July 07, 2008

A Whale of an Invention

I thought that that this is very cool:
LONDON, United Kingdom (CNN) -- Medicine has much to learn from nature. There are literally millions of medical compounds out there that could cure diseases, help improve treatment and even protect us from some types of bacteria.cientists have been tapping into nature's resources for inspiration on how to treat humans.

Humpback whales, sea cucumbers and Australian red algae are just a few of the species leading the way in modern medicine.

The humpback whale has a design within its heart that could help save the lives of many patients suffering from heart disease.

With a heart that can pump six bath tubs of blood around a circulation system that is 4,500 times as complex as our own, and in only three heartbeats a minute, it has fascinated scientists as to how it manages this feat.

But it was while studying how the whale's heart is able to do this that Dr Jorge Reynolds-- (who placed the first external pacemaker in the body of a priest who survived for an additional 17 years) discovered nano-sized 'wires'. These wires allow electrical signals to stimulate the heartbeats even through masses of non-conductive blubber.

This discovery could be the key to replacing the traditional pacemaker, scientists say. Instead of having to install a battery-powered pacemaker the whale 'wires' could be used to stimulate heart beats.

Whale 'wires' could save the extra bouts of surgery, which are currently needed to replace the batteries in pacemakers.

It doesn't end there. There's also the added bonus of saving money. With the worldwide market for pacemakers expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2010, this technology, which costs only a few cents to make, could replace pacemakers and save billions.

At Ohio's Cleveland West Reserve University Jeffrey Capadona has pioneered the creation of a material that could help treat Parkinson's disease, stroke and spinal chord injuries.

This time the inspiration was the humble sea cucumber, whose skin can change from a rigid to flexible state with ease.

Capadona argues that tiny electrodes implanted into the brain are sometimes used to treat Parkinson's disease, stroke and spinal chord injuries. But they can become less effective over time as the body creates scar tissue around the hard implant.

Using this new material, which was based on the skin of sea cucumber, could improve treatment as the material can become less rigid and prolong its effectiveness.

Even red algae in Australia have provided inspiration to scientists who now believe they could help control some diseases.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales, Australia, discovered that the red algae found just off the coast was free from biofilms-- a congregation of bacteria that are the cause of 70 percent of all human infections.

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