Electrical relief of migraines, advances in bioprinting, and prosthetic exoskeletons.

16 March 2014

If you've never had one before migraine headaches are no picnic. Between the feeling like somebody's testing a sawmill with part of your skull, profound nausea brought about by something as innocuous as sunlight or the sound of a diesel engine, and vertigo that makes walking to the bathroom to retch a challenge, they're something that many of us would probably not wish on our worst enemies (I know I don't). There are few things that can arrest or lessen the severity of migraines once they start. Mostly, all you can do is get someplace dark and quiet and ride it out, maybe with a handful of analgesics that never seem to do anything other than upset one's stomach. Last week, however, the US Food and Drug Administation OK'd an electrostimulation device that has been shown to prevent migraines. Called the Cefaly, it's a tiara containing a TENS-lie electrostimulation device that acts upon the trigeminal nerve and a microprocessor that seems to modulate the electrostim signals based upon feedback from the trigeminal nerve itself. It's available for sale at this time; believe you me, I thought long and hard about ordering one. On the other hand, I don't get migraines often enough to justify the purchase, and I'd much rather that somebody with chronic migraines had access to it. So, to everyone out there who suffers from chronic migraines, you may wish to pay your physician a visit and make some inquiries.

If you've been following the field of 3D printing for a while you've probably come across articles about bioprinting: Fabbers which build living tissue layer by layer by depositing living cells in the appropriate order. At the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University a bioprinting research project has figured out how to fab more elaborate biological constructions. In the lab they've been able to fabricate layers of tissue thicker than an American dime by using three bio-inks, two of which contain living cells and a third which liquifies and drains away as it cools, leaving channels running through the fabbed tissue which are perfect for blood vessels to be grown. This fixes the problems of not getting oxygen and nutrients into the deeper layers of the tissue because they're not exposed, and evacuating wastes and carbon dioxide from the tissue as the cells metabolize. The research team's prototypes have gotten progressively complex, and the paper they've published in the journal Advanced Materials states that this is the closest they've come to naturally grown tissue yet.

In yet other 3D printing news, Amanda Boxel was rendered paraplegic after a skiing accident in 1992.ev. A couple of weeks back she was able to leave her wheelchair and walk again with the mechanical assistance of the Ekso-Suit, a powered exoskeleton fabricated on a 3D printer. The device was custom fit for her body with data from a full-body 3D contour scan. Amanda requires the use of forearm crutches to balance herself, I would hypothesize after watching the demonstration video because the Ekso-Suit doesn't seem to have any visible mechanisms for balancing though the legs appear strong enough to support her weight. It's certainly worth watching the video to see her stand up and walk across the stage. Construction of the Ekso-Suit requires approximately three months, which includes running the individual components off, assembling them, and build the wiring harnesses for the control mechanism and the servomotors. The computer and power cells for the unit appear to be mounted on the wearer's back (reasonable when you take into account distribution of weight and counterbalance and ergonomic concerns).