Battlefield Breakthroughs | KERA News

Battlefield Breakthroughs

BJ Austin / KERA News

The Pentagon estimates that one in every five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffered at least one mild concussion.  Since 2007, the military has pumped about $700 million into research on traumatic brain injury. That research can be traced from Fallujah to Friday Night Lights.  

BJ Austin / KERA News

A technology with roots in World War II is now enabling amputees to program their prosthetic hands.  It’s RFID, radio frequency identification. 

BJ Austin / KERA News

The number of wounded amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan prompted the Pentagon to do the first sweeping overhaul of prosthetics since the 1940’s. And, it’s not only wounded veterans who are benefiting. A  “Battlefield Breakthrough” is making it possible for one  young North Texan to conquer dental school with a state-of-the-art prosthetic arm.

President Obama has announced an ambitious plan to explore the mysteries of the human brain.

In a speech Tuesday, Obama said he will ask Congress for $100 million in 2014 to "better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember." Other goals include finding new treatments for Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

How's this for a tough assignment?

A group of Italian researchers forced 21 surgical residents to play video games on a Nintendo Wii for an hour a day, five days a week, for four weeks. Whew!

Then the researchers had the residents perform a simulated keyhole surgery. They found that the gamers performed significantly better than another group of residents who didn't undergo this grueling video game training.

When the X-ray was invented, people clamored to get one. Not for any medical reason, but just to see what was typically hidden inside their bodies.

Something like that seems to be happening with DNA sequencing technology. First it was companies offering to sequence people's genomes. Now it's learning all about your microbiome, the collection of microorganisms living on and in your body.

Courtesy Dr. Paul Grayburn

It almost sounds like a videogame. Inject a patient with tiny bubbles and use ultrasound waves to burst them open when they float to the right spot. While the term “microbubbles” may sound more whimsical than medical, a Dallas doctor is a national pioneer in using them to fight diabetes. And it's a technology that was born on the battlefield.

courtesy Dr. Paul Grayburn

Since microbubbles are smaller than half the size of a red blood cell, seeing them with the naked eye isn’t an option. But Dr. Jonathan Lindner was able to capture and enhance the image of microbubbles moving through capillaries in the body.

UT Dallas

At the University of Texas at Dallas, nanotech scientists are lifting weights using artificial muscles. The military-funded research could be the next battlefield breakthrough for those in uniform and those at home.

Courtney Collins / KERA News

PART 2 OF A KERA NEWS SERIES: Imagine heading into surgery. Instead of a doctor’s soothing voice, you hear the whirs and beeps of R2D2. OK, so Star Wars droids aren’t holding the scalpel, but robotic techniques are radically changing the world of medicine. And North Texas hospitals are harnessing the power of robots.

stilldavid / flickr.com

Scrub nurses straight out of The Jetsons, telecommuting surgeons and other medical advances driven by robotic technology -- here's what's on the horizon for robotic surgery.

BJ Austin / KERA News

A NEW KERA NEWS SERIES: Proton beam ray-guns were the stuff of scientists and sci-fi writers in the '50s. But, they never left the lab or the movies. Later, President Reagan revived the idea in his "Star Wars" missile defense initiative. Still, no one really harnessed this atomic age technology until doctors deployed it and made proton therapy a battlefield breakthrough in the war on cancer.

ProCure Proton Therapy Centers

Two North Texas proton therapy centers are in the planning stages over the next few years -- one at UT Southwestern in Dallas and a second in Las Colinas, which is a joint effort of Baylor Health Enterprises, Texas Oncology and McKesson Specialty Health Network.

So what sets proton therapy apart? And how are the North Texas centers pushing the technology envelope? Two doctors, Scott Cheek of the Las Colinas project and Timothy Solberg of UT Southwestern, point out five key factors: