August 1959 Popular Electronics
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular
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Looking at the first picture reminds me of a scene in Star Trek
VI where Mr. Sulu takes a fall while exploring a "nuclear wessel"
and is left unconscious. By the time Kirk and Dr. McCoy get
to him, the doctors have prepared Sulu for 20th-century-style
brain surgery. McCoy is abhorred over the "barbaric" technique
that actually requires cutting open the skull to treat the injury.
Instead, the good doctor passes his humming little device over
Mr. Sulu and heals him instantly. Can you imagine being fraught
with cancer and then being strapped into the chair as shown
with that huge hypodermic-needle-looking thingy pointed at you?
A lethal injection might have been preferred over that experience.
As usual the pioneers took the arrows so that we can benefit
from the treatments enjoyed today. Someday, if mankind or an
asteroid doesn't wipe out civilization, we probably will reach
the point of Dr. McCoy's magic brain healing box.
Electronics Against Cancer
By R.E. Atkinson
Electronics faces its greatest challenge in the fight
X-ray machine made by G.E. provides two million volts of
Once the word "cancer" was whispered. Now we say it firmly,
as a challenge. People are learning to spot the signs of early
cancer, and are seeing their doctors regularly; alert physicians
are also detecting cancer in time to remove malignant growths
before they can spread. The situation is far from hopeless.
Statistics show that more and more people are being saved from
cancer each year.
Dramatic examples of electronics being used to help mankind
are found in the battle against cancer. Electronic devices are
invaluable in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and more
important, they promise to provide the key which will open the
door to an understanding of what causes normal cells to start
multiplying wildly and grow into malignant masses.
In the field of cancer diagnosis, radioactive chemicals injected
into the blood stream act as invisible bloodhounds which track
down malignant tissue. In the treatment of cancer, atoms and
electrons are used to destroy cancerous areas, even those deep
within the body. Ultrasound, too, has been used to shatter malignant
cells under the skin. Electric shock has been employed in a
few cases to relieve pain, and cancer research leans heavily
on electronic instruments such as the electron microscope.
Cancer Therapy. A big gun in our anticancer
arsenal was unveiled this March at the Brookhaven National Laboratory,
Long Island, N. Y. A uranium-powered 1000-kilowatt atomic reactor
has been completed for use in medical research and treatment.
The first reactor specially designed with medical uses in mind,
the Brookhaven installation is integrated with a research center
and hospital. Cancer is its chief target.
One of the experimental techniques that scientists at Brookhaven
are working on is a treatment called "neutron capture." Boron,
a chemical which "captures" a large number of neutrons, is carefully
injected into the patient's blood stream. After the boron is
carried by the blood to an area known to be cancerous, neutron
particles from the atomic reactor are beamed directly at the
tumor area. When neutrons strike the boron, the resulting radiation
kills the tumorous tissue with little damage to surrounding
healthy tissue. Treatment is promising, scientists report, but
is still in the research stage.
Most powerful of all the weapons against cancer is a kind
of X-ray machine called a "synchrotron." While X-ray machines
used in cancer therapy in the past generated 250,000 volts,
the University of California synchrotron generates an X-ray
beam amounting to 70 million volts. The synchrotron's high power
is equivalent to penetration power and is of value when a tumor
is located deep within the body. Of course, brute force is not
enough. The problem in treating cancer with X-rays is to destroy
the cancer tissue and leave the adjacent healthy tissue undamaged.
Consequently, although the synchrotron produces enormous power,
its accuracy in focusing beams of cancer-killing X-rays is a
marvel of engineering.
Cancer Can Be Cured. In the therapy of cancer
with X-rays and other methods, the primary interest is in curing
the patient outright. The Cured Cancer Congress, which met recently
in Washington, D. C., is living testimony that cancer can be
cured. To qualify as a member of the Cured Cancer Congress,
a cancer victim must have had no sign of the disease for five
or more years after treatment. This year 40 delegates represented
almost one million Americans cured of cancer.
Many of these people would not be alive today if it weren't
for medical electronics. For example, Mrs. Richard A. Flacco
of Bellflower, Calif., received surgical treatment of an abdominal
cancer after X-rays revealed it in time for early care; follow-up
radiation treatment finished the job. Mrs. Flacco leads a normal
life today and two of her three children have been born since
the surgery was performed.
Radioactive cobalt machines
such as the one shown above can produce radiations equal to
those from a 3,000,000-volt X-ray. These radiations destroy
Just as early and accurate diagnosis was so important to Mrs.
Flacco, it is vital to the well-being of hundreds of thousands
of people. One of the most promising electronic diagnostic devices
is the "cytoanalyzer." Cancer cells have a peculiar center,
or nucleus, by which they may be identified, and the cytoanalyzer
looks at slides of cells and measures their degree of density
from nucleus to outer edges. Thus, it is capable of determining
which cells are cancerous.
The cytoanalyzer is many times faster than a human lab technician,
scanning each slide in less than one fifth of a millisecond.
In a test recently reported by the National Cancer Institute,
the cytoanalyzer was fed over 1000 slides to analyze. Technicians
had already determined that 20 of these slides contained specimens
of cancer cells. The cytoanalyzer detected everyone of these
slides, and also labeled a few others as "suspicious."
The radioactive isotope - another diagnostic aid - has been
called a hitchhiker with a walkie-talkie. If it finds cancer,
it reports back to an isotope counter. Here's how it works.
After scientists find chemicals that are especially attracted
to cancer tissues in certain parts of the body, they "tag" them
with a small dose of radioactivity.
Examination of cells suspected of being cancerous
is speeded by the use of the cytoanalyzer. This device can tell
if cells are normal (left circle) or cancerous (right circle).
For example, thyroid tissue has a special thirst for iodine.
If offshoots of thyroid cancer travel to any part of the body,
they, too, attract more iodine than do other tissues. A patient
thought to have thyroid cancer is injected with radioactive
iodine and is then placed under a scanner - an isotope counter.
As the patient is moved under the scanner, impulses from the
radioactive iodine indicate the areas in which bits of thyroid
cancer have begun to grow. Often, with early detection, it is
possible to remove these stray growths.
Photographs courtesy of American Cancer Society
and National Cancer Institute
POSSIBLE SIGNS OF EARLY CANCER
A lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere.
Unusual bleeding or discharge from body opening.
Persistent indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
Unexplained changes in bowel or bladder habits.
Persistent hoarseness or cough.
in color or size of a mole or a wart.
Any sore that does not heal promptly.
Don't wait for symptoms to become painful; pain is not an
early cancer sign. Have a complete physical examination at least
once a year.
Cancer Research. Why does a cell go berserk
and start multiplying wildly? Do germs upset the cell's own
control centers? Does some chemical imbalance cause the cellular
havoc we call cancer? In seeking the answers to these questions,
the researcher would be almost helpless without electronic instruments
to extend the limits of his perception. In addition to the many
devices which are useful in detecting and treating cancer, electron
microscopes and other electronically controlled instruments
are now enabling us to study the structure of the cell itself.
Such devices may turn up the clue which will lead to an understanding
of the behavior of cancer cells.
Electron microscopes enable
researchers to see cell processes which are invisible to ordinary
Research is also aided by
the use of the mass spectrometer. It measures the relative weights
of molecules by electronic means.
Progress in cancer-therapy techniques has already raised
the life-saving rate from one in four to one in three. But it
is possible even today, says the American Cancer Society, to
save half of all the people stricken by cancer by early diagnosis
and treatment. Eventually, we will find out exactly what cancer
is, why it starts, and how to cure it. Until that time, medical
electronics will continue to face its sternest challenge, the
conquest of cancer.
Posted March 7, 2012