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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.

Coffee Helping with Hydration?

Posted March 24, 2014 12:00 AM by Chelsey H
Pathfinder Tags: coffee hydration. drinking Water

We talk a lot about coffee on CR4. Maybe it's because there are always new studies discussing the benefits of the drink or maybe it's because we like to talk about what we know….and on CR4, we know coffee. But did you know that coffee may actually help with hydration?

A study released by the University of Birmingham in the U.K. focused on busting the myth that coffee causes dehydration. Fifty male coffee drinkers (habitually consuming 3-6 cups per day) participated in two trials during which all physical activity, as well as food and fluid intake was controlled. Participants consumed either 4x200mL of coffee or water and total body water was calculated pre- and post- trial. At the end of the trial there were no significant changes (or differences) in total body water, urine volume, or body mass measurement. Image Credit

The study shows that caffeine has no influence on hydration status. According to Douglas Casa of the University of Connecticut, the coffee didn't "prompt the body to pee (or flush out) more fluid."

According to Sophie Killer, a doctoral research at Birmingham, "It's well understood that if you drink coffee habitually you can develop a tolerance to the potential diuretic effects of coffee". And for that I am grateful because as much as I try to increase the amount of water I drink, it's still easier to opt for coffee as a delicious afternoon pick-me-up.

Now this isn't an excuse to substitute all water for coffee, since too much coffee can lead to jitters and plain water has some pretty amazing health benefits; but, a daily coffee habit won't lead to dehydration.

Another interesting fact is that most people lose their tolerance after 4 days without coffee.

Do you have a coffee tolerance? Do you know of any other benefits of drinking coffee?

13 comments; last comment on 03/25/2014
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Daylight Savings Time and You

Posted March 16, 2014 10:00 AM by Chelsey H
Pathfinder Tags: Daylight saving time DST sleep

On a Sunday every March and every November at 2 a.m. clocks around the world are changed for what seems like no good reason. I always remember it as "Spring forward, Fall back".

Daylight saving time (DST) was enacted in the U.S. during World War I as a way to decrease energy use since people would go to bed earlier when it was dark out and wake up earlier as it got lighter earlier.

While there is still some debate as to whether or not it actually saves energy (with a strong vote towards the negative) there is evidence that the time-switch has negative health effects. Perhaps the most obvious is that it affects people's sleeping patterns. An earlier "bed-time" means people are restless at night and therefore tired during the day, decreasing productivity. Even more troubling, during the first week of DST (in the late winter) there is a spike in heart attacks, according to a study in the American Journal of Cardiology. According to the study, this is because losing an hour of sleep increases stress and provides less time to recover at night. Heart attacks decrease at the end of daylight saving time (when we gain the hour back). Image Credit

DST has also been linked to an increase in deadly car crashes and accidents at work. Cognitive effects have been observed as well; a 2011 study in Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics found that students in counties where DST was observed had SAT scores 2 percent lower than those of students who didn't have to spring forward or fall back. I officially have a new excuse for my SAT scores.

All of these effects can be attributed to our body's internal circadian rhythm. This molecular cycle is responsible for regulating when we feel awake and when we are tired, as well as hunger and hormone production schedules. Since DST is ultimately effecting how much light we get, our natural clocks go out of whack. The feeling is similar to being jet lagged. Image Credit

But it's tough to say who DST is actually benefitting.

DST has been shown to increase residential electricity demand (especially in the fall when heating costs increase) and decrease work force productivity, but retailers and the golfing industry love the extra sunlight!

Supporters of DST claim that the extra hour in the summer reduces the amount of television watched and increases outside activities like jogging and walking. However, being off of your circadian rhythm can increase the risk of obesity, sleep disorders, diabetes, and even mental health issues.

Most people do adjust to the change in a couple of days; for night owls and those who are chronically sleep deprived (guilty) it can take a full week to catch up.

Now that you've had a week to adjust, what do you think about DST?


Daylight Saving Time is Bad for Your Health

Daylight Saving Time: Bad for Your Health, Not Good for Much Else

Is tinkering with time bad for your health?

Daylight Saving Time 2014: When Does It Begin? And Why?

16 comments; last comment on 03/18/2014
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Holding a Holographic Heart

Posted February 14, 2014 1:00 PM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

The surgeon in this video appears to be holding a human heart in midair, but what is being manipulated is a 3D holographic projection of an actual heart. The technology involves use of Philips' interventional X-ray and cardiac ultrasound systems to acquire real-time 3D holographic images which are displayed with visualization systems developed in Israel. A patient's true 3D anatomy appears as precise volumetric holograms that can be rotated and sliced to guide surgical procedures. Medical Design Technology cites a pilot study with eight patients that confirmed the feasibility of 3D holographic imaging during minimally invasive interventional procedures.

Editor's Note: This news brief was brought to you by the Healthcare Engineering News eNewsletter. Subscribe today to have content like this delivered to your inbox.

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4 Ways to Reduce Digital Eye Strain

Posted February 11, 2014 4:41 PM by Chelsey H

Just like sitting at your computer is dangerous, staring at your computer all day can also be risky. Eye and vision problems are reported in 70-75% of computer workers, according to the American Optometric Association.

Symptoms of digital eye strain include headaches, eye pain, redness, watering, double vision, loss of focus, and my favorite - eye twitching. But there are 4 steps you can take to reduce the strain.

Image Credit:

1. Get an eye exam - This may seem like an obvious first step but a comprehensive exam can ensure that your eye strain isn't something more serious. Your eye doctor can also test your eyes for changes at specific working distances.

2. Take a break - follow the 20/20/20 rule. Take a 20 second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away. This will give the focusing muscle a chance to relax. While on your break you can also try palming. Close your eyes and place the centers of your palms over your eyes. Take deep slow breaths and relax your eye muscles. This is meditation for the eyes and it rejuvenates your eyes during long computer work. Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed while you do this to reduce the tension in your eyes as well.

3. Don't forget to blink - When doing demanding digital work, your blink rate decreases. A conscious effort should be made to blink lightly every 10 to 15 seconds. This will coat the cornea, or front part of the eye. If you need help, every 20 minutes try blinking 10 times by closing your eyes very slowly.

4. Change your set up - Re-position your computer so that it is 20-28 inches from the eye and 10 to 15 degrees below your eyes. Clean your screen frequently to reduce glare and increase the light in your workstation. You can also purchase (or position) ergonomic furniture to ensure proper posture.

Eye strain can cause (and be caused by) tension throughout the neck and shoulders, and so a massage is also recommended (my kind of advice).

Do you have recommendations to reduce digital eye strain?

1 comments; last comment on 02/12/2014
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From Blood Cell to Stem Cell

Posted February 08, 2014 12:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

If you've been up on any biomedical science or research over the last couple decades, you've probably at least heard of stem cell research. A new milestone has just been achieved, as Japanese scientists discovered a way to make embryonic stem cells from blood. Granted, the method was demonstrated using infant mouse blood to create mouse stem cells, but the discovery could lead to a new way of producing human embryonic stem cells.

Why is this significant? Because stem cells have a lot of potential in the field of medicine. Stem cells are unspecialized biological cells that can be differentiated into more specialized cells. In other words, they are cells that have the capability of transforming into specific cells used for a certain function (e.g. muscle cells, skin cells, or brain cells). Scientists can use stem cells to grow other types of cells used in the body, and potentially use them for transplants or tissue repair & replacement.

One of the biggest obstacles to stem cell research and advancement is stem cell availability. Human embryonic stem cells are among the most valuable for research, as they have the potential to treat some very tough, currently incurable diseases such as Alzeihmer's, Parkinson's, and diabetes. But these cells are derived from human embryos, and the ethical issues surrounding destroying embryos for research has presented obvious moral barriers. Another method developed in 2007 allows embryonic stem cells to be created through gene manipulation of blood and skin cells. This process, however, is complicated and the science behind it isn't well understood.

The new discovery, made by biologist Haruko Obokata and her colleagues at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, could put an end to these issues. The process involves submerging white blood cells from a baby mouse in a mildly acidic (pH ~5.7) solution for about 30 minutes. This change in environment produces embryonic stem cells; no cell manipulation or embryo destruction required! When injected into a mouse embryo, the cells acted like other stem cells, producing all the organs needed for an adult mouse.

This process is certainly simple and convenient, but there are more questions that need to be answered. To begin, will it work with adult blood? All trials to date have used the blood from infant mice less than 1 week old. Of course the biggest question is whether the same results can be realized with human blood; otherwise, the discovery's many potential applications might be moot. Of course, even if the process does work, any viability testing of these human embryotic stem cells is a long way off, and will have its own set of obstacles.

I am excited to see developments that advance the science of stem cell research in a responsible way. The field has the potential for great things if done right, and it will be interesting to see what comes of this new process.


National Institutes of Health - Stem Cell Basics

NPR - A Little Acid Turns Mouse Blood Into Brain, Heart, and Stem Cells

Images from

3 comments; last comment on 02/10/2014
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The New HIIT Workout Trend

Posted February 02, 2014 9:20 AM by Chelsey H

Going to the gym is one of my least favorite activities. I pride myself on coming up with really creative excuses for not working out. But one excuse that I've never been able to get away with is, "I don't have time". With the influx of new workout programs, at home equipment, and exercise apps there is no excuse for not finding 15-20 minutes to increase your heart rate.

Also called minimalist exercises or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), these short (some as short as 4 minutes) workouts are part of a trend for all-intensity programs. A 2006 study done in Canada found that shorter, harder workouts produce the same health benefits as 90-120 minutes bike rides at a slower pace. Combining these findings with other studies, the American College of Sports Medicine recently developed a total body workout that requires just 7 minutes to complete.

The workout may be too intense for some people and are not the best for everyone, especially those who are interested in losing weight since these workouts burn off stored glucose or carbohydrates instead of fat. But the short workouts do improve classic health markers such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.Image Credit: Fitness Magazine

Other benefits of HIIT include an increase in your aerobic capacity (your body's ability to utilize oxygen), improved lactate threshold (the ability for your muscles to cope with lactic acid buildup), and improved insulin sensitivity, which can help you become more efficient at storing glucose in the muscles, rather than storing it as fat. It's easy to start and you can do the workout almost anywhere since you don't need to use equipment.

Not all doctors are convinced that this type of workout is best, but most see the benefits if applied correctly. According to Mark Blegen, head of the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, the workout is limited so it should be incorporated into a weekly routine of more traditional, longer cardio workout plans.

Here are some resources for finding a good HIIT routine for you!

8 Ways To Get A Better Body In 30 Minutes Or Less

10 Minute Workout: Short, Intense Workout To Get Fit

5 Fast At-Home Workouts

High Intensity Interval Training

**Great resource to get started - High Intensity Interval Training: How to get great results in less time with a HIIT workout

Have you or would you try a HIIT workout? What results did you see?

2 comments; last comment on 02/03/2014
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