Millennial Horns, Robotic Arm, and an Autonomous Diaper

Ellie Kincaid


June 28, 2019

Welcome to The Week That Wasn't. Here are three stories we decided not to cover, and why.

Millennials Are Probably Not Actually Growing "Horns" From Looking at Their Phones

As odd as it is to have to say that, it's apparently necessary after a 2018 research article received an inordinate amount of media attention last week. The article, published in the journal Scientific Reports, drew from 1200 x-ray studies of patients' heads to conclude that 33% of the total population have bone spurs growing on the backs of their heads. People between the ages of 18 and 30 were significantly more likely to have these growths, called enlarged external occipital protuberances (EEOP).

"We hypothesize EEOP may be linked to sustained aberrant postures associated with the emergence and extensive use of hand-held contemporary technologies, such as smartphones and tablets," the authors wrote in the article. The Washington Post story's headline sums up the common take-away from the study: " 'Horns' are growing on young people's skulls. Phone use is to blame, research suggests."

But the research has many issues that make that take-away suspect. In a story detailing those issues, PBS NewsHour reported that a spokesperson for Scientific Reports said the journal was "looking into issues regarding this paper and...will take action where appropriate." Viral research findings don't always stand up to the scrutiny that comes with notoriety.

Brain-Controlled Robotic Arm, Without an Implant

For patients with spinal cord injuries or neurodegenerative conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, brain-computer interfaces offer the hope of someday regaining motor function through technology. But it's still early days for the field, and much of the technology that attempts to translate neurologic signals to move robotic arms or computer cursors relies on brain implants placed surgically, limiting potential clinical use.

In a new research article published in the journal Science Robotics, scientists at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, say they have improved the technology for a noninvasive brain-computer interface based on electroencephalography to control a robotic arm. It's fascinating to watch the videos included with the publication, but as the authors themselves write, clinical applications are "eventual," not current.

Autonomous Diaper Sensor to Detect Urinary Tract Infections

Researchers at Indiana's Purdue University have developed a sensor that, when embedded in a diaper, can test urine for telltale signs of a urinary tract infection and beam the results to a smartphone, they say. The sensor is "autonomous," they note in a university press release, in that it performs the test on its own without a patient or caregiver having to obtain a urine sample or visit a doctor.

While potentially useful to monitor older adults for urinary tract infections, the device is a prototype at this stage and requires further development and testing before it's something physicians can recommend to their patients.

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