Health Tech News This Week – August 7, 2021

What happened in health care technology this week – and why it’s important

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Michael J. Fox Foundation and IBM use AI to uncover multiple underlying types of Parkinson’s disease

In a paper published in The Lancet Digital Health, researchers identified eight unique states in Parkinson’s, with motor and non-motor symptoms. They found that the disease could move among them over time in no particular order. This could include different periods where the patient may have more trouble balancing their posture or walking and when tremors and muscle rigidity may vary from mild to severe—all before terminal disease, the eighth category, which includes severe cognitive impairment.

Why it’s important – By enrolling more than 1,400 patients worldwide, the study has collected years of patient information from health records, wearable devices, and smartphones while sequencing genomes and analyzing specimens taken over the course of their disease. This AI approach may prove to be useful in other chronic, neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and ALS.

Australia Launches Pilot Preventative Cancer Screening Program That Offers Low-cost DNA Genetic Testing to Healthy Adults Between Ages 18 to 40

Dark Daily reported on a new program designed to proactively identify people at risk for a severe disease to allow early clinical laboratory diagnosis and monitoring of the illness. Cancer researchers at Monash University in Australia have received a $2.97 million grant from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to study ways to “identifying people who are living with a heightened cancer risk who would ordinarily be informed only after a potentially incurable cancer is diagnosed.” The researchers plan to use the award to develop a “new low-cost DNA screening test which will be offered to 10,000 young Australians. Called DNACancerScreen, the clinical genetic test will be provided to anyone between the ages of 18 and 40, rather than to a select group of people who have a family history of cancer or who present with symptoms. The DNACancerScreen test will look for genes related to two specific cancer categories: Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC) and Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch Syndrome). These are considered Tier 1 genetic risks by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Why it’s important – The new approach, once scaled-up, can drastically improve access to preventive genetic testing in Australia and could help make Australia the world’s first nation to offer preventive DNA screening through a public healthcare system. Studies like these are an important step in realizing the potential of precision medicine in practical terms. The Tier 1 genetic conditions are just a few of the more than 22,000 recognized human genes of which scientists have a clear understanding. Focusing only on those few genetic conditions enables clinicians to better help patients decide how to manage their risk.

Insulin-Producing Implant Created for Type 1 Diabetes

Technology Networks Cell Science published a summary article on research conducted at Rice University, where bioengineers are using 3D printing and smart biomaterials to create an insulin-producing implant for Type 1 diabetics. The three-year project is a partnership between the laboratories of Omid Veiseh and Jordan Miller that’s supported by a grant from JDRF, the leading global funder of diabetes research.

Why it’s important – As I outlined in my previous post on 3D printing in health care, the field of bioprinting continues to grow at an exponential rate. Veiseh and Miller will use insulin-producing beta cells made from human stem cells to create an implant that senses and regulates blood glucose levels by responding with the correct amount of insulin at a given time. Their goal is to show their implants can adequately control blood glucose levels of diabetic mice for at least six months. By incorporating blood vessels in their implant, they hope to allow their beta-cell tissues to behave in a way that more closely mimics the natural behavior of the pancreas.

Digital health apps balloon to more than 350,000 available on the market, according to IQVIA report

Mobihealthnews covered the release of a new report from the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science on digital health trends. More than 90,000 digital health apps were released last year – an average of 250 per day. Digital health tools are also the focus of growing clinical evidence research and lower barriers to adoption. The report found more than 2,000 studies on digital health app effectiveness have been published since 2007, with almost 1,500 published in the past five years.

“We are finding evidence of a growing maturity of digital health tools in mainstream medicine.”

Murray Aitken, IQVIA senior vice president and executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science

And, in a separate report from The Pew Charitable Trusts published this week, researchers found that Eighty-one percent of adults support increased access to health information for patients and providers; about 4 in 10 survey respondents said the coronavirus pandemic made them more likely to support efforts that enable data-sharing among a patient’s providers and let people download their data from EHRs to apps on smartphones and other devices. More than two-thirds of adults want their clinicians to exchange some health information that federal data-sharing policies don’t currently require, such as advanced care plans or end-of-life preferences, images (such as X-rays), and family medical histories.

What I found especially interesting was the response to which digital health apps respondents would be comfortable downloading data to. As you can see in the graphic below, patients would be most comfortable using apps that were pre-approved by their physician or hospital, reinforcing the importance of a digital health formulary for your organization.

Image Credit: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Why it’s important – As I pointed out in my post on Digital Health Formularies, the exponential growth in the number of available apps makes it impossible for health systems to keep current on what’s available, how well it performs, and what benefits it brings to the end-user. The clinical evidence cited in the article helps organizations understand which tools will best address their clinical needs. And, as found in the Pew survey, patients will be looking to their physician or health system for guidance in selecting digital health tools to help manage their care.

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