Get ready for the robot takeover — in the healthcare space, that is. The arrival of two new robotic technologies — “Little Mo” and “Miriam” — are opening up new possibilities for consumers; one by disinfecting hospital spaces and the other by detecting cancer in its early stages.
It’s no surprise that hospitals and other healthcare facilities are full of germs, but already sick people can face the double-whammy of an infection contracted while receiving care for an unrelated issue.
Healthcare associated infections (HAIs) are a burden for patients and doctors who must invest time and money in additional treatment for these illnesses. But cleaning any space with sick patients carries the risk of also spreading disease to doctors and other staff members.
Enter the Xenex Disinfection Services’ line of “germ-killing robots” for commercial use, nicknamed “Little Mo” devices. By using xenon-based UV light rays, these robots disinfect the germiest surfaces in medical centers with minimal contact.
Ebola May Survive on Surfaces, but Is Vulnerable to UV Rays
This kind of technology is more important than ever with cases of Ebola being diagnosed and treated at several hospitals in the United States. Xenex’s chief scientific officer Mark Stibich says that the robots were designed for everyday hospital sterilization, but he is confident that the devices would be effective at sterilizing spaces contaminated by Ebola.
“We test it against viruses that are much harder to kill with UV than Ebola,” Stibich said in an interview with Fox Business.
One study has shown that Ebola cells spread on solid surfaces are especially vulnerable to UV light.
Xenex's "Little Mo" device. Photo courtesy of Xenex.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the role of the environment in the spread of Ebola has yet to be determined, but small laboratory studies in favorable conditions show that Ebola can survive on solid surfaces. Given the high level of anxiety the public feels about Ebola, any extra protection is welcome.
“There is no epidemiologic evidence of Ebola virus transmission via either the environment or fomites that could become contaminated during patient care (e.g., bed rails, door knobs, laundry),” the CDC’s Ebola infection control guidelines state. “However, given the apparent low infectious dose … and disease severity, higher levels of precaution are warranted to reduce the potential risk posed by contaminated surfaces in the patient care environment.”
“The expectation is with consistent daily cleaning and disinfection practices in U.S. hospitals that the persistence of Ebola virus in the patient care environment would be short — with 24 hours considered a cautious upper limit,” the guidelines continue.
New Device Detects Multiple Cancers with Single Blood Sample
Even if a diagnosis is grim, patients want to know their health status quickly and easily. Unfortunately, finding the right answer can be a long, drawn-out process. That’s where the microbiologists and data scientists at Miroculus come in, with hopes of expediting and improving cancer diagnosis at a low cost.
“We have 21st-century treatments and drugs, but 20th-century procedures and processes for diagnosis,” said Miroculus co-founder Jorge Soto on the TED blog. “I want to see the day when cancer is treated easily because it can be routinely diagnosed in the very early stages.”
Miroculus' "Miriam" device. Photo courtesy of Miroculus.
The company’s “Miriam” device, announced to the public at the TEDGlobal conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, uses a patient’s single blood sample to determine the presence of various cancers.
The sample is inserted into a 96-well plate, with each groove designed to detect a specific microRNA (a non-coding molecule involved in gene expression) that is associated with cancer. If the microRNA is present, that sample will shine green.
After about 60 minutes, a smartphone can analyze how fast and how intensely the lights shine. The results are uploaded anonymously to the cloud so that researchers can mine the data in real time.
The rapid yet thorough procedure could set the standard for future cancer screenings.