Health Tech News This Week – June 24, 2023

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

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Wrist-worn wearable could detect sickle cell pain episodes

Nick Paul Taylor begins the coverage this week with his article in MedTech Dive. He reports that a wrist-worn wearable could provide early warning of the severe acute pain episodes that affect patients with sickle cell disease. Researchers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) tested the idea that the narrowing of blood vessels predicts the events in a clinical trial that reported data in 2019. They partnered with Biostrap to develop the blood flow biomarker that year. The studies showed that photoplethysmography (PPG), a way to measure changes in blood volume used in pulse oximeters, can predict the painful vaso-occlusive crises affecting sickle cell patients. PPG monitors blood volume by measuring changes in light absorption, and the researchers used the technology to record the median magnitude of vasoconstriction (Mvasoc).

Why it’s important – Wrist-worn wearables could make Mvasoc more useful for people with sickle cell disease. Rather than manually attaching a sensor, patients could wear a device on their wrist and automatically collect Mvasoc data. That thinking led the researchers at CHLA to partner with Biostrap in 2021. Researchers hope the wearable will be able to detect the onset of a pain crisis days before the patient feels it. That early detection would be vital for administering medications or other interventions early, lowering the risk of severe pain or complication, or hospitalization.

Infographics of the week – To provide a clear contrast between the old and the new, Dr. Bertalan Meskó and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute collated data from numerous sources into an infographic that outlines the differences between traditional drug-based therapies and digital therapeutics. Digital therapeutics are more than just a novel concept. They hold the promise of improved health outcomes, greater accessibility, and cost-effectiveness in patient care when used based on proper evidence.

Image Credit: Dr. Bertalan Meskó and The Medical Futurist Institute

2023 Scorecard on State Health System Performance – Every year, the Commonwealth Fund’s Scorecard on State Health System Performance uses the most recent data to assess how well the health care system works in every U.S. state. This year, Massachusetts achieved the best overall score, consistently placing among the top states on the seven dimensions of health system performance we evaluate. Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont round out the top five. The lowest-ranked states overall are Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Mississippi.

Image Credit: The Commonwealth Fund, 2023 Scorecard on State Health System Performance

Continued declines in screening mammogram volumes could have ‘worrisome implications,’ experts warn

More than three years after the height of COVID, the volume of screening mammograms still has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to new data from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Health Imaging’s Hannah Murphy reports that a group of experts from the hospital recently analyzed screening trends there in the years leading up to and following the onset of COVID. They observed a persistent decrease of five monthly screening mammograms beginning in June 2021. In contrast, between October 2016 and March 2020, the group noted a steady increase of 65 screenings per month. The group’s findings also highlighted a shift in screening locations, with outpatient clinic screenings increasing from 35.8% before COVID to just under 45% in the years following.

Why it’s important – While the long-term effects of declining screening mammogram rates are not yet fully understood, the group cautioned that there could be “worrisome implications for the future of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment” to come if rates do not improve. The study abstract is available in Clinical Imaging.

YouTube Video of the Week – From Alex Lindsay and Office Hours comes this inaugural episode of Accessibility Hours, where they will begin a series of discussions around disabilities and learn from people with lived experiences, their work, and the barriers they face in various aspects of life. You will gain insights into the importance of inclusivity and accessibility and how we can create a more equitable society for individuals with disabilities. Engage in thought-provoking conversations and discover practical ways to foster a more inclusive environment. This is one of the most comprehensive conversations around accessibility and inclusion I’ve ever seen. Well worth viewing for anyone creating online and in-person meetings, conferences, and conversations.

YouTube Video Credit: Office Hours Global

Israeli researchers reach ‘breakthrough’ in fight against skin cancer

A new study conducted at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer reveals how melanoma cancer cells affect their close environment to support their needs by forming new lymph vessels in the dermis (inner layer of the skin) to go deeper and spread through the body. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, the health and science reporter at The Jerusalem Post, reports on the development.

“Melanoma that remains on the skin is not dangerous. So the most promising direction for fighting melanoma is immunotherapy – developing a vaccine that will arouse the immune system to combat the melanosomes and specifically to attack the lymphatic endothelial cells already invaded by the melanosomes. If we can stop the mechanisms that generate metastases in lymph nodes, we can also stop the disease from spreading.”

Shoshana Greenberger, Professor, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer

Why it’s important – Melanoma, the deadliest of all skin tumors, starts with the uncontrolled division of melanocyte cells in the epidermis – the top layer of the skin. In the second stage. the cancer cells penetrate the dermis and metastasize through the lymphatic and blood systems. In previous studies. a dramatic increase was observed in the density of lymph vessels in the skin around the melanoma – a mechanism researchers have not understood until now. Since melanoma is not dangerous at the premetastatic stage, understanding the mechanism by which the metastases spread via the lymphatic and blood systems could contribute to developing a vaccine against this deadly cancer.

FDA Approves First Gene Therapy for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Sarepta Therapeutics’ Elevidys is now the first FDA-approved gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Elevidys is an engineered version of a gene intended to restore function lost to the mutation at the root of the inherited muscle disease. Frank Vinluan covers the story in MedCity News online. FDA approval of the therapy, Elevidys, covers children ages 4 and 5, which is within the age range during which disease symptoms begin to appear. Those patients must have the ability to walk and a confirmed genetic mutation for the disease. Patients must also have no pre-existing medical reason that prevents them from receiving the therapy.

Why it’s important – The Duchenne muscular dystrophy drugs now available only treat the symptoms of the rare muscle-wasting disorder. Duchenne is caused by a mutation in the gene that codes for dystrophin, a protein that helps keep muscle cells intact. A deficiency of this protein leads to progressively worsening muscle weakness that manifests as walking and running difficulty, frequent falls, and fatigue. As the disease progresses, it affects the heart and lungs. Duchenne predominantly affects males, who typically live only into their 20s or 30s before succumbing to heart or respiratory failure. It’s important to note, however, that scientists detailed a long list of concerns with the company’s research, particularly a mid-stage study that the company submitted for FDA review. Overall, it failed to show that boys who received the therapy performed significantly better on measures like standing, walking, and climbing than those who got a dummy treatment. However, the results were better in younger kids.

Oura Will Now Share Its Sleep Scores With CGM Providers

Katie Adams reports that Oura — a company selling a ring that tracks peoples’ biometrics — announced new partnerships with three providers of continuous glucose monitors: January, Supersapiens, and Veri. These companies will now be receiving sleep scores and other biometric data from Oura so they can see how these measurements affect users’ glucose levels and overall health.

Why it’s important – Oura pursued these partnerships because glucose monitoring is a key piece of the overall picture of a person’s health. In the past, CGMs were primarily used by people with diabetes to monitor their body’s glucose levels. However, these devices are becoming increasingly popular with a broader audience nowadays — especially among people seeking to improve their athletic performance, lose weight or boost their energy levels. The new integrations could provide more insights into the relationship between sleep quality and blood glucose levels. Lack of sleep — specifically deep sleep — significantly reduces glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Evidence also suggests that there might be a link between less-than-ideal sleep quality and impaired glucose metabolism.

Scientists successfully unfroze rat organs and transplanted them — a ‘historic’ step that could someday transform transplant medicine

From Stat’s Marion Renault comes this important research published this month. She describes the rat kidney as peculiarly beautiful — an edgeless viscera about the size of a quarter, gemstone-like and gleaming as if encased in pure glass. Then researchers at the University of Minnesota restarted the kidney’s biological clock, rewarming it before transplanting it back into a live rat — who survived the ordeal. In all, five rats received a vitrified-then-thawed kidney in a study whose results were published in Nature Communications. It’s the first time scientists have shown it’s possible to successfully and repeatedly transplant a life-sustaining mammalian organ after it has been rewarmed from this icy metabolic arrest.

Why it’s important – Outside experts unequivocally called the results a seminal milestone for the field of organ preservation. If researchers someday successfully translate those results into humans, experts told STAT, organ cryopreservation, and rewarming could revolutionize transplant medicine — and potentially save tens of thousands of lives each year in the U.S. alone. At any given moment, about 100,000 adults and children in the U.S. await a replacement organ. Last year, 41,225 got them. Each was dictated by time above all else: right now, doctors must sprint to obtain and then transplant organs within the tight, hours-long window they can stay alive outside the human body.

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