Health Tech News This Week – August 6, 2022

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

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Apple Watch Parkinson Disease Symptom Monitor Is Cleared

Howard Larkin’s post in JAMA Network reports on a program that uses motion sensors built into the Apple Watch to monitor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that gained FDA clearance this week. In addition to recording tremors and uncontrolled body movements, or dyskinesia, the StrivePD software from Rune Labs tracks medication use, adverse events, and patient-reported outcomes such as mood and overall health. When integrated with the Medtronic Percept PC Deep Brain Stimulator, it may also gather detailed brain activity information.

Why it’s important – The software enables continuous monitoring of typically fluctuating signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This creates a comprehensive view of disease progression that isn’t possible with periodic in-clinic observations. Such data could be used to identify patients earlier in the course of their disease and tailor treatment more quickly.

Infographics of the week – Interesting infographic created by Dr. Tazeen Rizvi highlighting major technology components enabling digital transformation in health care.

Infographic Credit: Dr, Tazeen Rizvi

This week’s second infographic comes from the recently released 2022 Future of Healthcare study conducted by HIMSS and its Trust Partners – Accenture, The Chartis Group, and ZS Associates. Roughly 9 out of 10 health systems overall are positioning themselves to offer digital-first primary care within the next five years, according to the Future of Healthcare study. During that same span, a similar number intend to gear up for remote patient monitoring. Considering the announcements this week that Amazon intends to purchase One Medical and CVS stating that they will invest heavily in primary care by the end of the year, I, for one, wonder whether health systems have five years’ time to get this done.

Image Credit: 2022 Future of Healthcare study conducted by HIMSS and itsTrust Partners – Accenture, The Chartis Group and ZS Associates.

Cancers and heart disease could be diagnosed more easily with new rapid test

Caroline Brogan from Imperial College, London, filed this story online on how researchers have built a new easy-to-use test that could diagnose non-infectious diseases like heart attacks and cancers more quickly. The new test, called CrisprZyme, has been developed by a team of researchers led by Imperial College London, MIT, and Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin. They say the test could boost access to biomarker diagnostics. The results of preliminary lab studies of the test are published today in Nature Nanotechnology.

“As well as potentially boosting access to diagnostics in developing countries, this technology could bring us a step closer to personalised diagnostics at home or at the GP surgery. By making clinical diagnostic tests simpler, we will be able to provide clinicians with the right tools to test at the same GP surgery instead of having to reschedule for follow-up analyses and blood tests.”

Dr Marta Broto, of Imperial’s Department of Materials

Why it’s important – Diagnostic tests based on RNA or DNA often require controlled temperatures and involve multiple steps. The new test can be used at room temperature in a user-friendly process. The researchers hope this could enable quicker and easier diagnostics in settings like GP surgeries, as well as in resource-limited clinics in developing countries.

Patients did DIY blood draws in a new vaccine study

The study, done by Moderna researchers, checked the antibody levels of people who received three Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses (the regular series and a booster) compared to three Pfizer doses. It sent participants a device called the TAP II, which is made by the company YourBio. As reported by Nicole Wetsman in The Verge, A video on the company website shows how it works. People warm up their skin and then stick on a small plastic device with a plunger on the top and a collection tube sticking out the bottom. They press down on the plunger, and blood fills the tube. (The device can only be used in research right now and is not cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.) Over 800 people signed up for the Moderna study, and each used the TAP II to collect their blood at home. They collected samples when they signed up, after one month, and after a second month. The study found higher levels of antibodies in people who got three Moderna shots than people who got three Pfizer shots.

Image Credit: YourBio

Why it’s important – The findings were probably interesting to Moderna (which funded and ran the study, which is still a preprint and hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed). But it’s also a proof of concept for research done quickly and at home, which the authors said could open up access for more people. It’s always a challenge for research groups to convince people to sign up for studies, and it isn’t easy to ensure they come back for every appointment. Approaches that let people do everything at home could make that easier.

High-tech vest monitors lung function

A press release from the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS outlines their research into a wearable vest that records lung noises using a textile vest with integrated acoustic sensors. The signals are then converted and displayed visually using the software. In this way, patients outside of intensive care units can still be monitored continuously. The technology increases the options for diagnosis and improves the patient’s quality of life. Patients can also benefit from the digital sensor alternative. When wearing the vest, they can recover without requiring constant observation from medical staff. They can transfer to the general ward and possibly even be sent home and move about more or less freely. Despite this, the lungs are monitored continuously, and any sudden deterioration can be reported to medical personnel immediately.

Image Credit: Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS
The visual representation shows the different lung areas and their ventilation situation. Parts marked in red have poor ventilation.

Image Credit: Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS

Why it’s important – Since the system collects and stores the data permanently, examinations can occur at any given time and without hospital staff. Pneumo.Vest also indicates the status of the lungs over some time, for example, over the previous 24 hours. Needless to say, traditional auscultation can also be carried out directly on the patients. However, instead of carrying out auscultation manually at different points with a stethoscope, several sensors are used simultaneously.

Remote surgery robot to be tested aboard International Space Station

Sky News in the U.K. Reports that a miniature robot designed to help conduct remote surgeries could be tested on board the International Space Station before the end of 2024. NASA has awarded the University of Nebraska-Lincoln $100,000 to prepare the robot for its test mission. However, the plan for its first trip into space does not involve operating on human flesh. Instead, the robot, known as MIRA – short for “miniaturized in vivo robotic assistant” – will be exhaustively tested inside an experiment locker on the space station. MIRA will have to gently cut into tautly stretched rubber bands and also push metal rings along a wire, mimicking gestures that are used in surgery.

MIRA Image Credit: Virtual Incision

Why it’s important – MIRA has two key advantages, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. First, it can be inserted through a small incision, enabling doctors to perform abdominal surgery minimally invasively. In previous tests, surgeons have successfully used the device to perform colon resections. Secondly, the technology could enable surgeons to work remotely. In an earlier experiment, retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson took the robot’s controls while at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston. As with most technologies first developed for space applications, this will ultimately allow surgeons to operate remotely, thus making access to minimally invasive surgery available to underserved nations worldwide.

Earbud Chirps May One Day Detect Infections

Futurity’s Cory Nealon-Buffalo reports on the “EarHealth” system, which pairs Bluetooth earbuds with a smartphone equipped with a deep learning platform. EarHealth works by sending a chirp through the earbuds of a healthy user. It records how the chirp reverberates throughout the ear canals, creating a profile of each user’s unique inner ear geometry. Subsequent chirps—for example, a user might set the system for once daily testing—monitor each ear for three conditions—ear wax blockage, ruptured ear drums, and otitis media, a common ear infection—that alter the ear canal’s geometry. Each condition has a unique audio signature that the deep learning system can detect with reasonably accurate results. The researchers presented the work at the ACM’s International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services (MobiSys) in Portland, Oregon. The National Science Foundation provided funding.

Why it’s important – With people worldwide living longer and the prevalence of headphones, it is more important than ever to monitor one’s ear health. The researchers report that EarHealth achieved an accuracy of 82.6% in 92 users, including 27 healthy subjects, 22 patients with a ruptured eardrum, 25 patients with otitis media, and 18 patients with ear wax blockage.

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