Health Tech News This Week – April 9, 2022

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

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Responsive Footwear to Prevent Diabetic Foot Ulcers

To prevent diabetic foot ulcers, research scientists at The University of Texas at Arlington have developed footwear technology that relieves pressure on areas of the feet that experience high stress during walking and other activities. The team has received a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a dual-layer insole apparatus for diabetic foot lesion prevention. The technology was developed in partnership with the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Image Credit: University of Texas at Arlington

Why it’s important – Due to numbness in their legs and feet, people with diabetes often cannot detect and respond to stress-related pain by adjusting their foot loading. This can result in repeated stress to high-pressure foot regions such as the heel or toes and can worsen blisters, sores, and ulcers to the point of severe tissue loss or life-threatening infection. For many, foot ulcers can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg. The removable shoe insole designed by Wijesundara’s team relieves stress by periodically regulating and redistributing pressure across all foot areas.

Medical cartoon of the week – We need to make digital health easier for patients and staff.

Image Credit: Jonathan Marcus, MD, Twitter timeline 4/8/2022

Geisinger, Eisai team up to study use of artificial intelligence for early detection and identification of cognitive impairment that could indicate dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease

Geisinger and Eisai Inc. announced a collaborative effort to study the potential effectiveness of an artificial intelligence (AI) tool in detecting cognitive impairment that could identify dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The research collaboration will study the use of an algorithm trained on a set of de-identified patient data to identify individuals likely to have cognitive impairment. The algorithm, known as a Passive Digital Marker (PDM), was developed and tested by researchers at Purdue University and Indiana University. The Geisinger-Eisai team will evaluate the PDM in Geisinger’s de-identified dataset to determine its potential to detect cognitive impairment, suggesting early signs of dementia.

Why it’s important – The number of people with dementia is growing substantially; more than 55 million people worldwide are living with dementia, and this number is expected to increase to 78 million by 2030. Accurate diagnosis remains a barrier to early and effective treatment; research reviews estimate that between 40 and 60 percent of adults with probable dementia are undiagnosed. If effective, the AI tool could potentially be developed to support the early detection and staging of cognitive impairment and dementia, leading to appropriate additional testing for the clinical, biological diagnosis and treatment of dementias such as AD.

New Technology Could Make Biopsies A Thing Of The Past

A Columbia Engineering team has developed a technology that could replace conventional biopsies and histology with real-time imaging within the living body. Described in a new paper published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, MediSCAPE is a high-speed 3D microscope capable of capturing images of tissue structures that could guide surgeons to navigate tumors and their boundaries without needing to remove tissues and wait for pathology results. The team is currently working on commercialization and FDA approval.

Why it’s important – By capturing images of the tissue while it is still within the body, the technology could give a doctor real-time feedback about what type of tissue they are looking at without the long wait. This instant answer would let them decide how best to cut out a tumor and ensure there is none left behind. The team also realized that by imaging tissues while they are alive in the body, they could get even more information than from lifeless excised biopsies. They found that they could visualize blood flow through tissues and see the cellular-level effects of ischemia and reperfusion (cutting off the blood supply to the kidney and then letting it flow back in).

First autonomous X-ray-analyzing AI is cleared in the EU

Nicole Wetsman in The Verge reported on an artificial intelligence tool that reads chest X-rays without oversight from a radiologist that received regulatory clearance in the European Union last week. The tool, called ChestLink, scans chest X-rays and automatically sends patient reports on those it sees as totally healthy, with no abnormalities. Any images that the tool flags as having a potential problem are sent to a radiologist for review. The tech now has a CE mark certification in the EU, which signals that a device meets safety standards. The company said in a statement that it expects the first healthcare organizations to be using the autonomous tool by 2023.

Why it’s important – Important to note that this is for chest x-rays only at this point. The FDA has cleared autonomous AI devices before, starting with a tool to detect diabetes-related eye problems in 2018 (the same tool received a CE mark in 2013). But autonomous radiology devices are more controversial. Professional organizations have spoken out against the idea: the American College of Radiology and the Radiological Society of North America published a joint letter in 2020 after an FDA workshop on artificial intelligence in medical imaging, saying that autonomous AI wasn’t ready for clinical use. Expect radiologists to continue to fight this type of technology. What will be interesting to watch will be whether payers will choose to reimburse for the use of the technology.

Reversing hearing loss with regenerative therapy

The biotechnology company Frequency Therapeutics seeks to reverse hearing loss — not with hearing aids or implants, but with a new kind of regenerative therapy. The company uses small molecules to program progenitor cells, a descendant of stem cells in the inner ear, to create the tiny hair cells that allow us to hear. As reported by Zach Wynn in MIT News, Frequency’s drug candidate is designed to be injected into the ear to regenerate these cells within the cochlea. In clinical trials, the company has already improved people’s hearing as measured by tests of speech perception — the ability to understand speech and recognize words.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 or 15 years, because of the resources being put into this space and the incredible science being done, we can get to the point where [reversing hearing loss] would be similar to Lasik surgery, where you’re in and out in an hour or two and you can completely restore your vision. I think we’ll see the same thing for hearing loss.”

Jeff Karp, Professor of anesthesia at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Why it’s important – Hearing loss can lead to isolation, frustration, and a debilitating ringing in the ears known as tinnitus. It is also closely correlated with dementia. They also believe they’re making significant contributions toward solving a problem that impacts more than 40 million people in the U.S. and hundreds of millions more around the world. Frequency’s work will also advance researchers’ ability to manipulate progenitor cells and lead to new treatments down the line.

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