Health Tech News This Week – July 23, 2022

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

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How Bias Can Creep into Health Care Algorithms and Data

Sara Harrison published this article in Discover Magazine’s July/August 2022 issue as “Ghosts in the Machine.” Electronic health records only show what doctors and nurses notice. If they can’t see a problem, even one as serious as a heart attack, the AI won’t be able to see it either. Similarly, doctors may unwittingly encode their own racial, gender, or socioeconomic biases into the system. That can lead to algorithms that prioritize specific demographics over others, entrench inequality and fail to make good on the promise that AI can help provide better care.

“The dirty secrets of a lot of artificial intelligence tools is that a lot of the things that seem like biological variables that we’re predicting are in fact just someone’s opinion.”

Ziad Obermeyer, Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley

Why it’s important – Decisions about which tests to run (or which patients’ complaints are taken seriously) often reflect the clinicians’ biases rather than the best medical treatment possible. But if medical records encode those biases as facts, then those prejudices will be replicated in the AI systems that learn from them, no matter how good the technology is.

Infographic of the week – Another infographic from Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute. This is an updated 2022 version of their look at digital technologies that will impact health care for both professionals and patients. Great research and great visuals.

Image Credit: Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute

‘Digital Human ’ Teaches How To Walk And Protect Your Knees

Researchers have created a “digital human” that shows how to reduce the force on the knee by teaching people to use different muscles as they walk. Bruce Goldman-Stanford brings us the story on Using results from the digital human, a detailed computer simulation, participants in a small study were able to reduce the load on their knees by an average of 12%, a benefit equivalent to losing about 20% of their total body weight. The lighter load may alleviate pain from osteoarthritis or prevent joint injuries. With the digital human, the researchers found muscle coordination strategies that generated less force on the knee joint. They discovered that by increasing activation of the soleus muscle and decreasing activation of the gastrocnemius muscle, they could drastically reduce the force on the knee without changing a person’s gait.

Why it’s important – Almost a quarter of Americans age 45 and older suffer from knee osteoarthritis, and knee pain accounts for nearly 4 million visits to primary care physicians annually. Traditional treatments for osteoarthritis include weight loss, knee bracing, and joint replacement, but none target the muscle forces. In conjunction with personalized digital human simulations, wearable biofeedback could revolutionize not just treatment for osteoarthritis, but all kinds of joint pain, including overuse injuries in athletes.

New Home Kidney Test Uses Smartphone to Monitor Kidney Health

A new smartphone-enabled test that received 510(k) clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July will provide Americans at risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD) the same ability to monitor their kidney health from the comfort of their own home. Healthline’s Shaun Radcliffe reports that the Minuteful Kidney test, developed by Boston-based company, uses a smartphone camera to look for a specific protein in the urine called albumin. For the Minuteful Kidney test, urine samples need not be sent to a lab. The test also works on many smartphones, including iOS and Android.

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“This new test has the potential to help millions of patients find out if they have CKD while there is still time to prevent progression to kidney failure.”

Kerry Willis, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer, National Kidney Foundation

Why it’s important – An estimated 37 million Americans have CKD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As many as 9 in 10 people with this condition do not know they have it. Some research has found that people of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to have CKD, limited access to treatment, and worse outcomes. Because this test can be done at home with a smartphone, she said people living in underserved communities that may have less access to healthcare can more easily monitor their kidney health.

WORLD FIRST: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland to share unified digital health standards

The Nordic region aims to be the most integrated health region in the world by 2030, according to the Nordic Council of Ministers. A shift towards digital health, and its focus on the self-management of health by Nordic populations, will be an important step on this journey, but it also brings new risks. The news was reported online in Health Tech Digital. Despite the 350,000 digital health technologies on the market, no standardized regulation or risk management system exists in any of the Nordic countries. This has left medical professionals unable to find and prescribe digital technologies safely. To resolve this critical issue and lead the world in adopting connected health technologies on a large scale, the Nordic Digital Health and Evaluation Criteria (NordDEC) program has been created. The NordDEC is a world-first program to unify digital health standards across multiple countries, delivering safe digital health across Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. The accreditation framework was developed by UK-based ORCHA, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps. The project is funded jointly by NIP and the Nordic health tech industry.

Why it’s important – The NordDEC will provide a system for healthcare providers in all five countries to evaluate and identify trusted digital health technologies within healthcare and preventive care. It will also guide product developers and technology owners so they have clear parameters when planning new products and new market access strategies. Drawing from international best practices, the NordDEC establishes a standard benchmark of criteria across the entire region, which provides safety and effectiveness assurance in digital health.

How a cough analyser will use AI to identify respiratory diseases

Martin Lukac, associate professor from Nazarbayev University (NU) School of Engineering and Digital Sciences, and Alessandra Clementi, assistant professor from NU School of Medicine, explore how cough recordings and AI will be used to diagnose patients in the CoughAnalyzer app. The article posted online at Med-Tech reports on the CoughAnalyzer application, a mobile platform used to capture, store, and share cough recordings and their analysis for medical and experimental use. The CoughAnalyzer records sound from contagious patients without any risk of contamination: the cough recording uses your mobile phone, and the resulting recording is communicated to the doctor wirelessly.

Why it’s important – The application should serve as a medium for facilitating long-distance communication with medical experts. The CoughAnalyzer intends to develop into an international tool for audio cough capture and analysis. The overall architecture is to collect coughs from regionally different locations and provide more general evidence of a specific disease.

Signs of Alzheimer’s in Blood 17 Years Before Symptoms Begin

A newly developed immuno-infrared sensor allowed researchers to discover biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in blood samples 17 years before clinical symptoms appeared. The sensor can detect the misfolding of amyloid beta. Julia Weiler from RUB reported on this research in her article in Neuroscience Online. The researchers analyzed blood plasma from participants in the ESTHER study conducted in Saarland for potential Alzheimer’s biomarkers. The blood samples were taken between 2000 and 2002 and then frozen. The immuno-infrared sensor identified the 68 test subjects who later developed Alzheimer’s disease with a high degree of test accuracy.

Why it’s important – The Bochum researchers hope that an early diagnosis based on the amyloid-beta misfolding could help to apply Alzheimer’s drugs at such an early stage that they have a significantly better effect – for example, the drug Aduhelm, which was recently approved in the USA. Even though the sensor is still in the development phase, the invention has already been patented worldwide. BetaSENSE aims to bring the immuno-infrared sensor to market and have it approved as a diagnostic device to be used in clinical labs.

Pharma giant Eli Lilly experimenting with 3d printing to better deliver drugs

Mansur Shaheen, U.S. Deputy Health Editor for the Daily Mail in the UK, brings us this story on how Pharma giant Eli Lilly is taking a bet on 3D printing technology being the next breakthrough in medicine to treat gastrointestinal and other stomach issues. The Indianapolis, Indiana, company is partnering with Chinese firm Triastek to develop drugs that will specifically target specific parts of the organs to deliver medication to the most efficient areas to deal with an infection. If successful, the pair of companies hope to develop oral medicines that can withstand the acid’s effect on the pill and allow for more control of how it diffuses in the body.

Why it’s important – Researchers hope that the technology will allow them to better deliver drugs by controlling how they dissolve in the body. The enteric coating has long been used in medicine to protect it from being destroyed in the stomach and intestine before it reaches its desired destination. Lilly and Triastek are hoping that they can develop a coating that can slowly release the medicine in a way designed to maximize its efficiency. This is not the only research into distributing drugs more efficiently in a person’s body after ingestion. Researchers at Rice University are hoping to launch soon human trials for their ‘drug factories’ – a small ingestible device that delivers cytokines throughout the body to treat cancers.

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