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Elizabeth Goldring, a senior fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (Cambridge, MA), is thrilled to show–and see through her own blind eye–photos she has taken with her handheld $500 “seeing machine.

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‘Seeing machine’ enables sight

Elizabeth Goldring, a senior fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (Cambridge, MA), is thrilled to show–and see through her own blind eye–photos she has taken with her handheld $500 “seeing machine.” Goldring began working 20 years ago with colleagues to develop the machine, which allows some blind and visually impaired people to see friends’ faces and more.

She got her inspiration during a visit to an optometrist’s when she was completely blind. To determine whether she had any vestiges of sight, technicians used a scanning laser opthalmoscope (SLO) to project an image directly onto the retina of one eye, past the intraocular hemorrhages that had contributed to her blindness. She was able to see the test image, and later saw the word “sun” written on her retina with the system. “I was amazed that I was able to read a word!”

The SLO held promise for broader application, but had drawbacks, including cost and size.

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The new device is 5 in. square and can be connected to any visual source, such as a video camera or computer. Visual feed from the source travels into the seeing machine to an LCD illuminated by LEDs. The data is then focused into a single “point” that travels into the eye. “This is not magnification,” said Quinn Smithwick, an associate. “What makes this work is focusing the data into a tiny spot of light.”

Other collaborators included Rob Webb, the SLO’s inventor and a senior scientist at the Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard University, and many MIT students, including Yifei Wu and Brandon Taylor. Tests are scheduled at the Low Vision Clinic at the Joslin Diabetes Center’s Beetham Eye Institute (Boston,MA). ‹‹

Flexible laser turns failed neurosurgery into success

In late January, CNN reported that a neurosurgeon used OmniGuide’s (Cambridge, MA) BeamPath Neuro flexible CO2 laser scalpel to remove a brain tumor from a 19-year-old patient just three days after conventional tools proved unsuccessful.

Dr. Thomas Ellis, a senior neurosurgeon at Wake Forest University School of Medicine (Winston-Salem, NC), said he had become “demoralized” after an unsuccessful six-hour operation to remove a large tumor from the teen. After going through half a dozen scalpels, he managed to remove 20% of the tumor. Ellis said each scalpel would dull after only five minutes of use.

That night, Ellis came across a CNN story about the pen-shaped fiber-optic tool that allows surgeons to carry out minimally invasive surgery on areas too difficult or delicate to access otherwise. The story described a neurosurgeon’s use of the device in Chicago. Ellis contacted the neurosurgeon, who put him in touch with OmniGuide. Within 72 hours he held the device in his hands and was receiving a demo from an OmniGuide representative. “I was extremely impressed and excited, and very quickly I pretty much got the hang of it,” said Ellis.

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OmniGuide says its BeamPath Neuro is the first flexible CO2 laser scalpel for neurosurgery: a precise microsurgical tool for such central nervous system (CNS) procedures as intracranial tumor surgeries, spine tumor surgeries, and transnasal pituitary surgeries. It is designed for operating near critical structures, for accessing difficult-to-reach regions of the brain, and for minimizing thermal injury to adjacent healthy tissue.

Prior to BeamPath, CO2 lasers could only be delivered through a large articulated-arm system and were limited to “line-of-sight” procedures. ‹‹

Laser and endoscopic procedures contribute to outpatient-services spike

According to a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outpatient operations now make up two-thirds of all surgeries, and the rate of visits to free-standing surgical centers tripled between 1996 and 2006–to 15 million procedures a year. The most common conditions treated by outpatient surgery include cataracts (3 million cases), benign tumors (2 million), cancers (1.2 million), esophageal diseases (1.1 million), and diverticulosis (1.1 million cases).

Reasons for the increase include a rise in less invasive procedures, which cause less blood loss–and more laser and endoscopic procedures. ‹‹

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