide your surgery in the operating room.”

Just how do the goggles work? In fact, the goggles are not the only thing to play a role in this incredible technology. Before undergoing surgery, the patient is injected with a type of dye, containing a small protein called peptide. This protein has a unique quality, in that it is able to seek out and bind to cancer cells – and cancer cells only – effectively ‘dying’ them.

These ‘dyed’ cells emit light: a specific speed of light that is imperceptible to humans. The goggles are designed to overcome this problem, by using a sensor, which  The dyed cancer cells emit light at a wavelength that cannot be seen by the human eye, but can be detected by a sensor in the goggles worn by the surgeons.

“The sensor captures the fluorescence from the dye lodged in cancer tissue and projects the image into the surgeon’s [field of] view,” explained a doctor working on the development of the dye and goggle technology.  “This creates an augmented reality that allows the surgeons to see cancer cells glowing, providing real-time guidance during surgery.

Whilst the goggles are still in their prototype form, scientists and surgeons alike have strong hope in their potential to reduce the number of secondary surgeries in cancer-related cases. Indeed, it is thought that up to 40 per cent of breast cancer patients in the USA require secondary follow-up surgeries to remove cancerous tissue left behind in the first operation.

“It has the potential to reduce the size of operations, when safe, and guide us to take out more tissue, when required,” said Dr Fields.

However, the goggles will require much larger trials to prove their reliability before they can be considered for routine use.

 

Sources include: BBC News, The Week

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Filipino becomes third certified language in San Francisco

April 4, 2014

Language barriers can be more than just frustrating. In fact, they can bring about a harmful disconnect between a community and its access to basic services

Until now, more than 10,000 Filipino residents of San Francisco had to put up with this problem – suffering delays in hospital treatment or forced to find their own interpreters and translators when trying to assert their rights as workers, due to their limited English proficiency. Many also felt excluded from the civic life in a vibrant city like San Francisco because of language capacity.

On 2nd April however, Filipino community members and advocates celebrated San Francisco’s certification of Filipino as the third language required for city communications, after months of urging officials to make the change.

In 2009, the city of San Francisco passed a new Language Access Ordinance (LAO), which requires improved language access for city residents, with certain requirements for populations which exceed a threshold of 10,000 limited English proficient or “LEP” community members. Using the latest Federal American Community Survey data for the years 2009-2013, the city’s planning department was able to verify that Tagalog speakers with limited English proficiency surpassed this threshold.

Filipino is the 1st language to be certified after the 2009 passage of the LAO, and will meet the same requirements as Spanish and Chinese, which were certified in 2000, before the LAO existed.

Rachel Ebora, a Filipino immigrant, native Tagalog speaker, and executive director of Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center said of the certification:

“We are delighted at the certification of Pilipino as the third language that the City of San Francisco is required to translate for its communications. To the over 10,000 Filipinos who speak this national language, our hope is that this certification will provide additional access to services and other resources to live in San Francisco.”

The LAO ordinance is an important San Francisco policy that requires the city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs to identify “emerging” language populations and to ensure that residents are able to access translation services when needed in a timely manner. This will alleviate pressure on Filipinos who are staff at nonprofits, government employees, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and family members, including school-age children, all who speak some of the different Philippine languages, who have been translating for thousands of LEP Filipino residents without recognition of this additional service they are providing.

Without this new status, a type of language-based discrimination would continue to exist in the city.

Filipino’s have been present in San Francisco for nearly a century from the days of the Filipino farmworkers at the International Hotel until today. This is a long-overdue recognition of the continuing contributions of Filipinos in San Francisco,

Terrence Valen, FCC’s organizational director and president of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, said:

“For our Filipino community members and their families, the whole world opens up to them when they are able to communicate in their mother language. To keep San Francisco a welcoming city for immigrants, officially removing this language barrier is definitely is an important step in the right direction.”

Sources include: The FilAm SF; GMA News Online

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More than meets the eye: Google reveals “smart contact lens” that measures glucose levels in body

January 17, 2014

Currently, there are 382 million diabetics across the world who must routinely monitor their blood glucose levels. By pricking their finger and putting a drop of blood onto a testing strip, sufferers can check for dangerous drops or spikes in these levels which can indicate either hypo- or hyperglycemia, and administer insulin accordingly. The days of this rather unpleasant method may soon be over however, as Google has come up with a rather simpler (and more transparent) way forward… 

The technology giant has spent the past 18 months developing a “smart contact lens” which measures the glucose level of tears, to help improve the lives of diabetics across the world. The lens uses a the “smallest glucose sensor ever made” and a miniature transmitter, embedded between two layers of lens material. 

When looking at the lens, two glitter-specks, loaded with tens of thousands of miniaturised transistors, are visible, along with a ringed hair thin antenna. Yet, these miniature electronics manage not to obscure vision as they lay outside of the area which covers the pupil and iris.

“We’re still really early on. We’re confident about how the technology is going so far. But there’s a huge amount of work left to do,” Mr Otis, project leader for the smart contact lens, said.”We’ve had to work really hard to develop tiny, low-powered electronics that operate on low levels of energy and really small glucose sensors”.

The firm is also looking at integrating LEDs which would light up when blood glucose levels have risen or fallen beyond a certain point.

The smart contact lens certainly has the same sci-fi, futuristic appeal as its lab fellows, a driverless car, Google Glass and Project Loon, which were all produced by the same Google X lab.

Although Google says the prototype will take at least five years to reach consumers, many think the revelation will bring a new wave of miniature technologies which target the healthcare sector. Manoj Menon of Frost & Sullivan commented that: “It is likely to spur a range of other innovations towards miniaturizing technology and using it in wearable devices to help people monitor their bodies better”

This may already be  happening. The Telegraph reports on a gadget called “Sensible Baby”, revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which monitors the temperature, orientation and movement of a sleeping baby and triggers a smartphone alarm if any problems are detected.

Similarly, Japanese firm Sony have recently filed a patent for a ‘SmartWig’ with uses that include healthcare. The wig uses a combination of sensors to help collect information on the temperature, pulse and blood pressure of the wearer.

Whatever will be next?

Sources include: BBC News; The Telegraph

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Arctic Freeze blasts its way through Eastern USA and Canada…

January 7, 2014

Boiling water freezes in mid-air and lakes become like steaming hot-tubs. The record-breaking cold in the USA is truly a force to be reckoned with…

Over the past 48 hours, the Midwest and North East of the USA has been in the grip of a cold front, the likes of which has not been experienced for decades. The windchill and snow brought by The Polar Vortex, or “Polar Pig”, as it is also been known, has forced temperatures to as low as -50 degrees Celsius, causing power outages, school closures and major travel delays in parts of the United States and Canada.

The city of Indianapolis, capital of Indiana, was issued a RED weather warning making it illegal to drive except in an emergency. Toronto faced cold of up to -24C and Chicago broke records yesterday after temperatures plummeted to -27C. Even the Southern States have suffered. Yesterday, the temperature of Dallas, Texas was -4C, while that of Alaska was (ironically) closer to 1C. Snow storms abounded in St Louis, with up to 16″ of snow, and Atlanta reached -7C.

In some areas around the Midwest and Northern Plains, the cold was considered “life-threatening”. In temperatures like these, frostbite can occur within 10 minutes. The cold has now shifted Eastwards, and last night a code blue alert was issued by the Department of Homeless Services, New York, doubling the number of volunteers on the streets providing relief to those without shelter.

Utility companies added extra energy-generating capacity and repair crews, urging customers to limit power use and warning others that they’re likely to see higher heating bills. Xcel Energy faced such increased demand, it was forced to ask to ask 850 businesses in Minnesota and North Dakota to reduce their reliance on the utility and switch to propane tank supplies so the utility can meet higher demand from other customers. Monthly heating bills and the price of Natural Gas are expected to rise as a result of the bitter chill.

Although weather systems like this are common in the North of Canada, they rarely come as far down as the USA let alone its Southern regions. The unusual Southerly blast is thought to be down to a low pressure build up in the area and subsequent jet stream.

The end may be in sight, however, as flights, including some by company JetBlue, have been resumed, and it is expected that the “sub-zero temperatures and snow will virtually be gone by Wednesday”.

Sources Include: BBC News; USA Today; The Weather Network; The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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