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8 Medical Inventions Created by Nurses

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Nurses check our pulses, draw our blood, and care for us when we’re sick. But beyond all that, they also create equipment that saves lives and makes living more pleasant.

Over time, nurses have assumed more responsibility for patient care. A 2011 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine pointed out that a number of studies show that primary care services can be administered as safely and effectively by nurse practitioners as by doctors. And having both nurses and doctors in a practice increases patient satisfaction and boosts revenue.

Nurses’ roles also allow them to see medical practices and procedures in a different way, resulting in some revolutionary inventions. Without nurses, we wouldn’t have a number of tools regularly used today in both hospitals and homes.

1. THE CRASH CART

If your heart stops, the defibrillator and resuscitation equipment in a crash cart could save your life. The wheeled set of drawers stocked with equipment, originally called the crisis cart, was invented by registered nurse Anita Dorr in 1968, after years of watching precious time slip away as doctors and nurses procured the proper tools. She created the prototype in her basement, organizing the cart with items needed for the head in the top drawers for easy access. Her crash cart is now used all over the world. Dorr didn’t stop creating there; she also co-founded the Emergency Nurses Association.

2. COLOR-CODED IV LINES

IV lines were made of clear plastic until nurse Teri Barton-Salinas and her sister, Gail Barton-Hay, decided to patent their color-coded lines in 2003 to help reduce medical errors. Barton-Salinas got the idea when she was working as a labor delivery nurse and had to use the lines in newborns. During an emergency, a nurse has only seconds to identify the correct equipment, making easy identification key. “A medication error is every nurse’s nightmare,” Barton-Salinas told the Daily Republic in 2010. “The patient suffers, the family suffers, and the nurse suffers.”

3. NEONATAL PHOTOTHERAPY

Sunlight helps babies with jaundice, a condition that makes infants appear yellow due to high bilirubin levels in their blood. Many babies have high bilirubin levels, which occur when the body creates new red blood cells. Usually the liver helps break bilirubin down, but many babies’ livers don’t work very efficiently at first.

In the 1950s, Sister Jean Ward discovered that sunlight helped her charges. Convinced that fresh air and warm sunlight helped the babies she cared for as a nurse in the premature unit at Rochford General Hospital in Essex, England, Ward would bring the babies outdoors. When she brought one child inside one day, a doctor noticed one section of skin that had been covered by the corner of a blanket was yellower than the rest of the baby’s body. Now medical professionals use phototherapy to treat jaundiced babies.

4. BILI-BONNET

When those babies went through treatment for jaundice, nurses and doctors would have to fashion glasses out of whatever materials they had available, sometimes using construction paper and cotton balls to cover a preemie’s eyes while the bright lights shined above. In the 1990s, Sharon Rogone, who had worked as a nurse in hospital neonatal intensive care units in San Bernardino, California, created glasses especially designed for the teeny patients. She held them in place with a little bonnet and called the whole thing the Bili-Bonnet. Rogone started her own company, Small Beginnings, and has since created other inventions for preemies.

5. BABY BOTTLES WITH DISPOSABLE LINERS

Watching how nursing on bottles exhausted babies, Adda May Allen, who worked as a nurse at Columbia Hospital in Washington, D.C. in the 1940s, created a disposable liner that moms and hospitals could throw away after just one use. While a baby sucked on a traditional bottle, a partial vacuum formed, inverting the nipple. A plastic liner, however, allowed the sides to close in as a baby drank her milk. "Say, this is a damn sight more important than some of the scientific papers," a doctor told a Time magazine reporter soon after the liner hit the market.

6. A FEEDING TUBE FOR PARALYZED VETERANS

Veterans paralyzed during WWII couldn’t feed themselves until Bessie Blount Griffin, an African-American nurse, invented a tube in the 1940s they could use with their teeth. Patients could bite down on the tube and receive a mouthful of liquefied food, giving them a bit of independence. Griffin was so good at rehabilitation that she earned the name “Wonder Woman.” Invention wasn’t her only profession; she later went into forensic science and was the first African-American woman to work at Scotland Yard.

7. OSTOMY BAG

Elise Sorensen’s little sister, Thora, had colon cancer. After surgery, Thora faced life with an ostomy appliance for her waste, which often smelled bad and leaked with the equipment available. Elise, a visiting Danish nurse, created a solution for her sister in 1954: a plastic pouch that she could adhere to her body. The invention has helped those who’ve had ostomy surgery live normal lives ever since.

8. SANITARY PADS

On the battlefield during WWI, doctors and nurses used a material called cellucotton to treat soldiers’ wounds. The product was five times as absorbent as cotton, which was in short supply. The field nurses also used it unofficially as a sanitary pad, and within a few years of the war’s end, the idea was popularized in the disposable commercial product, Kotex.

So during National Nurses Week, coming up on May 6, be sure to thank nurses for not only what they do, but what they’ve done for the medical field, too.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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