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Questioning authority: A conversation with Martine Rothblatt

The more you listen to Martine Rothblatt, the more the fact that she’s transgendered becomes one of the less interesting things about her. Instead, you get caught up and inspired by her journey—from satellites to organ farms, from founding a pharmaceutical company to BINA 48, a “mindclone” robot that embodies her wife Bina’s beliefs, attitudes, memories and feelings.

Rothblatt, currently chief of United Therapeutics, is among the world’s highest paid female CEOs. Her motto is, “Do the right thing and the money will take care of itself.”

This is a lightly edited excerpt of her interview with Jane Clayson, guest host of NPR’s On Point.

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Hollywood SFX take medical training to a new level of realism

When critical care physicians at Boston Children’s Hospital practice cannulating an infant going on cardiopulmonary support, they’ll no longer have to cut through hard plastic mannequins with tubes for blood vessels. Instead, they’ll puncture a soft layer of realistic baby skin, dissect through subcutaneous fat and spread muscles that look and feel like the real thing.

They’ll insert the cannula into an internal jugular vein and carotid artery that are thin and flexible, after dissecting through their covering sheath. As they advance the cannula, the blood will have the right viscosity.

These mannequins are not your father’s Resusci-Anne. They’re the creation of the special make-up effects company Fractured FX, whose current credits include Cinemax’s The Knick, and Boston Children’s simulator program, SIMPeds.

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Improved cell cloning technique makes the jump from mice to humans

cells somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning

Roughly a year ago we told you about Yi Zhang, PhD — a stem cell biologist in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine — and his efforts to make a cloning technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) more efficient.

With SCNT, researchers take an egg cell and replace its nucleus with that of an adult cell (such as a skin cell) from another individual. The donated nucleus basically reboots an embryonic state, creating a clone of the original cell.

It’s a hot topic in both agriculture and regenerative medicine. SCNT-generated cells can be used to clone an animal (remember Dolly the sheep?) or produce embryonic stem (ES) cell lines for research. But it’s an inefficient process, producing very few animal clones or ES lines for the effort and material it takes.

Zhang’s team reported last year that they could boost SCNT’s efficiency significantly by removing an epigenetic roadblock that kept embryonic genes in the donated nucleus from activating in cloned cells. Now, in a new paper in Cell Stem Cell, Zhang and his collaborators report that they’ve extended their work to improve the efficiency of SCNT in human cells.

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My work, my life, my innovations: Salim Afshar, DMD, MD

By the time oral and maxillofacial surgeon Salim Afshar, DMD, MD, was 29 years old, he had acquired medical and dental degrees from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Ever since, he has dedicated his life to community service and his surgical skills to improving community and global health.

An impassioned humanitarian, Afshar serves as one of the faculty members in the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change at Harvard Medical School. As an entrepreneur and innovator, he’s co-founded a health care software company that enables providers to engage and manage patients and their families around complex episodes of care.

“My whole orientation in life is around being of service — service to my patients, service to my community and service to my family,” Afshar says.

Hover over the icons in the photo above to learn more about Afshar and what keeps him going.

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Pediatric solutions: Which 5-minute pitch will ‘ignite’ the Taking on Tomorrow audience?


Affordable home dialysis, a device to triage heart murmurs, a cardiopulmonary support enhancer, a novel technology to treat septic shock and a better system for studying neurological function. Which of these ideas will catch fire?

The audience will decide November 10 at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Ignite Talks Competition. Hosted by Chris Duffy, Host of WBUR’s You’re the Expert and presented by Deloitte, the event will close out the hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2015.

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An eye on epilepsy: The work, life and innovations of Tobias Loddenkemper, MD

Epileptologist Tobias Loddenkemper, MD, director of clinical epilepsy research at Boston Children’s Hospital, is a seizure whisperer. He keeps a close watch on his patients, trying to discern seizure patterns and head off the developmental and learning problems that seizures can cause. A pioneer in the emerging field of chronoepileptology, he has partnered with Empatica and other companies to develop reliable seizure detection devices that could help doctors better time medication dosing and help prevent death from seizures, a real risk in children with severe epilepsy.

Mouse over the icons above to learn more.

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Three child-focused products to compete at Boston Children’s Hospital Innovation Tank

The creators of a powered arm brace, a device to aid newborn resuscitation and a platform for virtual nutritional consults have been chosen to present at Boston Children’s Hospital’s second annual pitch competition—otherwise known as the Innovation Tank—during the hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2015.

Augmented Infant Resuscitator Myomo Kindrdfood

Presented by the health care company Philips, the November 9 competition will be hosted by Troy Carter, founder and CEO of the entertainment company Atom Factory (managing Lady Gaga, among others) and newly named guest shark on ABC’s Shark Tank.

A la Shark Tank, each team will pitch its health care innovation to a panel of venture capitalists, clinicians and industry leaders, who will decide how to award $30,000 in sponsored prize money and offer advice on how to advance projects to market.

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Brain stimulation for status epilepticus?

Seizure-storm concept-Linda Bucklin-shutterstock_172455803Status epilepticus, a state of prolonged seizures, is a life-threatening medical emergency. The average mortality rate is 20 percent, and people who survive sustain lasting neurologic damage. Aborting the seizures is of the essence, but about 30 to 40 percent of patients don’t respond to lorazepam, the first-line drug usually given, and the drug itself can cause respiratory depression.

A study in rat model of status epilepticus, led by Alexander Rotenberg, MD, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Department of Neurology, is the first to test an emerging approach known as transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) as a way of halting acute seizures. tDCS applies a weak, direct current to the brain via scalp electrodes, to either increase or—more relevant for seizures—decrease excitability in selected areas. In the study, tDCS reduced the duration of acute seizures in the rats. When it was used together with lorazepam, the combination appeared to have a synergistic effect, also preventing new seizures from starting.

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From napkin sketch to new product: Rapid prototyping service speeds medical device development

rapid 3D prototyping services at hospitals
These custom devices hold fiber optic probes used to measure blood oxygenation in newborns. (Courtesy Noah Schulz, SIMPeds)

Some people bring data and completed designs. Others just bring simple sketches. “We have this idea for this device,” they begin. “It may only help 15 kids a year, but it could really improve their quality of life.”

Other people bring only a clinical need: “We need something to keep babies lying still after their procedure, without having to medicate them.”

To make these ideas more tangible and help launch them down a formal development path, the Boston Children’s Hospital Simulator Program, SIMPeds, has begun making its 3D printing and engineering service available to help hospital staff rapidly prototype new devices.

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Are tweets a good measure of patient experience and health care quality?

Twitter speech bubblesWhen it comes to gauging quality, we often turn to Twitter, Yelp, Angie’s List and other networks for instant feedback on pretty much any company, contractor or store we do business with.

In contrast, hospitals often rely on tools like the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and System (HCAHPS) survey, which gives voice to patients and their concerns about the care they receive. But a new study published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety suggests social media have something to add to that.

Notes_title_for_overlay“The main problems with measuring patient experience by survey are the small numbers of people who respond to surveys and the lag time,” says Jared Hawkins, MMSc, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP). “It can take up to two years before survey data are released to the public. Given that social media data are close to real time, we wanted to see if we could capture this discussion and if the content is useful.”

Hawkins, with Boston Children’s chief innovation officer, John Brownstein, PhD, and their colleagues collected more than 400,000 public tweets directed at the Twitter handles of nearly 2,400 U.S. hospitals between 2012 and 2013. Using machine learning, natural language processing and manual curation, they tagged 34,735 patient experience tweets directed at 1,726 hospital-owned Twitter accounts.

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