Doctors tested the recovered pen by writing “HELLO”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Long, long ago—well, in the 1980s—a middle-aged British woman noticed a spot on her tonsil. To get a better look, she grabbed a mirror, opened wide, and started poking around with a plastic felt-tipped pen—which is where she ran into trouble. The woman claimed that she slipped and fell, swallowing the pen in the process. But between the implausibility of consuming a pen and the fact that X-ray scans failed to reveal the writing implement, everyone assumed she had made up the story…
Move over, Dr. Quinn. Sure, the fictional television doctor could perform surgeries in the Old West using nothing more than a spoon–but one researcher now argues that inhabitants of a small village in Turkey sliced skulls over 4,000 years ago, using shards of volcanic glass.
Working in a Bronze Age graveyard in Ikiztepe, Turkey, archaeologist Önder Bilgi has uncovered 14 skulls with rectangular cut marks. He believes the Ikiztepe people used obsidian “scalpels,” found elsewhere on the site, to treat brain tumors and fight-related head injuries, and to relieve pressure from hemorrhaging.
Bilgi also told New Scientist, which has a complete interview, that the skulls’ healing indicates that some patients survived at least two years after their surgeries. Though this isn’t the oldest evidence of brain surgery (researchers have found a hole drilled into a Neolithic skull), Bilgi argues that the Ikiztepe rectangular skull openings are much more “sophisticated.”
Bilgi, who in an earlier study analyzed arsenic absorption in Ikiztepe bones to determine their metalworking skills, told New Scientist that the tools themselves aren’t too worse for multiple millennial wear:
“The blades are double-sided, about 4 centimetres [1.6 inches] long, and very, very sharp. They would still cut you today.”
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Image: flickr / Mykl Roventine
Gordon Moore, a 72-year-old British man, no longer needs the metal plate that was inserted into his head 50 years ago, when a car accident destroyed part of his skull. Why doesn’t he need it? Because the missing bone has grown back.
When the front of his skull was destroyed, doctors implanted a titanium plate in the hole. Three years later, Moore was involved in yet another crash. While this accident was less devastating, he still walked away with a dent in his metal plate after his head flew into the windshield.
Surgeons decided to remove the plate recently, after it broke through some skin and caused an infection. But when they cut Moore’s head open, doctors were amazed to find that his skull had re-grown with the same contour as the plate. While bone growth is normal in children, it’s extremely rare in adults. In fact, it is such an anomaly that no one has really kept count of the number of times this kind of re-growth has happened. The Telegraph reports:
“It’s certainly very rare, but it’s very rare to remove a metal plate after this period of time. I had never heard of one being taken out after more than 50 years,” [says Newcastle Hospital consultant neurologist Param Bhattahiri, who was in charge of Gordon’s treatment].
“We had no idea what we were going to find underneath, but I didn’t expect to find a new skull.”
Experts are now waiting to perform more scans of Gordon’s head to check the thickness and strength of the new bone.
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The non-stick coating that coats cookware like frying pans, known as Teflon, has a new purpose: Repairing a faulty windpipe.
A British physician used Teflon to repair a 70-year-old woman’s collapsed windpipe in the first procedure of its kind—although he’d also previously used Goretex, a waterproof fabric, to do the same thing. The Telegraph reports:
[Surgery patient] Mrs Butterwick, a former hotline operator… said she was amazed when she heard medics would use the substance in the procedure.
She said: “I said to doctors, but I just want to be able to breathe again, I don’t need to cook a full English on my windpipe.”
The three-hour operation seems to have put an end to Mrs. Butterwick’s 30-year cough, which was due to a condition known as Flat Trachea Syndrome.
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Image: flickr / Yogi
Neurosurgeons might soon be able to say goodbye to the scalpel: A new technique uses ultrasound waves to remove parts of the brain. High-intensity ultrasound—a different type than what’s used in prenatal screening—heats up parts of the brain, thereby killing sections of tissue that are damaged.
Similar technology is already used to obliterate uterine fibroids, but until now, it’s been difficult to harness the technique for brain surgery, because the skull interferes with the waves. According to Technology Review:
The…device consists of an array of more than 1,000 ultrasound transducers, each of which can be individually focused. “You take a CT scan of the patient’s head and tailor the acoustic beam to focus through the skull,” says Eyal Zadicario, head of InSightec’s neurology program. The device also has a built-in cooling system to prevent the skull from overheating.
The ultrasound beams are focused on a specific point in the brain—the exact location depends on the condition being treated—that absorbs the energy and converts it to heat. This raises the temperature to about 130 degrees Fahrenheit and kills the cells in a region approximately 10 cubic millimeters in volume. The entire system is integrated with a magnetic resonance scanner, which allows neurosurgeons to make sure they target the correct piece of brain tissue.
For those who didn’t believe [Ed.’s note: Ourselves included] the reports about the man found to have a tree growing inside his lung, the story just got trickier: BBC News has now posted a video on its Web site with additional evidence, including video from the operation and an interview with both surgeon and patient.
Still skeptical? Time to start a poll?
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Athletes do it, singers do it, so why not doctors? The New York Times reports on a study finding that surgeons who performed warm-up exercises before they operate saw better results in surgery simulations.
The study, published this month in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, had 46 surgeons perform a routine of surgery-simulating exercises, or a “preoperative warm-up,” for 15 to 20 minutes. They varied the times and situations—early in the morning versus after a grueling night call—and found that regardless of the scenario, the pre-surgery routine upped performance in the operating room.
Of course, everything is relative—while the dog tired doctors still performed better after warming up, they didn’t perform as well as they did when fresh and bright-eyed. Which is its own issue entirely.
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Richard Feynman once said, “A friend of mine (Albert R. Hibbs) suggests a very interesting possibility for relatively small machines. He says that, although it is a very wild idea, it would be interesting in surgery if you could swallow the surgeon.”
Well, no joking, Mr. Feynman, that very wild idea is close to being reality. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have engineered microscopic hands, smaller than a grain of sand, that can be directed to grasp tiny objects or even cells in the human body.
The “microgrippers” look like tiny six-legged crabs. Six fingers, with three-joints each, extend from a hexagonal palm. They’re made out of gold-plated nickel, which means they are biocompatible and can also be moved around by a magnet. Activating the gripping action doesn’t required any wires, batteries, or remote controls. Researchers simply add chemicals or increase the temperature to cause a special polymer coating on the microgrippers to degrade, allowing the joints of the fingers to bend and grasp.
It’s been a breakthrough week for office supplies. First came X-ray shooting Scotch tape, and now surgical-grade Sharpies. It’s common practice for surgeons to outline operation sites with Sharpie markers so they won’t cut in the wrong place, but the markers are thrown out after just one use to prevent passing germs from one patient to another.
Now a study by Canadian doctors has concluded that it’s actually safe to reuse Sharpie markers, since the alcoholic base in the ink kills off any lingering bacteria. The finding is huge for hospital administrators , who are thrilled at the prospect of saving thousands of dollars by reusing the markers, which cost $2 each.
Henry Marsh, a British neurosurgeon, became a star of today’s news by performing major brain surgery on Marian Dolishny—with a cordless $60 hand drill. And the drill ran out of batteries about halfway through, so Doc MacGyver finished the procedure by hand. And there was no anesthesiologist, so the patient only got a local painkiller. Oh, and there happened to be a television crew present—filming a documentary on Marsh and his hand-drill surgeries.