A high-tech bath mat takes just 20 seconds to spot dangerous foot ulcers weeks before they start to show.
The device has temperature sensors that detect ‘hot spots’ on the soles of feet, which indicate an ulcer may develop in a few days or weeks.
These invisible hot spots are caused by inflammation under the skin that develops when blood circulation is reduced and skin is deprived of the vital oxygen it needs — increasing the risk of ulcers that do not heal.
A high-tech bath mat takes just 20 seconds to spot dangerous foot ulcers weeks before they start to show (stock photo)
Patients stand on the mat at home for 20 seconds a day. If the mat detects no change in skin temperature then a green light flashes. The temperature data is then automatically transmitted through a wireless connection to a patient’s doctor.
If the mat senses a significant increase, even in one tiny spot, it flashes red and within minutes their doctor can be alerted to call and give the patient advice.
This may include staying off their feet for several hours to stop the inflammation progressing, as keeping pressure on the affected part of the foot is likely to exacerbate inflammation; using special gel insoles that ease the pressure and boost blood flow; or seeing their GP for an urgent check-up.
The device may help millions of diabetics at risk of foot amputation as circulation to the lower limbs is damaged by their illness. It may also benefit the two million people with peripheral arterial disease, where arteries in the lower legs become narrowed due to fatty deposits. This increases the risk of amputations as the feet are starved of oxygen-rich blood.
(Stock X-ray image of diabetic feet)
At least one in ten diabetes patients develops poor circulation to the legs and feet as high levels of sugar in the blood thicken the walls of capillaries (tiny blood vessels), which makes their blood flow less efficient.
The slightest cut can then develop into an open wound because, as blood circulation slows, the damaged skin is starved of the oxygen-rich blood and immune cells it needs to mend.
These wounds often get bigger because bacteria present there feed off the raised levels of sugar. They then flourish and break down surrounding healthy tissue. The risks are heightened by the fact diabetes patients often have nerve damage in the feet, so they feel little pain and may be unaware they have tiny injuries until they are infected and harder to heal.
Up to 40 per cent of diabetic ulcers take at least three months to mend, and in around 14 per cent of cases wounds are still present after a year.
University of Arizona researchers published a recent study in the journal Diabetes Care, following 129 patients for 34 weeks. They found the mat, developed by U.S. company Podimetrics, detected 97 per cent of developing foot ulcers at least five weeks before symptoms emerged.
The mat could be widely available in the next two to three years if further tests show a similar accuracy.
A spokeswoman for the charity Diabetes UK said new technology is desperately needed: ‘It could be life-changing for the thousands at risk of diabetes-related amputations every year. We will be watching the progress of this device with great interest.’
Meanwhile new research suggests taking statins could slash the risk of diabetic foot ulcers by up to 60 per cent.
Scientists at Semnan University in Iran found diabetics already on the drugs were much less likely to develop hard-to-heal ulcers than those not taking them, according to a report in the journal Wounds. They believe that statins’ anti-inflammatory properties may be the key factor.
Chewing gum that spots tooth trouble
Chewing gum can identify those at risk of complications following a dental implant.
After losing a tooth, implants are now the preferred choice of many. But up to 15 per cent of people who have one go on to develop inflammation that can destroy underlying tissue and bone.
When prospective patients chewed on a special gum, developed at the Julius-Maximilians-Universitat in Germany, it tasted bitter if there was already active inflammation in their mouth, according to a study in the journal Nature Communications. The idea is that the source of the inflammation can then be treated before the implant is inserted. The gum could be available commercially within three years.
Toxic gas could be a new cancer treatment
The toxin formaldehyde is made as a by-product of reactions in our cells, British researchers have found — a discovery that could provide new targets for developing cancer treatments.
While it has been known for a while that we produce the gas, used to preserve specimens, it has not been known how.
The findings, published in Nature, are important as some types of cancer, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancers, lack enzymes to protect themselves from the toxic effects of formaldehyde — and this could be harnessed to treat them.
Exercise now — to help your memory
Exercising when you are young may help you preserve a good memory in later life, say scientists.
When researchers tested the memory of a fear response in rats, they found that after four months those that were able to run from one month of age had a better memory and more active nerve cells (neurons) in the brain than those kept in a cage without a running wheel. It adds to the belief that the brain can build up a reserve of cells that help protect against the structural decline of age.
The findings, reported in the journal eNeuro, may help to find a way to prevent brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease in the future.
Can a beam of light help stop deadly blood clots?
Near-infrared light could be used to help detect those at heightened risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Scientists found using the light can help them spot plaques — fatty deposits in blood vessels — with internal bleeding that are likely to rupture imminently.
Those that rupture can cause clots that lead to a heart attack or stroke. No imaging techniques can predict which plaques are most dangerous yet.
Researchers at the University of Warwick and Australia’s Monash University made the finding, as reported in Nature. It’s hoped the technique could monitor the effectiveness of drugs used for plaques.
■ Nagging young people to not down their pints may be counter-productive, according to a study in Addiction Research & Theory. When students were shown posters saying people disapproved of such behaviour, it made them more inclined to do it. Changing the wording to ‘most people do not bolt drinks on a night out’ did slow them down, however.
Electric headband may jolt away depression
Patients with depression are currently testing a new treatment — a headband that delivers bursts of electricity.
The device provides a form of transcranial direct current stimulation, which means a low voltage jolt of electricity is applied to specific parts of the brain.
This aims to increase or decrease the brain cell activity in the region. The Mindd headset contains electrodes that sit over the frontal lobe of the brain, which is an area associated with depression.
The idea is that people would use the device at home, but this would be coordinated with doctors.
Trials are under way at hospitals in the U.S. and South Korea.
How colour can affect us. This week: Blue can help dementia patients
The colour of crockery can influence how much we eat. This can be used to help patients with cognitive decline who lose interest in food and risk malnutrition.
When caterers at Salisbury District Hospital served meals in the dementia ward on blue plates instead of white, the amount of food eaten went up from 114g per person to 152g.
One side-effect of dementia is a decrease in the perception of colours, so blue plates provide a contrast which makes food easier to see.
Adding a coloured seat to a toilet in a white bathroom can also be helpful. It makes it easier for them to reach the toilet faster, decreasing the incidence of incontinence.
An app to be launched in autumn called IRIDIS will help dementia carers by using photos of their home to suggest improvements — including how the use of colour can help.
Did you know?
Our eardrums move in the same direction our eyes are looking, U.S researchers at Duke University found. The theory is this helps the brain make sense of what we see and hear. The discovery may lead to hearing aids that better locate sounds.
Hazards of the job
How your job can affect your health. This week: Hairdressers who have problem skin.
As A result of the chemicals and products they come into contact with, up to 70 per cent of hairdressers suffer from skin problems, particularly contact dermatitis — inflammation that leaves the skin painfully red, dry and cracked.
It may be an allergic response or an irritant reaction, said Dr Bav Shergill, a consultant dermatologist and spokesman for the British Association of Dermatologists.
Washing hands often (when shampooing hair, for instance) can strip them of natural oils, which may make them chapped and more prone to irritation. Handling split ends can cause tiny cuts and damage the natural skin barrier. It can also leave the hands open to infections.