Health Tech News This Week – May 21, 2022

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

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Researchers Pinpoint Reason Infants Die From SIDS

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) accounts for about 37% of sudden unexpected infant deaths a year in the U.S., and the cause of SIDS has remained largely unknown. As reported in BioSpace online, last week, researchers from The Children’s Hospital Westmead in Sydney released a study that confirmed not only how these infants die but why. They found the activity of the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) was significantly lower in babies who died of SIDS compared to living infants and other non-SIDS infant deaths. BChE plays a significant role in the brain’s arousal pathway, explaining why SIDS typically occurs during sleep.

“This discovery has opened up the possibility for intervention and finally gives answers to parents who have lost their children so tragically. These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault.”

Carmel Harrington, PHD, Sleep Medicine, Sydney University in Australia

Why it’s important – This is huge. This finding represents the possibility of identifying infants at risk for SIDS before death and opens new avenues for future research into specific interventions. In the next few years, those in the medical community who have studied SIDS will likely work on a screening test to identify babies at risk for SIDS and hopefully prevent it altogether.

Infographic of the week – Terrific graphic from Harvard Medical School outlining the list of diseases linked to chronic inflammation.

Image Credit: Harvard Medical School

Hope for heart attack patients as scientists use stem cells to repair damaged organ in pigs

Colin Fernandez’s article in The Daily Mail reports on research by scientists from Germany, Sweden, and the drug company AstraZeneca who have created a new therapy using stem cells that can mend damaged heart tissue. They could regenerate heart cells in pigs using human ventricular progenitor (HVPs) cells.

Why it’s important – Previous studies that used heart cells grown from stem cells have resulted in patients suffering side effects such as irregular heartbeats and fatal arrhythmia. The new approach uses the more flexible HVP cell. The researchers said their results show that damage to the heart can be reliably repaired even in large animals with no severe side effects observed. The next step will be to translate their current research findings to develop a treatment for human heart patients over the coming years.

Using AI to Predict Bone Fractures in Cancer Patients

A new study suggests that scientists use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict how cancer may affect the probability of fractures along the spinal column. As reported in Axis Imaging News online, the study, published in the International Journal for Numerical Methods in Biomedical Engineering, describes how the researchers trained an AI-assisted framework called ReconGAN to create a digital twin or a virtual reconstruction of a patient’s vertebra. By training ReconGAN on MRI and micro-CT images obtained by taking slice-by-slice pictures of vertebrae acquired from a cadaver, researchers could generate realistic microstructural models of the spine.

Why it’s important – For a field like orthopedics, using a non-invasive tool like the digital twin can help surgeons understand new therapies, simulate different surgical scenarios, and envision how the bone will change over time, either due to bone weakness or to the effects of radiation. The digital twin can also be modified to patient-specific needs.

Magnetic marker liquid could be used to show if breast cancer has spread

Women with invasive breast cancer could be injected with a magnetic marker liquid to tell doctors if their disease has spread, according to a recommendation by the U.K. government’s health advisers. The substance, called Magtrace, has been shown to locate the presence of sentinel lymph nodes, which indicate if cancer has progressed beyond the breast. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), which advises ministers and the NHS on which treatments represent value for money in England and Wales, has issued draft guidance endorsing the use of Magtrace in conjunction with a probe called Sentimag.

Why it’s important – Once the sentinel lymph node has been located, surgeons remove it and undertake a biopsy, during which a pathologist checks if any signs of cancer are present. If so, they may carry out further surgery to remove more lymph nodes. People with breast cancer want to know if their cancer has been isolated or has spread to the rest of their bodies. The earlier this is established, the better the potential outcomes will be.

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