The Hive

Concussion checks, via robot

A doctor spoke with a patient via robot.
A doctor spoke with a patient via robot.Bill Greene/Globe Staff/File 2011/Boston Globe

Highlights from boston.com/hive, Boston’s source for innovation news.

The Mayo Clinic and Northern Arizona University will use a robot from the Nashua, N.H., company VGo Communications Inc. as part of a groundbreaking study to determine if doctors can diagnose concussions remotely from their offices instead of in the locker room.

The sleek, 4-foot-tall bot, which costs about $6,000, is equipped with a video screen, speaker, and microphone so a doctor in a distant location can communicate with — and see — members of the NAU Lumberjacks. The so-called telemedicine technology will let a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix control the VGo with an iPad and assess an injured player.


Evaluations conducted using the robot will be done in the locker room, and NAU staff will conduct the medical consultations. The study is meant to determine the accuracy of the remote technology in diagnosing concussions and to see if the robots might eventually be used in high schools, where players often don’t have access to medical staff.

Remote diagnosis “is one way to bridge this gap regardless of when or where they may be playing,” Bert Vargas, a neurologist who is leading the study for the Mayo Clinic, said in a statement.

The Mayo Clinic has been using the VGo robot to treat patients in remote clinics. This is the first time it is testing them to treat sports injuries.

The VGo bots are also being used in several Boston-area hospitals and in some schools in Massachusetts so that students with illnesses who otherwise would not be able to attend can show up for class via robots. — MICHAEL FARRELL

Shock treatment for Facebook addiction

Two PhD students from MIT’s Media Lab have posted the results of a recent experiment that brought Pavlov’s dogs into the modern age by delivering electric shocks to users who spend too much time on Facebook.


Then they looked for less painful solutions.

Dubbed the “Pavlov Poke,” the setup worked like this:

■  An application monitored what Web pages users were browsing, taking note of how much time was being spent on Facebook.

■  A keyboard wrist rest sent a shock when excessive Facebook usage was detected.

Will it cure the socially addicted? Tough to say. “Sadly, we found the shocks so aversive, we removed the device pretty quickly after installing it,” wrote Robert R. Morris.

The researchers then switched from physical to emotional triggers, using Amazon Mechanical Turk to build a verbal harassment-as-a-service tool that calls up the overly distracted Facebooker.

The experiments were created with a light-hearted attitude, but the researchers said they were trying to make a serious point.

“Technologies like Facebook are addictive by design,” they note on their project page. “Further, there is increasing evidence to suggest that, over time, Facebook use reduces subjective well-being. Would you still use Facebook if you knew it made you unhappy? Probably, if you’re addicted to it.”

Their research — here and elsewhere — is about helping to establish healthier norms when it comes to how we interact online and off. Hopefully, no shocks required. — MICHAEL MORISY

Money may help cancer drugs advance

Syndax Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Waltham company that looks to market treatments for breast and lung cancers, has raised $26.6 million in additional financing. Investors include Domain Associates, MPM Capital, Forward Ventures, and RusnanoMedInvest.

The company’s lead drug candidate is called entinostat, and Syndax hopes it can be used in combination with other drugs against breast and lung cancers that are resistant to traditional treatments. Entinostat is about to enter late-stage clinical testing.


In a statement, Arlene M. Morris, Syndax chief executive, said: “Entinostat represents the most advanced clinical program of an epigenetic therapy in solid tumors. We have a unique opportunity to help a patient population where safe and effective treatments capable of extending survival are needed desperately.” — CHRIS REIDY