If your baby is nearing his/her first birthday and has suddenly shown less interest in playing but is otherwise developing nicely, don't worry. It probably means that he/she is about to start walking. New research at the University of Haifa's Faculty of Education has found that a baby's learning to walk affects his play skills. "Parents need to know that they should modify demands from their child during certain periods of change and development in order to encourage their child and enhance his feelings of mastery and competence," says Dr. Eleanor Schneider, who conducted the research under the direction of Prof. Anat Scher. The research was based on the assumption that the domain of play reflects the interaction between a child and its environment. When a child begins to walk, the way in which he experiences his environment changes. This change may be manifested in the way he plays. To examine this assumption, the researchers evaluated 60 children at ages 10, 12 and 14 months. The researcher measured the child's play using three parameters: persistence and engagement in a specific task while playing with objects, attention span and concentration and the level of sophistication of object play. Results revealed a tendency to a decrease in the child's level of persistence, concentration and attentiveness at the onset of walking in comparison to the pre-walking stage. This seeming regression in play behavior was short term, since the child's persistence and attentiveness tended to increase and improve after mastering the initial stages of independent walking. The researcher also noted a regression, albeit not decisive, in task-directed behaviors during this period. Schneider also found differences between the level of play of children who had already begun to walk and those of the same age who were not yet walking. Those children who had mastered independent walking exhibited a higher level of play than their non-walking peers. "To enable a child to develop in an encouraging, nurturing environment, parents need to adjust their expectations according to their child's current stage of development. Parents, as well as researchers in the field, need to take into account that processes involving attention and persistence are likely to be influenced by current motor processes being experienced by the child," Schneider explained. SPINAL SURGERY ROBOT A Israeli-developed miniature robot that increases the precision of implant placement in spinal fusion has been demonstrated here for the first time at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. Developed by Mazor Surgical Technologies, the "global positioning system" for the human body has been described as the "first of its kind" for use in spinal surgery. Called SpineAssist, the device was developed with the aid of leading spinal surgeons from Carmel, Sheba and Hadassah Medical Centers. The system is being used after extensive tests and clinical trials in Israel and the US, and one of the first medical centers abroad to use it is the Cleveland Clinic, a world-renowned center of excellence for spinal surgery. During the past year, the robot has been used in over 200 operations worldwide. Hadassah is preparing to purchase the first robot from Mazor after the successful completion of 20 operations performed under the supervision of orthopedic surgery chief Prof. Meir Leibergall and orthopedic surgeons Dr. Leon Kaplan and Dr. Yair Barzilai. According to results recently presented in medical conferences, the robotic navigation significantly improved the precision of implant placement in comparison to implants inserted without SpineAssist. Every year, there are over half a million spinal operations in the US alone in which the SpineAssist has potential to assist the surgeon. Mazor CEO Ori Hadomi expects that within a few years, SpineAssist will become the standard of care in most spinal surgeries. Leibergall, who has for years used mini-robots for assisting in artificial hip implantation, said its use at Hadassah will set a new standard of safety, accuracy and surgical quality. The robot doesn't replace the surgeon or perform any surgical operation; instead, it executes a plan prepared before the operation by the surgeon, who reviews and approves the robot's recommendation and then inserts the surgical tools (drill or scalpel) through the robotic arm. SpineAssist decreases the chance of hitting vital organs, and significantly increases the accuracy of implant placement. IS IT A MIRACLE? An Israeli-developed device that helps rehabilitate stroke victims, which recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for testing in the US, has been found useful by researchers at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The high-tech device, developed by NESS, helps patients regain the ability to walk more naturally, according to a statement by the New York researchers. Called the NESS L300 neuro-rehabilitation system, it is worn on the lower leg and foot in place of a traditional foot brace. Sensors detect whether the patient's foot is on the floor or in the air, and electrodes transmit painless electrical pulses to the peroneal nerve to activate the calf muscle and correct the gait. The device has been offered to patients at the hospital since the beginning of this year, and has already been shown to improve walking coordination, speed and blood flow, and to decrease the effort required in walking. THROUGH THE NOSE A 50-year-old woman who was blinded in her left eye by a benign tumor in her brain has completely regained her sight after the tumor was removed by surgeons at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Tzrifin. The woman arrived at the emergency room complaining of severe headaches and loss of sight. She underwent a CT scan and was found to suffer from a non-malignant tumor that sat on a part of the brain called the "Turkish saddle" and pressed on the optic nerve leading to her left eye. The endoscopic surgery, performed via her nose, was successful in removing the entire tumor. The next day, she could see normally again, said Dr. Ephraim Evyatar, head of the hospital's ear-nose-and-throat department and the man who headed the surgical team.