10 High-Tech Health Breakthroughs Coming Soon to Your Body


DW Regular
Jan 27, 2006
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Magnetic Brain Stimulation

For the 20 percent of depressed patients who don’t respond to drugs such as Prozac, the traditional last-ditch treatment option has been electroshock therapy. Recently, researchers worldwide began investigating a promising new alternative: transcranial magnetic stimulation. In TMS, magnetic pulses created by a metal coil attached to the scalp generate small electrical currents in the brain; these stimulate nerve cells in areas involved in depression—without harming surrounding gray matter. The treatment gained more momentum this spring when the Israeli firm Brainsway announced successful trials of its newest incarnation: deep TMS. “The magnetic fields of standard TMS devices extend only about half an inch into the brain’s cortex,” says Uzi Sofer, Brainsway’s CEO. “But the coils of deep TMS can stimulate neurons farther inside the brain by projecting magnetic fields into the skull from several points around its periphery.” This means that, for the first time, clinicians can target the brain’s deep-seated limbic system, which plays an important role in mood regulation. So far, the device has lived up to its promise: 40 percent of the 64 depressed patients who received deep TMS achieved a clinically significant degree of recovery. As Brainsway lobbies for FDA approval of the device, Sofer is also evaluating deep TMS’s suitability for Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions that affect brain areas far below the surface.

Stem-Cell Scaffold
To pinch-hit for missing tissue at an injury site, stem cells need a scaffold to grow on—but artificial materials such as plastic won’t do, since the body flags and rejects them as foreign sub*stances. Ravi Kane, a biological engineer at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., has circumvented the problem with his biodegradable stem-cell framework made from alginate, a complex carbohydrate found naturally in brown seaweed. Time-release microscale beads called microspheres are embedded in the scaffold with a carb-eating enzyme called alginate lyase. As a result, the scaffold degrades at a tuneable rate once inside the body. Kane hopes the algal frameworks will allow doctors to implant stem cells directly into injured tissue—healthy bone stem cells at a fracture site, for instance, or neural stem cells in brain areas ravaged by Alzheimer’s. Future versions of the scaffold could pack a one-two punch, delivering stem cells and drug compounds at the same time. “This is a modular system,” Kane says. “There’s still room in the scaffold to put other types of microspheres inside.”

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