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3 More 'Stranger Things' in Medtech

In honor of the recently released third season of Stranger Things on Netflix, we've taken a look at some of the more unusual medical devices that could be just strange enough to work.

  • Editor's Note: This slideshow was updated July 8, 2019 to include three additional technologies.

    The world of medtech has never been short on innovative ideas or outside-the-box thinking. While this line of thought can often lead to the latest in next-gen technologies, it can also pave the way for some remarkably unusual devices that are as bizarre as they are transformative. With DIY device creation on the rise, the market is beginning to see some of the wildest ideas actually come to fruition.

    In a world where no idea is too crazy as long as it serves a need, the medtech industry has made room for some surprisingly atypical devices that even we couldn’t make up. From electroshock underwear to a fart-tracking swallowable pill, the following devices will have you asking — is there really a need for this? The answer, believe it or not, is an emphatic yes.

  • 1. The Automatic Sperm Extractor

    A Chinese hospital in Nanjing has introduced a new machine that aims to make sperm donation even simpler through the use of this new automatic sperm extractor. The eye-opening technology features a massage pipe that can be adjusted to the height of the patient and comes with various settings of frequency, amplitude, and temperature that can be adjusted according to user preference. The device even features a small screen for those who need visual inspiration.

    The hospital's urology department director says the machine was designed to help individuals who struggle to produce sperm the old-fashioned way. While there's been no word on when trials for the technology will begin, one can assume there will be no shortage of male subject volunteers. The device is manufactured by Sanwe Medical Science and Technology Co. Ltd.

    Sanwe Medical Science and Technology Co. Ltd.
  • 2. Vaginal Rejuvenation

    It might sound like more bad vaginal advice from the Kardashians, but an obstetrics and gynecology specialist in Texas told MD+DI the Votiva device is legit – and her patients are crazy about it.

    Unlike most of the devices marketed toward vaginal rejuvenation, the Votiva device from InMode is designed to deliver bipolar radiofrequency energy instead of monopolar radiofrequency energy. Jennifer Owen, MD, said that distinction in design results in shorter treatment times.

    While some patients who ask for the procedure are looking for more of a cosmetic solution, Owen said her practice has seen "amazing results" with using the device to treat medical indications such as stress urinary incontinence, post-menopausal vaginal dryness, or sexual dysfunctions.

    See "Is Vaginal Rejuvenation Just Another Hollywood Fad?" for more on the Votiva device.

  • 3. Heat-Activated Penis Implant

    Believe it or not, researchers are still in search for the next breakthrough in erectile dysfunction treatment. Viagra broke onto the scene in the late 90s has largely been the dominant form of treatment ever since. As it turns out, a new heat-activated penis implant could be the first real alternative for patients who don’t respond to drugs like Viagra. Scientists have designed a new prototype made of nitinol that can remain flaccid at body temperature, before rising to the occasion when heated, expanding the prosthetic in both length and girth.

    While the technology is still five to ten years from commercialization, researchers believe the device could become the new gold standard for ED treatment. They even have plans to develop a remote-control that could use induction to heat the implant when waved over the penis. In time, the group hopes that through innovative design and hard work, the implant will eventually bear fruit.

  • 4. Upset Stomach? Track Your Farts With This New Pill

    Scientists from RMIT University in Australia aim to uncover new mechanisms in the human gut through a new swallowable sensor that can track how gases are oxidized in the stomach. The tiny ingestible technology has already begun to reveal new information on how foreign compounds are broken down in the stomach, and through sensor technology, relays the information back to a smartphone or computer.

    The device is roughly the size of a vitamin and was designed to detect and measure gut gases like hydrogen, carbon dioxides, and oxygen levels in the stomach. The group believes the sensor could be used to improve the diagnostic and therapeutic areas of gut disorders, as well as provide a tool for digestion observation. The technology may, however, make it harder to blame the dog.

    MIT researchers
  • 5. The Squatty Potty Toilet Stool

    Who knew that a simple footstool could have such an impact on the process of digestion and defecation? That’s the question the Edwards family would like to pose to the millions of Americans that deal with colon and gastrointestinal issues who are seeking a natural and relatively simple solution. Their answer is the Squatty Potty.

    The Squatty Potty is an ordinary footstool designed to help people form a more natural squatting position during defecation. The idea behind the design is that with greater hip flexion achieved through squatting, the straighter the rectoanal canal will be during defecation. This allows for a quick and simple strain-free bowel evacuation process — allowing bathroom sharers everywhere to rejoice.

    Squatty Potty LLC
  • 6. The Adult ‘Smart’ Diaper

    Incontinence is a medical condition that affects almost 400 million people worldwide and is expected to increase as the population ages. When not properly managed, incontinence can lead to ulcers, urinary tract infections, dermatitis, and other complications. Researchers from Simavita believe their new “smart” diaper technology could transform the standard for incontinence care.

    The SIM sensor technology is a disposable, single-use adult diaper that comes with integrated technology that can detect incontinence events while it makes continuous assessments. The technology works to track incontinence data to produce a bladder chart to help patients better manage the condition themselves. TA technology like this could even come in handy for those long road trips, but for now researchers are targeting more clinical applications.

  • 7. Smart-e-Pants

    Smart wearable technologies are hitting the market left and right, but not many serve a truly therapeutic purpose like the new “Smart-e-Pants” from Prev Biotech. This smart garment uses intermittent electrical stimulation (IES) to enact brief muscle contractions to help prevent pressure ulcers, otherwise known as bedsores.

    Currently, the primary method for bedsore prevention is patient turning, a practice that can also cause workplace injuries for healthcare workers. With the new Smart-e-Pants technology, IES electrodes work to mimic the “fidgeting” response that able-bodied patients have when responding to discomfort from pressure while sitting or lying down. But don’t let the name fool you — the device doesn't actually turn you into a "smartie pants". 

  • 8. The Anorectal Manometry Balloon

    I know what you’re thinking — the anorectal what now? Anorectal manometry testing involves a series of assessments that can evaluate bowel function in patients suffering from fecal incontinence or chronic constipation. Recently doctors began using a balloon expulsion test to provide an assessment of a patient’s ability to evacuate artificial stool during simulated defecation in a laboratory environment.

    A small balloon is inserted into the rectum and then inflated with approximately two ounces of water. The patient is then tasked with expelling the water into a toilet, before being asked to expel the balloon from the rectum. Prolonged balloon expulsion can be evidence of dysfunction in the anorectal area, allowing doctors to begin treatment. It might be a pain in the butt, but the test has quickly become a simple and effective method for investigating and diagnosing bowel disorders.

  • 9. Toilet Seat Heart Monitor

    How about a toilet seat designed to detect heart failure by measuring a patient's biometrics during "natural" processes? A team of researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) are responsible for the idea, which is intended to lower hospital readmission rates by alerting doctors of a patient's deteriorating cardiovascular condition before the patients even realize they have symptoms. The idea is for hospitals to buy the seats and issue them to heart failure patients after discharge.

    The seats are equipped to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation levels, and the patient's weight and stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped out of the heart at every beat). Algorithms analyze the data so that a report can be passed along to cardiologists who will then determine if intervention is necessary.

    The researchers have formed a company, Heart Health Intelligence, which is in the process of seeking FDA clearance for the toilet-seat based cardiovascular monitoring system. 

    "Typically, within 30 days of hospital discharge, 25% of patients with congestive heart failure are readmitted," said Nicholas Conn (pictured above), a postdoctoral fellow at RIT and CEO of Heart Health Intelligence (HHI). Conn is part of the team that developed the device. "After 90 days of hospital discharge, 45% of patients are readmitted. And the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is penalizing hospitals for readmitting patients for heart failure."

    The toilet seats won't be cheap, but the investment should pay for itself rather quickly in terms of savings from reduced readmission rates.

    Using the national average for readmission rates, the penalty for readmitting 150 patients is roughly $500,000 a year, and Conn said the total cost of providing the seats to 150 patients is $200,000. That means hospital systems will save more than double their initial investment within one year, he said.

    HHI, which joined RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator earlier this year, is now focused on moving the product forward. The team is heavily involved in writing grants for additional funding and networking, and human testing and pre-clinical studies are well underway, the company said.

  • 10. The Cerene Cryotherapy Device

    The Cerene Cryotherapy Device isn't strange once you know what it does, but we included it in the list because it bears a resemblance to a hand mixer which makes us a little bit squeamish considering the probe on the end is meant to go through a woman's cervix into her uterus.

    The endometrial ablation device, made by Channel Medsystems, received FDA approval March 28. It is designed to use a freezing agent to destroy the lining of the uterus in order to reduce heavy menstrual bleeding.

    The device is intended to be used in pre-menopausal women with heavy menstrual bleeding due to benign (non-cancerous) causes who do not want to become pregnant in the future. In the pivotal clinical study, 76% of women observed a reduction in menstrual blood loss from an excessive level to normal or less than normal levels.

  • 11. A Vending Machine Stocked with Spinal Implants and Surgical Instruments

    Xenco Medical’s customizable vending machines can dispense prepackaged sterile kits with spinal implants and instruments and help manage inventory. The concept alone qualifies it for this list, however, the story behind why Xenco developed the machines is rather interesting. 

     “It’s been important to not only develop new implant systems but to construct a new framework for delivery,” Jason Haider, founder and CEO of Xenco Medical, told MD+DI earlier this year. “I wanted to develop an automated dispensing solution around our sterile systems from the beginning but waited until we had several years’ worth of feedback from both surgeons and hospital administrators from around the country. My concept of a surgical vending machine itself was born by observing novel applications of automation over time, with automated vending kiosks in airports serving as an early example. Through an iterative process, Xenco Medical’s interactive vending machine reflects a multitude of inputs from across the country, which ranged from a need for secure access and traceability to on-demand training for hospital staff.”

    Click here to read more about Xenco Medical's vending machine concept.

    Xenco Medical
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