Click here to close now.


Python Authors: XebiaLabs Blog, Hovhannes Avoyan, Carmen Gonzalez, Ignacio M. Llorente, Elizabeth White

Blog Feed Post

How the world’s first open source MRI happened

You wouldn’t think that a hang gliding accident could start a revolution in medicine. But when a teenager fell 150 feet into a lake several years ago, the subsequent events that sparked a revolutionary new diagnostic method, what I am calling the first open source MRI. The story is a fascinating look at what one family can accomplish if they keep asking questions and getting the right people into a room to talk to each other.

MRIs are big proprietary machines made by a dozen large equipment manufacturers (such as Siemens, Hitachi and Toshiba) and cost plenty: think of them as what IBM mainframes of the 1980s were when PCs first started entering the corporate ecosystem. You have to train people how to operate them and interpret their scans, and once they are setup, you have to run them more or less continuously to realize the return on your investment. If your hospital or imaging center buys equipment from one vendor, you are pretty much locked into that vendor’s line of accessories and upgrades. And they are designed for very specific diagnostic situations. One of them that they aren’t very good at is looking at spinal cord abnormalities.

This is what Spencer Stein faced when he hit that lake after his hang gliding accident. His fall ended up giving him four spinal fractures, which he found after a week of living with back pain and going to the doctor. That was to be expected, given the height of his fall: he was lucky to be mobile. But what the doctors also found was a cavernous angioma, a series of blood clots inside his spine that he had since birth. The defect wasn’t related to the fall, just something that had been with him all his life, silent and symptom-free. The clots could stay that way, or they could bleed out and paralyze him instantly from the chest down.

Spencer had a tough choice; “I faced a dilemma. Leaving my defect alone, without surgery, could mean permanent loss of all bodily sensation, hideous neurological pain, or loss of functioning and movement in the lower half of my body. Yet an operation on this ultra-important, all-but-inaccessible part of my body could cause any of the same problems. It seemed like a no-win situation.” He wrote this for an article in the local San Diego newspaper this past summer chronicling his adventures.

As Spencer says, the fall was really a gift to learn about his birth defect. Without his fall, it would have never been discovered. So should he get the operation, or leave it alone? It wasn’t an easy decision. First, he had to find a surgeon who did many of these operations: this is a very highly specialized field, and only a few people actually do more than a few spinal operations a year of this nature. Second, many of the doctors Spencer saw didn’t want to do high-risk surgery on someone so young and otherwise so healthy, and said they wouldn’t dare operate. Spencer’s parents left the decision up to him. Can you imagine having to make the call of opening up a spinal cord on an extreme athlete?

Spencer with his parents visited a few of the doctors who specialize in this two-hour procedure, and eventually found one who was willing to proceed with the surgery in Arizona. That was great. But to really understand the structure of the clot, this doctor wanted better, higher-resolution pictures.

Back to the MRIs. Most of the machines that are available to the general public use 1.5 to 3 Tesla magnets (this is a measurement of magnetic force, named after the scientist that did a lot of early work, not the contemporary electric car company). Stein had a series of these MRIs to see what was going on inside his spine. But these images only told part of the story. The way to get to higher res images is to use a bigger magnet, just like our camera phones have a bigger image sensor in them.

It so happens that there is a 7 Tesla magnet at NYU Medical Center, but it was used for medical research unrelated to spinal imaging. No one had ever thought to use this research magnet in this way before.

That’s where Spencer’s dad came into our story. His dad made a few phone calls, and knew some of the leading edge diagnosticians in medical imaging. He managed to bring together people from bio-imaging, neurosurgery, and other clinicians to collaborate on how to use this magnet to take the right kind of spinal pictures.

Spencer’s dad is Lee Stein, someone that I have known for decades for his work in tech. Lee was part of the initial digital payments efforts in the mid-1990s, before there was a PayPal, before there was a Square, when paying for something online using a credit card was new. Now we take these things for granted, but back then Lee and a group of Internet pioneers assembled an elegant way to pay for things using nothing more than email. The effort never took off, but the founders of the firm laid the groundwork for how we pay for things online today.

I have written about Lee before, in another effort that he has been working on for several years called Prize Capital. As a result of this work, Lee became familiar with the TED Med community. (You can watch his TED Talk here :)

He is a very unassuming and modest man for someone who has led some pretty amazing technologic efforts over the years. “Spencer was no longer a patient, but a catalyst for forming a new center at NYU.” When I met up with Lee a few months ago, he told me that he just made a couple of phone calls. Yeah, right. The scan brought together many specialists who were able to cobble together this open source solution in real time, rather than years that it would have normally taken. As you can see in the TED video, the doctors are sitting together, hunched around the MRI monitor, sharing knowledge and ideas on the spot.

As a result of Spencer’s scan and his parents’ efforts, more than $22 million dollars was raised for this new center, including contributions from Siemens, the MRI vendor used at NYU. “It has been a remarkable experience for us as a family to see how NYU has come together to do this,” Lee says in his TED lecture.

The Steins brought together these very highly specialized doctors at NYU, and now they are figuring out ways to use the equipment for a variety of diagnoses of different diseases. It is quite thrilling.

However, the irony of all this is that the 7 Tesla images didn’t help Spencer’s situation. Turns out, the large blood clot concentrates iron molecules in one place, and the large amount of iron deflects the higher-intensity MRI beams so no additional information could be gleaned from these higher res pictures.

But Spencer went ahead with the operation, and fortunately it was successful. He is back in school at Cornell. The Stein family, being who they are, created a prize of $5,000 as part of an ongoing annual business plan competition held by the school.

Their prize is given for the business plan that best addressed issues of disability or environmental sustainability. The first one was given to an idea called EcoFishFeed that raises forager fish for feed at salmon aquaculture farms. The Stein Family Prize will continue to be a part of future Cornell business plan competitions.

It is a fitting testimonial to Spencer’s fall from the sky.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By David Strom

David Strom is an international authority on network and Internet technologies. He has written extensively on the topic for 20 years for a wide variety of print publications and websites, such as The New York Times,, PC Week/eWeek,, Network World, Infoworld, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, Communications Week, Windows Sources, c|net and, Web Review, Tom's Hardware, EETimes, and many others.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
The buzz continues for cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) and their collective impact across all industries. But a new conversation is emerging - how do companies use industry disruption and technology enablers to lead in markets undergoing change, uncertainty and ambiguity? Organizations of all sizes need to evolve and transform, often under massive pressure, as industry lines blur and merge and traditional business models are assaulted and turned upside down. In this new data-driven world, marketplaces reign supreme while interoperability, APIs and applications deliver un...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ProfitBricks, the provider of painless cloud infrastructure, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. ProfitBricks is the IaaS provider that offers a painless cloud experience for all IT users, with no learning curve. ProfitBricks boasts flexible cloud servers and networking, an integrated Data Center Designer tool for visual control over the cloud and the best price/performance value available. ProfitBricks was named one of the coolest Clo...
Organizations already struggle with the simple collection of data resulting from the proliferation of IoT, lacking the right infrastructure to manage it. They can't only rely on the cloud to collect and utilize this data because many applications still require dedicated infrastructure for security, redundancy, performance, etc. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Emil Sayegh, CEO of Codero Hosting, will discuss how in order to resolve the inherent issues, companies need to combine dedicated and cloud solutions through hybrid hosting – a sustainable solution for the data required to manage I...
NHK, Japan Broadcasting, will feature the upcoming @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley in a special 'Internet of Things' and smart technology documentary that will be filmed on the expo floor between November 3 to 5, 2015, in Santa Clara. NHK is the sole public TV network in Japan equivalent to the BBC in the UK and the largest in Asia with many award-winning science and technology programs. Japanese TV is producing a documentary about IoT and Smart technology and will be covering @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley. The program, to be aired during the peak viewership season of the year, will have a major impac...
Apps and devices shouldn't stop working when there's limited or no network connectivity. Learn how to bring data stored in a cloud database to the edge of the network (and back again) whenever an Internet connection is available. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bradley Holt, Developer Advocate at IBM Cloud Data Services, will demonstrate techniques for replicating cloud databases with devices in order to build offline-first mobile or Internet of Things (IoT) apps that can provide a better, faster user experience, both offline and online. The focus of this talk will be on IBM Cloudant, Apa...
WebRTC is about the data channel as much as about video and audio conferencing. However, basically all commercial WebRTC applications have been built with a focus on audio and video. The handling of “data” has been limited to text chat and file download – all other data sharing seems to end with screensharing. What is holding back a more intensive use of peer-to-peer data? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Dr Silvia Pfeiffer, WebRTC Applications Team Lead at National ICT Australia, will look at different existing uses of peer-to-peer data sharing and how it can become useful in a live session to...
As a company adopts a DevOps approach to software development, what are key things that both the Dev and Ops side of the business must keep in mind to ensure effective continuous delivery? In his session at DevOps Summit, Mark Hydar, Head of DevOps, Ericsson TV Platforms, will share best practices and provide helpful tips for Ops teams to adopt an open line of communication with the development side of the house to ensure success between the two sides.
There are so many tools and techniques for data analytics that even for a data scientist the choices, possible systems, and even the types of data can be daunting. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Harrold, Global CTO for Big Data Solutions for EMC Corporation, will show how to perform a simple, but meaningful analysis of social sentiment data using freely available tools that take only minutes to download and install. Participants will get the download information, scripts, and complete end-to-end walkthrough of the analysis from start to finish. Participants will also be given the pract...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM Cloud Data Services has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IBM Cloud Data Services offers a portfolio of integrated, best-of-breed cloud data services for developers focused on mobile computing and analytics use cases.
The enterprise is being consumerized, and the consumer is being enterprised. Moore's Law does not matter anymore, the future belongs to business virtualization powered by invisible service architecture, powered by hyperscale and hyperconvergence, and facilitated by vertical streaming and horizontal scaling and consolidation. Both buyers and sellers want instant results, and from paperwork to paperless to mindless is the ultimate goal for any seamless transaction. The sweetest sweet spot in innovation is automation. The most painful pain point for any business is the mismatch between supplies a...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
The broad selection of hardware, the rapid evolution of operating systems and the time-to-market for mobile apps has been so rapid that new challenges for developers and engineers arise every day. Security, testing, hosting, and other metrics have to be considered through the process. In his session at Big Data Expo, Walter Maguire, Chief Field Technologist, HP Big Data Group, at Hewlett-Packard, will discuss the challenges faced by developers and a composite Big Data applications builder, focusing on how to help solve the problems that developers are continuously battling.
Nowadays, a large number of sensors and devices are connected to the network. Leading-edge IoT technologies integrate various types of sensor data to create a new value for several business decision scenarios. The transparent cloud is a model of a new IoT emergence service platform. Many service providers store and access various types of sensor data in order to create and find out new business values by integrating such data.
WebRTC converts the entire network into a ubiquitous communications cloud thereby connecting anytime, anywhere through any point. In his session at WebRTC Summit,, Mark Castleman, EIR at Bell Labs and Head of Future X Labs, will discuss how the transformational nature of communications is achieved through the democratizing force of WebRTC. WebRTC is doing for voice what HTML did for web content.
Who are you? How do you introduce yourself? Do you use a name, or do you greet a friend by the last four digits of his social security number? Assuming you don’t, why are we content to associate our identity with 10 random digits assigned by our phone company? Identity is an issue that affects everyone, but as individuals we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ben Klang, Founder & President of Mojo Lingo, will discuss the impact of technology on identity. Should we federate, or not? How should identity be secured? Who owns the identity? How is identity ...
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of at least three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the backend big-data service, and the mobile application for the end user's controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/target - this makes the integration of these separate pipelines and the coordination of software upd...
WebRTC services have already permeated corporate communications in the form of videoconferencing solutions. However, WebRTC has the potential of going beyond and catalyzing a new class of services providing more than calls with capabilities such as mass-scale real-time media broadcasting, enriched and augmented video, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Luis Lopez, CEO of Kurento, will introduce the technologies required for implementing these ideas and some early experiments performed in the Kurento open source software community in areas ...
WebRTC: together these advances have created a perfect storm of technologies that are disrupting and transforming classic communications models and ecosystems. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Cary Bran, VP of Innovation and New Ventures at Plantronics and PLT Labs, will provide an overview of this technological shift, including associated business and consumer communications impacts, and opportunities it may enable, complement or entirely transform.