Health Tech News This Week – December 11, 2021

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

A microscope slide that ‘lights up’ cancer cells in vivid colors may help with earlier diagnoses

Australian researchers have developed a microscope slide, NanoMslide, that can detect cancer cells by “looking” at them and identifying them in different colors. Business Insider reporters Christina Fernandez Esteban and Nathan Rennilds outlined the research online. The slide does this using an imaging technique known as histoplasmonics. This technique can be used as an alternative or complement to current staining techniques; to work towards earlier and more accurate diagnoses of diseases like cancer, according to research published in Nature.

Why it’s important – Rather than focusing on developing a more powerful microscope, they modified the slide into a powerful sensor for breast cancer detection. By providing a way to distinguish which cells could be cancerous instantly, the tool offers the possibility of significant improvement for detecting breast cancer at an early stage. And, according to my friend and Sg2 colleague Justin Cassidy, Ph.D., the technology will be impactful because it will save time which means quicker turnaround time between collection and interpretation. And it will reduce variation caused by different techs and stain variation.


Sarco suicide capsule ‘passes legal review’ in Switzerland

In one of those “is this too creepy for me” articles, Dr. Bertalan Mesko shared a report on a 3D-printed capsule designed for use in assisted suicide that has just passed a legal review in Switzerland. Some 1,300 people died by assisted suicide in Switzerland in 2020 using the services of the country’s two largest assisted suicide organizations, Exit (no connection to Exit International) and Dignitas. The method currently in use is the ingestion of liquid sodium pentobarbital. Sarco offers a different approach for a peaceful death without controlled substances. In this 3D printed capsule, the person will get into the capsule and lie down. They will be asked several questions, and when they have answered, they may press the button inside the capsule, activating the mechanism in their own time.

The capsule is sitting on a piece of equipment that will flood the interior with nitrogen, rapidly reducing the oxygen level to 1 percent from 21 percent in about 30 seconds. The person will feel a little disoriented and euphoric before losing consciousness. Death occurs through hypoxia and hypocapnia, oxygen, and carbon dioxide deprivation, respectively. There is no panic, no choking feeling.

Why it’s important – Switzerland is a country that has allowed citizens to make use of doctor-assisted suicide for quite some time. Currently, a doctor or doctors need to be involved in prescribing the sodium pentobarbital and confirming the person’s mental capacity. There has been an open and robust debate on the topic. There are two Sarco prototypes so far, and the third Sarco is now being printed in the Netherlands. If all goes well, the third machine should be ready for operation in Switzerland in 2022. While this article will be too creepy for many people, it will at least foster a conversation about end-of-life issues and a patient’s right to choose how they die. Advance directives are fine as far as they go, but most of us avoid the death conversation entirely.


Amazon launches its $19.99 per month ‘Alexa Together’ elder care subscription for families

The feature, first introduced at the company’s fall 2021 event, expands on Amazon’s existing product Alexa Care Hub and packages it as a $19.99 per month or $199 per year subscription service. Tech Crunch’s Sarah Perez reported on the announcement in this online post. Alexa Care Hub was the company’s first attempt at turning Alexa devices in the home into a tool for caring for aging family members. That service included a set of features that would allow family members to keep an eye on older parents and other loved ones — with their permission — and could be altered to certain activities, like if the family member had called out for help, for example.

Alexa Together expands on the Care Hub feature set to combine access to an emergency helpline and fall detection response features, a remote assist option that allows family members to manage settings on the older person’s device, and an activity feed for family members that notifies them when their loved one is active — engaging with Alexa or other smart home devices, or notified when there’d been a lag in that usual activity. The features are designed to be used in an opt-in consented environment, where both parties must complete the sign-up process together to enable these features.

Why it’s important – This announcement is a further example that Amazon continues to expand its health and wellness offerings. Amazon has been increasing its investment in using Alexa to care for the elderly and infirm. In addition to Care Hub and Alexa Together, the company this fall also announced it was bringing Alexa to hospitals and senior living centers, like Atria and Eskaton living centers and hospitals including Cedars-Sinai, BayCare, and Houston Methodist. The company also said it would work with partners who can tap into Alexa Smart Properties tools and APIs that allow them to develop specialized solutions for the elderly care market, including K4Connect, Lifeline Senior Living, Aiva, and Vocera. To make these solutions possible, Amazon has been working to make Alexa’s medical skills HIPAA-compliant and built out a healthcare team to navigate other HIPAA regulations. But while many of those existing elderly care solutions are designed to be sold in a business-to-business (B2B) environment, the Alexa Care Hub and now Alexa Together services target the consumer market with a subscription offering.


Israeli startup unveils AI device for measuring eye fluid pressure in glaucoma treatment

MobiHealthNews Fiona Keating reported on a new device in the treatment of glaucoma that Ophthalmic Sciences have introduced. IOPerfect works by using artificial intelligence (AI) in a virtual reality-type headset which allows telediagnosis and remote monitoring. It can be self-administered, and patients can wear the headset to monitor their IOP (fluid pressure inside the eyes) at home. It is non-invasive and without the need for eye drops or constant calibration. The test is performed in less than three minutes and is unaffected by corneal thickness. Its algorithm provides reliable AI-based image processing analysis of vascular pressure response.

Why it’s important – With around 80 million patients worldwide, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness. This chronic disease is caused by elevated IOP that can cause damage to the optic nerve if left untreated. Current methods to monitor IOP, the critical biomarker for glaucoma, only permit measurements by a professional in a clinic or hospital, usually, every few months, while other available home monitoring devices are invasive and lack reliability. Another example of the growth in point-of-care diagnostics, the device can be used at home, in eye-care clinics, emergency rooms, nursing homes, and by pharmacies offering health services.

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