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Lasers may replace pin pricks for diabetics

Researchers have a developed a new laser device that could allow diabetic patients to check their blood sugar level without pricking themselves to draw blood.

The researchers from Princeton University described that they measured blood sugar by directing their specialised laser at a person’s palm. The laser passes through the skin cells, without causing damage, and was partially absorbed by the sugar molecules in the patient’s body. The researchers use the amount of absorption to measure the level of blood sugar.

The key to the system was the infrared laser’s frequency. What our eyes perceive as colour was created by light’s frequency. Red would be the lowest frequency of light that humans normally can see, and infrared’s frequency was below that level. Current medical devices often use the “near-infrared”. This frequency was not blocked by water, so it can be used in the body. But it does interact with many acids and chemicals in the skin, so it makes it impractical to use for detecting blood sugar.

 Mid-infrared light, however, was not as much affected by these other chemicals, so it works well for blood sugar. But mid-infrared light was difficult to harness with standard lasers. It also required relatively high power and stability to penetrate the skin and scatter off bodily fluid.
‘Man, machine’ system for improved malaria diagnosis

A Finnish-Swedish research group at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), University of Helsinki, and Karolinska institutet, Stockholm have found a new ‘man and machine’ decision support system, which provides more effective diagnosis for malaria than the traditional methods.

This method that has been based on computer vision algorithms similar to those used in facial recognition systems combined with visualisation of only the diagnostically most relevant areas.

In this newly developed method, a thin layer of blood smeared on a microscope slide was first digitised. The algorithm analysed more than 50,000 red blood cells per sample and ranked them according to the probability of infection. Then the programme created a panel containing images of more than a hundred most likely infected cells and presented it to the user. The final diagnosis was done by a health-care professional based on the visualised images.

Research Director Johan Lundin from FIMM, said that they were not suggesting that the whole malaria diagnostic process could or should be automated but their aim was to develop methods that have a potential to considerably increase the throughput in malaria diagnostics. 

Professor Vinod Diwan from Karolinska Institutet, said that the new method of imaging and analysis could revolutionise the point of care diagnostics of not only malaria but also several diseases where diagnosis depends on microscopy.

Sleep promotes learning of sequenced body movements

Sleep is an important factor in the learning of body’s movement as it helps to learn sequences of movements like playing piano, say researchers at the University of Montreal. According to them, the regions of the brain below the cortex were important in information consolidation, especially information linked to a motor memory trace.

Lead author Karen Debas said that, when consolidation level was measured after a period of sleep, the brain network of these areas functioned with greater synchrony and optimised better communication between the various regions of this network.
The researchers led by Dr. Julien Doyon, who taught a group of subjects a new sequence of piano-type finger movements on a box, found that the putamen, a central part of the brain, was more active in subjects who had slept, which improved performance of the task.

Debas said that after a night of sleep, they found that the cortico-striatal network, where one network emerged from the others, was more integrated than the others and interaction among these regions was greater.

Doyon said that their findings could lead them to a better understanding of the mechanisms during sleep and ensure better interaction between key regions of the brain.

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