Health Tech News This Week – January 7, 2023

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

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A Drug to Treat Aging May Not Be a Pipe Dream

Andrew Steele in Wired reports that in 2023, we may see the first drug that targets the biology of aging itself. By the end of 2023, one of these ideas will likely be shown to work in humans. One strong contender is “senolytics,” a class of treatments that targets aged cells—which biologists call senescent cells—that accumulate in our bodies as we age. These cells seem to drive the aging process—from causing cancers to neurodegeneration—and, conversely, removing them seems to slow it down and perhaps even reverse it. More than two dozen companies are looking for safe and effective ways to get rid of these senescent cells in people.

Why it’s important – Aging is responsible for over two-thirds of deaths globally—more than 100,000 people daily. This is because, counterintuitive though it may sound, the chief risk factor for most of the modern world’s leading killers is the aging process itself. Futurist Peter Diamandis, M.D. has written extensively on age extension and senolytics in his blog. He even has a newsletter devoted to longevity research. And he has started several companies researching the possibilities of postponing or even reversing cell death. It’s cutting-edge technology and will take some years to develop. Critics counter that the societal impact of extending the human lifespan indefinitely will increase the disparity between rich and poor and will generally be bad for society. Stay tuned.

Infographic of the week – Dr. Tazeen Rizvi writes that digital transformation is a continuous, complex, and multidimensional process linked to social, economic, and technological factors beyond traditional clinical settings. Health leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs must understand that implementing #healthtechnology is not only about developing new innovative #healthsolutions but also about changing the mindset, culture, and existing processes. The best starting point is addressing an immediate issue and putting the patient at the center of the #transformation process. Realizing the full potential of digitally enabled care will require fundamentally rethinking how care models are designed, implemented, and scaled to solve many of the challenges of today’s health system.

Image Credit: Dr. Tazeen Rizvi

First ‘Vagina-on-a-Chip’ Will Help Researchers Test Drugs

Scientists have developed what they say is the world’s first “vagina-on-a-chip,” which uses living cells and bacteria to mimic the microbial environment of the human vagina. It could help to test drugs against bacterial vaginosis (BV), a common microbial imbalance that makes millions of people more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases and puts them at risk of preterm delivery when pregnant. Ida Emilie Steinmark covers this development in her article in Scientific American online. Researchers at Harvard University created their unique chip, described in Microbiome: an inch-long, rectangular polymer case containing live human vaginal tissue from a donor and a flow of estrogen-carrying material to simulate vaginal mucus.

“This is an opportunity to bring women’s health into the modern times, using modern technology.”

Achyuta Nori, M.D., St. George’s, University of London

Why it’s important – Vaginal health is challenging to study in a laboratory setting partly because laboratory animals have “totally different microbiomes” than humans do. So-called organs-on-a-chip mimic actual bodily function, making it easier to study diseases and test drugs. In this case, the tissue acts like a real vagina in some critical ways. It even responds to changes in estrogen by adjusting the expression of certain genes. And it can grow a humanlike microbiome dominated by “good” or “bad” bacteria.

Innovative Nanochip Could Treat Traumatic Muscle Loss

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine have developed technology that has the potential to be a treatment for traumatic muscle loss. This technology has previously been shown to transform skin tissue into blood vessels and nerve cells. Tissue nano transfection is a nanochip device that is minimally invasive and able to reprogram tissue function by delivering specific genes in a short amount of time through the use of a harmless electric spark. A new study published in Nature Partner Journals Regenerative Medicine tested tissue nano transfection-based gene therapy as a treatment to deliver a gene known to be a major driver of muscle repair and regeneration.

Why it’s important – Volumetric muscle loss is the traumatic or surgical loss of skeletal muscle that results in compromised muscle strength and mobility. Incapable of regenerating the amount of lost tissue, the affected muscle undergoes substantial loss of function, thus compromising the quality of life. A 20 percent loss in mass can result in up to 90 percent loss in muscle function. Current clinical treatments for volumetric muscle loss are physical therapy or autologous tissue transfer (using a person’s tissue), the outcomes of which are promising but call for improved treatment regimens.

YouTube video of the week – Dr. Bertalan Mesko posted this video with his top seven medical innovations for 2023. Of all the “important tech forecasts for 2023”, I think Dr. Mesko’s selections are based on solid evidence and, in many cases, on his personal experience with the technology. Interesting choices this year.

YouTube Video Credit: The Medical Futurist

Withings Unveils Urine Analysis Device That Sits in Your Toilet Bowl

Withings announced at CES 2023 that it is developing a miniaturized platform to analyze urine at home. Katie Adams, in her article on MedCity News that the device, called U-Scan, sits within a toilet bowl and assesses specific biomarkers found in urine. It consists of a pebble-shaped reader and a changeable analysis cartridge designed to evaluate specific biomarkers. The device automatically captures small amounts of urine and channels it into the analysis cartridge, which quickly begins chemical analysis. U-Scan automatically transmits readable results via Wi-Fi to Withings’ app. The device is being developed for the consumer sector as well as the professional medical market. For the consumer market, Withings will sell a U-Scan with an analysis cartridge for women’s monthly cycle tracking and a U-Scan with a cartridge for nutrition and hydration monitoring. Each U-Scan starter kit will be priced at $499. There is an additional subscription cost of $30 per month, which provides customers with automatic cartridge refills every three months.

YouTube Video Credit: Withings

Why it’s important – More than 3,000 metabolic biomarkers can be assessed via urine, which makes it one of the gold standards of health assessment. Analyzing these biomarkers can help diagnose and monitor certain diseases like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, and urinary tract infection. Presently [U-Scan’s analysis cartridges] can be tailored to analyze a combination of markers such as pH, specific gravity, ketones, vitamin C, albumin, and creatinine.

Point-Of-Care Biosensor to Detect Oral Cancer

Conn Hastings in Medgadget reports that researchers at the University of Florida have created a point-of-care biosensor that can rapidly detect a biomarker for oral cancer. The device uses test strips, such as those used in blood glucose tests, to spot cell proliferation regulating inhibitors of protein phosphatase 2A (CIP2A). This protein biomarker can reveal the presence of oral cancer. The device requires a liquid sample that is introduced to the end of the test strip, where it runs into channels that contain antibody-covered electrodes. The antibodies are specific for CIP2A, and antibody binding changes the electrodes’ electrical signal, providing a readout if the protein is present.

Why it’s important – If oral cancers can be detected early, the prognosis is frequently quite good. For instance, the researchers behind this latest technology report that oral cancers that are localized and approximately 2 centimeters or less in size can readily be treated, and the corresponding five-year survival rates are over 90%. Moreover, such cancers are readily accessible in the oral cavity for clinicians to investigate and view them. These malignancies are, therefore, good candidates for a point-of-care diagnostic device that could be used in remote locations that do not have ready access to conventional diagnostics. The technology could be helpful in low-resource or remote regions where access to traditional lab testing equipment is unavailable.

Massive Apple headset leak reveals new details and confirms earlier rumors

The Information claims to have once again received insider information from sources close to Apple who are familiar with the development of Apple’s XR headset. The Information confirms some earlier rumors, including that the headset will have an outward-facing display that shows outsiders the facial expressions of the headset wearer. This feature is supposed to reduce the feeling of isolation when the headset is put on. The screen is said to consume little power and offer a low refresh rate, comparable to the Apple Watch’s always-on mode.

Why it’s important – All sign point to 2023 being a big year for AR in technology. Many tech pundits are waiting for Apple to release the details of their product which could drive adoption, even if the initial price point could be over $3,000, depending upon the configuration. Stay tuned.

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