Health Tech News This Week – December 18, 2021

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

“Supermeres” may carry clues to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and COVID-19

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center reported they had discovered a nanoparticle released from cells, called a “supermere,” which contains enzymes, proteins, and RNA associated with multiple cancers, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even COVID-19. The discovery, reported in Nature Cell Biology, is a significant advance in understanding the role extracellular vesicles and nanoparticles play in shuttling important chemical “messages” between cells, both in health and disease.

Why it’s important – The identification of this rich plethora of bioactive molecules raises interesting questions about the function of supermeres and heightens interest in the potential of these particles as biomarkers for diseases. The desire to translate EVP biology from the bench (or centrifuge) to the bedside relies on properly defining, describing, and attributing content and biological action to the specific particle type. The discovery of supermeres represents a large and important step in this direction, replete with exciting opportunities for adaptation and clinical translation.


Infographic of the week: Percentage of Positive COVID-19 Patients Who Were Asymptomatic by Age Group

Data from: USA Today Health, December 14, 2021

SMART Health Card Emerging As Model For Sharing Covid Vaccine Data

As the demand for proof of COVID vaccination status has climbed, the healthcare industry has scrambled to find effective ways of sharing vaccine data between varied locations. As readers know, sharing any health data is still at best a challenge, but given the circumstances, most parties involved don’t have a choice about making it happen. Anne Zieger reports on one option gaining traction in her article in Healthcare IT Today.

The SMART Health Card, which offers a FHIR-based trusted standard for vaccine verification, was developed by a private-public partnership of technology companies called the Vaccination Credential Institute, provides a lightweight vehicle for presenting such information to anyone who needs it. The steering group managing the project includes representatives from the Mayo Clinic, MITRE Corporation, Microsoft, The Commons Project Foundation, Evernorth, CARIN Alliance, USC San Diego Health, and Apple.

Why it’s important – People can keep their SMART card in paper form or as a digital file on their phone, computer, or anywhere else they store digital information. They can share their card by letting someone scan its associated QR code or send it as a file or via a phone app. What makes the SMART Health Card approach distinctive is that it doesn’t require the use of a central database. All vaccine data is encrypted and stored on the card, and when the QR code is pulled up, only the person’s name, date of birth, and vaccination information are visible.


INTELLIGENCEWalgreens and VillageMD opening nine full-service primary care practices in San Antonio

Jeff Lagasse in Healthcare Finance online reports that these openings represent expansion into the fifth major market in Texas, following Houston, El Paso, Austin, and Dallas. Through the Walgreens and VillageMD coordinated care model, patients receive full-service primary care alongside pharmacy services the companies called “convenient and cost-effective.”

Why it’s important – Village Medical primary care physicians and Walgreens pharmacists work together, the companies said, to provide care for chronic health conditions, preventive services, and treatment of everyday illnesses and injuries. Within the same visit, patients have access to care from physicians while also ensuring their prescriptions, medication refills, and affordable substitution options are readily available.


Washable and Flexible Batteries for Wearable Medical Devices

Medgadget’s Conn Hastings highlighted research from engineers at the University of British Columbia who have created a flexible waterproof battery durable enough to undergo multiple wash cycles. The battery is so pliant that it can still function when stretched to double its original length. It’s made of low-cost materials, making it potentially highly suited for wearable health monitoring technology, such as items of clothing, patches, or watches that monitor vital signs.

Image Credit: University of British Columbia

Why it’s important – Wearable electronics are a big market, and stretchable batteries are essential to their development. Having a washable battery is another important step in helping smart clothing to withstand the demands of everyday use. So far, the UBC researchers have subjected a battery to 39 wash cycles, and it still worked. Google’s Project Jacquard is the most publicized example of smart clothing. They’ve created partnerships with Samsonite (backpacks), Adidas (shoes), and Levi’s (jackets).


From Alexa to COVID-19 tests, Amazon expands healthcare aspirations in 2021

Emily Olsen posted an article that summarizes Amazon’s moves in healthcare during 2021 on MobiHealthNews this week. Alexa made moves into health systems and elder care, a new Halo wearable was released, and the Amazon Care virtual care service began its expansion this year. In a separate article on CNBC, Annie Palmer and Bertha Coombs reported that Amazon has tapped Neil Lindsay, its former Prime boss, and marketing guru, to oversee its health efforts, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Why it’s important – Amazon has made clear its ambitions to grow its presence in the healthcare industry, including launching an online pharmacy and telehealth services. Analysts expect health care to be a valuable business over time. Loop Capital analysts estimated Amazon could grow its revenue by $72 billion through further health care expansion.


Scientists unveil drug discovery tool to screen more than 11 billion compounds

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported on an effort by researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University to validate V-SYNTHES, a new type of computational method developed by Vsevolod Katritch, Ph.D., at USC that allows scientists to first identify the best combinations of chemical building blocks called synthons – hypothetical units within molecules – to serve as seeds that can grow into a hierarchy of molecules with the best-predicted ability to bind to the receptor targets. As described in their Nature paper, they tested 11 billion theoretical compounds against a cannabinoid receptor (CB2) that marijuana’s active ingredient, THC targets.

Why it’s important – This report underscores the importance of AI in drug discovery and life sciences research in the future. (11 billion compounds!) If you are a drug company and you aren’t heavily involved in implementing AI in your research, you will be playing catch-up to those companies who are using the technology.


Twin Robots Lighten Load So Busy Nurses Can Focus on Humans

Roni Roberts in Medscape reports (subscription required) on a project at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles where they deployed twin robots named Moxi, who literally take some of the heavy lifting off the shoulders of nurses and run some of their errands so they can spend more time with their human charges. The robots were part of a pilot project that started in September in the short-term unit, for patients only expected to stay in the hospital for 1 to 3 days and have progressively expanded to include about half of the hospital’s nursing units.

“The staff smiles after interacting with her…. To see the staff find little joys again is nice. Something like a little robot can have that kind of happiness come back.”

Melanie Barone, RN, associate nursing director of the short-stay observation unit

Why it’s important – This is an excellent example of implementing technology that gives time back to caregivers in the clinical setting. Their jobs include making trips to labs, the pharmacy, and general transport tasks such as bringing a patient’s possessions from admissions to their rooms or returning items on discharge. Instead of having to lug several 5-pound IV pumps, wait for available staff to fetch lab samples, or respond to multiple requests for help, Barone said nurses can focus on patient care.

“Efficient supply delivery, improved nurse productivity, increased time with patients, and a positive emotional response were key themes in the results of this review.”

American Nurses Association, White Paper on use of robots to promote productivity

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