Technology: Pain, Sweat, Blood and Body Heat

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Technology can now quantify pain experienced by a patient and help doctors’ prognosis. It won’t be easy to fake pain anymore. A device made from paper detects biomarkers and identifies diseases. And our sweat can act as fuel too. Farheen tells us about the amazing advancement of biotechnology, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

What happens when you fake pain? Others believe that you’re in pain. In the coming future, it would be difficult to fake pain because of Dianbo Liu, who created the system with his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says “measuring pain levels is a tricky task. People experience and express pain differently, therefore, a doctor’s estimate of a patient’s pain can often differ from a self-reported pain score.”

To introduce some objectivity, Liu and his team trained an algorithm on videos of people expressing through face when they are in pain. Each video consisted of a person with shoulder pain, who had been asked to perform a different movement and then rate their pain levels. The result was an algorithm that can use subtle differences in facial expressions to guess about how the person feels.

Certain parts of the face are particularly revealing, says Liu. If movements around the nose and mouth are experienced, it indicates higher self-reported pain scores.

To reach higher accuracy, Liu’s system can be tweaked to consider a person’s age, sex, and skin complexion. A person’s age impacts the most on their expression of pain levels, and Liu found that his personalized approach was better at estimating pain than one-size-fits-all systems.

A device made from paper detects biomarkers and identifies diseases. This is achieved by performing electrochemical analyses powered only by the user’s touch and reads out the colour-coded test results, making it easy for non-experts to understand.

“You could consider this a portable laboratory that is just completely made from paper, is inexpensive and can be disposed of through incineration,” said Ramses V. Martinez, an assistant professor of industrial and biomedical engineering at Purdue University. “We hope these devices will serve untrained people located in remote villages or military bases to test for a variety of diseases without requiring any source of electricity, clean water, or additional equipment.”

The self-powered, paper-based electrochemical devices, or SPEDs, are designed for sensitive diagnostics at the ‘point-of-care’, or when care is delivered to patients, in regions where the public has limited access to resources or sophisticated medical equipment.

Watch this video to understand more about SPEDs: 

Don’t consider sweat as the fuel for success, but it can also power electronics. A team of engineers has developed stretchable fuel cells that extract energy from sweat and can power electronics, such as LEDs and Bluetooth radios. The biofuel cells generate 10 times more power per surface area than any existing wearable biofuel cells. The devices could be used to power a range of wearable devices.

There is more work to be done and milestones to be achieved before this is used and opened to a big group of users.

Some of the engineers have designed a flexible thermoelectric energy harvester that poses challenges to the effectiveness of existing power wearable electronic devices using body heat as the only source of energy.

Technology powered by using our body some way or the other is a boon. The preceding examples that have been used for reaping the best from our body substances is an innovative way to create a difference is phenomenal.

We should wait and watch to experience what more technology can offer us to bring a sea change in the way we operate every day.

©Farheen Viquas

Photos from the Internet

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Farheen Viquas is a Senior Technical Editor/Writer working in Bangalore, India. She has worked as a Technical Writer/Editor, Mentor/Coach, Language Consultant, Information Tester, English Trainer, and Transcriber. When not at work, she loves to cook, read, write poetry and prose, listen to music, bake cakes, fish keeping, and embroider. She is also a stained-glass enthusiast.