System Bits: Feb. 18

Is your iPad making you motion sick? Researchers from the University of Minnesota say if so, they know why. Meanwhile University of Washington scientists have developed a credit card sized device to help quickly detect pancreatic cancer.

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Is my iPad making me sick?
If you’ve ever felt sick or queasy after using a mobile device for an extended period of time, researchers from the University of Minnesota, believe they know why.

In a recent study, participants played video games on iPads – under controlled, experimental conditions – and experienced motion sickness almost a third of the time. The risk of motion sickness was found to be greatly influenced by how the device was being used.

Half of the participants played the game in “tilt control” mode, controlling the game by manually moving the device. Those participants rarely became sick. The other half that played in “touch” mode, using fingertip contact on the screen exclusively, were nearly five times as likely to get motion sickness.

Given the number of mobile devices in use, the findings suggest the potential for a serious problem, the researchers said. However, the research also has some practical tips for how people can minimize the risk of motion sickness—such as staying in control of your locomotion.

Diagnosing pancreatic cancer in minutes
Little is known about how pancreatic cancer behaves, and as a result, patients often receive a diagnosis when it’s too late. However, University of Washington scientists and engineers are developing a low-cost device that could help pathologists diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier and faster.

The prototype device can perform the basic steps for processing a biopsy, relying on fluid transport instead of human hands to process the tissue.

This new process is expected to help the pathologist make a more rapid diagnosis and be able to determine more accurately how invasive the cancer has become, leading to improved prognosis. The new instrumentation would essentially automate and streamline the manual, time-consuming process a pathology lab goes through to diagnose cancer. Currently, a pathologist takes a biopsy tissue sample, then sends it to the lab where it is cut into thin slices, stained and put on slides, then analyzed optically in 2-D for abnormalities. The UW technology would process and analyze whole tissue biopsies for 3-D imaging, which offers a more complete picture of the cellular makeup of a tumor.

This is valuable because as soon as a piece of tissue is cut, information is lost about it. If the original tissue biopsy can be kept intact, the whole story of abnormal cell growth can be maintained, the researchers explained.

To this end, the researchers are building a thick, credit card-sized, flexible device out of silicon that allows a piece of tissue to pass through tiny channels and undergo a series of steps that replicate what happens on a much larger scale in a pathology lab. The device harnesses the properties of microfluidics, which allows tissue to move and stop with ease through small channels without needing to apply a lot of external force. It also keeps clinicians from having to handle the tissue; instead, a tissue biopsy taken with a syringe needle could be deposited directly into the device to begin processing.