Health Tech News This Week – December 24, 2021

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Test Detects SARS-CoV-2 in Breath, May Work as COVID Alarm in Enclosed Spaces

Medgadget’s Conn Hastings reports on work done by researchers at Brown University who have developed a breath test for COVID-19. The breathalyzer, termed the Bubbler, consists of a tube that someone blows into for fifteen seconds. The tube contains a mix of enzymes that reverse transcribe the RNA in viral particles into DNA, which allows for a subsequent benchtop PCR test. The technology is primarily another way to collect COVID-19 test samples, but it measures the virus in the expelled breath, it may be more meaningful than nasal swabs in terms of indicating whether someone is actively transmitting the virus.

Why it’s important – Measuring viral particles in the breath may also be more meaningful since airborne transmission is one of the significant ways in which COVID-19 spreads. Breath testing may also provide more information on lower respiratory tract involvement, a risk factor for some of the more dangerous COVID-19 symptoms, such as pneumonia. So far, the Brown team tested the Bubbler in 70 patients at Rhode Island Hospital and found that it could be used to detect the virus successfully. The results are more predictive of lower respiratory tract involvement than nasal swabs.


Infographic of the week – U.S. Adult Preferred Method Of Accessing Care, By Care Need 2021: Rock Health Digital Health Consumer Adoption Survey

Image Credit: Rock Health

Is artificial intelligence about to transform the mammogram?

MIT researchers have built an AI that seems able to predict with unprecedented accuracy whether a healthy person will get breast cancer in an innovation that could seriously disrupt how we think about the disease. As reported by Steven Seitchik in The Washington Post, by analyzing a mammogram’s set of byzantine pixels and then cross-referencing them with thousands of older mammograms, the AI — known as Mirai — can predict nearly half of all incidences of breast cancer up to five years before they happen.

“If the data is validated, I think this is very exciting.”

Janine T. Katzen, Radiologist, Weill Cornell Medicine

Why it’s important – Assuming that validation happens — trials are about to begin — Mirai could transform how we use mammograms, open up a whole new world of testing and prevention, avoid aggressive treatments and even save the lives of the countless number of people who get breast cancer. But here’s the problem, the designers themselves don’t understand how it works. They’re just sure that it does. That fact raises many broader social and moral implications. But there’s also a more practical matter: whether the medical establishment and insurance companies will at all embrace this.


Why 2022 will be CRISPR’s most important year, according to more than 20 gene-editing experts

Andrew Dunn reports in Business Insider (subscription required) that 2022 will be a critical year of execution for the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR. Several biotechs are advancing into human clinical trials, and the results could show the potential — or limits — of gene editing to treat genetic diseases. Found in the immune system of bacteria, CRISPR is designed to fix “typos” in our genetic code. Positive results from these human trials could change medicine and catapult a new crop of biotechs into the highest ranks of the drug industry.

“Next year is a critical moment of really demonstrating clinical data and starting to get to a point where multiple developers can show the potential for patients made real.”

Rachel Haurwitz, CEO of Caribou Biosciences

Why it’s important – Despite the excitement and the potential of the technology, some issues could derail it. The field is grappling with challenges, including safety and accessible pricing.

“We’re approaching a time when we will have the ability to use CRISPR to cure genetic diseases, but the question becomes ‘For whom?’ If the cost is so high that insurance companies won’t pay for therapies, then we’re not fully addressing the problem.”

Jennifer Doudna, Co-Inventor, CRISPR technology

SMART BANDAGE CHECKS CHRONIC WOUNDS IN REAL-TIME

A new intelligent wearable sensor can conduct a real-time, point-of-care assessment of chronic wounds wirelessly via an app, according to a new study. The sensor detects temperature, pH, bacteria type, and inflammatory factors specific to chronic wounds within 15 minutes, allowing fast and accurate wound assessment. The bandage comprises a wound contact layer, a breathable outer barrier, a microfluidic wound fluid collector, and a flexible immunosensor.

Why it’s important – Given the rapidly aging population, healthcare providers see more patients suffering from non-healing wounds such as diabetic foot and chronic venous leg ulcers. Estimates suggest that about 2% of the world’s population suffers from chronic wounds. The VeCare platform and mobile app allow doctors to monitor the condition of patients’ chronic wounds remotely, reducing the hassle for patients to travel to a clinic.


US Army Creates Single Vaccine Effective Against All COVID, SARS Variants

Tara Copp, a Senior Pentagon Reporter for Defense One, posted an article reporting that within weeks, scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research expect to announce that they have developed a vaccine that protects people from COVID-19 and all its variants, even Omicron, as well as from previous SARS-origin viruses that have killed millions of people worldwide.

Why it’s important – Unlike existing vaccines, Walter Reed’s SpFN uses a soccer ball-shaped protein with 24 faces for its vaccine, which allows scientists to attach the spikes of multiple coronavirus strains on different faces of the protein. The next step is seeing how the new pan-coronavirus vaccine interacts with people who were previously vaccinated or previously sick. Walter Reed will be hiring a yet-to-be-named industry partner for that wider rollout.


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