At TEDxYouth@Manchester, genetics researcher Dan Davis introduces the audience to compatibility genes — key players in our immune system’s functioning, and the reason why it’s so difficult to transplant organs from person to person: one’s compatibility genes must match another’s for a transplant to take.

To learn more about these fascinating genes, watch the whole talk here»

(Images from Davis’s talk, Drew Berry’s animations, and the TED-Ed lessons A needle in countless haystacks: Finding habitable worlds - Ariel Anbar and How we conquered the deadly smallpox virus - Simona Zompi)

Rats on patrol — rodents that detect landmines and tuberculosis

As a kid, Bart Weetjens was rather fond of his pet rats. Where other people saw mangy rodents, he saw potential. These oft-feared mammals can be more than just subway chasers and gourmet French chefs (Ratatouille, anyone?): in fact, rats can save lives.

Weetjens grew up to help establish APOPO, an NGO that employs African Giant Pouched Rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis. Using these rats is an affordable, inventive solution to blights that plague some of the world’s poorest countries.

Rats have more genetic material allocated to smell than any other mammal on earth. Weetjens trains them to scratch at a surface when they discover a particular smell, such as explosive materials or TB-positive sputum samples. Turns out, they’re much more effective than standard detection technologies. In standard landmine detection, four people with metal detectors can clear about 200 square meters of land every day. A rat with one trainer can clear the same amount of land in only half an hour.

They’re impressively good at screening for tuberculosis as well. A lab technician can correctly identify about 50 percent of TB-positive samples with a microscope, but adding a rat to that process bumps up the rate to 67 percent or more. Plus, they’ll work for peanuts and stay focused for hours at a time.

See how Weetjens came up with this innovation, and see his rats in action in his talk from TEDxBratislava below:

Can texting save a life? A new device sends emergency text messages during a seizure

imageEpilepsy detection system creator Rick Housley at TEDxHoboken

This is the story of an 18-year-old engineering student whose train delay gave him the idea for a life-saving new device for people with epilepsy.

Epilepsy affects 65 million people worldwide. About 1 in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their lives, and about one-third of those people will live with uncontrolled seizures.
In 2010, TEDxHoboken speaker Rick Housley was on a train stopped in a station due to a medical emergency: a woman on the train was having a seizure. In his talk, he explains what happened:

Naturally, I’m a bit peeved as I just sprinted to catch this train. I had my heavy bookbag and my gym bag. But my attitude quickly changed when I heard the reason for the delay: a medical emergency. Apparently, a women in the car ahead of mine had had a seizure. Fortunately, due to some quick medical attention, she was all right, and my train departed…

[But] I began to wonder, what if she hadn’t been on a train, a train in Boston surrounded by medical professionals? What if, instead, she was at home? What if she was at home with her toddlers? What if she were on a run? What if she were in the shower? Frankly, the answers to these questions frightened me.

So, at age 18, the young engineering student partnered with a medical device company for IP and technology to develop a detection and notification system for people with convulsive seizures.

Housley’s device, still in development, is worn on the wrist and detects seizures by monitoring its wearer’s movements — alerting a list of important contacts via text message if the dangerous movements typical to a convulsive seizure begin to occur.

Below, Housley’s entire talk, which provides more insight into his device and the data behind it:

Can we fake the sense of touch? A TEDx Talk looks into engineering touch

TEDxStanford speaker Allison Okamu experiments with a haptic-enhanced medical device (Photo: MedicineWorld.org)

We all know the sense of touch is important. So what do we do when it’s gone?
When soldiers use mine-deactivating robots, when doctors operate surgical robots, their sense of touch is lost to these devices. How do you tie a suture tight, but not so tight that it breaks when you can’t feel the give and take of the thread? How do you know how much pressure to apply to a material when you cannot feel the material’s reaction?

You go by sight. But sight only gives you so much, says Stanford University researcher Allison Okamura. In her talk at TEDxStanford, Okamura explains how she and her team at the CHARM (Collaborative Haptics and Robotics in Medicine) Lab are working to create devices that can not just register touch from a user, but also can simulate touch in return.

"We try to come up with [clever] techniques to fool the user into feeling something that isn’t really there," she says in her talk. This becomes particularly useful when dealing with the medical world, where human-controlled robots are often used to make surgical procedures less invasive and more accurate. “They [surgical robots] are not autonomous robots,” Allison says. “It is important because of the dangerousness and complexity of these tasks that there be a human in the loop. But the human can do a better job if they get the sense of touch feedback.”

So, Allison and her team at CHARM stay hard at work developing devices that do just that. Watch her talk below to learn more about CHARM’s work and see some of these robots in action: