Porcupine Quills To Aid Medical Equipment Design

New research has implied that porcupine quills may hold the key to less painful hypodermic needles. The natural shape of the porcupine spines allows easy, smooth penetration. It also makes them difficult to remove.

Porcupines use their quills as protection; they can shed them before escaping a predator, often burying them in their assailants’ skin before running. These sharp barbs then lodge themselves tightly in the flesh.

A recent study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It discusses the unique build of the quills, revealing why they are such an effective weapon. The reasons are twofold; the quills have sharp, piercing cone-shaped tips as well as microscopic barbs that face the opposite direction. These barbs gather the force of the stab at the tip, providing cleaner, faster penetration as well as anchor the quill in the flesh. In other words, less pressure is needed in order to penetrate the resisting tissue.

Dr. Jeffrey Karp of Bringham and Women’s Hospital in Boston explained:
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“We were most surprised to find that the barbs on quills serve a dual function. Namely, the barbs reduce the penetration force for easy insertion into tissue and maximize the holding force to make the quills incredibly difficult to remove.”

The findings should improve the design of needles and other medical equipment, according to the researchers.

Karp said:

“Towards medical applications we developed plastic replicas that remarkably mimicked the reduced penetration force and increased pullout. This should be useful to develop next generation medical adhesives and potentially design needles with reduced pain.”

Paralyzed US Woman Takes First Steps

Has medical technology really come that far? Is it really the case that those who are paralyzed from the waist down are going to be able to actually walk? Apparently so. This has been the case with Stephanie Sablan who was injured in a car accident 4 months ago and is now walking. Aided by the eLEGS exoskeleton Sablan was able to walk. In layman’s terms, the exoskeleton is a battery-powered pair of robotic legs in a backpack. Due to this incredible technological device, Sablan walked around a room in California at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. It’s not all about technology though. Salblan had to work hard. Her initial walking was aided by a physical therapist but it only took until the fourth session that she could move “on her own using crutches containing special sensors.”

Paralyzed Walking

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So how does this actually work? The patient has to put the tool – weighing in at 45 lbs – on their legs and shoulders with Velcro straps. Given that the machine is so heavy though, wouldn’t that be problematic for the paralyzed patient? No, since the battery power is able to support the weight, thus not pressuring the individual. Moving the right hand forward with crutches renders a reaction from the device to move the left leg with the motors and then vice versa on the other side. Sablan commented, “my first steps were pretty incredible….I definitely had to hold back my tears. It filled that void that was taken away from me.” The hope of course is that ultimately the patient will no longer need the wheelchair and be able to “jump into the eLEGS and go take a shower.” That is the hope of the device manufacturers too. It was made at the Rehabilitation Research at the Valley Medical Center. There is still a way to go and researchers are currently looking into how long patients are able to stand and walk around using the device and the plan is to “test it on up to 10 people by the end of the year.”

Well Structured Study Shows Cannabis Does Relieve Pain

One of the more infamous of herbal remedies, cannabis, also known as marijuana, has been shown in a small but well-designed study conducted in Canada, to help relieve some of the discomfort experienced by people who suffer from chronic pain. Marijuana has been used in pill form for a number of years as a treatment for certain types of pain, but the risks and benefits associated with smoking the herb until now have been mysterious.

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Dr. Mark Ware is an assistant professor of family medicine and anesthesia at McGill University in Montreal. He was determined to find out more about the effects of marijuana, so with the help of several colleagues he designed a study based on a randomized controlled trial, considered the most thorough way to discover efficacy for a medication. Dr. Mark had 21 adults with chronic neuropathic pain inhale cannabis in what is said to be the first outpatient clinical trial of smoked cannabis.
The subjects were divided into four groups, each getting a different percentage of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. Also included was a placebo which contained no THC. According to the authors of the study, which was published in the on-line issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, “We found that 25 mg herbal cannabis with 9.4 per cent THC, administered as a single smoked inhalation three times daily for five days, significantly reduces average pain intensity compared with a zero per cent THC cannabis placebo in adult subjects with chronic post traumatic/post-surgical neuropathic pain.”