What happened in health care technology this week, and why it’s important.
Spotify’s founder helped develop an AI-powered body health scanner
The Verge’s Emma Roth kicks off the news coverage this week. Spotify founder Daniel Ek is getting into the healthcare industry. A post shared on LinkedIn names Ek as the co-founder of a startup called Neko Health, which specializes in providing body scans powered by artificial intelligence (AI), as reported earlier by European news outlets Sifter and Tech.eu. According to a translated version of Neko Health’s website, the Swedish company’s non-invasive full-body scanner can detect and measure the growth of birthmarks, rashes, and age spots. It also utilizes a separate scanner to pick up on abnormalities in heart function, blood pressure, and pulse throughout the body. Neko says the company’s 360-degree body scanner comes equipped with over 70 sensors that collect more than “50 million data points on skin, heart, vessels, respiration, microcirculation, and more.”
Why it’s important – We’ve seen the development of “whole body” scanners in the past, along with the emergence of companies who promote whole body scanning as an “annual checkup” to monitor for potential health issues. While interesting, physicians worry about the potential problems in reporting “incidentalomas,” which may or may not represent a serious problem for the patient.
Infographics of the week – This week’s first infographic is from Dr. Tazeen Rizvi. It shows his assessment of a methodology to address the problems of inequities in data-driven technologies. His point: “Efforts should be made to ensure the #data on which #algorithms are based is representative of the populations they will be deployed in, with sufficient breadth and depth to capture the multitude of clinically important associations between ethnicity, demographic, social, and clinical features that may exist.”
The second infographic comes from Gartner and shows their emerging technologies and trends for 2023.
Can’t find a doctor? This hi-tech telemedicine booth offers a handy, hands-on checkup
As France struggles with a shortage of doctors, its worst-hit regions are rolling out hi-tech telemedicine booths, where patients can conduct their own checkups while on a video call with a physician in another part of the country. Natalie Huet covers the story in her article on EuroNews.net. While France’s healthcare system is often hailed as one of the best in the world, it’s facing a demographic crisis in which doctors are getting older and are not being replaced where they’re most needed.
Why it’s important – According to government data, nearly 7 million people in France – one in 10 – don’t have a referring general practitioner (GP), and 30 percent live in a medical desert. Those are regions where it’s nearly impossible to see a doctor because there aren’t any nearby or because the few in the area are so busy they don’t take new patients. This design is an interesting spin on traditional kiosks and has been designed to be patient-friendly and comfortable.
Podcast of the week – New Discoveries on Long COVID (with Dr. Eric Topol) from In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt. Three years into the pandemic, roughly 65 million people suffering from Long COVID worldwide are still looking for answers to the mix of symptoms that has baffled doctors and experts. Dr. Eric Topal and three researchers suffering from the condition themselves published a new study laying out the most recent significant findings and preventative measures. Andy asks Eric about the likelihood of getting chronic symptoms from an infection, what those symptoms typically are, and how the data influences his own precautions. You can listen to this podcast here.
Lab-Grown Retinal Eye Cells Make Successful Connections
Retinal cells grown from stem cells can reach out and connect with neighbors, according to a new study, completing a “handshake” that may show the cells are ready for trials in humans with degenerative eye disorders. This work was reported by the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and featured in an article in Technology Networks Cell Science online. During 2022, Gamm and UW–Madison collaborators published studies showing that dish-grown retinal cells called photoreceptors respond like those in a healthy retina to different wavelengths and intensities of light and that once they are separated from adjacent cells in their organoid, they can reach out toward new neighbors with characteristic biological cords called axons.
Why it’s important – After they confirmed the presence of synaptic connections, the researchers analyzed the cells involved and found that the most common retinal cell types forming synapses were photoreceptors – rods and cones – which are lost in diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration, as well as in certain eye injuries. The next most common cell type, retinal ganglion cells, are degenerate in optic nerve disorders like glaucoma.
Ten Breakthrough Technologies, 2023
Every year MIT Technology Review publishes its list of ten breakthrough technologies that matter most right now. This year, as in the past, several of their selections are health care related. I’ve listed them below:
- CRISPR for high cholesterol – Over the past decade, CRISPR’s gene-editing tool rapidly evolved from the lab to the clinic. It started with experimental treatments for rare genetic disorders and has recently expanded into clinical trials for common conditions, including high cholesterol. New forms of CRISPR could take things further still.
- Abortion pills via telemedicine – Abortion ceased to be a constitutional right in the US in 2022, and state bans now prevent many people from accessing them. So healthcare providers and startups have turned to telehealth to prescribe and deliver pills that allow people to induce abortions at home safely.
- Organs on demand – Every day, an average of 17 people in the US alone die awaiting an organ transplant. These people could be saved—and many others helped—by a potentially limitless supply of healthy organs. Scientists are genetically engineering pigs whose organs could be transplanted into humans and 3D-printing lungs using a patient’s own cells.
New ‘ultrasound tornado’ device breaks down blood clots
Researchers say a new tool and technique using “vortex ultrasound” could potentially break down blood clots in the brain. Sean Whooley reports on the research in his article in Medical Design and Outsourcing online. This tool includes a single transducer for producing the swirling vortex effect. Researchers designed the transducer at a small enough size for incorporation into a catheter. That then feeds through the circulatory system to the blood clot site. The researchers tested their technology using cow blood in a 3D-printed model of the cerebral venous sinus. Testing found no damage to the walls of blood vessels, something that can happen during catheterization or surgical intervention. They also found no substantial damage to red blood cells.
Why it’s important – CVST clots increase pressure on blood vessels in the brain. This increases the risk of bleeding in the brain, which can be catastrophic for patients. Existing techniques rely in large part on interventions that dissolve the blood clot. But this is a time-consuming process. This ultrasonic tornado eliminated clots formed in an in vitro model of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). The researchers, based at North Carolina State University, say it worked more quickly than existing techniques.
FDA has now cleared more than 500 healthcare AI algorithms
There are now more than 520 marker-cleared artificial intelligence (AI) medical algorithms available in the United States, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as of January 2023. The vast majority of these are related to medical imaging. Dave Fornell provides the breakdown in his article in Health Exec online. The FDA cleared the first AI algorithm in 1995, and fewer than 50 algorithms were approved over the next 18 years. However, the numbers have increased rapidly in the past decade, and more than half of the algorithms on the U.S. market were cleared between 2019 to 2022––more than 300 apps in just four years. Last October, the FDA approved 178 new AI and machine learning (ML) systems. That number is expected to grow rapidly into the future, the FDA has said.
Why it’s important – As I’ve explained before, AI and ML technologies have the potential to transform healthcare by deriving new and important insights from the vast amount of data generated during the delivery of healthcare every day. Medical device manufacturers are using these technologies to innovate their products to assist healthcare providers better and improve patient care, the FDA explained on its website.
Automated training system to help Singapore General Hospital nurses master IV drip treatment
Trainee nurses at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) will soon use a new automated platform that takes the guesswork out of administering intravenous (IV) drips during training, Osmond Chia reports in his article in The Straits Times. The system – comprising a sensor-equipped glove, a digital patient in the form of an avatar, and a 3D-printed hand with a human-like texture – will evaluate how well nurses can insert a needle and converse with patients. Dubbed IV Nimble (Nursing Innovation in Mobility-based Learning), the program takes training to administer IV drips closer to reality and helps trainees learn flexibly with the help of bots. The platform will be fully rolled out for training by the end of 2023.
Why it’s important – The new system is a step forward technologically from earlier props used in cannulation training. Previously, an instructor would guide nurse trainees to insert a needle into a dummy arm, but it was tough to tell if a trainee precisely hit or missed the vein, as they could judge only from the surface. Training is also gamified, providing trainees with different skin textures and vein sizes to vary the difficulty of administering cannulation. It can also be further adapted for other medical training scenarios, like blood collection, chest tube insertion, and other invasive procedures.