Science. It works…

November 14, 2007

I’ll endeavour not to finish that thought ala XKCD although I would like one of those t-shirts (the green ones… you’ll see).

In the mean time I’d just like to point to a variety of science stories in the field of health that have caught my eye lately.

I like health. I have one, and my wife is a big user of it. Through the last decade we’ve had between us: MRI scans (mostly her), CT scans (both), bone marrow biopsy (me), radiation treatment (also me), tonsils out (me again), fractured pelvis (her), Caesarian section (her), hip replacement (her), stealth scan (her) brain surgery, brain surgery and brain surgery (her, her, her).

So I think you’ll agree, we know whereof we speak.

First up, one of my favourite areas of medical advancement: prosthetic limbs.
Gone are the days where having your foot chopped off below the knee meant you had to sit out the spring formal in a wheelchair, slowly growing cankerous sores the size of a chihuahua on your ass. Instead, these days they’ll fit you with a funky chunky robo-foot that will make you the envy of your friends.

Just so long as it’s my left leg they come after I really don’t think I’d have too much of a problem. If both feet were squashed by a falling piano (for instance) I’d like to think I’d come out the other side of surgery with a cheery “wahoo, now can I be six foot tall? huh, can I?”.

Incidentally, if ever I’m killed by a falling piano my wife will at least know I died happy. Can you imagine going out like a cartoon character? Once they’d cleared away the debris they’d find my crushed scull and face still sneering in an “oh the irony” kind of grin.

But I digress.

One of the problems of prosthetics is that sometimes you need to use them in place of arms and hands and that blows. It took me months to learn to touch type. While losing my left leg would mean great fancy dress opportunities (arrrrr), losing a hand would be problematic at best.

Enter the prosthetic that responds to your thoughts.

Seriously, how cool is that? Two words: freakin’ laserbeams. If I can think “open” and “close” why not “crush” and “gesture” and “my eyes, the goggles they do NOTHING!” as well?

Next up (and continuing the cartoon theme) we have the wacky team at University of Tokyo which has genetically engineered a mouse that is not afraid of cats.

Seriously, this pressure to come up with new PhD ideas is producing some weird results.

Finally, and kudos to Slashdot for producing the Best Headline of the Day we have a ham radio operator told he has only months to live who has built his own nanotech device to deliver radio waves into his cancerous cells.

“Kanzius did not have a medical background, not even a bachelor’s degree, but he knew radios. He had built and fixed them since he was a child, collecting transmitters, transceivers, antennas and amplifiers, earning an amateur radio operator license. Kanzius knew how to send radio wave signals around the world. If he could transmit them into cancer cells, he wondered, could he then direct the radio waves to destroy tumors, while leaving healthy cells intact?”

The short answer is yes, it can. Clinical trials with humans are about three years away but already it’s being discussed as a way of dealing directly with tumours as they arise without the invasive surgery part.

Oh and incidentally, as a byproduct, there’s some research using the same technique that allows scientists to extract hydrogren from salt water cheaply and cleanly. Potentially it can unlock access to using salt water as a fuel.

Not bad for an amateur. That’s what I like about science – amateur participation is still possible.