Saturday, December 13, 2008

Using Cutting Edge Technology, Stroke Victim and Guitarist of The Long Blondes Hopes to Regain Use of Right Arm and Play Guitar Again

[caption id="attachment_209" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Not quite bionic, but he may play guitar again"]Not Quite Bionic, But he May Play Guitar Again[/caption]

I don't think it's quite the "bionic hand" of the telegraph headline, but it's an interesting story: The young guitarist of the popular indie rock group The Long Blondes suffered a stroke and can no longer move his right arm. Now, with the help of some new technology he may play guitar again.

My understanding is that the supposed bionic hand, called the SaeboFlex, provides support for the hand so that less effort is required while the patient is relearning to move their body. A real "bionic hand" would do actual work, and while they do make those, it's not for stoke victims, it for people who loose their hands.


After a stroke, a portion of the brain is literally dead, and the only treatment currently available is to get other parts of the brain to compensate. This is a slow and often very frustrating process for patients, because it involves being told to move their arm (or whatever is paralyzed). On the first day, they absolutely cannot do this, and they may find the whole thing preposterous, and want to give up right then and there. Day-by-day and week-by-week, however, they learn to move their arm again. Often the therapist has to employ tricks, such as restraining their other arm, because it's so tempting for the patient to just use the other arm when asked to do tasks, because the other arm works. Rarely do they recover full use, but scientists are starting to appreciate the full extent of the brain's "plasticity", that is, it's ability to reconfigure and repurpose itself, and they have ever increasing hope for future techniques.

New techniques include all sorts of stuff beyond what would seem like therapeutic exercise, although these are improving as well. I worked in a lab that researched the effects of rTMS which was a technique that uses powerful electromagnets to induce electric currents inside the brain at repeated intervals. This seems to encourage the brain to be more "plastic" for some reason. Research into TMS (the non-repeated version) and rTMS was originally expected to be revolutionary, but has turned out to just be very useful, although I'm unaware if anyone's actually using it in hospitals.

Thanks to extrapepperoni and slashdot for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Stay Alive in a Situation that Will Never Happen

Jeffrey Goldberg, who stole our hearts when he recently got the TSA to admit that their security efforts only target "stupid terrorists" thanks to his antics of carrying knives and books entitled Jihad, wrote an article about how to stay alive in a terrorized hotel. Of course, he also admits that this will never happen. His trusted friend assures him:
It's foolish even to worry about hotel safety, because the chances of something happening on any particular night in any particular hotel are vanishingly small.  The taxi ride to the hotel is invariably more dangerous than the hotel itself.

Nevertheless he gives advice. For example, how about placing some dental floss over that laptop to find out if someone's been tampering? Sure, that's not in every spy movie. And what have you accomplished? You just found out someone stole your data, and it's too late to do anything about it. Better advice is to secure your data using readily available software or put important data on a thumb drive and bring the thumb drive with you. Okay, says Goldberg, why not block the door with a desk in case you believe that men are roaming the floors with automatic weapons? Sure, that seems... uh... reasonable (in certain parts of the world), but Golberg himself says "This is dangerous, of course, in the event of fire." Yeah, and guess which one is more likely (hint, read the above quote, and keep in mind that a terrorist BOMBING might involve fire). Goldberg's solution of filling the bathtub with water won't help with what is often considered a larger problem in fires: smoke.

Of course, some of his more common-sense ideas are reasonable: know where your stuff is in case you have to leave quickly, while others seem like they're placed there just to sound contrary and intelligent: "Stay in hotels that have already been bombed or otherwise attacked. Mumbai is a fairly safe place for travelers right now."

A note about the books titled Jihad: I wouldn't stop you either. Most Muslims understand the term quite differently than we understand it here in the west. Jihad means struggle, often interpreted as a struggle to improve ones self or society. It appears frequently in the Qur'an, and, not being a racist I'd be happy to let you through on that one. But, yea, they should take your knives away, not the crap from Colbert.