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Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

Ten Apples a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Posted March 09, 2017 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

We all know it’s important to eat your fruits and veggies! A new study found that doubling the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat every day significantly reduces your risk of disease.

The meta-analysis done by Imperial College London analyzed 95 studies on fruit and vegetable intake. The study included up to 2 million people and assessed tens of thousands of cases of heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and death.

The research team estimates that approximately 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide could be potentially prevented every year if people ate 10 portions, or 800 grams, of fruits and vegetables a day. Image credit

Eating up to 800 grams of fruits and vegetables a day was associated with a 24 percent reduced risk of heart disease; a 13 percent reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31 percent reduction in dying prematurely. This risk was calculated in comparison to not eating fruits and vegetables.

To put 800 grams in perspective, an 80-gram portion of fruits and vegetables equals approximately one small banana, apple, or pear, or three tablespoons of cooked vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, or cauliflower.

Fruits and vegetables are known to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of the immune system. This may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold, which is not easy to recreate in a pill and is why it’s so important to eat whole foods to get the nutritional benefit, instead of taking antioxidant or vitamin supplements.

If you’re just getting started on eating healthy, don’t fret— the researchers found that there was still a significant benefit in disease prevention in eating the currently prescribed five portions of fruits and veggies a day. The results revealed that even a daily intake of 200g was associated with a 16 percent reduced risk of heart disease, an 18 percent reduced risk of stroke, and a 13 percent reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease.

10 comments; last comment on 03/13/2017
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New Model Kidney

Posted February 28, 2017 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

Researchers at SUNY Binghamton University have developed a model kidney that will serve as a drug screening tool. Assistant Professor Gretchen Mahler and Biomedical engineering alumna Courtney Sakolish Ph.D. ’16 created the reusable, multi-layered, and microfluidic device that recreates the major function of the kidney. The devices incorporate a porous growth substrate with the physiological fluid flow and the passive filtration of the capillaries around the end of a kidney. Image credit

The hope is that these platforms will be used as an animal alternative during pre-clinical testing. Since finding new drugs is a time consuming and expensive process, the advantage of such a device is that it can determine with new drug candidates will fail faster so resources can be directed toward options that are more promising.

The model kidney uses human cells in a dynamic, more physiologic environment to better predict the body’s response to drugs than the current testing models of animals or static cell cultures. This is because cells were grown in this device exhibit more natural behaviors than when grown in traditional culturing methods.

2 comments; last comment on 03/02/2017
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Resistant Superbugs

Posted February 24, 2017 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

I remember when I first watched War of the Worlds. I was in high school and already nervous about seeing what I deemed a “scary” movie. The movie was almost over when a huge thunderstorm hit the area and the theater lost power. My friend turned to me and said, “Isn’t this how the movie started?”

I vowed never to see a movie with them again!

Besides the situationally scary ending, I liked the movie, and the idea that our Earth bacteria could kill aliens was something I had not considered before.

Now, where is this story going?

Today, in a much scarier reality, doctors have identified bacteria that could not only kill aliens, but is killing thousands of people due to its resistance to antibiotics.

In January 2017, the CDC announced that a woman in Nevada had died from an infection resistant to every available antibiotic. Image credit

The woman picked up a germ from a group of microbes called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriacase (CRE) after breaking her leg and spending time in a hospital in India. Tests showed that none of the 26 antibiotics typically used to treat this type of infection would have cured her.

Pan-resistant bacteria have infected people in the United before. “It’s not the first time that there has been an untreatable bacterial infection in the US,” says James Hughes, co-director of the Emory Antibiotic Resistance Center in Atlanta. “This particular case… is an extreme example of how bad it can get.”

Germs can mutate to become resistant to a given antibiotic or pick up resistance-granting genes from other species. There is an increase in the number of bacteria resistant to top-shelf antibiotics like the colistin and carbapenem class. These last line of dense drugs cause other problems, like kidney damage, in patients.

While bacteria resistant to colistin was identified in 2015 and carbapenem-resistant bacteria was discovered just last December, not all developing bacteria are necessarily resistant to all types of antibiotics. The fear is that superbugs develop that can combine everything doctors are able to treat it with, as was the case for the women in Nevada.

Deadly cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are still rare. At least 2 million people came down with an antibiotic resistant infection in America last year and of those cases, 23,000 died. These cases are expensive and time-consuming. Doctors may not know the bacteria is resistant until an antibiotic is prescribed and it doesn’t work. This gives the infection more time to progress.

Superbugs tend to only affect already sick or weakened people. There have been several rare cases of otherwise healthy people becoming infected and we do not know how many people are serving as “hosts” and will spread the infection to others.

According to scientists, it’s hard to predict how much worse antibiotic-resistant bacteria could get. They do know that if something isn’t done soon, minor injuries and common medical procedures like C-sections and hip replacements will become much more dangerous and tuberculosis and gonorrhea could become untreatable.

Right now, scientists are tracking which bacteria are developing resistance to antibiotics, which will help epidemiologists respond to outbreaks.

In the meantime, everyone needs to be conscious of prevention efforts such as basic hygiene, as well as using antibiotics more responsibly and curtailing their use in farm animals. In addition, there needs to be incentives for drug companies to develop new antibiotics, alternative treatments, and methods to diagnose infections more quickly.

“We’ll never totally eliminate the problem of antibiotic resistance,” Hughes says. “But we can do a heck of a lot better in terms of being prepared to detect it, respond to it, treat it effectively and prevent much of the… potential future increases in the problem.”

13 comments; last comment on 02/27/2017
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Hope Springs from Schizophrenic Mice

Posted February 10, 2017 1:00 PM by MaggieMc

A recent study by the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine promises to shed some light on possible causes and solutions to schizophrenia symptoms (see: an in-depth description of the condition from the University of Maryland Medical Center). As someone who has witnessed schizophrenia outside the fog of Hollywood, this study—while preliminary—holds some hope.

The study considered mice deficient in kynurenine 3-monooxygenase (KMO), specifically noting how lower levels of the enzyme resulted in higher kynurenic acid (KYNA) levels. KYNA is a “metabolite of the amino acid tryptophan,” and high levels of KYNA correlate to low levels of glutamate activity, which has long been associated with symptoms of schizophrenia. Unfortunately, according to ScienceDaily, raising glutamate levels “on a large scale has serious side effects, including seizures and nerve cell death,” ruling it out pretty quickly as a method of treatment.

In summary, low KMO leads to high KYNA, which is correlated to low glutamate activity levels. This becomes even more significant when considering that lower levels of KYNA and higher levels of glutamate activity were associated with improved cognition in mice with cognitive defects, a classification the researchers compared to schizophrenia. In addition, low levels of KMO were associated with worse contextual memory, antisocial behavior, and increased anxiety during challenges.

After studying cognition in mice, and the effects of lower levels of KMO, researchers hope “modifying KYNA could adjust glutamate more precisely.… Because this mechanism is indirect, it does not seem to trigger the same side effects directly boosting glutamate does,” according to researchers.

Image Credit: The Patterson Lab

1 comments; last comment on 02/10/2017
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New Material for Medical Implants - No More Clots

Posted January 23, 2017 4:09 PM by Chelsey H

A dangerous factor for patients with implants is the risk of blood clotting and infection. Now, there is a solution. Engineers from Colorado State have grown a “superhemophobic” titanium surface that is extremely repellent to blood.

Implants cause an increase risk of clots, obstruction, and can lead to heart attacks or embolism. Often patients need blood-thinning medications for the rest of their lives. These blood clots are caused because the cell’s interaction with the foreign material. Image credit

In the past, biomedical scientists have used “philic” (with affinity) to blood to make the devices biologically compatible with surrounding tissues. “Superhemophobic” means that the material will repel virtually any liquid. The innovative idea means that the surface is so repellent that blood is tricked into believing there is virtually no foreign material there at all.

The engineers started with sheets of titanium, commonly used for medical devices due to its biocompatibility and its ability to have a bioactive surface. The surface was then altered to act as a barrier between the titanium and blood. The teams conducted experiments showing very low levels of platelet adhesion, a biological process that leads to leads to blood clotting and rejection of a foreign material.

The researchers analyzed variations of titanium surfaces, including different textures and chemistries, and compared the extent of platelet adhesion and activation. They found that fluorinated nanotubes offered the best protection against clotting, but need to continue follow-up experiments.

More research and testing is needed but eventually this could be the new wave of medical device materials.

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