Health Tech News This Week – January 21, 2023

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

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FDA Clears AI-Powered MRI to Screen Cancers Without CT

A new AI-powered MRI application used to screen head and neck cancers has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Helen Huang covers the development in her article in IoT World Today. Royal Philips developed MRCAT (Magnetic Resonance for Calculating Attenuation), which allows clinicians to use MRI machines as the only imaging required for a radiotherapy treatment plan for soft tissue tumors of the head and neck. The AI model can display images with density information usually observed with CT scans. A single, high-resolution MR scan can provide a high level of detail in under three minutes.

Why it’s important – People have been working on MR-based radiation planning for years with limited success. To have an FDA-cleared application for some of the most challenging tumors is a real breakthrough. The superior soft tissue imaging of MR, together with advances in the integration and orchestration of data, including the use of artificial intelligence, promise greater clarity and less subjectivity in planning radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. In addition, the equipment can also be used to treat cancers in the pelvis, prostrate, and brain by calculating radiation doses and positioning patients for radiation treatments.

Infographics of the week – The first infographic this week is from Insider Intelligence and provides a timeline of investments made for in-home health since August, 2021.

Image Credit: Insider Intelligence

The second infographic is from Dr. Bertalan Mesko and team at The Medical Futurist Institute. it outlines key features of digital health.

Image Credit: Dr. Bertalan Mesko, The Medical Futurist Institute

The rules, laws, and policy digital health needs to know to stay ahead this year

Let’s face it. Healthcare regulations can be pretty confusing and outright overwhelming at times. With so many different rules, regulatory bodies, and constantly evolving guidance, it’s hard to keep track of it all, especially given the hieroglyphic-level interpretation needed to parse even the shortest and simplest legal texts. Marissa Moore and Brendan Keeler compiled this high-level overview of some of the most pressing regulatory/policy concerns for health tech right now in the Second Opinion newsletter.

Why it’s important – This is, by far, the best summary of the critical regulatory issues that need to be understood for 2023. Terrific work that I’ll refer to often throughout the year.

Podcast of the week – My recommendation for this week is the current episode of the Fixing Healthcare podcast: An unfiltered look at ChatGPT and medicine. Hosts Dr. Robert Pearl and Jeremy Corr interview Dr. Zubin Damania (aka ZDogg, MD) on the topic. The internet (and nearly every American industry) is abuzz with a new phenomenon called ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer), a great artificial intelligence chatbot launched in November 2022 with an uncanny ability to generate human-like text. Recent headlines tell of the potential havoc this AI can inflict: “ChatGPT writes medical research abstracts that can fool scientists” and “Use of ChatGPT in counseling sessions is raising ethical questions.” Dr. Z lauded ChatGPT’s ability to write a convincing Doc Vader script—a scary thought for the nation’s No. 1 healthcare satirist. But what else can AI accomplish? In this Unfiltered episode of Fixing Healthcare, cohosts Jeremy Corr and Dr. Robert Pearl join ZDoggMD to talk about hyper-realistic AI and explore its influence on American healthcare.

Image Credit: Fixing Healthcare Podcast

The seismic shift that has brands like Sony & Sennheiser disrupting the hearing aids market

After the FDA cleared the way for hearing aids to be sold over the counter, CES was full of new devices from brands big and small. Chris Morris in Fast Company reports that there were OTC hearing devices from familiar tech companies—and many more from companies that aren’t so familiar—in various shapes, sizes, and prices. It’s a rush that makes sense. But just as in any other field that is new in tech, not all companies charging into the augmented-hearing market are likely to survive.

“The challenge with what we’re seeing in the OTC market is there are a lot of new entrants that are putting out what we consider schlock. I think over the next year, those will be weeded out pretty quickly.”

Nick Laudico, SVP and head of corporate strategy, Eargo

Why it’s important – The World Health Organization warns that by 2030, nearly 630 million people worldwide will have a hearing disability. By 2050, that could jump to 900 million, in part because of regular exposure to loud sounds at work and in our personal lives (such as by listening to music with earphones). Currently, 15% of American adults ages 18 and older—37.5 million people—report some trouble with their hearing. But it will be important to see independent validation of the effectiveness of these various options.

“Smart Patch” Could Be Used to Detect Alzheimer’s

Researchers have developed a minimally invasive “smart patch” to detect proinflammatory biomarkers of neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, within skin interstitial fluid. Kevin Sullivan from Swansea University described the research in this post on Neuroscience These patches are comprised of arrays of tiny needles (microneedles) designed to break the skin barrier – in a minimally invasive manner – and monitor the biomarkers of clinical significance. They can be self-administered for point-of-care diagnosis at GP practices or even at home.

Why it’s important – This breakthrough in advancing transdermal capability would mean ‘smart patches’ could be used to detect specific biomarkers within skin interstitial fluid (ISF) in a “bloodless” manner and has the potential to change the landscape of early neurodegenerative disease detection.

Google Research and DeepMind develop AI medical chatbot

Digital Health’s Cora Lydon reports that Google Research and DeepMind have developed a large language model for the medical community, which could generate safe and helpful answers using datasets covering professional medical exams, research, and consumer queries. The AI-powered chatbot, MedPaLM, combines HealthSearchQA, a free-response dataset of medical questions found online developed by Google and DeepMind, with six existing open-question answering datasets. The six other datasets come from MedQA, MedMCQA, PubMedQA, LiveQA, MedicationQA, and MMLU. MedPaLM addresses multiple-choice questions and answers posed by both medical professionals and non-professionals.

Why it’s important – While this is a crucial step, and the results significantly improved over other similar models that have been investigated, according to a paper published by the AI tool’s researchers, MedPaLM could have a key role to play in clinical applications following some refinement. The report stated that the Google tool “performs encouragingly but remains inferior to clinicians.”

Why do researchers think a cough medicine could help treat Parkinson’s?

Beth Jo Jack in Medical News Today reports that researchers discovered that ambroxol, a cough medicine available over-the-counter in many countries, increases levels of GCase, a protein that allows cells to better remove waste proteins, including alpha-synuclein, which is a biomarker for Parkinson’s disease. During a phase 2 clinical trial, researchers found ambroxol was safe and well tolerated. A phase 3 clinical trial of ambroxol will begin this year. It will follow 330 participants with Parkinson’s at between 10 and 12 locations in the U.K. The study will take both Parkinson’s patients who have mutations in the GBA1 gene — the most common genetic risk factor for Parkinson’s disease — and Parkinson’s patients with no genetic link.

“The reason that this study is of interest is the investigators are looking for something that may slow the disease progression in Parkinson’s, which is something that would be quite important and is something that’s missing from our armamentarium.”

Michael Okun, M.D., National Medical Advisor, Parkinson’s Foundation

Why it’s important – A 2019 global estimate suggests that over 8.5 million individuals are most likely living with Parkinson’s, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s important to note that this is very early-stage research and whether there is long term benefit to this treatment is still to be determined. Also, this cough medication is not cleared for sale in the U.S. by the FDA.

On a side note – One thing I like about articles published in Medical News Today online is that in addition to listing the author, they also list the individual who fact-checked the article. For this article that was Alexandra Sanfins, Ph.D. Kudos for including that information.

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