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Vol. LXVI, No. 13
June 20, 2014
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NIBIB Acquaints Congressional Staff with High Technology

NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew (c) stands with Maysam Ghovanloo (r) of Georgia Institute of Technology and his graduate student as they present the Tongue Drive System, which enables individuals with severe paralysis to navigate their environment using only tongue movements.
NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew (c) stands with Maysam Ghovanloo (r) of Georgia Institute of Technology and his graduate student as they present the Tongue Drive System, which enables individuals with severe paralysis to navigate their environment using only tongue movements.

While holding up a picture of an ultrasound device the size of a smartphone, NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew explained to a group of 45 congressional aides that NIBIB is leading the development of next-generation biomedical technologies that are smaller, faster, cheaper and more effective. “These technologies will vastly improve health care for all,” he said.

The aides were invited to spend the morning on the NIH campus recently on behalf of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the Academy of Radiology Research. The goal of the event was to give congressional aides a firsthand opportunity to learn about cutting-edge technologies being developed by NIBIB grantees and intramural scientists. Eight bioengineering graduate students from the University of California, San Diego, also attended the event.

“We wanted the congressional staff to have the opportunity to see, feel and experience the technological advances being made with NIBIB support,” said Pettigrew.

The crux of the event involved hands-on demonstrations given by NIBIB-funded researchers, most of whom flew in from around the country to showcase their novel technologies.

During one demonstration, students and staffers learned about the Tongue Drive System, which allows individuals with severe paralysis to operate a motorized wheelchair or computer mouse via movements of the tongue. The system consists of a headset, a smartphone and a tiny magnetic tongue stud that, when moved around the mouth, sends commands to a target device in the user environment. As part of the exhibit, an individual who uses the device was available to answer questions via Skype.

NIBIB intramural scientist Dr. Hari Shroff (r) plays a time-lapse video that shows the development of the nervous system in a worm embryo. The video was created using pioneering microscopes and techniques developed in his lab.

NIBIB intramural scientist Dr. Hari Shroff (r) plays a time-lapse video that shows the development of the nervous system in a worm embryo. The video was created using pioneering microscopes and techniques developed in his lab.

At another station, participants were encouraged to try their hand at a system that assists with minimally invasive procedures such as needle biopsies. The system attaches to an ultrasound probe and allows the operator to see the path of a needle inside the body prior to skin puncture, supporting more accurate needle placement and enhancing patient safety.

Staffers and students were particularly impressed to learn about a point-of-care device that can be used in low-resource settings to diagnose Kaposi’s sarcoma—a type of cancer that affects people with impaired immune systems, such as those living with AIDS. The device uses a lens and sunlight to generate the heat needed to amplify small samples of DNA taken from a tumor. The technician can then use a smartphone to take a picture of the sample after it has been treated with a special UV-sensitive dye and a phone application analyzes and displays the results.

Two additional technologies featured at the event included a networked neuroprosthesis system that mirrors the peripheral nervous system and directly stimulates muscles to help patients perform tasks such as holding a cup or turning a key and a microfluidic chip that can isolate extremely rare circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from a small sample of blood. CTCs are cells that have broken off of a tumor; their detection can play an important role in early diagnosis, characterization of cancer subtypes and treatment monitoring.

Congressional staff listen as Mehmet Toner (l) of Massachusetts General Hospital explains a technology that can isolate rare circulating tumor cells—cells that have broken off of a tumor—from the billions of other cells present in a small sample of blood. Measuring CTC levels over time could help determine whether a treatment is working. David Erickson (l) of Cornell University shows off a point-of-care device that can diagnose a type of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. The device uses solar energy to heat a reaction that amplifies small samples of DNA taken from a tumor and a smartphone application to analyze and display the results.
Congressional staff listen as Mehmet Toner (l) of Massachusetts General Hospital explains a technology that can isolate rare circulating tumor cells—cells that have broken off of a tumor—from the billions of other cells present in a small sample of blood. Measuring CTC levels over time could help determine whether a treatment is working. David Erickson (l) of Cornell University shows off a point-of-care device that can diagnose a type of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. The device uses solar energy to heat a reaction that amplifies small samples of DNA taken from a tumor and a smartphone application to analyze and display the results.

In addition to the medical technology demonstrations, NIBIB intramural researcher Dr. Hari Shroff welcomed visitors into his lab for a tour of his state-of-the art microscopes, which permit biological processes to be studied at unprecedented speed and resolution. Shroff played a time-lapse video that was created using one of his microscopes. The video tracks neuronal development in the worm embryo. Shroff says th+e ability to image brain cells in simple organisms during development could provide insights into how the human brain wires itself.

At the end of the morning, Pettigrew declared the event a success: “The goal was for our guests to leave excited by the tremendous potential these technologies have to help people and with an appreciation for the scientists and engineers who are committed to making these technologies a reality. I believe we achieved that.”


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