Health Tech News This Week – September 25, 2021

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Cancer Treatment: New Software Uses Artificial Intelligence to Grow, Treat Virtual Tumors

Margaret Davis reports on a multidisciplinary project that brings together experts in artificial intelligence, computer science, microfluidics, modeling, and medicine to offer a novel method for cancer treatment research in an article in The Science Times.

The new software enables scientists to grow virtual tumors and use artificial intelligence (AI) to design nanoparticles to treat them. The team was able to simulate simple and complex tumors with cancer stem cells, which are difficult to treat and have increase chances of relapse. They were able to grow virtual tumors and used artificial intelligence to identify strategies in nanoparticles design that were known to be effective and created potential methods for nanoparticle design.

Why it’s important – Studies have shown that nanoparticle-based (NP) drug delivery systems have many advantages in cancer treatments, such as precise targeting of tumor cells, reduction of side effects, good pharmacokinetics, and drug resistance.


For These Clinicians, 3D Printers Are Changing Medicine

Over the past decade, medical professionals and researchers have adopted additive manufacturing technologies, more commonly known as 3D printing, to make great strides in their respective fields. And as researchers and bioengineers busy themselves with expanding the realm of possible applications, surgeons and doctors have begun to use the technology at the point of care. Gabe Allen reviews some of the current real-world clinical applications in his article in Discover Magazine.

“I think it will take at least 10 more years until we can print a full-sized, functional human heart that can be transplanted. But I definitely think this is the future of medicine. We will create organs in the lab and transplant them.”

Tal Dvir, Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

And, in a separate online post on 3dprint.com, Vanesa Listek reports on research being conducted to develop therapeutic products based on bioprinted transplantable microtissues targeting important diseases that lack adequate treatment. For example, in the past months, Fluicell’s internal research team has been focusing on providing viable solutions for type 1 diabetes, a disease that currently has no cure and is only managed through the control of blood glucose with a combination of insulin therapy, diet, and exercise.

The research team has succeeded in creating transferrable biocomposites that mimic the insulin-producing function of the pancreas. If the treatment is successful in the future, it will help patients with type 1 diabetes whose body’s own immune system doesn’t allow the pancreas to produce insulin.

Why it’s important – Once a practitioner has access to a 3D printer, the marginal cost of producing a device is often no more than a few dollars. For a more detailed look at the use of 3D printing in health care, see my earlier blog post here.


Apple is researching whether its iPhone could help detect depression

Apple Inc. is work­ing on tech­nol­ogy to help di­ag­nose de­pres­sion and cog­ni­tive de­cline, aim­ing for tools that could ex­pand the scope of its bur­geon­ing health port­fo­lio, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter and documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

The research is part of Apple’s partnerships with US biotech Biogen and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which were announced earlier this year, The Journal reported. Apple’s research with Biogen is focused on cognitive decline, and its research with UCLA is focused on stress, anxiety, and depression.

Separately, the company has a third undisclosed partnership with Duke University focused on detecting childhood autism, a neurodevelopmental condition, The Journal reported, citing the same documents and people. The research uses the iPhone camera to observe how kids focus and move, per the report.

Why it’s important – The hope is that if data gathered from Apple devices, such as the iPhone, correlates with a health condition, Apple could develop an app or feature that could warn people that they are at risk so they can seek care. However, these research projects are in the very early stages of development and may never lead to new iPhone features, as we have seen in the past.


AI-generated drug regime for deadly childhood cancer in trials

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust have used AI to identify a potential treatment for Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a rare, aggressive type of brain tumor that affects children. The research was discussed in an online post on the Engineering and Technology website.

They found that combining the drug everolimus with another called vandetanib could enhance the latter’s capacity to pass through the blood-brain barrier to treat cancer. Both drugs are already approved for treating other cancers.

Why it’s important – DIPG is difficult to treat with surgery because the cancer is diffuse; there is no well-defined border suitable for operation. A quarter of children with DIPG have a mutation in a gene known as ACVR1; there are no approved treatments to target this mutation. So far, the combination has proved effective in mouse models – increasing the amount of vandetanib in the DIPG-afflicted mouse brains by 56 percent and extending survival 14 percent compared with a control treatment – and has been initially tested on four children. The drug combination’s next step is a clinical trial on a broader group of children.


Flying Microchips The Size Of A Sand Grain Could Be Used For Population Surveillance

The tiny microfliers, whose development by engineers at Northwestern University was detailed in an article published by Nature this week, are being billed as the smallest-ever human-made flying structures.

The wind would scatter the tiny microchips, which could sense their surrounding environments and collect information. The scientists say they could potentially monitor contamination, surveil populations or even track diseases.

Why it’s important – This technology could be used to track unhealthy air quality over a wide geographic area in natural disasters such as fires, volcanic eruptions, and other climate disasters. They could also be utilized to monitor the distribution of aerosolizing particles in the air In pandemic conditions.


A Daily Pill to Treat Covid Could Be Just Months Away, Scientists Say

Kaiser Health News reporter JoNel Aleccia reported on a clinical trial at the Fred Hutchenson cancer research center that’s part of an international effort to test an antiviral treatment that could halt covid early in its course. Participants in the trial have a role in developing what could be the world’s next chance to thwart covid: a short-term regimen of daily pills that can fight the virus early after diagnosis and conceivably prevent symptoms from developing after exposure.

“Oral antivirals have the potential to not only curtail the duration of one’s covid-19 syndrome, but also have the potential to limit transmission to people in your household if you are sick.”

Timothy Sheahan, Virologist, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Why it’s important – The medications developed to treat and prevent viral infections in people and animals work differently depending on the type. But they can be engineered to boost the immune system to fight infection, block receptors so viruses can’t enter healthy cells, or lower the amount of active virus in the body. If the results are positive and emergency use is granted for any product, the distribution could begin quickly.

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