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Using science and technology to improve human health

April 18, 2017
athena model

Use of Los Alamos Lab's ATHENA desktop human “body” could reduce the need for animal drug tests.

Health research at Los Alamos

Los Alamos health researchers are firmly engaged in national security science. They are saving lives on battlefields, creating machinery that may one day serve isolated populations in developing nations, or protecting our own children from infectious diseases. Here is a sampling of a few of the many efforts Los Alamos scientists are making to improve human health.

Health questions to ponder

What are the differences between X-rays, CT scans and MRIs?

X-Rays and CT scans both use X radiation, a highly penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation, to image the shadows of a person's tissues and bones. CT stands for Computerized Tomography, and it takes many X-rays from different angles. A computer is then used to assemble the different views into images that can be viewed and manipulated in three dimensions.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses a totally different radiation-free technology. Powerful magnets are used to slightly jiggle hydrogen atoms and detect their motions. Hydrogen is the most common element in our soft tissues, so MRI can see things that are too mushy (technical term) to show up in X-rays or CT scans.

Learn more about X-rays, CT scans and MRIs (pdf).

Can we mine social media data for insights into contagions?

Researchers at Los Alamos are using software to monitor social media for indicators of emerging epidemics. Many people are likely to Google symptoms of illness before they report to medical professionals. Individual doctors and nurses find it difficult to identify an epidemic on their own, so the medical community is often slow to recognize an outbreak. By watching web behavior, and recognizing certain words that are being searched, the team has been able to improve the time it takes to detect an epidemic. Watch a video about this topic.

Learn more about social media and epidemics (pdf).

How do Los Alamos scientists make a liver grow on a chip?

Working with several other institutions, Los Alamos scientists and engineers have been able to culture three-dimensional human tissues in laboratory conditions. Tissue culture is not new, but until now most tissues grown were single cell thin, and did not behave much like their human counterparts. This project has been successful in programming stem cells derived from living human skin samples into liver, heart, and lung tissues that behave like the actual organs. This work may one day have enormous impact on the way diseases are treated.

Watch a video: Project ATHENA Creates Surrogate Human Organ Systems.
Watch a video: ATHENA, the Desktop Human Body.
Learn more about Project Athena (pdf).

Health activity

Go on a germ safari! Download the germ safari pdf.

Health scientist portraits

Cool health links