Monday, July 23, 2012

A jelly fish may be a fix for damaged hearts?

Jellyfish Hints at Fix for Damaged Hearts -
The Wall Street Journal by GAUTAM NAIK

Researchers have designed a bioengineered jellyfish that can swim, an early step in scientists’ quest for a way to make fresh tissue for patients with damaged hearts.

Researchers have designed a bioengineered jellyfish that can swim, an early step toward potentially finding a way to make fresh tissue for patients with damaged hearts reports WSJ’s Gautam Naik.

The lab-made jellyfish is created with a mix of silicone and rat-heart cells. Although it isn’t a living organism, the robot’s muscular structure closely resembles that of a real jellyfish, enabling it to swim freely through water.

Scientists hope that such techniques will make it possible to harvest cells from one organism and then reorganize them in sophisticated ways to make a bioengineered system for human use, such as a heart pacemaker that wouldn’t require battery power.

Details of the experiment were published Sunday in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

“What we’re trying to do is become really good at building tissue” for medical use, said Kevin Kit Parker, a bioengineer at Harvard University and a co-author of the study. “This is just practice” in the quest to reverse-engineer entire organs, he added.

Tissue-engineering experiments often rely on trial and error. Dr. Parker said he wants to bring to the field the same quantitative rigor and precision that civil engineers use in building bridges.

Dr. Parker spent years searching for a good model for the human heart. While watching a jellyfish at Boston’s New England Aquarium, he was struck by how the creature used a muscle to pump its way through water, a mechanism similar to a beating heart.

His Harvard team linked up with researchers at the California Institute of Technology, and the two groups first embarked on a detailed study of jellyfish propulsion: the complex arrangement of muscles; the contracting and recoiling motion of the bodies; and the fluid dynamics resulting from their swimming motion.

The engineers used a silicone polymer to build a centimeter-long jellyfish consisting of a membrane with eight armlike appendages. They overlaid muscle cells, obtained from a rat heart, on this membrane in a particular pattern. “We coaxed them to self-organize so that they matched the [muscle] architecture of a jellyfish precisely,” Dr. Parker said.

The robot, named “Medusoid,” was placed in salty fluid that can conduct electrical currents. When the engineers oscillated the voltage in the fluid, the muscle-coated membrane began to contract in a synchronized manner. (By contrast, a real jellyfish obtains nutrients by feeding on plankton, eggs, larvae, small fish and other jellyfish, which then enables specialized tissue to electrically activate the muscular contraction.)

The muscular contraction creates vortices—doughnut-shaped rings of water—below the creature’s body. For jellyfish, vortices propel it forward and push food toward its mouth.

The main difference between the two creatures “is that the real jellyfish can go and get nutrients and ours can’t,” said John Dabiri, a co-author of the study and a bioengineer at Caltech.

The engineers now plan to design a jellyfish that can gather food on its own. They also want to include specialized tissue, so that the creature can activate the muscular contractions internally, as a real jellyfish does.

The current version of Medusoid moves in a simple manner and can’t really turn or maneuver. To achieve that, the engineers will have to include multiple cell types and devise a system that allows the lab-built creature to sense its environment and use an internal “decision-making circuit” to pick different behaviors.

While those challenges are significant, some practical benefits may be more easily attained. Drug companies often test new heart drugs on cardiac tissue, and the jellyfish—which mimics a beating human heart—could serve as an alternative model. “I could put your drug in the jellyfish and tell you if it’s going to work,” said Dr. Parker.

The study of vortices already has inspired some new areas for medical research. For example, when blood enters the left ventricle of the pumping heart, it creates a rotating fluid mass that is similar to the vortices created by a swimming jellyfish. The vortices in the heart can be measured with ultrasound.

In 2006, Dr. Dabiri co-authored a study, involving 120 participants, which suggested that the process of vortex-ring formation could offer important clues about cardiac health. “You can tell healthy from less-healthy hearts” by studying the vortices, Dr. Dabiri said.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Keeping the flu away:

Keeping the flu away: Synthetic protein activates immune system within two hours
ScienceDaily (July 6, 2012) — San Diego State University researchers at the Donald P. Shiley BioScience Center may have found the secret to helping the immune system fight off the flu before it gets you sick.

A new study published July 6 in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE, finds that EP67, a powerful synthetic protein, is able to activate the innate immune system within just two hours of being administered.

Prior to this study, EP67 had been primarily used as an adjuvant for vaccines, something added to the vaccine to help activate the immune response. But Joy Phillips, Ph.D. a lead author of the study with her colleague Sam Sanderson, Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, saw potential for it to work on its own.

“The flu virus is very sneaky and actively keeps the immune system from detecting it for a few days until you are getting symptoms,” Phillips said. “Our research showed that by introducing EP67 into the body within 24 hours of exposure to the flu virus caused the immune system to react almost immediately to the threat, well before your body normally would.”

Because EP67 doesn’t work on the virus but on the immune system itself, it functions the same no matter the flu strain, unlike the influenza vaccine which has to exactly match the currently circulating strain.

Phillips said while this study focuses on the flu, EP67 has the potential to work on other respiratory diseases and fungal infections and could have huge potential for emergency therapeutics.

“When you find out you’ve been exposed to the flu, the only treatments available now target the virus directly but they are not reliable and often the virus develops a resistance against them,” Phillips said. “EP67 could potentially be a therapeutic that someone would take when they know they’ve been exposed that would help the body fight off the virus before you get sick.”

It could even be used in the event of a new strain of infectious disease, before the actual pathogen has been identified, as in SARS or the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak, Phillips said.

Right now, the testing has been done primarily in mice by infecting them with a flu virus. Those that were given a dose of EP67 within 24 hours of the infection didn’t get sick (or as sick) as those that were not treated with EP67.

The level of illness in mice is measured by weight loss. Typically, mice lose approximately 20 percent of their weight when they are infected with the flu but mice treated with EP67 lost an average of just six percent. More importantly, mice who were treated a day after being infected with a lethal dose of influenza did not die, Phillips said.

She said there are also huge implications for veterinary applications, since EP67 is active in animals, including birds.

Future research will examine the effect EP67 has in the presence of a number of other pathogens and to look closer at exactly how EP67 functions within different cells in the body.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Take-Home HIV Test Approved By FDA

OraQuick: First Rapid, Take-Home HIV Test Approved By FDA

WASHINGTON — Americans will soon be able to test themselves in the privacy of their own homes for the virus that causes AIDS, now that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the first rapid, over-the-counter HIV test.

The OraQuick test detects the presence of HIV antibodies using a mouth swab and returns a result in 20 to 40 minutes.

Government officials estimate that about 240,000 people, or one-fifth of the roughly 1.2 million people carrying HIV in the U.S., don’t know they are infected. Testing is a chief means of slowing new infections, which have held steady at about 50,000 per year for two decades.

FDA officials said the test is designed for people who might not otherwise get tested.

“The availability of a home-use HIV test kit provides another option for individuals to get tested so that they can seek medical care, if appropriate,” said Dr. Karen Midthun, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Orasure plans to start selling the test in October, both online and through retailers like Walgreens, CVS and Walmart. It hasn’t set a price yet but expects the consumer version to cost less than $60 but more than the one marketed to health professionals, which costs about $17.50. CEO Doug Michels said the price increase will help pay for a toll-free call center to provide counseling and medical referrals to test users.

“Each of the call-center operators is bilingual in English and Spanish, they’ve gone through 160 hours of training on HIV counseling and testing,” Michels said in an interview with the Associated Press. “So they are highly trained professionals and they’ll be there to support the consumer.”

Michels said the company’s marketing efforts will focus on populations at greatest risk of being infected with HIV, including gay and bisexual men, African Americans and Hispanics.

FDA stressed in its approval announcement that the test is not 100 percent accurate in identifying people with the virus. A trial conducted by test maker Orasure showed OraQuick detected HIV in those carrying the virus only 92 percent of the time, though it was 99.9 percent accurate in ruling out HIV in patients not carrying the virus.

That means the test could miss one in 12 HIV-infected people who use it but would incorrectly identify only one patient as having HIV for every 5,000 HIV-negative people tested, the FDA said.

People who test negative should get re-tested after three months, because it can take several weeks for detectable antibodies to HIV to appear, according to Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV unit.

The FDA has approved several other HIV test kits designed for home use, but they usually require a blood sample that must be sent to a laboratory for development.

HIV awareness groups hailed the approval as an important step in expanding testing for the virus.

“This test will allow anyone to empower themselves to know their HIV status when, how and with whom they want to,” said Tom Donohue, founding director of Who’s Positive.

Experts say it’s difficult to predict how widely the test will be used.

According to the Orasure’s study, 41 percent of people who discovered they were HIV-positive using OraQuick had never been tested. The company estimates that 9,000 new HIV carriers would be identified for every 1 million people who use the test.

Based in Bethlehem, Pa., Orasure has marketed a version of OraQuick to doctors, nurses and other health care practitioners since 2002. When used by professionals, the test is shown to accurately identify both carriers and non-carriers 99 percent of the time. It’s not clear why the test is less accurate in consumer trials, but researchers said they expected its sensitivity to drop when it was used by consumers.

HIV eventually develops into AIDS, unless treated with antiviral drugs. AIDS causes the body’s immune system to breakdown, leading to infections which become fatal.

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Rewiring DNA circuitry could help treat asthma

Rewiring DNA circuitry could help treat asthma

ScienceDaily (July 5, 2012) — Reprogramming asthma-promoting immune cells in mice diminishes airway damage and inflammation, and could potentially lead to new treatments for people with asthma, researchers have found.

The researchers were able to reprogram the asthma-promoting cells (called Th2 (T-helper 2) cells) after identifying an enzyme that modifies the DNA of these cells. The enzyme could be a target for the development of new treatments for chronic inflammatory diseases, in particular allergic asthma, caused by an excess of Th2 cells.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researcher Dr Rhys Allan led the research while working at Institut Curie, Paris. The research team from Institut Curie, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), France, National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), France, and Montpellier Cancer Research Institute published the study July 4 in the journal Nature.

Dr Allan said the research team discovered that the enzyme Suv39h1 could switch off genes to control the function of Th2 cells, which are key to the allergic response.

“Th2 cells have an important function in the immune response, but they also play a significant role in diseases such as allergic asthma,” Dr Allan said. “People with asthma have too many Th2 cells, which produce chemical signals that inflame and damage the upper airways. In this study, we discovered that the Suv39h1 enzyme plays a critical role in programming these asthma-promoting cells, making it a potential target for new therapies to treat asthma.”

More than two million Australians have asthma — approximately one in 10 people — and the disease is even more common among Indigenous Australians. The prevalence of asthma in children in Australia is among the highest in the world.

Dr Allan said the Suv39h1 enzyme was part of the ‘epigenetic circuitry’ of Th2 cells.

“Epigenetics refers to changes or modifications in the DNA that alter how genes are switched on and off, without changing the fundamental DNA sequence. Suv39h1 effectively ‘tags’ the DNA to tell the cells which genes they need to switch on or off to promote an allergic response.”

Using agents that inhibit Suv39h1 could destabilise Th2 cells in people who have an excess of these asthma-promoting cells so they no longer cause inflammation, Dr Allan said.

“We had the idea that erasing these epigenetic tags could ‘short-circuit’ the asthma-promoting Th2 cells and diminish the inflammatory immune response. And, in fact, in mouse models of allergic asthma, blocking this pathway with an inhibitory compound did reduce allergy-related airway damage. Ultimately, our results have identified a potential target for therapeutic intervention in asthma and potentially other Th2-mediated inflammatory diseases, which could improve outcomes for patients,” Dr Allan said.

Dr Allan is continuing to study the epigenetic circuitry of asthma-promoting immune cells in the institute’s Molecular Immunology division, with funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC).

The research was supported by Institut Curie, CNRS and INSERM. Dr Allan was funded by an INSERM-NHMRC exchange fellowship.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

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Journal Reference:

Rhys S. Allan, Elina Zueva, Florence Cammas, Heidi A. Schreiber, Vanessa Masson, Gabrielle T. Belz, Danièle Roche, Christèle Maison, Jean-Pierre Quivy, Geneviève Almouzni, Sebastian Amigorena. An epigenetic silencing pathway controlling T helper 2 cell lineage commitment. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11173
Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Now here is a novel idea, Put Consumers in Charge of Fixing Health Care System,

To Fix Health Care System, Put Consumers in Charge - Rasmussen Reports™
A Commentary By Scott Rasmussen

Friday, July 06, 2012

Democrats were riding high in the polls in 2006 and 2008, and one of their big issues was health care. Then, after passing the president’s health care law, the politics shifted, and the issue helped sweep the GOP to victory in the 2010 midterm elections. A few months later, Republicans had a 14-point advantage in terms of voter trust on the health care issue.

Then, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan introduced his health care plan, and the lead disappeared. Neither party has an advantage on the issue now.

President Obama’s plan is unpopular, and most want to see it repealed. Ryan’s plan is unpopular, and few want to see it enacted. Both plans are unpopular because neither one puts consumers in charge of their own health care decisions. More than anything else, that lack of consumer control is the root cause of the health care problems facing our nation today.

Americans now pay a smaller share of their disposable income on out-of-pocket medical care than they did in 1960. Nearly nine out of every 10 dollars spent on medical care coverage is paid by either an insurance company or the government. Since someone else is paying the bills, someone else ends up making the big decisions about things that affect every individual’s health care.

That is precisely what most Americans want to change. No one wants their health care choices being made by government officials, insurance companies or their employer. People want to make those important decisions themselves.

Putting consumers in charge would require pretty radical change, but it’s the type of change voters could support. For example, consider a fairly typical situation where a company provides health insurance coverage for its workers. Rather than letting the company choose the plan, 82 percent believe that each worker should be allowed to use that money to pick his or her own insurance plan. If that plan ends up costing less than the official company plan, most believe the worker should be allowed to keep the change.

But giving consumers control of the money doesn’t mean much unless they have a variety of competing insurance plans to consider. Three out of four voters think it’s time to end the antitrust exemption granted to health insurance companies. Why? By a three-to-one margin, voters believe that increased competition among insurance companies would do more to reduce costs than increased government regulation.

Voters also want to reign in the government bureaucrats. Rather than letting the government define a one-size-fits-all insurance plan, 77 percent think individuals should have the right to choose between plans with a mix of higher deductibles and lower premiums or the reverse. Seventy-eight percent believe everyone should have the choice between more expensive plans that cover every medical procedure and lower cost plans that cover only major medical procedures.

To insure adequate choices, voters overwhelmingly believe that everyone should be allowed to buy insurance policies across state lines and that everyone should be able to purchase the same insurance coverage provided for members of Congress. Recognizing the importance of consumer incentives, most also believe insurance companies should be allowed to offer discounts to those who take care of themselves by exercising, eating well and not smoking.

Putting consumers in charge threatens the status quo in Washington, but it will give Americans a more responsive, less expensive system of medical care.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Would you believe there is a chip for that?

Building an Organ on a Chip - Technology Review
Technology Review by Susan Young and Kyanna Sutton

Microscale devices that mimic human organs could provide a much more realistic environment for drug discovery.

The way pharmaceutical companies test drugs is broken, and Donald Ingber has an idea for how to fix it.

Scientists typically test potential pharmaceuticals on animals, but more often than not, “the predictions from animals fail when a compound is tested in humans,” says Ingber, director of Harvard University’s Wyss Institute. Performing initial tests on people, of course, is too dangerous. “Our proposed solution is to do studies with human cells,” he says, “but not just cells in a dish—cells that exhibit organlike structures and functions.”

To achieve this, Ingber and his team are developing a menagerie of microscale devices that replicate the structures and environments of actual human organs more closely than a simple culture dish.

The Wyss Institute’s first organ was a breathing lung on a microchip. The transparent, thumb-size device is made of cell-friendly materials and serves as a platform for growing human lung cells. Tiny channels cut through the device. Air and liquid flow through the central channels, where the lung cells are grown, and because the device is flexible, scientists can apply vacuum pressure to the side channels so that the central channels expand and contract—much like human lungs. The team has shown that such mechanical forces affect the behavior of the cells. In the case of the lung cells, the mechanical breathing helps them absorb particles flowing in the air chamber.

More recently, the institute has developed a human gut on a microchip. The central channel of the device, which is lined with human cells, can be subjected to wavelike motions that mimic the movement of the intestines during digestion. In the chip, the cells form fingerlike structures known as villi that are important for absorption of nutrients and other compounds. These structures do not form when cells are grown in a dish, suggesting that the cells feel more at home in the device. Scientists can also grow common intestinal bacteria along with the gut cells in the channel. In a culture dish, the bacteria usually overtake the human cells, says Ingber; “now we can study much more complex interactions.”

Individually, each organlike chip gives researchers a chance to study human cells in a more natural environment and to test how they respond to drugs and toxins. But Ingber is working toward a grander vision in which several of the chips are linked together. By connecting the microfluidic versions of a heart, lung, gut, kidney, and more, Ingber and his coworkers believe, they will be able to better study how the body processes and responds to various compounds.

One project under way with Wyss faculty member Kevin Kit Parker is to test inhaled drugs for negative effects on the heart—a long-standing problem in drug discovery. “Cardiac toxicity is actually the biggest cause of failure of drugs, regardless of what they target,” says Ingber.

Copyright Technology Review 2012.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Is there really an app for that?

The App as Health Aide
by Julie Weed

Travelers with chronic ailments like diabetes or high blood pressure have long struggled to remember when to take their pills as they cross time zones. Or they may have had a hard time finding emergency care in a foreign country or communicating about complicated health conditions.

But there are now a rapidly growing number of mobile health and medical apps that aim to deal with those types of situations.

Travelers can tap into technology before the trip begins, by storing information that can help ensure the right care is delivered if health issues crop up. Some put their medical history, latest EKG, chest X-ray or list of allergies and medications on a flash drive marked with a red cross, and attach it to a necklace, bracelet or keychain. Those who have had cardiac or other surgery may create a simple image using the free app drawMD for iPad devices that shows the exact location of a stent, for example, or an implant or bypass. For travelers who prefer a traditional method of communicating, a laminated card lists important information and physician contacts.

The Transportation Security Administration has a printable card available on its Web site for those who want to make their medical condition known discreetly to a security agent and discuss or undergo any screenings in private.

Medical devices contained in their own bags do not count toward carry-on bag limitations, though not all airport employees know this. Mellanie True Hills, founder of, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping those living with atrial fibrillation, says she is often stopped by check-in, security or gate agents and told that the machine that helps with her sleep apnea puts her over the carry-on bag limit and that she will have to check one of her pieces of luggage. The agents relent, Ms. Hills said, when she produces a laminated copy of the applicable T.S.A. regulation she has printed from the agency’s Web site.

Dr. Robert Glatter, attending physician at Lenox Hill Hospital’s department of emergency medicine in Manhattan, suggested that travelers with chronic ailments look for specialists and hospitals at their destinations before they leave home. For those who have not planned ahead but need urgent care, phone apps can help locate nearby medical help. The Emergency Medical Center Locator, a free iPhone app, uses the phone’s GPS to find nearby centers. The app lists nearly 2,400 medical centers in 101 countries, and users can select from six specialty areas, including trauma, eye and cardiac care. While not every medical center is listed, the ones that are have been approved by credentialing societies like the American College of Cardiology.

Time zone changes can be extra challenging for patients, like those with diabetes, with a 24-hour monitoring schedule. Phone apps like Glucose Buddy and GluCoMo remind users to track and record their blood sugar levels.

WellDoc’s DiabetesManager, available on a variety of mobile and Web-based platforms, provides feedback based on glucose, medication, food and exercise information that patients enter, advising them on the actions they should take to adhere to their treatment plan. Anand K. Iyer, president of WellDoc, is a diabetes patient who travels frequently himself. He contrasts the feedback to a radio’s traffic report. “It’s nice to know if there’s a backup, but what I really want to know is the best route home,” he said. “If I’m told my glucose is too high or low, I want to know what actions I can take.”

The app RxmindMe Prescription/Medicine Reminder and Pill Tracker for iPods and iPhones does what its name says and reminds travelers when to take their medicine. Users put in their medication names or search the database, and then specify when they want to be reminded to take them. The app can notify the user when medications need to be reordered, and the device’s camera can add a photograph of the pill.

For travelers who put all their pills in a plastic bag instead of taking separate pill bottles (this is not recommended) the free app Epocrates can help identify them by taking the user through a list of questions about the pill’s color, shape and markings. The app can also be used to double-check the identification of any pills received on the road or review possible side effects or drug interactions.

Dr. Myles Druckman, vice president of medical services for International SOS, which assists multinational organizations with customized health plans for their global travelers, said travelers needed to plan what they would do if their trip was extended. He suggested bringing an extra week’s supply of medicine. “No one knows when an overnight trip will turn into a multiday volcano ash delay,” he said.

Because of language barriers or differences in equipment or supplies, travel to other countries, especially developing nations, can bring an extra set of challenges in a health crisis. Some companies contract with travel assistance providers like International SOS, which has offices in more than 70 countries, to help employees who fall ill or need medical advice. Local offices can deal with issues by phone, give health advice or refer the employee to the appropriate hospital, clinic or doctor. International SOS also offers a phone app that sends general health and security information pertinent to the traveler’s itinerary, noting, for instance, if there is an outbreak of a particular disease in the area.

Apps are also available for doctors in case they are called upon to provide curbside or in-plane assistance. EyeChart can help evaluate patients who complain about their vision and uHear about their hearing. NeuroMind can take physicians through a series of questions to help diagnose a patient who has had a head trauma or is unresponsive.

New apps are appearing every week, and they vary in quality. Paul Cerrato, who reviews medical apps as the editor of InformationWeek Healthcare, said, “Some apps have major research behind them and others don’t seem to have done their homework.” Mr. Cerrato recommended that patients consult with their health care provider to choose the best app for their situation.

While most of the medical apps today record, remind and refer, the future holds more diagnostic uses like the iBGStar Blood Glucose Monitoring System, which features a small meter that plugs directly into the iPhone or iPod Touch. Patients insert a test strip into the meter to take a blood sugar reading, and the information is automatically synced with the app. Another is a blood pressure cuff that can attach to a smartphone. Both can send results to a home physician from a hotel room or business meeting across the world. “These apps are really game changers,” Mr. Cerrato said, “for everyone.”

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Micro-Machines To Start Making Medicine Inside Our Bodies

Micro-Machines To Start Making Medicine Inside Our Bodies
Posted by Nick on Jul 1st, 2012 /

We have all seen nanotechnology in movies and television shows over the years, from the nanoprobes in Star Trek to the Nanomites in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Now these are some examples of nefarious uses of nano tech but a group of scientists from MIT and the University of British Columbia have struck one for the good guys.

They have created “mini-factories” that can be programmed to produce different types of proteins and, when implanted into living cells, it should distribute those proteins throughout the body. The scientists have initially triggered these “factories” into action through the use of a laser light to relay the message of which proteins to produce.

The medical functions of this technology is nearly endless in treating and perhaps curing numerous diseases, from diabetes to cancer. Insulin pumps have come a long way, including the current wireless models, but the diabetic still have to wear some sort of external device. If patients could just have an internal apparatus that could communicate with their smartphone or some other wireless remote to monitor it’s functions, it could be an almost carefree solution to such a cumbersome disease.

In its simplest form, this breakthrough would mean no more forgetting to take that daily, life-sustaining pill for the older generation or treating at-risk infants without having to continuously stick them with a needle.

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