Health Tech News This Week – October 9, 2021

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

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Alexa launches service to help caregivers remotely monitor and assist seniors

Emily Olsen reported on this product release in an article on MobiHealthNews Global edition. Alexa Together allows multiple family members or caregivers to check in on an aging loved one. They can set customized alerts, such as a warning if their family member hasn’t used Alexa for a certain amount of time, and remotely help their loved one, like setting a reminder to take medications or managing a shopping list. The subscription, which Amazon will release later this year in the U.S., will cost $19.99 a month and builds on the company’s Care Hub features that debuted in November 2020. The subscription also includes a 24/7 urgent response service, and it’s compatible with third-party fall detection devices.

Why it’s important – The demand for remote monitoring for seniors is growing as baby boomers age. By 2030, all members of the massive baby boom generation will be older than 65, and the Census Bureau predicts older people over 65 will outnumber children under the age of 18 for the first time in U.S. history by 2034. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, Amazon has expanded its reach in the healthcare and digital health space. Just this past month, Amazon announced a beta program for a personal Alexa-powered robot. (Subscription required) Named Astro, the robot is designed to keep a watchful eye on your home — and you. The robot comes equipped with a periscope camera and microphone, as well as a touchscreen. It can autonomously navigate your house to investigate security issues or follow you around while you’re on a video call. It’s expensive, and the medical applications have not been clearly defined. The significant risk with Astro is that it never makes it to a formal product and is another Fire Phone. Interesting work – but no guarantees on this one.

Abu Dhabi on track to operate world’s first city-wide medical drone network

Using drones to transfer and deliver medical supplies is now a step closer to becoming a reality in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital. As reported by Rachel McArthur in MobiHealthNews global edition, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health (DoH) has announced it is in the process of testing an advanced drone network for the healthcare sector in the emirate. Said to be a “first of its kind” project in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the new network – made up of 40 drone stations – is expected to be established in 2022.

The project aims for drones to safely transfer medical supplies, medicine, blood units, vaccines, and samples between laboratories, pharmacies, blood banks, and healthcare facilities in the city. Phase One of testing has reportedly already been completed, with Phase Two now being run and scheduled to conclude by the end of the year.

And, the UAE is not alone in experimenting with drone delivery in health care. This article highlights other unique global projects utilizing drones in delivering care in countries including India, Nepal, Fiji, Uganda, and Rwanda.

Why it’s important – Since this is a large-scale project, the intention is to help in emergencies and contribute to reducing occupancy rates in healthcare facilities and enhancing the quality of patient outcomes. The Authority added that the network is also expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and traffic congestion.

Apple study finds Watch can detect more types of irregular heartbeats

New findings from the Apple Heart Study indicate that Apple Watches can identify irregular heartbeats other than atrial fibrillation arrhythmias. Mallory Hackett published an article in MobiHealthNews global edition highlighting ongoing research at the Stanford University School of Medicine, which has been ongoing since 2017. It has enrolled 419,297 Apple Watch and iPhone owners across the U.S. to study the company’s irregular heart rate-detecting algorithm.

The most common arrhythmias detected were premature atrial contractions, premature ventricular contractions, atrial tachycardia, and nonsustained ventricular tachycardia, according to the study. Additionally, the researchers found that almost a third of participants notified of arrhythmia but didn’t have atrial fibrillation on the subsequent ECG reading were eventually diagnosed with atrial fibrillation later in the study. This signals that the Apple Watch could have detected early signs of atrial fibrillation that the ECG patch missed.

Why it’s important – The researchers say that defining care options for patients with arrhythmias other than atrial fibrillation “is important as AF detection is further investigated, implemented, and refined.” Also, it’s another example of Apple’s continuing efforts in health care research, which includes work in asthma, Women’s health, hearing, and depression.

Scientists reverse pancreatic cancer progression in ‘time machine’ made of human cells

What makes pancreatic cancer so deadly is its covert and quick spread. Now, a “time machine” built by Purdue University engineers has shown a way to reverse the course of cancer before it spreads throughout the pancreas. Purdue University News posted an article on their research}.

“These findings open up the possibility of designing a new gene therapy or drug because now we can convert cancerous cells back into their normal state.”

Bumsoo Han, Purdue professor of mechanical engineering and program leader of the Purdue Center for Cancer Research

The time machine that Han’s lab built is a lifelike reproduction of a pancreatic structure called the acinus, which produces and secretes digestive enzymes into the small intestine. Pancreatic cancer tends to develop from chronic inflammation when a mutation has caused these digestive enzymes to digest the pancreas itself.

Why it’s important – If there were a way to go back in time to reprogram the cancerous acinar cells that produce those enzymes, then it might be possible to reset the pancreas completely. The model that Purdue researchers developed overcomes a significant challenge in accurately capturing the anatomical complexity of the acinus, a circular cavity lined with cells. Han’s lab is currently conducting experiments exploring a possible gene therapy based on these findings.

A ‘Historic Event’: First Malaria Vaccine Approved by W.H.O.

As reported in multiple news outlets this week, the world has gained a new weapon in the war on malaria, among the oldest known and deadliest infectious diseases: the first vaccine shown to help prevent the disease. The new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, rouses a child’s immune system to thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday endorsed the vaccine, the first step in a process that should lead to wide distribution in developing countries. The vaccine, called Mosquirix, is not just a first for malaria — it is the first developed for any parasitic disease.

“It’s a huge jump from the science perspective to have a first-generation vaccine against a human parasite.{

Pedro Alonso, M.D., Director, W.H.O. global malaria program

Why it’s important – Malaria kills about half a million people each year, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa — including 260,000 children under 5. A modeling study last year estimated that if the vaccine were rolled out to countries with the highest incidence of malaria, it could prevent 5.4 million cases and 23,000 deaths in children younger than five each year. The next step is for Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, to determine that the vaccine is a worthwhile investment.

AI Finds Potential Treatment for Incurable Pediatric Brain Cancer

Cami Rosso in Psychology Today The Future Brain reports on a new study published in Cancer Discovery that shows how AI machine learning can identify a new possible treatment for incurable pediatric brain cancer. Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is an incurable infiltrating glioma. The median overall survival of DIPG ranges from nine months to a year, according to the scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, who led the research study. DIPG is a type of malignant brain tumor found in the pons region of the brainstem that mainly affects children between the ages of five to seven years of age, according to

The researchers sought to find medications targeting ACVR1 mutations in diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma by using the over 40 million documents with more than a billion relationship edges in the BenevolentAI’s knowledge graph. The BenevolentAI knowledge graph enables scientists to computationally discover novel insights such as ways to repurpose existing medications for new treatments.

“Using Artificial Intelligence, we identify and validate the novel combination of vandetanib and everolimus in these children based upon both signaling and pharmacokinetic synergies, experimentally and clinically.”

From the Cancer Discovery study

Why it’s important – 25% of patients with the incurable brainstem tumor DIPG harbor somatic activating mutations in ACVR1. However, no approved drugs are targeting the receptor. The researchers assessed the AI-predicted drug combination of vandetanib and everolimus with four children with DIPG and confirmed ACVR1 mutations. The next step is to expand testing and enter full-scale clinical trials to evaluate if this can help children with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.

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