Health Tech News This Week – April 22, 2023

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

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Wearable patch can painlessly deliver drugs through the skin

Anne Trafton from MIT News reports on this development. MIT researchers have developed a wearable patch that applies painless ultrasonic waves to the skin, creating tiny channels that drugs can pass through. Ultrasound exposure has been shown to enhance the skin’s permeability to small-molecule drugs, but most existing techniques for performing this kind of drug delivery require bulky equipment. The MIT team wanted to come up with a way to perform this kind of transdermal drug delivery with a lightweight, wearable patch, which could make it easier to use for a variety of applications.

YouTube Video Credit: MIT Media Lab

Why it’s important – This approach could lend itself to the delivery of treatments for various skin conditions and could also be adapted to deliver hormones, muscle relaxants, and other drugs. With the device’s current version, drugs can penetrate a few millimeters into the skin, making this approach potentially useful for drugs that act locally within the skin. These could include niacinamide or vitamin C, which is used to treat age spots or other dark spots on the skin, or topical drugs used to heal burns. With further modifications to increase the penetration depth, this technique could also be used for drugs that need to reach the bloodstream, such as caffeine, fentanyl, or lidocaine.

Infographic of the week – From Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute comes this updated infographic showing the increase in the number of FDA-approved AI-based medical devices by medical discipline, type of submission, and final decision date.

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

Your Smartwatch Could Detect Early Parkinson’s Signs

Commercially available smartwatches and phones can capture key features of early, untreated Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study as reported by Mark Michaud-Rochester in Futurity online. In the new WATCH-PD study, researchers at multiple sites across the United States recruited 82 individuals with early, untreated Parkinson’s and 50 age-matched controls and followed them for 12 months. The study volunteers wore research-grade sensors, an Apple Watch, and an iPhone while performing standardized assessments in the clinic. At home, participants wore the smartwatch seven days after each clinic visit and completed motor, speech, and cognitive tasks on the smartphone every other week. The smartphone app tracked finger-taping speed, performance on cognitive tasks, and speech, while the smartwatch was able to measure arm movement, duration of tremors, and gait features. The researchers were able to detect motor and non-motor features that differed between individuals with early Parkinson’s and age-matched controls. The team is performing longitudinal analysis and also conducting a study that will follow participants for a longer period to determine which digital measures are sensitive enough to help researchers evaluate whether an experimental therapy is making a meaningful impact on the progression of the disease.

Why it’s important – These technologies could provide researchers with more objective and continuous ways to measure the disease and bring new treatments to market faster, particularly for patients in the early stages of the disease. These findings reinforce what other studies have shown—digital devices can differentiate between people with and without early Parkinson’s and are more sensitive than traditional rating scales for some measures of Parkinson’s disease.

Podcast of the week – This week’s recommendation is Halle Tecco’s The Heart of Healthcare podcast episode: Why Fertility Care is Utterly Broken. In it, she shares a full version of an article she published in Fortune. Halle contends that the entire fertility care system is broken. In the “Iron Triangle” of healthcare (access, cost, and quality), fertility care fails at each point. It’s not accessible, it costs too much, and the treatment outcomes are dismal. You can listen to the podcast here.

Image Credit: The Heart of Healthcare podcast

Noah Medical Rakes In $150M for Its Robotic Lung Biopsy Platform

Medical robotics startup Noah Medical recently closed a $150 million Series B funding round. The company’s robotic platform, called the Galaxy System, was designed to help physicians find, biopsy, and diagnose lung cancer lesions more easily and confidently. Katie Adams highlighted the developments in her article in MedCity News. The cost and complexity of current systems for lung bronchoscopy and advanced imaging technologies mean that few clinics and hospitals can deploy these together. Noah’s robotic platform, called the Galaxy System, was designed to address these problems. The system was created so physicians could find, biopsy, and confidently diagnose lesions.

The Galaxy System offers real-time navigation technology to help physicians find lesions more easily. It also provides intraprocedural imaging to correct CT-to-body divergence and gives physicians confirmation that their tool is in the patient’s lesion. The system includes a single-use, disposable bronchoscope that was designed to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and patient infection while also improving procedural workflow.

Why it’s important – Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. About two-thirds of cancerous lesions are in the outer portion of the lungs, making them difficult to navigate and biopsy. Today, most physicians rely on CT scans taken before a procedure as their primary source of information on lesion location. However, there can be a significant divergence between the images on a scan and the location of lesions in the body during the actual procedure. In the Noah system, the bronchoscope is always on camera, which enables direct visualization for the entire procedure, including at the time of biopsy.

The signs of heart disease your phone can spot

This past week, Martin Cooper, the man who led the team that developed the first ever mobile phone – a beige-colored brick of a device with buttons and no screen – predicted said he believes that cell phones will become a vital tool for monitoring our health. That promise is already being realized. Tom Ough reports in the BBC that in March 2022, scientists at the University of Washington used an iPhone to detect clotting in a single drop of blood. They used the device’s Lidar (light detecting and ranging) sensor, which uses pulsed beams to build 3D images of the phone’s surroundings. Other researchers have been developing techniques that use the camera in your phone to measure different aspects of heart health, such as blood pressure. Engineers at the University of Southern California have developed a prototype handheld ultrasound scanner that can link to a smartphone to produce echocardiograms that can monitor how blood flows through the heart.

Image Credit: Justin Chan/University of Washington

Why it’s important – The device could be a “cheap, simple, and effective” way of identifying patients who need further investigation. There are also hopes that smartphones could even provide a cheaper and more portable way of diagnosing harder-to-spot heart conditions. Although many of these technologies are still in the research and trial stages of development, there are some ways of checking your health with your phone. Elizabeth Woyke, author of The Smartphone: Anatomy of an Industry, points to an American start-up called Riva that tracks blood pressure using a phone’s camera and its camera flash. “You put your fingers on the smartphone camera, and then it measures the wave shapes in your blood vessels to track your blood pressure. It’s kind of amazing,” she says.

Roundup of the Best Coverage of the 2023 HIMSS Conference

HIMSS23 shows that the health IT community has returned with a passion for learning what’s just around the corner and a practical mindset for maximizing investments in infrastructure to improve care and reduce costs. Here are some of the articles I found that did an excellent job of covering the news from this important conference.

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