STUMP » Articles » Good News for Thursday: Yay for Technology » 30 June 2016, 13:21

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Good News for Thursday: Yay for Technology  


30 June 2016, 13:21

Tired of stuff running ya down? Let’s have some good news! Some of this is a little older, but the first one is from this week.


Device allows girl’s ‘personality to come to our world’:

The Hummer converts humming noises into expressions for girl, 10, who lives with cerebral palsy.

Mon., June 27, 2016

Elena Chukalovskaya always knew her daughter had a voice. Now the rest of the world can hear it too.

Maria, 10, has cerebral palsy (CP), a neurological disorder that interferes with the signals passed between her brain and muscles. The condition makes moving arms and legs an arduous task. In Maria’s case, it’s also difficult to control the muscles needed for speech.

To an outsider, her voice has been difficult to understand. But now, she can tell you, quite clearly, that her favourite Disney film is The Fox and the Hound and that her mother Elena loves her “very, very much.”

This life-changing clarity comes from a grey neckband that translates her humming sound into words spoken through a computer.

Dressed in denim overalls and red sneakers, the girl with a gap-tooth grin and kicky neckerchief hums from her wheelchair in the library of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, her stuffed baby wolf plush toy resting in her lap. Moments later, her laptop begins to speak.

“I love that everybody understands,” Maria says in a synthesized yet natural sounding voice. “I like to write email because I talk to my teacher! To my friends at school when I’m not feeling well.”

Designed for youth who have complex disabilities but can still make a “hum,” the “Hummer” converts vocal cord vibrations into a digital signal. The message is then fed to a computer that deciphers the noise as if it were a click of a mouse, allowing users like Maria to type words and complete sentences.

My son is autistic, and while he’s not totally non-verbal, his communication has been limited. That said, other than the autism, he can move his body and has no muscular problems, and there’s lots of non-verbal ways he can communicate. Since Stu wrote that 2 years ago, D’s communication skills have moved on quite a bit.

I can see how important it is to be able to express yourself. Technology has helped so many people who have something to say, but an impediment to saying it.

And now for some stories that are a little older.


Scientists Connect Brain to a Basic Tablet—Paralyzed Patient Googles With Ease

For patient T6, 2014 was a happy year.

That was the year she learned to control a Nexus tablet with her brain waves, and literally took her life quality from 1980s DOS to modern era Android OS.

A brunette lady in her early 50s, patient T6 suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), which causes progressive motor neuron damage. Mostly paralyzed from the neck down, T6 retains her sharp wit, love for red lipstick and miraculous green thumb. What she didn’t have, until recently, was the ability to communicate with the outside world.

Brain-Machine Interfaces

Like T6, millions of people worldwide have severe paralysis from spinal cord injury, stroke or neurodegenerative diseases, which precludes their ability to speak, write or otherwise communicate their thoughts and intentions to their loved ones.

The field of brain-machine interfaces blossomed nearly two decades ago in an effort to develop assistive devices to help these “locked-in” people. And the results have been fantastic: eye- or head-tracking devices have allowed eye movement to act as an output system to control mouse cursors on computer screens. In some cases, the user could also perform the click function by staring intently at a single spot, known in the field as “dwell time.”
In contrast to eye-trackers, neural prostheses directly interface the brain with computers, in essence cutting out the middleman — the sensory organs that we normally use to interact with our environment.

Instead, a baby-aspirin-sized microarray chip is directly implanted into the brain, and neural signals associated with intent can be decoded by sophisticated algorithms in real time and used to control mouse cursors.

It’s a technology that’s leaps and bounds from eye-trackers, but still prohibitively expensive and hard to use.

Nuyujukian’s team, together with patient T6, set out to tackle this problem.

I wonder how far they’ve gotten since then.


Those 3-d printed materials just keep getting better.

Thanks To 3D Printing, This Husky Just Got New Legs:

It was only a short matter of time the breakthroughs and strides we’ve made in 3D printing extended to man’s best friend. Derby, a dog born with deformed front legs, can now run and sit upright just like any other pup thanks to a pair of printed prosthetic legs.

These are actually the second pair of prosthetics for Derby. His first set, produced by 3D Systems a year ago, positioned him very close to the ground so he could learn to walk and run without injuring himself. But now Derby was ready for an upgrade. To straighten out his back, engineers first tried to fit him with a larger version of his original prosthetics, but they proved to be too big and bulky for the Husky mix. The 3D Systems team eventually turned to a completely different printing process, laser sintering, that would provide the same bend and flexibility. Derby’s new, fully redesigned prosthetics offer the same kind of give as an actual knee. Now he can walk and comfortably sit around just like other dogs.

Check out this video at the link.

But it’s not only doggie legs you can print with these things…


We teach surgeons to fix hearts by making them.

3-D printing is here. Yes, you can now make a 3-D bobblehead of yourself. But SickKids cardiac radiologist Dr. Shi-Joon Yoo, and MRI technologist Omar Thabit, had a more revolutionary, and life-saving, application in mind for the technology. They decided to ‘print’ babies’ hearts, using diagnostic imaging as their blueprint, to give surgeons a new learning tool. At first, the hearts were hard plastic. Although each still takes a day to print, they’re now soft. And while not quite the same as real tissue, they’re an effective medium in which surgeons can see, and operate on, a variety of congenital heart defects.

When ‘practice’ surgery is performed on a printed heart, “If there’s a problem, no problem,” says Dr. Glen Van Arsdell, Head of Cardiovascular Surgery at SickKids, who, with Dr. Yoo, recently welcomed 11 surgeons from across Canada – and around the globe, from Chile to Norway – to SickKids for what they call ‘HOST’: Hands-On Surgical Training.

This kind of training is very new – they’ve been doing it less than a year – and it’s a world first. Dr. Van Arsdell defines one of the key advantages of this training when he speaks of his own experience. “I spent about 10 years getting to where I had the right to operate on children.” Seeing, and operating on, accurately modelled complex defects accelerates a surgeon’s competency. “It’s two years after a fully-trained surgeon joins my team that they can join me in operating,” says Dr. Van Arsdell. “Even then, I’m guiding them in making stitches with my eyes, if not my hands.” He sees a time when, using this training, surgeons can be signed off on a ‘menu’ of operations by senior surgeons.

The detail of the hearts makes them profoundly realistic. As Dr. Yoo says, “The highest resolution current medical imaging can give surgeons is 0.3 – 0.7 mm. The printer we use delivers 0.3 mm resolution.” At a recent training session in SickKids Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, one of the visiting surgeons put it well: “Usually, I have to assemble a picture of the heart in my mind from a series of 2-D images. This way, I can see it.”

That’s a key benefit 3-D hearts offer to surgeons. But 3-D hearts will have a huge impact on patients and families, too. Traditionally, the discovery process happened in the operating room, with the child’s chest open – creating the possibility of the negative impacts associated with major surgery on tiny children. Now, the operation can be rehearsed, and assistants can be as familiar with the defect as the primary surgeon. Rehearsal will save surgical time – and therefore time under anaesthesia – which both Dr. Yoo and Dr. Van Arsdell know leads to better outcomes.


How paralyzed patients are able to stand again:

(CNN)In what’s being hailed as a breakthrough in spinal cord injury research, four men paralyzed from the chest down have risen from their wheelchairs on their own volition and effort.

“I can stand up for more than half an hour,” said Dustin Shillcox, who was paralyzed in a car accident five years ago. “It’s awesome. It’s amazing. It’s a hopeful feeling.”

Shillcox and the other three men had electrical stimulators surgically implanted in their spines, and are working toward walking again someday. Their standing achievements were published Friday in the online journal PLOS ONE by Dr. Susan Harkema and her colleagues at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville.

The Christopher and Dave Reeve Foundation, which helped fund the study, has named the Kentucky research as its “Big Idea” and is raising $15 million to do the procedure in dozens more patients.


Check out these people:

Over 1 Billion

Scientist Lives Saved
1 Fritz Haber
(Synthetic Fertilizer) 2,720,000,000
2 Carl Bosch
(Synthetic Fertilizer) 2,720,000,000
3 Karl Landsteiner
(Blood Groups) 1,094,000,000
4 Richard Lewisohn
(Blood Transfusions) 1,094,000,000

Go to the link to see what they did, and why it saved so many lives.


Think of all the people who survived childhood due to the battle against diphtheria, from yesterday’s post. It’s good to point out specific individuals, but in many cases, it was multiple people over many years that has led to the saving of so many lives.

It’s easy to forget, sometimes, what amazing things people have done, when we focus on the yammering of short-term problems.

Enjoy life!