Five cool medical innovations we saw last week

Last week, Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation Acceleration Program hosted a jam-packed Innovators’ Showcase where teams from around the hospital networked, traded ideas and showed off their projects. Here are a few Vector thinks are worth watching.

isotropic diffusion reveals information on axons on DTI1. An imaging ‘biomarker’ after concussion

Thirty percent of people who suffer a mild traumatic brain injury—a.k.a. concussion—have ongoing symptoms that can last months or years. If patients at risk could be identified, they could receive early interventions such as brain cooling and anti-seizure medications. New MRI protocols that can measure free, non-directional diffusion of water, coupled with sophisticated analytics, are achieving unprecedented pictures of what happens inside the brain after injury. The technology, available for licensing, measures free, non-directional diffusion of water molecules and can detect evidence of torn or demyelinated nerve fibers, cell swelling and water diffusion outside cells (an indicator of inflammation). “All conventional MRI protocols miss these injuries,” says lead investigator Simon Warfield, PhD, of Boston Children’s Computational Radiology Laboratory. —Nancy Fliesler

very short suturing needle2. An extremely short magnetic needle for suturing

Suturing requires long needles to be gripped by a needle holder and tweezers simultaneously. This traditional set-up works well for most surgical situations, but it presents challenges in confined spaces such as navigating tight angles, potentially risking accidental puncture of neighboring tissues. Boston Children’s researcher Kaifeng Liu, MD, invented a stitching apparatus that utilizes a novel short, hollow, magnetic needle and magnetic sutures for use in deep tissues or hard-to-access spaces. Depending on the thickness of the tissue to be pierced, the length of the needle can be adjusted to as little as 5mm. The apparatus is designed to reduce the size of the surgical field, reduce tissue injury and improve surgical outcomes. For more information on how it works, visit the Technology and Innovation Development Office website. —David Altman

Dan Kohane_InnovatorsShowcase-403. Helping drugs see the light

Targeting drug delivery to achieve the maximum dose where and when it’s most needed is one of the holy grails of drug development. Incorporating nanotechnology, the laboratory of Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, showed three different light-activated methods for improving drug penetration and accumulation at sites of disease:

  • drug-toting nanoparticles that shrink in ultraviolet (UV) light, penetrating tumors’ abnormal blood vessels while squeezing out their drug payload
  • an implantable drug reservoir whose membrane opens up when stimulated with near-infrared light (NIR), allowing for on-demand, reproducible, repeated and tunable drug dosing
  • nanoparticles that bind to cell surface proteins when exposed to UV light, which could be used to target drugs for delivery to specific cell types at specific locations

NIR and UV light both have their advantages: Our tissues are nearly transparent to NIR, allowing for deeper light penetration, while UV light is more powerful. —Tom Ulrich

Brain networks measured via EEG recordings between seizures4. Seizure monitoring: Looking between the seizures

When patients with epilepsy are candidates for brain surgery, they typically undergo EEG monitoring to determine where the seizures are coming from and critical brain areas to avoid during subsequent surgery. Sometimes, EEGs placed on the scalp don’t give sufficient information, so the plastic grids bearing tiny electrodes are placed directly on the brain itself. This invasive procedure requires keeping the patient in the intensive care unit for 6 to 7 days, waiting for a seizure to occur, only to undergo surgery a second time for the actual resection of the seizure tissue. But now, Eun-Hyoung Park, PhD, and Joseph Madsen, MD, director of epilepsy surgery at Boston Children’s, have developed a computational technique that can infer the source of a patient’s seizures by analyzing brain network data between seizures—dramatically shortening the amount of time the electrodes need to be in place to as little as 6 minutes. That will allow patients who currently need two operations to get everything done at once. —Nancy Fliesler

radiology smartphone5. Global image sharing on your smartphone

What happens when you bring the collaborative capabilities of Google Docs and the sharing capabilities of Facebook to advanced imaging software? You end up with something like ChRIS, or Children’s Hospital Research Integration System. Developed by Ellen Grant, MD, and Rudolph Pienaar, PhD, ChRIS may soon let radiologists analyze imaging data from anywhere in the world using any Internet-connected device like a laptop or iPhone. A doctor in, say, St. Louis could examine a brain scan over the virtual shoulder of a Boston radiologist. Pienaar and Grant think the system could make its biggest impact in resource-scarce settings where access to high-powered computers—let alone complex imaging software—is limited. —Kipaya Kapiga 

Read about five more inventions at, coverage and video from the event on MedTech Boston, and a write-up and slideshow on Healthcare IT News.