ModBlog News of the Week: August 12th, 2011

It’s time again for the weekly newsfeed roundup, and this week is a pretty good one.  We’ve got stories on medical advancements, religion and tattoos, and how one state is bringing members of the APP on board to help draft up piercing regulations.

To start off today, researchers have created a “tattoo-like” electronic film that can be used to monitor a person’s vital signs.

In a paper published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, researchers explain that they embedded electronic sensors in a film thinner than the diameter of a human hair – and then placed it on a polyester backing like that used for kids’ temporary tattoos. The result? A sensor flexible that is enough to bend with human skin.

Instead of using an adhesive, the bandage-like device relies on a weak force called the van der Waals force, which causes molecules and surfaces to stick together without interfering with motion. Sound familiar? This is the force that allows geckos to climb smooth vertical surfaces. In tests, the device remained in place for up to 24 hours. Although normal shedding of skin cells would eventually cause the monitors to come off, Rogers said he thought they could remain in place as long as two weeks.

In addition to monitoring heart rate and temperature, the device could monitor brain waves, aid muscle movement, sense the larynx for speech, emit heat to help heal wounds and perhaps even be made touch sensitive and placed on artificial limbs, Rogers said. He declined to state how soon the electronic skin would be ready for market or what it would cost.

The device could help fill the need for equipment that has more reliable monitoring – and is more convenient and less stressful for patients, said Zhenqiang Ma, a University of Wisconsin engineering professor who was not part of the research team. The device can simply be stuck on or peeled off like an adhesive bandage, he said.

There’s a lot more news to come so grab a drink, put your feet up, and keep on reading.

I’ve posted a couple of amputation related stories in the past week or so, with a lot of discussion going on behind the motivations for self amputation.  However, this story isn’t about those who choose amputation, but about someone who didn’t have the choice, and is doing something for all amputees.

Hugh Herr’s legs were amputated below his knees in 1982 after a climbing accident. From his knees down to the floor, he’s completely artificial.  “I’m titanium, carbon, silicon, a bunch of nuts and bolts,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “My limbs that I wear have 12 computers, five sensors and muscle-like actuator systems that able me to move throughout my day.”  But Herr doesn’t just wear artificial legs. He designs them, too. As the director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab, Herr and his team are responsible for creating prosthetic devices that feel and act like biological limbs.

“My biological body will degrade in time due to normal, age-related degeneration. But the artificial part of my body improves in time because I can upgrade. … So I predict that when I’m 80 years old, I’ll be able to walk with less energy than is required of a person who has biological legs, I’ll be more stable, and I’ll probably be able to run faster. … The artificial part of my body is, in some sense, immortal.”

“We want the bionic limb to have a humanlike shape but we don’t want the bionic leg to look human. We want it to look like a beautiful machine, to express machine beauty as opposed to human beauty — and the reason is, we want the user to pull a black sock over their bionic limb and have their limb appear to be fully biological and then the very next evening, go to a fancy party where they pull that sock off and they expose the fact that part of their body is bionic.”

It’s an interesting read about someone who has embraced his amputation, and sees his artificial limbs as an extension of his body.  By modifying his limbs, he sees it as modifying himself, as these limbs are now part of who he is.

This next story is one that is still years from becoming a reality, but it is one step closer to developing artificial organs that can be implanted into a person.

Researchers have created an artificial lung that uses air as a ventilating gas instead of pure oxygen – as is the case with current man-made lungs, which require heavy tanks of oxygen that limit their portability. The prototype device was built following the natural lung’s design and tiny dimensions and the researchers say it has reached efficiencies akin to the genuine organ. With a volume roughly the same as a human lung, the device could be implanted into a person and even be driven by the heart.

The artificial lung is filled with breathable silicone rubber versions of the blood vessels that branch down to a diameter less than one-fourth of human hair. It was created by first building a mould with miniature features and then layering on a liquid silicone rubber that solidified into artificial capillaries and alveoli. They air and blood channels were then separated with a gas diffusion membrane.

Potkay says the device is a major step towards an easily portable and implantable artificial lung and the team envisions patients using the technology while allowing their own diseased lungs to heal, or implanting one while awaiting a lung transplant.

Science.  It works, bitches.

In other news, the CDC is investigating a rare bacterium that has been linked to tattoos from a studio in Washington.

In the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal published by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it has been reported that rare and difficult-to-treat bacterial infection even in healthy individuals can be linked to tattoos. The conclusion was based on researchers findings which identified skin infections caused by Mycobacterium haemophilum in two healthy adults who were tattooed at the same parlor.

Mycobacterium haemophilum belongs to the same family of bacteria which causes tuberculosis and leprosy, is unresponsive to treatment with antimicrobial drugs and usually affects adults with impaired immunity. The infection produces subcutaneous nodules, papules, pustules commonly painless at first but eventually progressing into deep ulcers that are potentially very painful.

Since no deviations from Washington State safety and sanitation standards were recognized at the tattoo parlor, water used in a rinse solution applied during and after tattooing and to dilute ink for shading is suspected to be the source of the bacteria.

The industry standards do not specifically require tattoo artists to use steam-distilled or sterile water when rinsing needles or diluting ink, and tap water is often used in the parlors. With water being a suspected reservoir for the bacterium Mycobacterium haemophilum, the CDC has advised against using tap water for tattoo procedures, although infections attributable to water appear very rare.

That’s some pretty scary stuff, and hopefully it prompts more artists to consider using some form of sterile water for rinsing.  Of course, this is VERY RARE, and isolated to one studio, so it could just be an overreaction on the part of the CDC.

Speaking of communicable diseases, a studio in Coleman, AB has been closed due to Alberta Heath Services discovering that piercings were taking place without proper sterilization techniques.  This closure applies to the Victor Proctor piercing operation that was running independently out of Tommy Gun Tattoo Shop.  Anyone who has had piercings done at this location is urged to get blood work done immediately.

While on the subject of transmittable diseases, CNN has done an interview with an HIV positive man, discussing what the biohazard symbol means to him.

Howard might not have come across as such a calm person in late 2005, when he found out he was HIV-positive. After his diagnosis, he felt “dirty” in his own skin, and feared infecting others if he so much as cut his hand. Getting the wrist tattoos helped him in his journey toward self-acceptance.  “It’s a branding of who I am, and it’s a branding of being comfortable with that, being comfortable with who I am,” said Howard, 37, who lives in Portland, Oregon.

Howard is one of many people living with HIV who have chosen to get tattoos to represent living with the disease. They say these tattoos help start conversations, reduce stigma and serve as reminders of how living with HIV has changed their lives.

The origins of HIV-related tattoos are murky, but the biohazard symbol is recognized in connection with HIV among many gay men, said David Dempsey, clinical director at the Alexian Brothers Bonaventure House in Chicago and The Harbor in Waukegan, Illinois, both transitional living facilities for HIV-positive individuals recovering from alcohol and substance dependence.  “It’s to let other men know that they’re HIV-positive so that they don’t have to come out and say it,” he said. In situations of anonymous sex, it can signal status to potential partners and, in that sense, may help with prevention, because unprotected sex with an HIV-infected individual can spread the disease, he said.  For those with HIV, seeing someone else with a biohazard symbol is a sign this is another person living with the disease who might provide support, Conley said, like a “secret identification code.”

It goes on to delve into the history behind the biohazard symbol, as well as how it has come to help many HIV positive people cope with the stigma of having the disease.

Speaking of stigmas, one particular stigma has followed people with tattoos for centuries.  According to some religions, getting tattooed goes against their teachings and can even go so far as to prevent them from having a funeral service in accordance with their faith.  This can pose a problem for young people who wish to honor their faith with a tattoo, as doing so could put them in a position later in life that they may not wish to be in.

From an historic perspective, the prohibition against tattooing and, by extension, branding and scarification, was intended to prevent ancient Israelites from following the religious practices of non-Jews in general, and Baal worshipers specifically. In biblical times the Tribe lived in close proximity to non-Jews who practiced ceremonial tattooing to honor their gods and their dead, a form of idol worship and something which absolutely must be forbidden for Jews as a way of insuring a strong, enduring, Jewish identity.

While it is true that tattoos have been considered completely forbidden, regardless of intent, for nearly 1,000 years, there were at least 2,000 years of Jewish life and culture that did not completely ban tattoos, as well as a fairly significant period of time between the two opposing viewpoints where the meaning and effect of Leviticus 19:28 was rigorously debated, an argument that continues to this day. It has even been suggested by a number of archaeologists that ancient Jews practiced tattooing themselves, within a Jewish framework and completely free of the taint of idolatry.

In our zealous eagerness to prohibit all tattoos, an attempt to insure the greatest level piety and conformation with the laws of the Torah, we may have lost sight of our original mitzvah, to simply not tattoo as idol worship in order to foster a strong, lasting Jewish identity. In the process of increasing our piety and stretching the possible meanings of the mitzvah, we may have prevented others from expressing their Jewish identities in a way that was acceptable for the majority of Jewish history, tattooing.

In today’s final story, piercers in Oregon have been asked to volunteer to be a part of the states new Board of Body Art Practitioners.

Jon Guac burned a design into his skin with a candle and fork to prove a point during a dinner debate about whether branding was an art form. As a teenager, he carved “Iron Maiden” into his arm “for experimentation.”  Stories like his, along with graphic photos of extreme body modifications, encouraged the 2011 Oregon Legislature to establish a new Board of Body Art Practitioners. But body piercers worry that Internet photos of untrained hacks slicing bloody skin with scalpels will distract the board from writing rules for what they say is a bigger problem: licenses for common piercings like ears and belly buttons. The board will oversee a hodge-podge of ‘body arts,’ from tattoos and ear piercings to laser hair removal and designs burned into the skin. The governor’s office is looking for seven members: two body piercers, two tattooists, one electrologist, one health care provider and one member of the general public.

Some legislators endorse the creation of specialty licenses for some body arts that verge on being a medical procedure and require advanced knowledge of anatomy. Others think high-risk procedures simply should be banned.   “If you regulate, that implies you will have clinical training,” Sen. Frank Morse, R-Albany, said in a hearing. “Where are you going to find clinical training to put double rings in the glans on a penis?”   Piercers say it’s a waste of resources to regulate the things that most frightened the Legislature. Very few people are interested in extreme body modifications and even fewer offer those services, often traveling the country to find enough clients. Regulations or bans would not slow the practices, just move them farther underground, they argue.

Most piercers want to focus energy on reforms for the more commonplace piercing industry. They suggest changes to improve customer safety, thin the crowd of under-qualified competitors and level the economic playing field for jewelry made from better materials.   Nearly 500 people are licensed body piercers in the state, a 30 percent increase from 2008. No specialized training is required to receive an Oregon piercing license. A person just has to be 18 years old with a high school diploma or equivalent and submit proof of training on blood born pathogens.

Blake Perlingieri, owner of Nomad Precision Body Adornment and Tribal Museum, thinks it’s about time Oregon caught up on body piercing regulation.   Perlingieri began his apprenticeship at the opening of the world’s second piercing studio in 1988, co-founded the Association of Professional Piercers in 1994 and helped petition the California Legislature for sanitation standards that have been adopted widely in the U.S.  As the piercing world ballooned from a pocket of urban subcultures into mainstream popularity, training didn’t keep up. Piercers of all experience levels opened shops to meet the growing demand, sharing their often-limited experience with new staff and endangering their customers with poor work more likely to become infected.   Perlingieri petitioned the Oregon Legislature in the 1990s to adopt training standards similar to a cosmetology license. He proposed issuing temporary licenses to apprentices until they have done thousands of piercings.

That’s it for this week’s news.  Have a fun and safe weekend and I’ll see you back here Monday.

Remember if you ever come across a story you think should be included in the news roundup, simply click here, or send me an e-mail: rob@bme.com

4 thoughts on “ModBlog News of the Week: August 12th, 2011

  1. It is a common misconception but Judaism does not prevent people with tattoos from having a funeral according to Jewish faith. :)

  2. um…what exactly does the electronic film have to do with body modification?
    maybe i missed the point of that segment….

  3. I can’t stand listening to religious people argue about whether their imaginary bosses and imaginary friends will be mad at them or not for modifying their bodies. How about dropping a religion that just takes money from you and limits your natural rights and thinking for yourself for once? What do YOU think is right and what do YOU think is ok? Pathetic.

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