The Week That Wasn't: Bionic Hands, Weaponized Ticks, Wellness Shots

Dana Najjar


July 26, 2019

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

Luke Skywalker Arms

Seven amputees in Utah are test driving prototypes of a new robotic arm that enables them to touch and feel again. The prosthetic — dubbed LUKE by the researchers, after Luke Skywalker's robotic arm — uses new technology to mimic the signals that human arms and hands send to the brain, creating more "biologically realistic" impulses.

The prosthetic was developed by a team at the University of Utah led by Gregory Clark, associate professor of biomedical engineering. The research was published last week in Science Robotics. One of the recipients has been able to hold an egg without crushing it, peel a banana, and put on his wedding ring for the first time in 17 years. It's still early days, which is why we didn't cover it. The prototype, which needs to be wired to an external computer to work, still isn't ready to be taken home. The researchers hope to have a version that is by 2021.

Did the Government Weaponize Ticks?

The US House of Representatives recently passed an amendment mandating an investigation into the Department of Defense's possible use of bioweapons between 1950 and 1975. The amendment's author, Chris Smith, said he was inspired by a number of books and articles suggesting that "significant research had been done at US government facilities including Fort Detrick, Maryland and Plum Island, New York to turn ticks and other insects into bioweapons."

The most high profile of these books is Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons , which claims the researcher who is credited with discovering Lyme disease was a bioweapons agent who infected ticks before releasing them from the lab. Some experts have dismissed this as a baseless conspiracy theory: Gary Wormser, founder and director of the Lyme Disease Diagnostic Center, told Buzzfeed News the claim is "not logical, not reasonable, and not true," since it doesn't explain how the disease spread across the entire country so quickly.

Either way, there aren't any clinical implications, so we kept this one on the shelf.

Shooting Down Wellness Shots

Just when we thought the juice cleanse craze was over, a miniature version has reared its head: the wellness shot. Marketed as magic health potions in tiny bottles, these 1- to 2-ounce potables claim to boost energy levels, kickstart the immune system, and generally "detox" the user (though what the toxin in question might be is never specified.) They're typically made up of spices, cold pressed fruits and vegetables, vinegars, and probiotics.

And the trend doesn't seem to be going anywhere: One Brooklyn-based company sells only ginger and turmeric shots in 1.7-ounce bottles that cost $4.99 a pop, while another has raised $7 million in venture capital funding. If any of this sounds suspect, it's because there is no evidence to back up any of these companies' claims. And while a shot of ginger and turmeric isn't going to hurt anyone, it encourages the fallacy that "superfoods" can be a stand-in for a balanced diet and exercise. In the wise words of the Food Network: "There's no such thing as nutrition magic in a bottle."

We don't cover consumer stories but thought this was a trend worth flagging, as it's likely that some of your patients are on the wellness shot bandwagon.

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