August 1959 Popular Electronics
of Contents] People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about
and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics
was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights are hereby
acknowledged. See all articles from
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.
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Electronics Against Cancer
By R.E. Atkinson
Electronics faces its greatest challenge in the fight against cancer
X-ray machine made by G.E. provides two million volts of cancer-destroying power.
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
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
machines such as the one shown at left can produce radiations
equal to those from a 3,000,000-volt X-ray. These radiations destroy malignant tissues.
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
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).
Photographs courtesy of American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute
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.
POSSIBLE SIGNS OF EARLY CANCER
1. A lump or thickening
in the breast or elsewhere.
2. Unusual bleeding or discharge from body opening.
3. Persistent indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
Unexplained changes in bowel or bladder habits.
5. Persistent hoarseness
6. Changes 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
|Electron microscopes enable researchers to see cell processes which are
invisible to ordinary microscopes.
||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