Reducing the "OW" Factor
When it comes to having blood drawn or an IV inserted, some patients might as well be turnips or stones. The veins of the very young, the elderly, and users of "needle drugs" are notoriously hard to find, and repeated attempts don't sit well with anyone. The VeinViewer Imaging System developed by Luminetx Technologies Corp. could put an end to human pincushions.
Stephanie vL Henkel
The $25,000 device stands ~5 ft. tall on a wheeled base and emits a near-IR light onto the skin, which produces different reflections from hemogobin and surrounding tissue. The light is captured by a photon detector in the VeinViewer head; a computer digitizes the photons, builds an image, and projects it onto the patient's skin using visible light to show the location of veins. It works on patients of any age, gender, body type, and skin tone.
VeinViewer is currently being used to insert IVs and PICC lines, draw blood samples, and to treat spider veins. Knowing the location of larger vessels underlying these mats of tiny veins facilitates the use of sclerosants, which cause spider veins to shut down. (www.sensorsmag.com/1006/RD/Veins)
NIST researchers have devised a novel platform for self-assembling hierarchical surfaces in a fluid. Rather than mixing the components on a substrate and letting them dry, the investigators allowed them to mix and assemble freely in a fluid and then quickly froze them in place. The key was the use of solutions of water and a special monomer that polymerizes them suddenly upon exposure to UV light. (www.sensorsmag.com/1006/RDFluids)
MIT molecular biologist Shuguang Zhang and colleagues at the University of Hong Kong have designed several materials that self-assemble into nanostructures. One is a molecular scaffold that could contribute to the regrowth of severed nerves. The work is based on the behavior of certain peptide sequences that can be persuaded to assemble themselves into meshes of nanofibers when immersed in saline solutions. One interesting application is to stanch bleeding during and following surgical procedures. (www.sensorsmag.com/1006/RDGel)
Getting More from the Sun
Iowa State researchers led by Vikram Dalal are hoping their work with materials science and plasma chemistry will bump up the performance of solar panels by 40%–50%. The key lies in improving hydrogen bonding to the silicon in thin-film panels. Doing so could improve the efficiency of the cells by ~35% and eliminate ~15% of the drop in performance. (www.sensorsmag.com/1006/RDSolar)
Buster Gives It Up
A nanoscale sensor system developed by researchers at the University of Maryland's Clark School of Engineering has demonstrated that the chitosan constituting part of a blue crab's carapace can be made to function as the detector in a chip-scale sensor for minute amounts of explosives, bioagents, and other chemicals in the air and water. The chitosan can be scavenged from discarded crab shells, mushrooms, and other biological species. A microcantilever doctored with chitosan will change its vibrational rate when exposed to one of the substances of interest. (www.sensorsmag.com/1006/RDChitosan)
Clark School of Engineering, Univ. of Maryland
Catching an Early Break
Ozan Akkus, a biomedical engineer at Purdue, has built a wearable device that detects seismic activity capable of detecting stress fractures in bones. Athletes, dancers, runners, and racehorses could benefit from these early warning signs of an impending major fracture. By applying stress to human cadaver bones, Akkus found that he could use a piezoelectric sensor to discover that high-frequency sound waves soar before a fracture. (www.sensorsmag.com/1006/RDStress)