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E-waste cure? Doctors use old iPhones for brain surgery

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 2:02 PM - Humans generate a staggering amount of e-waste.

In 2016, 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated globally, a weight that's equal to about 4,500 Eiffel towers. According to National Geographic, that's like every American family throwing out the equivalent of 400 iPhones a year

Small equipment, including mobile phones and printers, are the most commonly-discarded items.

A December report by the Global E-waste Monitor suggests only about 20 per cent of the world's e-waste was properly recycled in 2016, despite the fact that 66 per cent of the global population is covered by e-waste legislation that requires their safe disposal.

The remaining 80 per cent was shipped overseas to other, often poorer, countries for disposal, brought to a landfill or simply abandoned.

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This isn't just bad for the environment. E-waste contains precious metals, like gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium, all of which can be recycled, and it's estimated that €55 billion in these recyclable materials were wasted in 2016 due to improper disposal.

Re-purposing old iPhones for brain surgery

Brazilian doctors have been putting old iPhones to good use.

A new paper published in the Journal of Neurosurgery Tuesday (March 13), shows how old iPhones are being used to help perform brain surgery instead of expensive and bulky video monitoring systems.

The doctors involved say re-purposing old iPhones this way can make minimally-invasive procedures cheaper and more efficient. It can also help support surgeries in countries where expensive medical equipment isn't readily available.

"The most interesting aspect of this project was that our initial goal was to reduce the cost of the neuroendoscopic video set, but, in the end, we came across a new, more intuitive and fluid method of performing these procedures," Mauricio Mandel, a doctor at the University of São Paulo Medical School, said in a statement.

The study analyzed 42 surgeries in which a fully-charged iPhone 4, 5, or 6 was attached to the front of a neuoendoscope with an adaptor, allowing the primary surgeon to focus on the iPhone screen in front of him or her, rather than having to look off to the side, where the video monitor typically stands.

The screen sent Wi-Fi video to a monitor placed elsewhere in the operating room.

The surgeons who tested the smartphone-enabled device found the images were on par with those provided by traditional medical equipment. All surgeries were a success and no complications were recorded.

The complete paper can be found online.

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