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Buzz Heard 'Round the World via Facebook
Buzz Heard 'Round the World via Facebook

The Real-Life Operation That Works Like Operation

Buzz Heard 'Round the World via Facebook
Buzz Heard 'Round the World via Facebook

Before he became a resident at Johns Hopkins in the late 1980s, Andrew Goldstone, M.D., spent many adolescent hours trying to liberate the funny bone, wish bone, and Adam’s apple from Cavity Sam, the hapless patient plastered on every copy of the Operation board game.

“It had to be floating around in my subconscious,” he tells mental_floss. “But I didn’t make the connection until later.”

The connection Goldstone is referring to is between Operation and his pioneering technique for thyroid surgery—one that works eerily like the game’s anxiety-inducing buzzer after its surgical tweezers lose their precision and touch the edges of Sam's surgical sites.

While observing thyroid surgeries in medical school, Goldstone quickly became aware of the potential to injure the vocal cords. With their nerves running in such close proximity to the thyroid, it’s easy for even highly-skilled surgeons to cause damage that can lead to hoarseness or airway obstruction. What was needed, Goldstone thought, was an alarm that would go off when they got too close.

“I thought if there was a way of reading the electrical signal coming off the vocal cord muscle, to hear a buzzer, it was a way of telling the doctor, ‘Hey, don’t cut that,’” he says.

Because the vocal cords are on either side of the breathing tube that’s placed in the airway during general anesthesia, Goldstone applied an electrode to the tube that would pick up signals sent to the muscles. If a surgeon touched the nerve with a probe—analogous to the game’s tweezers—the electrical signal would pass to the electrode, and a monitor in the operating room would buzz, just like in the game. (Presumably, the patient’s nose would not light up.)

Goldstone’s invention was licensed to the Medtronic medical company in 1991; dubbed NIM, it’s been used in the majority of thyroid surgeries since.

One day, Goldstone’s young son, Alec, asked him how his invention worked. After hearing him explain it, he told his father, “You’ve reinvented Operation.”

“I would say it inadvertently inspired me,” Goldstone says. “It’s the exact same thing. On some level, it had to have played a part.”

In 2014, Goldstone wrote to John Spinello, the game’s creator, after reading news reports about Spinello’s Kickstarter campaign to raise money for oral surgery. (Having sold Operation in 1964 for $500, Spinello never received any royalties from the game.) In it, Goldstone expressed admiration for the game inventor and “how much more than just pure joy can be attributed to your invention.”

The letter, among others, found its way to Spinello, who is now the subject of a documentary: Buzz Heard ‘Round the World is currently raising funds via Indiegogo in the hopes of financing the rest of the production and relating stories about how the game has inspired others to enter the medical field.

“He probably has no idea how many people he’s helped,” says Goldstone, who is now a Clinical Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins and was interviewed for the movie. The device, he says, has worked to prevent vocal cord paralysis in hundreds of thousands of patients around the world.

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UsTwo
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This Augmented-Reality App Makes the Hospital Experience Less Scary for Kids
UsTwo
UsTwo

Staying in a hospital can be a scary experience for kids, but a little distraction can make it less stressful. According to studies conducted by Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, distracted patients have an easier time with their appointments and require less pain medication. Now, Co.Design reports that the hospital is releasing its own app designed to keep children entertained—and calm—from the moment they check in.

The Android and iOS app, called Alder Play, was designed by ustwo, the makers of the wildly popular smartphone game Monument Valley and the stress relief tool Pause. Patients can download the app before they arrive at the hospital, choosing a virtual animal buddy to guide them through their stay. Then, once they check into the hospital, their furry companion shows them around the facility using augmented-reality technology.

The app features plenty of fun scavenger hunts and other games for kids to play during their downtime, but its most important features are designed to coach young patients through treatments. Short videos walk them through procedures like blood tests so that when the time comes, the situation will feel less intimidating. And for each step in the hospitalization process, from body scans to gown changes, doctors can give kids virtual stickers to reward them for following directions or just being brave. There’s also an AI chatbot (powered by IBM’s Watson) available to answer any questions kids or their parents might have about the hospital.

The app is very new, and Alder Hey is still assessing whether or not it's changing their young hospital guests’ experiences for the better. If the game is successful, children's hospitals around the world may consider developing exclusive apps of their own.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Cell Free Technology
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This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology

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