New tech to heal wounds, help people 'see' sound Also: Benefits of tai chi for Parkinson's

Medical Minutes

New help for those with low vision or blindness

Australian researchers have developed a new type of technology known as acoustic touch and it helps people “see” using sound. The technology has the potential to transform the lives of those who are blind or have low level vision.

Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney have developed new smart glasses that translate visual information into distinct sound icons.

“Smart glasses typically use computer vision and other sensory information to translate the wearer’s surroundings into computer-synthesized speech,” said Chin-Teng Lin, who is a global leader in brain-computer interface research from the University of Technology Sydney. “However, acoustic touch technology sonifies objects, creating unique sound representations as they enter the device’s field of view. For example, the sound of rustling leaves might signify a plant, or a buzzing sound might represent a mobile phone.”

The researchers tested the device with 14 participants (seven individuals with blindness or low level vision and seven blindfolded sighted individuals who served as a control group). They found that the wearable device, equipped with acoustic touch technology, significantly enhanced the ability of blind or low-vision individuals to recognize and reach for objects, without causing too much mental effort.

The researchers found that the auditory feedback can empower users to identify and reach for objects with remarkable accuracy. They believe acoustic touch has the potential to offer a wearable and effective method of sensory augmentation for the visually impaired community.

The research underscores the importance of developing assistive technology in overcoming the challenges such as locating specific household items and personal belongings. By addressing these day-to-day challenges, the acoustic touch technology opens new doors for individuals who are blind or have low vision, enhancing their independence and quality of life.

Magnetic healing gel may be beneficial for diabetic wounds

A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore has developed an innovative magnetic wound-healing gel that promises to accelerate the healing of diabetic wounds, reduce the rates of recurrence, and lower the incidence of limb amputations. A bandage pre-loaded with magnetic hydrogel is placed on the wound, and an external device is used to accelerate the wound healing process.

Diabetic patients, whose natural wound-healing capabilities are compromised, often develop chronic wounds that are slow to heal. Such non-healing wounds could cause serious infections resulting in painful outcomes, such as limb amputation. With this new approach, a bandage is pre-loaded with a hydrogel containing skin cells for healing and magnetic particles. To maximize therapeutic results, a wireless external magnetic device is used to activate skin cells and accelerate the wound healing process. The ideal duration of magnetic stimulation is about one to two hours.

Lab tests showed the treatment coupled with magnetic stimulation healed diabetic wounds about three times faster than current conventional approaches. Furthermore, while the research has focused on healing diabetic foot ulcers, the technology has potential for treating a wide range of complex wounds including burns.

“Conventional dressings do not play an active role in healing wounds,” said study investigator Andy Tay, who is with the National University of Singapore (NUS). “They merely prevent the wound from worsening and patients need to be scheduled for a dressing change every two or three days. It is a huge cost to our healthcare system and an inconvenience to patients.”

In contrast, the NUS invention takes a comprehensive ‘all-in-one’ approach to wound healing, accelerating the process on several fronts. “Our technology addresses multiple critical factors associated with diabetic wounds, simultaneously managing elevated glucose levels in the wound area, activating dormant skin cells near the wound, restoring damaged blood vessels, and repairing the disrupted vascular network within the wound,” said Tay.

Tai chi may benefit individuals with Parkinson’s disease

The Chinese martial art that involves sequences of very slow controlled movements, may curb the symptoms and complications of Parkinson’s disease for several years, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. Its practice was associated with slower disease progression and lower doses of required drugs over time.

Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating and progressive neurodegenerative disorder, characterized by slowness of movement, resting tremor, and stiff and inflexible muscles. It is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world and there is no cure for Parkinson’s. Current medications can improve clinical symptoms, but they don’t treat all the manifestations of the disease. Further, there’s no evidence that they slow progression.

The researchers monitored two groups of patients with Parkinson’s disease for more than five years from January 2016 to June 2021. One group of 147 patients practiced tai chi twice a week for an hour, aided by the provision of classes to improve their technique. The other group of 187 patients continued with their standard care, but didn’t practice tai chi.

Disease severity was formally assessed in all the participants at the start of the monitoring period. Disease progression, including increases in the need for medication, were subsequently monitored in November 2019, October 2020, and June 2021.

Disease progression was slower at all monitoring points in the tai chi group, as assessed by three validated scales to assess overall symptoms, movement, and balance. In the tai chi group, fewer medications were required and sleep and quality of life continuously improved. Additionally, the prevalence of complications was significantly lower in the tai chi group than in the comparison group: dyskinesia (involuntary movement) 1.4% versus 7.5%; dystonia (abnormal muscle tone) 0% versus 1.6%; hallucinations 0% versus just over 2%; mild cognitive impairment 3% versus 10%; restless legs syndrome 7% versus 15.5%.

This is an observational study and as such can’t establish cause and effect. The researchers acknowledge that the number of study participants was relatively small, but it does appear that tai chi may provide a long-term beneficial effect on Parkinson’s disease.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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