Health Tech News This Week – January 22, 2022

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

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Researchers Turn Smartphones Into On-Demand Personalized Drug 3D Printer

Paul Hanaphy reports on research done at University College London (UCL), Universidade de Santiago de Compostela (USC), and biopharma firm FabRx, which converted an everyday smartphone into an on-demand personalized drug 3D printer. To make their setup as easy to replicate as possible, the team also developed a dedicated mobile app for their 3D printer, complete with ‘control,’ ‘print,’ and ‘configuration’ functions. Using their application, the researchers made it possible to not only control the movement of their system’s build platform but print using differently-shaped pre-prepared tablet models to streamline pill production.

Image Credit: University College London

Once assembled, the UCL-led team opted to test their custom printer by creating tablets containing Warfarin, a blood-thinning medication with highly reported patient response variability. Thanks to the flexibility of 3D modeling software, the scientists found they could create medication with doses ranging from 7.54 mg to 29.25 mg, showcasing their setup’s drug personalization capabilities.

Why it’s important – If the research is successful, and the UK approves its use with appropriate guidelines in place to minimize abuse, this technology could solve the “last mile” issue and be deployed to developing nations and rural areas to allow people there to 3D print medications on demand.

Infographic of the week – Share of those 65 and older who are tech users has grown in the past decade.

Image Credit: Pew Research Center

Strongest evidence yet that MS is caused by Epstein-Barr virus

It has long been suspected that the common Epstein-Barr virus can trigger multiple sclerosis (MS). As Michael Le Page reported in New Scientist, A huge study of US military personnel suggests almost all cases of multiple sclerosis are triggered by the common Epstein-Barr virus, meaning a vaccine could essentially eradicate the condition. The difficulty with demonstrating that the Epstein-Barr virus is the leading cause of MS is that 9 in 10 people worldwide are infected with it. This means scientists must monitor huge numbers of people to determine whether people who haven’t been infected with the virus are less likely to develop MS.

Image Credit: A. Mastin,

The research team found the numbers they needed in the form of US military personnel, who have blood samples taken regularly and stored, allowing them to be tested later for Epstein-Barr infections. Out of 10 million military personnel, 955 developed MS, typically around ten years after their first sample was taken. Yet only one of those who developed MS tested negative for antibodies against the Epstein-Barr virus. Another 34 were uninfected when their first blood sample was taken but became infected before being diagnosed with MS.

Why it’s important – For the 900,000 people in the United States and 2.8 million people worldwide living with MS, this is huge news. There may be new opportunities for therapy: Would a vaccine against EBV protect against MS? Can the B cells that dwell in the CSF be killed or inactivated with therapeutics? Would antivirals that target EBV provide effective therapy, especially when given early in the course of the disease? Now that the initial trigger for MS has been identified, perhaps MS could be eradicated. ‘This is really a turning point,” says Alberto Ascherio at Harvard University. It should lead to better ways to treat MS and help prevent it. While there is no vaccine against the Epstein-Barr virus, several groups are trying to develop one. On January 5th, Moderna announced that it had begun testing a candidate mRNA vaccine in people.

Researchers develop bone growth inspired ‘microrobots’ that can create their own bone

As reported in Devdiscourse online, inspired by the growth of bones in the skeleton, researchers at the universities of Linkoping in Sweden and Okayama in Japan have developed a combination of materials that can morph into various shapes before hardening. The idea was hatched during a research visit in Japan when materials scientist Edwin Jager met Hiroshi Kamioka and Emilio Hara, who conducted research into bones. The Japanese researchers had discovered a kind of biomolecule that could stimulate bone growth over a short period of time.

Why it’s important – This material could be used in, for example, complicated bone fractures. It could also be used in microrobots – these soft microrobots could be injected into the body through a thin syringe, and then they would unfold and develop their own rigid bones.

‘Fitbit for the face’ can turn any face mask into smart monitoring device

Northwestern University reported that engineers have developed a new intelligent sensor platform for face masks that they are calling a “Fitbit for the face.” Dubbed “FaceBit,” the lightweight, quarter-sized sensor uses a tiny magnet to attach to any N95, cloth, or surgical face mask. Not only can it sense the user’s real-time respiration rate, heart rate, and mask wear time, it also may be able to replace cumbersome tests by measuring mask fit. All this information is then wirelessly transmitted to a smartphone app, which contains a dashboard for real-time health monitoring.

YouTube Video Credit: Northwestern University

Why it’s important – The app can immediately alert the user when issues — such as elevated heart rate or a leak in the mask — unexpectedly arise. The physiological data also could be used to predict fatigue, physical health status, and emotional state. In the study, researchers found FaceBit’s accuracy was similar to clinical-grade devices, and the battery lasted longer than 11 days between charges.

Leaders across healthcare, academia and technology form new coalition to transform healthcare journey through responsible AI adoption

Microsoft announced the formation of the Artificial Intelligence Industry Innovation Coalition (AI3C). The coalition brings together the Brookings Institution, Cleveland Clinic, Duke Health, Intermountain Healthcare, Microsoft, Novant Health, Plug and Play, Providence, UC San Diego, and the University of Virginia to maximize technology to provide recommendations, tooling, and best practices for AI in healthcare. The AI3C board, composed of volunteer senior executives acting as advisors, will work to co-create AI solutions for positive societal and healthcare outcomes, identify and set the AI strategy and vision for various projects, and track the success of AI adoption in the industry.

Why it’s important – The goal of the newly created AI3C is to establish a pragmatic coalition with public and private organizations to advance health by identifying and addressing significant societal and industry barriers. The AI3C intends to apply AI to resolve significant challenges in business such as general economic and industrial challenges – including research transfer, industry standards and funding instruments; digital skills and employability – including organizational and cultural challenges, as well as labor policies; and data privacy – including data access and shared innovation.

Healshape Raises $6.8M To Advance It’s Breast Implant 3D Bioprinting Technology

As reported by Kubi Sertoglu in 3D Printing News online, Healshape’s mission is to provide patient-specific 3D bioprinted breast implants for women who have undergone a mastectomy procedure after breast cancer. These implants can be printed in virtually any shape and size and help reconstruct both the breast volume and the nipple-areolar complex without the risk of implant rejection. Once implanted in the patient, a fat transfer of the patient’s own body cells helps colonize the breast implant and develop it into natural breast tissue, all while the hydrogel is gradually resorbed and replaced.

Image Credit: Healshape

Why it’s important – Many of these breast reconstruction surgeries involve using either an artificial implant or soft tissue matrices from other humans and animals. Unfortunately, implants from these sources can result in too much variability for treatments to be considered reliable, and there’s always the risk of an immune response, which can slow down the healing process. Healshape’s tissue engineering approach aims to address these issues by combining 3D bioprinting technology with living cell cultures taken from the patients themselves. Still a very early stage of development here. Healshape’s 3D bioprinting technology is currently at the preclinical stage, with clinical trials expected to commence within the next two years.

AI Spots Antibiotic Resistance 24 Hours Faster Than Old Methods

Peter Ruegg published this article in online on research conducted at ETH, Zurich. It often takes two or more days to determine which antibiotics are still effective against a particular pathogen because the bacteria from the patient’s sample must first be cultivated in the diagnostic lab. Due to this delay, many doctors initially treat severe infections with a class of drugs known as broad-spectrum antibiotics, which are effective against a broad range of bacterial species. These researchers have developed a method that uses mass spectrometry data to identify signs of antibiotic resistance in bacteria up to 24 hours earlier.

Why it’s important – By identifying significant antibiotic resistance early, doctors can tailor an antibiotic therapy to the relevant bacterium more quickly. This can be particularly beneficial for seriously ill patients. While previous studies in this field of research have focused on individual bacterial species or antibiotics, the new research draws on several bacterial types isolated in hospitals and a multitude of associated resistance characteristics.

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