Christian Long

Robert Fischell: Medical Inventing

In TED Talks on April 29, 2010 at 8:25 am

Reflection by HERSH T.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Robert Fischell:  Medical Inventing

Medical inventing truly is the most exciting field of study in today’s day and age.

Think of the possibilities. The ability to cure any disease, a prosthetic heart, a way to expound the brain! The possibilities are endless and often they get rather fanciful. Mr. Fischell is a legend in flesh.

His first invention is so relevant in America that it is almost ironic. What is the most prevalent disease and/or problem in America? Heart attacks, and heart problems. If we could tell when a heart attack was going to occur and we could get to the emergency room even before it happened the chance of having less dead heart muscle and the chance of surviving is increased exponentially. There have been many ideas abounding about the possibilities of early detection in heart attacks. What we see is that many people believe that we can detect a heart attack from the excitement of the skin.

What if we could tell directly from the heart?

What if we could install a device that was similar to a pacemaker in size and functioned as a portable ECG? And ECG is an electrocardiogram or a measure of the electric signals that the heart emits when it is pulsing in our body. Dr. Fischell took a pig and conducted this experiment because, unfortunately we can’t just throw things out into our litigating society. So what Dr. Fischell discovered was that when he used a skin detector, the differences in the ECG were minimal and in fact, barely there, when the pig was having a heart attack. However, when Dr. Fischer installed it in the heart of the pig, it emitted data that was easily recognizable and it was in fact early. What that means is that the device showed that the pig was having a heart attack even before any physical symptoms of a heart attack were registered.

We can detect heart attacks, through this method, faster than the human body itself recognizes it.

Another major yet overlooked problem in our current day is migraines. For those of you that have experienced migraines, I have heard that it is excruciating and can leave you incapable of any action. This is a serious problem and yet many people believe it is just a headache and fight through it. We have come so far and eliminated many of the more debilitating discomforts, so why have we not yet destroyed this horrid problem? Well, Dr. Fischell takes the first steps. A migraine is simply as Dr. Fischell puts it, “erroneous electrical activity in the brain.” So, what counters electrical activity? (No worries, I didn’t know either). But the answer is other electrical activity! So why not create a magnetic field around the brain which is floating a salt water solution, which conducts electricity? This magnetic field causes electrical currents to run through the brain which could in turn defeat the migraine.

What Dr. Fischell invented was a small device, similar to a mace can, that people can carry on their persons. All one needs to do is apply it to their forehead and it emits a magnetic pule which eliminates the aura or migraine. It is really a very simple solution. However, often the most complex questions have the simplest answers, and who doesn’t like a good clean easy-to-understand answer?

Now, when you think about the body, the answer to one disease is often the answer to other diseases, or affects the other diseases, or causes a problem somewhere else. The body is an incredibly complex organism that is in a homeostatic state and when that balance is upset by a disease, we simply upset it further with medicine in an attempt to get to fix itself. And, the medicine we use can act in unpredictable and uncertain ways, however, at a certain point, that is preferable to the alternative, which is death. So Dr. Fischell’s idea is to install a sort of neuro-pacemaker that would apply an electrical stimulation to the spot where an epileptic seizure begins because of a migraine.

We can tell where an epileptic seizure will begin.

Doctors nowadays can tell where a seizure is going to occur and we now know how to treat these seizures. So, why not install a device, similar to the device that could detect heart attacks earlier? And install it in such a way that it does not bother the person and can get their attention without having them end up in the emergency room seizing. This device would not only treat epilepsy but it could be used to potentially treat a wide range of diseases that control the human mind to this very day.

Dr. Fischell has several wishes that he hopes to accomplish in the future. He hopes to use the epilepsy device for more than just epilepsy, and he hopes to make a more usable migraine pulse-emitter. But, what seems to be his most prominent wish, is that our litigation society would let go of the malpractice suit which causes the health care system to be so incredibly expensive. Dr. Fischer closes with these wishes and just on a separate note, he comes across as a true human being. He is humble yet aware of his genius. He is caring yet knows where to draw the line. And, it seems as though Dr. Fischell will be back soon.

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