Health Tech News This Week – March 26, 2022

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

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‘No-Code’ Brings the Power of A.I. to the Masses

Craig Smith in The New York Times reports on the growth in ‘no code’ AI applications that are entering the market across several industry verticals. He lists a growing army of “citizen developers” who use new products that allow anyone to apply artificial intelligence without writing a line of computer code. Proponents of the “no-code” A.I. revolution believe it will change the world: It used to require a team of engineers to build a piece of software, and now users with a web browser and an idea have the power to bring that idea to life themselves.

“We are trying to take A.I. and make it ridiculously easy.”

Craig Wisneski, co-founder of Akkio

Why it’s important – Just as clickable icons have replaced obscure programming commands on home computers, new no-code platforms replace programming languages with familiar and straightforward web interfaces. And a wave of start-ups is bringing the power of A.I. to nontechnical people in visual, textual, and audio domains. Advances in A.I. itself are making no-code platforms more powerful. Eventually, the broader public will be able to create A.I.-enabled software in much the same way that teenagers today can create sophisticated video effects that would have required a professional studio a decade or two ago. For now, though, most no-code-A.I. users are business professionals who want to streamline the way things are done without involving a programmer.

Infographic of the week – From Chris Lew and Sari Kaganoff at Rock Health, Four Constellations of Human Needs Being Disrupted by Technology.

Image Credit: Rock Health

New technique improves detection of cancer DNA in blood

The Broad Institute posted an article on their work in developing a new method to identify thousands of DNA mutations accurately and efficiently in a patient’s blood sample with minimal sequencing. The approach, called MAESTRO, could one day detect residual cancer in patients who have undergone treatment, alerting doctors to disease recurrence earlier and more cheaply than current techniques allow. The work was published this week in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Why it’s important – To use MAESTRO, researchers first sequence a patient’s tumor biopsy to understand the landscape of mutations. With this information in hand, they can create specialized molecular probes that will bind to only those tumor-associated sequences of DNA. Scientists add the molecular probes to the cell-free DNA from blood samples, then wash away any unbound DNA, enabling the sequencing machines to pick out the rare cancer mutations. This opens up the possibility of detecting MRD earlier or identifying circulating DNA from cancers that shed very little.

OSF HealthCare to help commercialize wireless seizure sensor

Katie Adams reports that OSF Ventures, the innovation investment arm of Peoria, Ill.-based OSF HealthCare, joined a $12.5 million funding round for Epitel. This company makes a wireless, wearable brain wave-monitoring device to detect seizures. The device uses an adhesive that discreetly sticks to a patient’s scalp. The FDA has approved the device for in-hospital use, and Epitel plans to seek approval for its use across various patient care settings.

Why it’s important – This technology helps break down access barriers because it will not only reduce the time to electroencephalogram initiation but the sensors and monitoring software give rural hospitals that do not have electroencephalogram resources the ability to screen patients suspected of seizure activity instead of immediately requiring transfer to a larger tertiary hospital. It’s also another example of how health system venture groups can accelerate the time to adoption of promising technologies through targeted investment strategies.

Google Search will soon let you book checkups and other medical appointments

CNBC’s Sarah Alessandrini reported on this announcement by Google that they are rolling out a new feature in search that allows people to book health care appointments. Users looking to book a check-up or a same-day visit can use Google Search to see the availability of select health care providers in their area. Google is partnering with MinuteClinic at CVS to start.

Why it’s important – Users can book appointments for a check-up, vaccination, skin condition, or an injury/illness without leaving Google search. It may be helpful for people who don’t have regular care providers or who aren’t able to visit their current doctor. Google said the feature is still in the early stages of rolling out. It expressed hopes to expand partners and functionality of the feature to make it easier for users to access the care they need.

Nvidia sets the stage for medical digital twins

George Lawton of Venture Beat covered the news from Nvidia’s GTC. He described how Nvidia showcased a variety of significant advances that could drive the adoption of digital twins in medicine. Key healthcare advances introduced at GTC include synthetic data generation, the commercial release of its Clara medical AI platform, enhanced DNA sequencing workflow, improved pharmacovigilance capabilities, and improved drug discovery tools.

Why it’s important – This isn’t the first time Lawton has written about digital twins in healthcare. I featured one of his earlier articles in a news post last July. I believe that Nvidia’s work on enhanced digital twins capabilities will eventually take advantage of these advances to dramatically improve patient safety and support new business models in the healthcare industry. Digital twin capabilities are more challenging in medicine due to privacy safeguards, medical regulations, and safety considerations. Although companies address these concerns in one-off implementations today, these are difficult to scale. Nvidia’s existing toolchain and the recent announcement could help address these challenges.

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