What happened in health care technology this week – and why it’s important.
A new, gel-based wearable can catch infections before the naked eye can
A team of researchers had designed a wearable sensor that, in preliminary testing, identified infections in open wounds before they looked any different than uninfected wounds. Maddie Bender reported on their progress in an article in Stat Health. Their sensor, which combines principles from biology, materials science, and electrical engineering, may one day be a low-cost, time-saving alternative to existing diagnostic tools.
The device senses infection at its source by exploiting a particular quirk of harmful bacteria. For reasons that are not entirely understood, many strains of harmful bacteria secrete an enzyme called deoxyribonuclease. It’s a reaction with that enzyme that the new wearable sensor ultimately converts into a signal.
Why it’s important – The hope is that detecting infections more quickly will lead to treatment that can uproot an infection before it progresses to a complicated and potentially life-threatening illness. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, comes on the heels of an October study by an overlapping group of collaborators that focused on using sensors to monitor a range of biometrics in surgical wounds. The new research centers exclusively on bacterial infection, a wound complication that costs health care systems billions of dollars and frequently leads to death.
Coming Soon: A Wearable Device to Predict Epileptic Seizures
Dennis Thompson posted an article in Health Day News outlining why investigators now think they’re on the path to accurately predict epileptic seizures by using a wristband device that tracks different body signals. The researchers identified patterns among patients that could allow about a half-hour of warning before a seizure occurs, according to findings published online recently in the journal Scientific Reports. Participants were asked to wear the device for six months to a year and upload data every day to cloud storage. The algorithm took a look at each individual patient and tried to figure out the specific “tells” that would predict when they would be at the highest risk for a seizure.
Why it’s important – Previous studies of epilepsy have determined that seizure forecasting is possible based on data gained from brain implants placed in people’s heads to help control seizures. However, until now, there’s been no non-invasive way to gather the sort of data that might allow such a prediction to occur. Just knowing that the epileptic “storm” is coming could be a huge benefit to patients with poorly controlled epilepsy. People also would benefit from knowing that there’s no seizure risk in the near future. The technology is available today, but the algorithm reliably predicts epileptic seizures is still years away.
“The Designer Baby Project” Imitates a Gene Editing Company That Specializes in Designer Babies
I just genetically designed a baby. And the experience was as creepy as it sounds. The Designer Baby Project is an exploratory endeavor by science journalist and writer Torill Kornfeldt and web developer Julia Johansson of the visualization studio Order Order. This is a website meant to imitate a gene-editing company that specializes in babies. It lets you try what it could be like to order a baby with technology likely to be available soon.
When Torill was working on her second book, The Unnatural Selection of Our Species, she performed numerous interviews and research trips worldwide to find out more about genetic editing in humans. In the beginning, she had a hypothesis that science was advanced but not within practical reach for decades. After one particular trip, she and Julia met for a cup of tea, and Torill explained both horrified and excited that the first genetically modified babies had already been born. This and further development raised severe ethical issues. Why is no one talking about this? We need to talk about it! They then decided to take this knowledge and place it in the concrete format of a website where you can go through the process of customizing a baby.
Why it’s important – The whole experience was something everyone should go through when thinking about the ethical side of using technologies like #CRISPR for this purpose. All of the choices are probable and around the corner soon to be accessible. As with many new and shiny things, access is likely to be for only the very rich in the beginning. Even so, the entire field opens up questions such as “Who should be able to decide?” and “What should you be able to modify.” When the opportunities exist, a passive choice will also be a choice. If nothing else, the project will spur debate on some of the critical issues society will need to face in the near future.