Health Tech News This Week – July 2, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Virtual Platforms For Surgery Are Gaining Traction

Sai Balasubramanian, M.D., J.D., a contributor to Forbes, published this article on the ongoing development of virtual platforms for surgery. He highlights companies like Proximie, a technology company “that that allows clinicians to virtually ‘scrub in’ to any operating room or cath lab from anywhere in the world. By empowering clinicians to share their skills in real-time, we can reduce variation in care and ensure every patient receives the best healthcare every time.”

Image Credit: Microsoft.com

While Proximie is making waves, it is certainly not the only technology company navigating this arena. Another prominent player that has already established its name in the space is Microsoft’s Hololens platform. This platform aims to provide a similar solution.

Why it’s important – In terms of actually performing surgery remotely, the technology is still a work in progress. While we’re still in the early stages of this research, the goal is to one day pair the gloves with your VR headset for an immersive experience like playing in a concert or poker game in the metaverse, and eventually, they’d work with your AR glasses.” Sensations such as touch, feel, and pressure is crucially important in a surgical or clinical procedure. Without a doubt, there is a significant amount of work left to be done in this space to make virtual surgery a reality—however, the concept is promising.


Infographics of the week – I love this graphic from the National Academy of Medicine. Digital technology has now been developed and applied to every aspect of health and health care. Figure 1 groups the various digital health tools into a dozen application arenas, but the individual applications number in the thousands.

Image Credit: National Academy of Medicine

Another great infographic, this time from Rock Health. Rock Health has tracked 124 U.S.-based digital health startups that support health data infrastructure and interoperability innovation, many of which address interoperability to improve patient quality of care. At a high level, they segment patient-care-focused interoperability players into two functional categories: (1) data access and exchange, streamlining data transference between stakeholders (especially providers and patients), and (2) data integration, embedding data from different technologies into broader information platforms that inform care decisions.

Image Credit: Rock Health

Changing the field of stroke rehabilitation

Lior Novik published this article in The Jerusalem Post highlighting BioXtreme, an Israeli company that helps shorten upper post-stroke limb rehabilitation using innovative robotic technology. BioXtreme has developed deXtreme™, a groundbreaking robotic system for patients recovering from stroke or other traumatic brain injuries that applies motor error enhancement forces in a combined virtual environment to restore motor learning and rehabilitate upper limbs. The device features an array of sensors, controllers, and motors powered by unique algorithms.

Image Credit: BioXtreme.com

The company claims its unique patented error enhancement technology will shorten rehabilitation time by up to 50% and improve the range of motion by 100%, compared to traditional rehabilitation methods, as shown in three clinical trials and an independent research study conducted by Northwestern University in the United States.

Why it’s important – Millions of people worldwide suffer strokes or other brain injuries each year, requiring a long and expensive rehabilitation process. At the same time, all traditional rehabilitation methods that aim to correct the patient’s motor error using cognition require a long rehabilitation time and allow only limited success. This system, using machine learning and AI, learn the required error enhancement each time and adjusts it to the patient’s progress during each repetition, which makes practice sessions more effective. Within 10-12 training sessions, the correct movement is embedded into the patient’s brain and becomes a habit.


Operational Health Tech: A New Billion Dollar Market

A sponsored post by Bloom Health Partners on the Visual Capitalist website reviews the topic of operational health, which is an industry that provides health services to employees to help keep companies running smoothly. A critical piece of operational health is workplace health, which is expected to soar in value. From 2021 to 2025, the market for workplace health is expected to grow 200%, from $6.5 billion to $19.5 billion.

The authors make the case that this area is disruptive to traditional health care by providing direct services to employees in the workplace. They contend that in the future, employees will gravitate towards employers that provide standout health benefits like workplace healthcare options offered by operational health. Mental health is high on the list of services that many potential employees seek when considering accepting a position with companies in today’s job market.

Image Credit: Yahoo Finance, cited in Bloom Health Partners article. June 24, 2022

Why it’s important – I think the authors have hit the nail on the head in their review and discussion on the importance of providing direct services to employees in the workplace. Every piece of research that I have seen about what potential employees want in terms of benefits when they join an organization includes robust and comprehensive health benefits.

Image Credit: Loop Health.com, Accessed 6/25/2022

The Talking Knee Is a Reality: What Your Knee Can Tell You After Total Knee Arthroplasty

This article in The Journal of Orthopedic Experience and Innovation gets the “headline of the week” award, in my opinion. Despite significant technological advancements since the first recorded TKA surgery, smart technology remains largely absent in manufactured orthopedic implants. The Canary Tibial Extension with CHIRP™ System is intended to provide objective kinematic data from the implanted medical device to assist the patient and clinician during a patient’s TKA post-surgical care. The kinematic data is designed as an adjunct to other physiological parameter measurement tools applied or utilized by the physician during patient monitoring and treatment post-surgery. The CTE implant design is intended to offer an implantable sensor capable of monitoring activity and gait that provides consistent data that does not require a patient to track or remember to wear a device actively.

Image Credit: Journal of Orthopedic Experience and Innovation
YouTube Video Credit: The Talking Knee (ZimmerBiomet with Canary Technology)

Why it’s important – Total knee arthroplasty (TKA) surgeries performed in the United States are projected to increase over the next 30 years, with TKA annual projections of (in thousands) 1,272 in 2030 and 1,921 by the year 2040. While TKA is generally considered an effective intervention to improve pain and function, 15-30% of patients experience continuing problems in pain, impairment, and functional limitations post-operatively. Ultimately, this innovative technology will allow surgeons to use data and analytics to examine differences in recovery between patient groups and thus set better recovery goals.


Holographic patients are now helping to train the next generation of doctors

Future doctors at a hospital in the United Kingdom have become the first in the world to train with holographic patients. As Study Finds online reports, researchers at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge developed the pioneering technology. During the simulation, medical students encounter a virtual patient with symptoms – such as being asthmatic – and must make real-time decisions about their care. The first training module features a hologram patient with asthma, followed by scenarios of anaphylaxis, a blocked blood vessel, and pneumonia. Further modules in cardiology and neurology are currently in development.

Why it’s important – This development by teams in Cambridge – to use life-like holographic patients in medical training – could enhance the learning experience of the next generation of doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers, by creating new environments to practice medicine in real-time while improving access to training worldwide. Another excellent example of the use of mixed reality (MR) in medical training.


Electronic Skin Lets Humans Feel What Robots Do—And Vice Versa

Fiona Samuels in Scientific American reports that new research is adding more abilities and complexities to bring this field closer to its ultimate goal: an electronic skin, or e-skin, with uses ranging from covering robots to sticking wearable devices onto humans. Gao’s lab used an inkjet printer to layer a specialized ink made of nanomaterials—mixtures of microscopic bits of metals, carbon, or other compounds—within a soft hydrogel base. By printing with different nanomaterial inks, each formulated to detect a specific chemical, Gao’s team developed skins that could sense explosives, nerve agents such as those used in chemical warfare, and even viruses such as the COVID-causing SARS-CoV-2. The researchers also incorporated previously developed pressure and temperature sensors. The resulting e-skin looks like a transparent Band-Aid with metallic designs embedded on its surface.

Why it’s important – Besides remotely controlling robots or teaching them to adapt to their environments, electronic skins could have many other applications. They could become the basis of soft, flexible touch pads for interactive electronic devices, for example, or for sensitive clothing or upholstery capable of detecting extreme temperatures and other environmental conditions. Such skins could also be helpful in medicine. While issues must be addressed, these developments will encourage more research into other potential applications – especially in health care.


This Dissolvable Implant Could Revolutionize Pain Management

Smithsonian Magazine’s Margaret Osborne posted this article on developments at Northwestern University. Since discovering the addictive properties of opioids, scientists have been searching for safer alternatives to relieve pain. Biomedical engineer John A. Rogers of Northwestern University thinks he may have created one—an implantable, dissolvable device that cools nerves in the body. The device is described in a new study published in Science. His team engineered a device allowing more targeted pain relief that could be ramped up or tapered down depending on pain intensity. Using cooling, the implant would numb specific peripheral nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. This measure would block pain signals to the brain, effectively regulating pain in specific parts of the body. The device is also fully dissolvable in the body, which eliminates the risks involved in surgical removal. The time it takes to dissolve—usually days or weeks—depends on the material used and its thickness.

YouTube Video Credit: Northwestern University

Why it’s important – Millions of Americans live with pain. While pain can be an important indicator of health, it can also be debilitating, causing fatigue, depression, and a decreased quality of life. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University estimated that pain cost the United States $560 billion to $635 billion in 2011. But, opioid overdoses killed nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. In 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. Some are skeptical, however. John Wood, a neurobiologist at the University College London, studies pain pathways, including Nav1.8, vital in relaying pain signals from nerves throughout the body to the spinal cord. Wood says drugs like the Nav1.8 inhibitor from the pharmaceutical company Vertex, administered in pill form, have shown strong pain-relieving effects in humans.


FDA clears LiveMetric’s smartwatch-like, cuffless blood pressure sensor

No more squeezing: The FDA has cleared a smartwatch-like blood pressure device that foregoes the need for an inflatable cuff. Conor Hale reports on the clearance in his article for Fierce Biotech. Developed by LiveMetric, the electronic wearable can take a reading every 10 seconds, using an array of tiny sensors that can physically measure the minuscule movements of blood as it passes under the skin beat by beat. The device can be worn day or night, allowing for 24-hour logs of changes in blood pressure by tracking the wrist’s radial artery without requiring separate calibrations.

“The LiveOne device is intended to combat the worldwide epidemic of hypertension by offering patients and providers meaningful, deeply personalized health information so action can be taken in real-time.”

Kelly Benning, Vice President, LiveMetric
LiveOne Sensor Image Credit: LiveMetric

Why it’s important – LiveMetric’s device clearance adds to the list of companies pursuing light-based, as opposed to physical, sensors for tracking blood pressure. These include Rockley Photonics, Caretaker Medical’s VitalStream device, and Biobeat—which previously received a blood pressure clearance for its smartwatch and chest patch in 2019—added additional monitoring features to its wearable sensors, with agency green lights for tracking respiratory rate and body temperature.

We Need To Invest More In Women’s Health Research & Technology Can Help

“….much of modern medicine is built on research performed exclusively on male bodies, and the effects of this research gap are serious–sometimes even deadly.”

Prianka Jain and Laine Bruzek, Fortune Magazine article June 10, 2022
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

In almost every aspect of the world, male bodies have always been the default–from office air conditioning to crash test dummies. But nowhere is that default more dangerous than in medical research. Women are diagnosed significantly later than men on average across over 700 diseases, sometimes waiting up to 10 years for the proper diagnosis.

I’m ashamed that I was completely unaware of this disparity in research funding and focus until two articles hit my inbox in the same week. One was from Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute, and the other was a Fortune Magazine article quoted above. The reasons for the “gender gap” in health research and its funding are historical. And we don’t even need to go back centuries, only a few decades, to find some interesting things. In the United States, women were not required to be included in clinical research until June 10, 1993, when Congress passed the NIH Revitalization Act. That means that much of modern medicine is built on research performed exclusively on male bodies, and the effects of this research gap are serious–sometimes even deadly.

Centuries of unconscious bias and lack of research have created a public health crisis where women are often dismissed, misdiagnosed, or prescribed the wrong treatment. It’s a perfect storm of implicit bias in clinical settings, a shortage of women’s health research, and a lack of funding for female-focused solutions. Only 4% of healthcare R&D spending in the US goes directly towards women’s health.


The drug dose gender gap is one clear example. Research published in 2020 from UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago analyzed data from several thousand medical journal articles and found clear evidence of a drug-dose gender gap for 86 different medications approved by the FDA (including antidepressants, cardiovascular and anti-seizure drugs, and painkillers). The study found that medications are routinely overprescribed to women because the clinical trials were conducted only on cisgender men, and women also experienced worse side effects in 90% of cases. The study also concluded that sex differences in body weight did not explain this “sex difference.” Some 80% of all drugs removed from the US market between 1997 and 2000 were withdrawn because their side effects occurred mainly or exclusively in women. And the trend continued. Between 2004 and 2013, women suffered more than 2 million drug-related adverse events, compared with 1.3 million men in the United States.

Cardiovascular disease is another example – Even in 2015, only about a third of participants in clinical trials for new treatments for cardiovascular disease were female, despite cardiovascular diseases’ being the number one cause of death in American women.

But the list goes on and on. Endometriosis, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune conditions are just a few of the diseases that are affecting women significantly more and receive only a moderate amount of research funding. Researchers examined what would happen if the budget for Alzheimer’s research into women went from $288 million to $576 million. In these simulations, they conservatively assumed that this budgetary increase would deliver just 0.01 percent of health improvements for Alzheimer’s and coronary artery disease, and 0.1 percent for rheumatoid arthritis, over 30 years. But, this is a critical point; even these slivers of improvement produced a shockingly high return on investment. By doubling the NIH budget for research on coronary artery disease in women from its current $20 million, we could expect an ROI of 9,500 percent. Studies focused on rheumatoid arthritis in women receive just $6 million annually. Doubling that would deliver an ROI of 174,000 percent and add $10.5 billion to our economy over the 30-year timespan.

So if these returns are so significant, what’s stopping this research funding increase from happening? Female health-related startups are gaining momentum – and funding – over the past decade. The sheer amount of available health data from both genders will also contribute to a better understanding of the biological differences between how men and women react to drugs, treatments, and aging. In recent years, femtech has evolved from a niche market sector into one predicted to exceed $60 billion worldwide by 2027. The global femtech industry comprises over 200 startups 92% of which are founded and led by women), most of them born out of the frustration around a lack of care for female health issues–from menstrual health to menopause.

Image Credit: CB Insights

I’ve written previously on Femtech as the next big growth opportunity in health care. And I see even bigger things on the horizon. Technology applied intelligently can help narrow the gap in research studies, increase panel sizes, increase the amount of data collected and analyzed, and outcomes reported. The sheer amount of available health data from both genders will also contribute to a better understanding of the biological differences between how men and women react to drugs, treatments, and aging. Improving healthcare outcomes for 50% of the world’s population is a huge business opportunity–and it’s time for the venture industry to start treating it that way. The upside is simply too significant to continue ignoring.

Health Tech News This Week – June 25, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Wearables are collecting a flood of data. An ambitious new study of pregnancy aims to prove that’s it is valuable for health

Mario Aguilar in STAT reports that when Stephen Friend left Apple in 2017 after a stint helping to jumpstart its health efforts, the company’s marketing engine was already promoting a future that hadn’t arrived: Apple devices were going to help you live a healthier life. He fervently believes that the data collected continuously by consumer devices can be used to improve how care is delivered and give patients a far more personalized way to manage their health. It was with that possibility in mind that Friend co-founded the nonprofit 4YouandMe to swing for the fences to prove the value of consumer devices in medical care.

4YouandMe has launched an effort to follow the pregnancies of roughly 1,000 people, collecting a constant stream of hundreds of measures from devices and regular reports about symptoms like mood and fatigue. The goal, first and foremost, is to prove that so much data can be reliably collected. But beyond that, the researchers hope they can use some of these measures to describe the unique experience of an individual pregnancy and how much variability there is between individuals. While the study, called Better Understanding the Metamorphosis of Pregnancy, or BUMP, is only seeking to understand the feasibility of methods, it could also pave the way for new technologies that can predict complications or provide better direct treatment.

“I think that this [study] would give more granular data across the time period to be able to answer some unique questions about how pregnancy affects a woman’s health.”

Catherine Spong, Chief of maternal fetal medicine and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Why it’s important – Pregnancy is a prime target for what 4YouandMe wants to accomplish. It occurs over a finite period, brings a string of dramatic physical transformations, and should create a lush data set to mine for insights. That also makes it an all-in bet. The BUMP study is remarkable for the sheer amount of data it aims to collect before conception, during pregnancy, and postpartum. Participants will sport a Garmin smartwatch and an Oura smart ring, step daily on a Bodyport cardiac scale, and field frequent questions about how they’re feeling in a smartphone app and interviews with the research team. They’ll complete walking and cognition tests and video diaries. Some participants will submit genetic data. Those who opt-in will contribute anonymized details about their Instagram activity and phone usage. The data, which will be available to other researchers, could also open the door to future work on pregnancy.


Infographics of the week – Interesting infographic from CB Insights segmenting companies developing technologies and solutions for the Digital Hospital market. The global digital health market size was valued at USD 175.6 billion in 2021 is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.7% from 2022 to 2030. Increasing smartphone penetration, improving internet connectivity, advancing healthcare IT infrastructure, growing healthcare expenditure, rising prevalence of chronic diseases, increasing demand for remote patient monitoring services, and increasing accessibility of virtual care are driving market growth. Information from Grandview Research Digital Health Market Size & Share Report, 2022-2030.

Image Credit: CB Insights

The second infographic this week shows that healthcare is a differentiator in a turbulent job market and is one of the top three priorities when considering workplace benefits. Mental health is one of the key areas they look for. Source:Yahoo Finance


Truveta partners with Pfizer to monitor COVID-19 therapies, treatments

Truveta, a data platform company backed by some of the country’s largest health systems, is partnering with big pharma company Pfizer to monitor the safety of its COVID-19 vaccines and therapies. Brock Turner reports the announcement in his article on Modern Healthcare’s Digital Health & Business Technology. Truveta said the partnership would allow Pfizer to evaluate and identify trends and treatments in real-time using de-identified data from 50 million people. The data doesn’t just use clinical information from the electronic health record but socio-economic data and daily mortality data. The company’s CEO Terry Myerson, said he’s optimistic this deal can bolster trust and begin to combat vaccine hesitancy.

“I think at some level, that’s why it’s so important for us to have such a large data set, because even America is so diverse.”

Terry Myerson, CEO, Truveta

Why it’s important – Altogether, the partnership will give Pfizer access to data from Truveta’s 20 health system members across 42 states. These health systems represent more than 16% of U.S. patient care. Myerson declined to share specifics on how health systems are compensated through this deal but said it is relatively proportional to the overall number of patients. The company compensates its partners for anonymized patient data submitted by providers.


Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a wearable textile exomuscle that serves as an extra layer of muscles.

ETH reported on their research in a press release this week. They aim to use it to increase the upper body strength and endurance of people with restricted mobility. This idea led to the creation of the Myoshirt: a soft, wearable exomuscle for the upper body. It is a kind of vest with cuffs for the upper arms accompanied by a small box containing all the technology that is not used directly on the body. Working via sensors embedded in the fabric, an intelligent algorithm detects the wearer’s intentional movements and the amount of force required. A motor then shortens a cable in the material running parallel to the wearer’s muscles – a sort of artificial tendon – supporting the desired movement. This assistance is always in tune with the user’s movements and can be tailored to their individual preferences. The user is always in control and can override the device anytime.

YouTube video credit: ETH, Zurich

Why it’s important – The researchers have recently tested this prototype for the first time in a study featuring 12 participants: ten people without any physical impairments, one person with muscular dystrophy (Michael Hagmann), and one person with a spinal cord injury. The results were promising: all participants could lift their arms and/or objects for much longer thanks to the exomuscle. Endurance increased by about a third in the healthy subjects and by roughly 60% in the participant with muscular dystrophy. In contrast, the participant with a spinal cord injury could perform the exercises three times as long. The exomuscle made it less taxing on their muscles, with the overwhelming majority of the participants finding the device intuitive to use.


AI Detects Autism Speech Patterns Across Different Languages

A new study led by Northwestern University researchers used machine learning—a branch of artificial intelligence—to identify speech patterns in children with autism that were consistent between English and Cantonese, suggesting that speech features might be a valuable tool for diagnosing the condition. Northwestern reported on the research in Neuroscience News. The data used to train the algorithm were recordings of English- and Cantonese-speaking young people with and without autism telling their version of the story depicted in a wordless children’s picture book called “Frog, Where Are You?”

Why it’s important – Children with autism often talk more slowly than typically developing children and exhibit other differences in pitch, intonation, and rhythm. But those differences (called “prosodic differences’” by researchers) have been surprisingly challenging to characterize consistently and objectively, and their origins have remained unclear for decades. Using this method, we were able to identify features of speech that can predict the diagnosis of autism. The most prominent of those features is rhythm. They are hopeful that this study can be the foundation for future work on autism that leverages machine learning. The researchers believe that their work has the potential to contribute to an improved understanding of autism.


Interesting video – Honda is creating an on-shoe navigation system for persons with vision impairment to help them avoid issues when they are out and about.

Video Credit: Mashable.com

Vitestro Introduces an Automated Blood Drawing Device Using AI

Dutch medical robotics company @Vitestro unveiled an autonomous blood drawing device combining artificial intelligence, ultrasound imaging, and robotics. Vitestro’s device combines AI-based, ultrasound-guided 3D reconstruction with robotic needle insertion, ensuring accurate and secure blood collection. The procedure is performed fully automatically, from tourniquet to bandage application. The device can be used under supervision by patients 16 years and older, including those with comorbidities and/or difficult venous access.

Image Credit: Vitestro.com

Why it’s important – In clinical studies, the device prototype has already performed 1,500 automated blood draws on more than 1,000 patients. A trained healthcare professional can supervise several devices, managing multiple patients simultaneously. The increased efficiency enables hospitals and clinical laboratories to address workforce shortages or even free up staff and deploy them where needed. The full release of the product is expected in 2024.


Bracelet launched to track pain in people who can’t express it

Mdoloris, a specialist in medical pain monitoring technologies, unveils ANI Guardian, a connected bracelet to track the well-being and pain of people that cannot express it. The bracelet miniaturizes a patented technology that was until now only available in hospitals. The wireless bracelet remotely shares data with caregivers, family, and medical specialists in real-time. The release was covered in MedTech News this week. ANI Guardian seeks to measure the well-being of non-verbal patients in a non-invasive and understandable manner. Building on prior Mdoloris pain monitoring products which have been successfully used in hospitals (such as La Paz in Madrid, Spain, for a study on video games and cancer), it uses signals from the nervous system to track and display the patient’s pain and comfort levels at all times.

Why it’s important – According to the WHO, an estimated 55 million people worldwide are suffering from a form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. These patients often cannot self-report their level of pain and comfort, which places them at increased risk for under-diagnosed and under-treated pain. This also concerns people on the autistic spectrum, in palliative care, or suffering from multiple disabilities. The connected bracelet miniaturizes the ANI technology, which is already used in hospitals worldwide. It is the first time that such technology is available to everyone in such an accessible form. Having been the subject of more than 200 international publications, the ANI technology monitors pain. It displays it in real-time on a screen to help avoid under or overdosing by enabling doctors to give the correct dosage.


Health Tech News This Week – June 18, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Rune Labs’ Apple Watch-based Parkinson’s disease tracker gets FDA clearance

Nicole Wetsman in The Verge reports that software that helps people with Parkinson’s disease track symptoms through their Apple Watch received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, the company behind the tool announced today. It automatically tracks things like tremors, and it lets patients report symptoms and medication usage. Neurology company Rune Labs built the software called StrivePD. It lets clinicians track their patients’ progress and any changes in symptoms from the neurological disorder, which causes involuntary movements and difficulty with coordination.

Why it’s important – The passive data collection means patients’ don’t have to try and remember those fluctuations. It’s also a rich source of data on how Parkinson’s patients respond to various medications. The FDA sign-off means clinicians have ways to bill patients when reviewing data from the watch and lets the findings be used as clinical trial data on various Parkinson’s disease treatments.


Infographic of the week – a nice graphic compilation of digital health medication adherence companies by The Digital Apothecary.com

Image Credit: The Digital Apothecary.com

Ekso Bionics exoskeleton cleared for use with MS patients

In other FDA clearance news, Sean Whooley reports that EksoNR is the first exoskeleton device to receive FDA clearance for rehabilitation use in patients with MS, significantly expanding the device’s use to a broader group of patients. The latest generation of the Ekso Bionics platform, the EksoNR, received clearance for stroke and spinal cord rehabilitation in 2016, then acquired brain injury (ABI) in 2020.

Image Credit: Ekso Bionics

Why it’s important – EksoNR has the potential to assist significantly more patients and improve patient mobility.


Keeping Up to Date on SaMD Regulations

In the Mayo Clinic Platform blog, John Halamka, M.D., president, Mayo Clinic Platform, and Paul Cerrato, senior research analyst and communications specialist, outline how this kind of standalone software is having a significant impact on the delivery of medical care worldwide and when coupled with machine learning, has the potential to transform patient care in ways that were unimaginable a few years ago. They highlight the FDA’s new set of guidelines, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML)-based Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) Action Plan, the purpose of which is to accommodate the many iterations expected from these new digital tools as they respond to new data and adapt algorithms accordingly. And they provide an overview of the basics in understanding how Software as a Medical Device regulations will be used in health care.

Why it’s important – This is must-reading for health care executives and their teams to understand the new regulations and how the FDA will begin to expect real-world performance monitoring for artificial intelligence and machine learning-based software as a medical device.


3D PRINTED IMPLANTS ENABLE FACIAL DEFORMITY SURGERY SUCCESS

Haley Everett reports this milestone in an article in 3D Printing Industry online. Doctors in Dubai have successfully completed a series of surgeries on a young male patient to reform his facial deformities using 3D printed titanium implants. The surgery completely reconstructed the patient’s facial bones, which had been severely damaged from several benign tumors.

Why it’s important – The technology is being deployed to create biocompatible, patient-specific implants capable of facilitating bone cell growth and repairing structural deformities. Opting for the implants meant the patient did not have to undergo multiple soft and hard microvascular grafts from his abdomen and legs to reconstruct his facial bones, which would have seriously affected his quality of life.


Nanoparticle sensor can distinguish between viral and bacterial pneumonia

Anne Trafton at MIT reports that researchers have now designed a sensor that can distinguish between viral and bacterial pneumonia infections, which they hope will help doctors choose the appropriate treatment. They are currently developing versions for human use that could be administered using either a nebulizer or an inhaler similar to an asthma inhaler. They are also working on detecting the results using a breathalyzer instead of a urine test, which could give results even more quickly.

Why it’s important – Many different types of bacteria and viruses can cause pneumonia, but there is no easy way to determine which microbe is causing a particular patient’s illness. This uncertainty makes it harder for doctors to choose effective treatments because the antibiotics commonly used to treat bacterial pneumonia won’t help patients with viral pneumonia. In addition, limiting the use of antibiotics is an important step toward curbing antibiotic resistance. In designing their sensor, the research team focused on measuring the host’s response to infection rather than trying to detect the pathogen itself. Viral and bacterial infections provoke distinctive types of immune responses, including activating enzymes called proteases, which break down proteins. The MIT team found that the pattern of activity of those enzymes can serve as a signature of bacterial or viral infection.


CONSORTIUM UNVEILS GUIDELINES FOR USING DIGITAL TWIN TECHNOLOGY

Health Leaders Eric Wicklund reports that an organization called The Digital Twin Consortium has created a framework for the use of digital twin technology, which is just now being adopted in healthcare to help providers improve care management. Reality Capture: A Digital Twin Foundation lays out the groundwork for using the technology, which essentially uses sensors and AI to create a digital twin of an object, room, building, or landscape for use in planning and design. In healthcare, the strategy focuses on developing a digital twin of a patient, which can then be used to test the effectiveness of treatments before they’re tried on the patient.

Why it’s important – With its new document, the Digital Twin Consortium aims to lay the foundation for guidelines and standards of digital twin technology. The published white paper can provide information organizations can use to make the right investment decisions.


Scientists Develop “Nanomachines” That Can Penetrate and Kill Cancer Cells

A research team headed by Dr. Youngdo Jeong from the Center for Advanced Biomolecular Recognition at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has reported the development of a novel biochemical nanomachine that penetrates the cell membrane and kills the cell via the molecular movements of folding and unfolding in specific cellular environments, such as cancer cells.

Image Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST)

Why it’s important – In the last couple of months, promising results have been published about nanomachines in a medical setting. How does it keep healthy cells intact? In normal cells with a relatively high pH, the movements of the nanomachines were restricted, and they could not penetrate the cell.


Carilion Clinic, TytoCare team up to expand rural telehealth

Katie Adams in MedCity News reports that Carilion Clinic, a health system based in Roanoke, Virginia, that has a sizable rural patient population announced a partnership with TytoCare, a New York City-based telehealth company. The partnership aims to strengthen the health system’s ability to diagnose and treat patients remotely with virtual physical exams using TytoCare smart devices, such as its telehealth exam kits and pop-up remote health clinic.

Why it’s important – With access to health care in rural areas declining, using telemedicine approaches to manage chronic care is even more critical today than in the past. Carilion uses TytoCare’s telehealth devices to monitor pediatric asthma patients remotely and care for rural patients with chronic conditions. The health system also will deploy the TytoClinic solution, which can turn any location into a remote telehealth clinic, in rural schools to increase students’ and teachers’ access to primary and specialty care.


How researchers are using old phones to screen for Alzheimer’s

The DigiHealth Lab at UC San Diego, directed by Professor Edward Wang, looks at ubiquitous technology like smartphones to figure out how they can be used to monitor our health. The idea is that, by building digital health tools that work on more common devices, they can increase access to more people — particularly people who might not be able to afford the latest smartwatch or fitness tech. Matt Morales featured this video in his article on The Verge.

YouTube video credit: The Verge

Why it’s important – Great review of how the latest and greatest technology isn’t always required to monitor a person’s health. It also brings personal health monitoring to a broader population segment who might not be able to afford the latest smartphone.


Alimetry gets FDA clearance for wearable gut disorder test

Finally, this week, from Adam Ang in MobiHealthNews, we get this article on technology startup Alimetry, which has received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration for its wearable device for diagnosing gastric disorders. Gastric Alimetry is a non-invasive test for common stomach disorders, including nausea and vomiting, gastroparesis, and functional dyspepsia. The Gastric Alimetry test is only performed in a clinical setting. Recordings are taken before and after a meal while patients simultaneously log their symptoms into a companion mobile app. The wearable device captures digestive patterns from the skin surface and then delivers clinical reports via the cloud, which ultimately informs the diagnosis of gastric diseases and supports personalized therapy.

Image Credit: Alimetry

Why it’s important – Existing gut tests are “frequently unreliable and inconclusive” with patients undergoing months or years of testing, which is often costly, invasive, and involves radiation. And the market for these is growing. Other wearable patches have been developed and marketed in the United States to track and identify gastrointestinal issues. In 2018, researchers from the University of California San Diego created a wearable device that can track electrical activity in the stomach over 24 hours. G-Tech Medical, also from California, has developed a wearable, disposable sensor patch for measuring electrical activity in the gastrointestinal tract.

One “Unified Health Record System” To Rule Them All? – I Think Not

“It’s Deja Vu All Over Again”

Yogi Berra, Baseball Legend and Philosopher
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Oracle’s chairman Larry Ellison outlined a bold vision last week for the database giant to use the combined tech power of Oracle and Cerner to make access to medical records more seamless. Days after closing its $28.3 billion acquisition of electronic health record company Cerner, Ellison said Oracle plans to build a national health record database to pull data from thousands of hospital-centric EHRs.

“We’re going to solve this problem by putting a unified national health records database on top of all of these thousands of separate hospital databases. So we’re building a system where the health records all American citizens’ health records not only exist at the hospital level but also are in a unified national health records database.”

Larry Ellison, Chairman and CTO, Oracle

Oracle also plans to modernize Cerner’s Millennium EHR platform with updated features such as a voice interface, more telehealth capabilities, and disease-specific AI models, Ellison said. He also highlighted a partnership between health tech company Ronin, a clinical decision support solution, and MD Anderson to create a disease-specific AI model that monitors cancer patients as they work through their treatments. (Sound familiar, IBM?)

Needless to say, Ellison’s bold vision was met with a healthy dose of skepticism by interoperability experts who have been striving for years to build technical “roadways” to make it easier to access and share health data.

“The concept is not new, and the barriers still remain. Saying that you’re going to build a national database and bringing that to fruition is a different story. This particular model is going to face the same barriers that have been there for many years and there’s no easy path to overcome those barriers quickly.”

Patrick Murta, Chief Platform Architect, BehaVR to Fierce Healthcare

Let’s get real here – This isn’t the first time big tech has come in to ‘fix healthcare.’ (I’ve written on this topic before) Big software and tech giants continue to push into healthcare with megadeals like Microsoft’s $19.7 billion bid for Nuance and two private equity firms picking up Cerner competitor Athenahealth in a $17 billion deal. But the health care landscape is littered with failed attempts to create “the mother of all EHRs” over the years, including Microsoft’s attempt to create a personal health record system, HealthVault, that shut down in 2019. Google Health’s personal health information service was introduced in 2008 and ended three years later because of low user adoption. How about IBM’s attempts with Watson Health? Or GE’s attempt with Edison? All of these were announced with great fanfare, and all failed despite the backing of big companies who were willing to spend billions in funding to ensure success.

Unifying national patient records involves more than just connecting all of the Cerner sites. There are already efforts underway to create a more unified database of health records, such as Epic’s Cosmos. a de-identified patient database combining the company’s EHR data of over 122 million patients. There are also plug-and-play networks like CommonWell and Carequality that enable healthcare providers to access patient data. You also have consortia like Truveta, which brings together health systems from around the country to aggregate their EHR data into a massive database for research.

Ellison’s “moonshot” commitment to ‘all medical records’ ignores the actual and valuable data issues and, frankly, immense work ahead of the industry to deliver value while aggregating and enhancing historical clinical data. It is nearly impossible to have a system that holds all medical records in the U.S. in real-time, at any given time. And, it won’t be easy to ensure all providers have the same level of maturity or even consent to providing the data. The extensive database also raises security questions. Throughout the presentation, Mr. Ellison noted patients would still have the “key” to their health records, which are anonymized until patients give providers access. How will that work exactly? What Ellison did not say was who would pay for its national electronic health records database.

And how would this effort tie into the Federal Government’s framework for nationwide data exchange called the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA)? TEFCA aims to eliminate individual legal agreements between health information networks, health plans, providers, and other entities by instituting one common agreement that qualified networks and their participants sign onto, paring back the administrative burden. The framework standardizes the operational side of data exchange while raising the privacy and security bar for entities that want to be certified as qualified health information networks (QHINs), groups of organizations that agree to the same data-sharing infrastructure. It’s composed of two parts: the Trusted Exchange Framework, which describes a set of principles for data-sharing across health information networks, and the Common Agreement, a legal contract signed by QHINs. TEFCA is entirely voluntary and will succeed or fail wholly depending on industry buy-in — historically, not a good prospect for a piece of health IT regulation — though experts note the competitive advantages to joining TEFCA could be a significant motivator.

Update 6/17/2022: On Thursday Epic announced that it will join the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, and that when the application process opens later this year it will apply to connect to TEFCA as an inaugural Qualified Health Information Network.https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/epic-will-sign-tefca


Moonshot announcements like Mr. Ellison’s make for great press and usually a bump in the stock price. But, as with most issues in healthcare, there’s a chasm between identifying the problem and being able to fix it. And to stay with the Lord of the Rings theme of the title of this post, I’m betting there’s someone in Verona, Wisconsin, ready to say:

GIF Credit: Giphy.com

Health Tech News This Week – June 11, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

A world first: Human liver was treated in a machine and then successfully transplanted

The Liver4Life research has developed a perfusion machine that makes it possible to implant a human organ into a patient after a storage period of three days outside a body. The device mimics the human body as accurately as possible to provide ideal conditions for human livers. A pump serves as a replacement heart, an oxygenator replaces the lungs, and a dialysis unit performs the functions of the kidneys. In addition, numerous hormone and nutrient infusions perform the functions of the intestine and pancreas. The article on the first transplantation of a liver prepared in a perfusion machine was published in Nature Biotechnology on May 31, 2022.

Image Credit: University Hospital Zurich (USZ), ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich (UZH)

Why it’s important – The therapy demonstrates that by treating livers in the perfusion machine, it is possible to alleviate the lack of functioning human organs and save lives. The next step in the Liver4Life project is to review the procedure on other patients and demonstrate its efficacy and safety in the form of a multicenter study. Its success would mean that in the future, liver transplantation, which usually constitutes an emergency procedure, would be transformed into a plannable elective procedure.


Infographic of the week – From the team at Gist Healthcare, a terrific graphic demonstrates how different organizations approach platform development in health care. If you are not following the work Chas Roades and Lisa Bielamowicz, M.D. do at Gist Healthcare; you should bookmark their website and sign up for their posts.

Image Credit: Gist Healthcare

Gel that repairs heart attack damage could improve health of millions

Andrew Gregory in The Guardian reports that British researchers have developed a biodegradable gel to repair damage caused by a heart attack in a breakthrough that could improve the health of millions of survivors worldwide. Researchers at the University of Manchester have created a gel that can be injected directly into the beating heart – effectively working as a scaffold to help injected cells grow new tissue.

“We’re confident that this gel will be an effective option for future cell-based therapies to help the damaged heart to regenerate.”

Katharine King, University of Manchester

Why it’s important – Until now, when cells have been injected into the heart to reduce the risk of heart failure, only 1% have stayed in place and survived. But the gel can hold them in place as they graft onto the heart.


The graveyard of health tech pilots: why some experiments flourish and others fizzle

Pilot programs are health tech’s proving ground: they let health systems test-drive new devices and software without spending millions of dollars or shaking up patient care too quickly. They’re also where some of tech’s biggest ideas have gone to die. STAT+ reporter Mohana Ravindranath interviewed several health care executives for this article. (Subscription required) STAT asked executives at large hospital systems about their failed pilots and why they fell apart.

“What I want to see is proof that people were willing to go to bat internally at a health system, and whether you made it past phase 1 or phase 2. What it shows me is that you were able to cultivate a champion at the health system who was willing to put their reputation on the line.”

Tom Cassels, President of venture fund Rock Health

Why it’s important – Knowing that health systems and tech companies have stress-tested and tweaked the product after previous failures could boost investor confidence. And health systems that have demonstrated a willingness to run pilots — successful or not — might attract other tech companies pitching their solutions.


Virtual Reality to Train Staff to Deal with Agitated Patients

Conn Hastings from Medgadget reports that Researchers at the National University of Singapore, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, have developed a virtual reality training system that lets healthcare staff learn how to deal with agitated or aggressive patients. This new system aims to mimic common scenarios for trainee nurses and doctors and allows them to make mistakes without causing harm or creating a risk. The system is quite sophisticated and mimics common distractors found in busy healthcare wards to make the experience as realistic as possible.

YouTube Video Credit: National University, Singapore

Why it’s important – Managing a situation with an agitated patient inappropriately could pose risks for patients and staff alike, and physical and verbal attacks on healthcare staff are unfortunately relatively common. Virtual reality represents an ideal way for trainee staff to learn to handle such situations without any real-world consequences.

Summer Reading Recommendations – 2022

“There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.”

Emily Dickinson
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Since Memorial Day is usually considered the “unofficial” start of Summer, I thought I’d share some of my favorite reads from the first half of 2022 to consider adding to your beach reading list. Here are twelve books (both non-fiction and fiction) that I enjoyed:

First up – and I’ve mentioned this book in previous posts – is The Age Tech Revolution by Keren Etkin. In my view, this is the definitive book on the use of technology in aging and is a must-read for anyone interested in the topic. You should also follow Keren on her website, The Gerontechnologist, for regular updates on conferences, publications, and new entrants into the AgeTech space.


I first came across Jane McGonigal when I saw her TED talk on how to see the future. When I heard that she was publishing a book on the topic, I immediately pre-ordered it from Amazon. Imaginable is a fascinating read and covers a lot of ground on how futurists like McGonigal approach their future-focused research.


I’ve been interested in the field of synthetic biology for some time. Fortunately, I had the benefit of learning a lot about the area by tapping into the expertise of one of my former colleagues at Sg2, Justin Cassidy, who patiently explained the basics and clinical applications of the technology to this novice (Thanks for putting up with my dumb questions, Justin!). The Genesis Machine is another book that I discovered while watching a podcast interview of Amy Webb by Leo Laporte on Triangulation. You should also follow her work at The Future Today Institute, where you’ll find a wealth of information on Tech and Science trends. Amy and her co-author Andrew Hessel cover this fast-growing field—which uses computers to modify or rewrite genetic code—has created revolutionary, groundbreaking solutions such as the mRNA COVID vaccines, IVF, and lab-grown hamburger that tastes like the real thing. It gives us options to deal with existential threats: climate change, food insecurity, and access to fuel. But they also outline the risks involved and how to best address the opportunities in the bioeconomy.


I’ve read every biography that Walter Isaacson has written. His books on Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs were two of my favorites. I love his writing style and comprehensive approach to researching the people he is profiling. His biography of Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., one of the inventors of CRISPR technology and gene editing, is one of those volumes that I couldn’t put down. Isaacson traces the arc of her life from early childhood to her ground-breaking discovery of CRISPR in his usual highly engaging fashion. A great read.


Dr. Peter Hotez has been a regular fixture on the cable channels throughout the COVID pandemic. Millions have seen his calm, rational voice during the many interviews he has given. His work in infectious diseases has been going on for decades now. In his book Preventing the Next Pandemic, he brings all of his knowledge about dealing with pandemics together, along with his keen assessment of what went right and what went wrong in our global response to the COVID pandemic, along with some recommendations about how to prevent those mistakes from happening again. I found his book to be more interesting than Bill Gates’ tome, although both are worth reading.


This was a book recommended by Dr. Bertalan Mesko, The Medical Futurist, on his website. In an age where critical thinking is in short supply, Think Again by Adam Grant examines the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people’s minds, which can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life. His stories and examples teach us to let go of views that are no longer serving us well and prize mental flexibility over foolish consistency. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.


Mike Magee, M.D., former hospital administrator, and Pfizer executive, has spent years investigating the pillars of our health system: Big Pharma, insurance companies, hospitals, the American Medical Association, and anyone affiliated with them. His book Code Blue: Inside America’s Medical Industrial Complex gives readers a look behind the often opaque industry to expose the greed and sometimes questionable business practices that consume a large portion of the health care dollars spent in this country. He offers some suggestions for how we might change the system to make it more accessible and less costly – although many will find his arguments for a single-payer, multi-plan insurance arena controversial.


While not a new publication, I came across Self Tracking as part of my research into the current state of self-tracking devices and their expanded use in personalized health care. Gina Neff and Dawn Nafus describe what happens when people turn their everyday experiences—in particular, health and wellness-related experiences—into data and offer an introduction to the essential ideas and key challenges of using these technologies. They consider self-tracking as a social and cultural phenomenon, describing not only the use of data as a kind of mirror of the self but also how this enables people to connect to, and learn from, others. This book is especially relevant today, as we question things like who owns our health care tracking data, how it can be used, and whether patients should be compensated for the use (or misuse) of their data.


AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future is another book recommended by Dr. Mesko. The authors, Kai-Fu Lee, the former president of Google China and bestselling author of AI Superpowers, and novelist Chen Qiufan imagine our world in 2041 and how AI will shape it. This combination of real-world technology development and science fiction storytelling provides the reader with a fascinating look into the not-so-distant future of AI.


I usually read about a book a week. But, lest you think that all I spend my time reading are non-fiction books, here a few of my favorite fiction books so far this year:

I loved Andy Weir’s novel The Martian (not so much the movie version, though). So when he published his latest novel Project Hail Mary, I downloaded it on its release date and finished it in a single reading. Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. I loved the way Weir structured the entire novel. And the second half of the book, where Grace uncovers how to communicate with the alien being he’s encountered, is utterly fascinating. I know there’s a movie version in the works. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy this one better than the last adaptation of Weir’s The Martian.


Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future is not a new publication (released in 2020), but somehow I missed adding this to my reading list. Robinson uses fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will affect us all. Its setting is not a lonely, post-apocalyptic world but a future almost upon us. Cited by both Bill Gates and Barack Obama as critical reading for people wanting to understand how humanity can band together to solve the crucial issue of climate change, Robinson’s book makes an excellent read.


Stephanie Storey’s Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo is another “how did I miss this one” finds. First published in 2016, Storey’s novel covers the period of a few years at the very beginning of the sixteenth century when Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti both lived and worked in Florence. Leonardo was a charming, handsome fifty-year-old at the peak of his career. Michelangelo was a temperamental sculptor in his mid-twenties, desperate to make a name for himself. Having read Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo, I found the juxtaposition of his work and Michelangelo’s work at this critical point in each of their careers an excellent, engaging read.


Books I’m looking forward to reading in the second half of the year (release date in parentheses):

  • Portrait of an Unknown Woman (July 29) – Book 22 in Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series. It can’t come soon enough for me.
  • The Omega Factor (June 7) – I Love Steve Berry’s novels
  • Exponential Organizations: The Essential Guide to Building ExO’s (June 25) – More on exponential organizations from Peter Diamandis
  • The Future Circle of Healthcare: AI, 3D Printing, Longevity, Ethics, and Uncertainty Mitigation (September 3) – This book brings together scholars whose areas of expertise represent different themes essential to understanding how healthcare might change and evolve over the next decade.
  • Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age (June 21) – I’ve been a space nut my whole life. This book by the former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver outlines her push to get NASA to partner with commercial space companies. I am looking forward to reading this one.

So there you have my dozen recommendations for your reading pleasure throughout the Summer. Let me know in the comments whether you have any other books I should consider adding to my list. I’m always looking for the next great reading adventure. Thanks for reading the blog and your comments and suggestions for other topics to research and post. Enjoy the Summer, and happy reading!

Health Tech News This Week – June 4, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Tiny Robot Crab to Perform Tasks Inside Body

Conn Hastings in Medgadget reports on work by engineers at Northwestern University who have developed a tiny remote-controlled crab robot. The device is just half a millimeter wide, and can perform various impressive tasks, including jumping, twisting, bending, turning, and walking. The tiny devices do not require electricity and instead are powered through heating using a laser. The shape-memory alloy that forms the bulk of the robots rapidly changes shape when heated and returns to its original shape rapidly when the heating ceases, forming the basis for the device’s movements. While in its technological infancy, the method could have eventual applicability in medicine as a means to perform minimally invasive surgical tasks within the body.

Why it’s important – The future of micro-robotics can have them act as agents to repair or assemble small structures or machines in industry or as surgical assistants to clear clogged arteries, stop internal bleeding, or eliminate cancerous tumors — all in minimally invasive procedures.


Infographic of the week – Rare diseases affect 30 million Americans. And there are approximately 7,000 different known rare diseases today. Only ~5% have a treatment option available.

Image Credit: Viscadia

Artificial Skin Senses Pressure, Temperature, Humidity

More from Conn Hastings in Medgadget. Researchers at Graz University in Austria have created an artificial skin that is more sensitive than your fingertip. The skin contains 2,000 sensors per square millimeter, and the researchers designed it to sense humidity, temperature, and pressure, just like human skin. The tiny sensors within the skin material consist of a hydrogel core and a piezoelectric zinc oxide shell. The hydrogel expands or contracts depending on the temperature and when it absorbs moisture. Pressure can also affect the zinc oxide shell, and these changes lead to an electrical charge, forming the basis of the sensing technology.

Image Credit: Graz University, Austria

Why it’s important – The material could form a component of advanced prosthetic devices that allow their users to experience their environment more realistically. The resulting e-skin can outperform our skin in terms of sensing small objects. Human skin can detect things that are approximately 1 square millimeter in size, whereas this artificial skin can reportedly detect ones that are up to one thousand times smaller.


When will augmented reality glasses be ready for consumers?

Since Apple’s WWDC conference begins on Monday, and there’s a ton of speculation about whether they will introduce an augmented reality glasses product, Robert Scoble posts this look at when the technology will be ready for prime time in his Scobleizer blog. His take:

“Until this next generation of devices happens these glasses will mostly be used for R&D or enterprise uses, like controlling robots or production lines, or doing things like surgery, where field of view, brightness, etc aren’t as important as they will be for consumers. Lumus is selling their much better lenses to consumer-focused partners, but they don’t expect the really interesting glasses until 2024.”

Robert Scoble

Why it’s important – While I believe that augmented reality applications will ultimately be a more important use in health care than VR, it’s important to understand what works today and what needs to happen for mainstream adoption. I’ll be watching the Apple WWDC Keynote with interest on Monday. But I’ll need to temper my enthusiasm for their next “new big thing” with the reality of the current capabilities.


Gene Therapy Successfully Treats Spinal Cord Injuries Without Side Effects

An international team of researchers led by scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine reported that a gene therapy that inhibits targeted nerve cell signaling effectively reduced neuropathic pain in mice with spinal cord or peripheral nerve injuries with no detectable side effects. The team published the results in the online edition of Molecular Therapy on May 5, 2022, and in an article on SciTech Daily.

Why it’s important – The results in this study suggest a possible new treatment option for a condition that may affect more than half of individuals with spinal cord injuries. Neuropathy involves damage or dysfunction in nerves elsewhere in the body, typically resulting in chronic or debilitating numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and pain.


NZ-based AI firm launches tool to assess heart risk through retinal scans in US

Fierce Health’s Anastassia Gliadkovskya covered this announcement by Toku Eyes. This New Zealand-based healthcare AI company is launching its tool that assesses heart risk through a retinal scan in the U.S. The device, called ORAiCLE, uses an AI platform to identify cardiovascular threats more accurately than existing risk calculators, the company claims. The platform recognizes subtle changes in aspects like blood vessels and pigmentation to identify a person’s risk of a stroke or heart attack in the next five years.

Why it’s important – Many Americans with diabetes are at risk of long-term complications like heart disease and blindness. Early diagnosis is critical for mitigating morbidity, but the diagnosis has historically been a challenge. Since using a retinal camera and the AI software requires minimal training, it is more cost-effective and accessible, the company argues. The AI platform uses an image of the back of the eye to do its assessment. It then provides personalized health guidance or recommends a specialist referral.


Artificial Intelligence Can Now Accurately Describe Your Poop

In one of those “I never thought I’d see this headline” moments, Vice’s Ella Fassier reports on a new randomized clinical trial presented at the Digestive Disease Week conference in San Diego. Artificial Intelligence categorizes the poops into one of seven categories following the Bristol Stool Scale, a diagnostic stool tool.

Why it’s important – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects up to 1 billion people worldwide. And these apps are part of a growing trend of AI-assisted healthcare. At its best, the health-promoting technological design would be driven by the needs and desires of the most vulnerable patients, would be equally and freely accessible to all, and would allow communities to surpass gatekeeping inherent in the medical-industrial complex. Not as expensive as a smart toilet like the Tyto Wellness Toilet, which also performs fecal analysis, it is hoped that the use of an AI-assisted algorithm will encourage awareness in a more significant portion of the population.


Doctors Transplant 3-D Printed Ear Made of Human Cells

3DBio Therapeutics, a biotech company in Queens, said it had for the first time used 3-D printing to make a body part with a patient’s own cells. As reported in The New York Times by Roni Caryn Rabin, independent experts said that the transplant, part of the first clinical trial of a successful medical application of this technology, was a stunning advance in tissue engineering.

Image Credit: Dr. Arturo Bonilla, Microtia-Congenital Ear Institute

Why it’s important – Companies have previously used 3-D printing technology to produce custom-fit prosthetic limbs made of plastic and lightweight metals. But the ear implant, made from a tiny glob of cells harvested from the woman’s misshapen ear, appears to be the first known example of a 3-D printed implant made of living tissues. The new procedure can be done in a few hours and outside a hospital.

Health Tech News This Week – May 28, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

NY State is giving out hundreds of robots as companions for the elderly

The state of New York will distribute robot companions to the homes of more than 800 older adults. The robots cannot help with physical tasks but function as more proactive versions of digital assistants like Siri or Alexa — engaging users in small talk, helping contact loved ones, and keeping track of health goals like exercise and medication. James Vincent reports on the initiative in his article on The Verge. The project is being organized by the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) and is intended to help address the growing problem of social isolation among the elderly.

Why it’s important – An estimated 14 million Americans over the age of 65 currently live alone, and this figure is projected to increase over the next decade as the boomer generation ages. Studies have suggested that long-term loneliness is as damaging to an individual’s health as smoking. While deploying robots for elderly care is often controversial, advocates say robots are a necessary tool, especially when humans aren’t available.


Infographic of the week – CB Insights reports that funding for healthcare AI has dropped considerably in Q1 of 2022. Does this signal a shift in thinking about how broadly AI will be adopted?

Image Credit: CB Insights

Quote of the week – From Dr. Bertalan Mesko, The Medical Futurist

Image Credit: The Medical Futurist

Proton cancer centers continue to proliferate, despite shaky benefits and checkered financiers

Tara Bannow and Bob Herman of STAT (subscription required) report on the ongoing arms race for these facilities despite the treatment’s high price tag, spotty insurance coverage, and unclear benefits. Even though building a proton center is a risky financial bet, some believe the research that’s accumulating will eventually persuade insurers to expand their coverage of the therapy. And various companies and financiers are getting in on the action with hospital systems, betting that the fancy, expensive machines will draw patients back from the pandemic’s lull.

“There is something that gives prestige to health care systems when they can say they have the newest technology. It becomes a marketing device. ‘We do have technology. We do have proton therapy in our cancer center.’”

Steven Ullmann, health policy and economics, University of Miami

Why it’s important – The proton therapy gold rush is due at least in part to a Medicare decision many years ago. The evidence for proton therapy is stronger for tumors closer to vital body parts, like the brain and spine. But Medicare has never excluded any types of tumors from coverage. Medicare currently pays $1,321 per proton treatment in a hospital outpatient department. That means a Medicare patient with prostate cancer, who would likely get five treatments per week for eight weeks, would bring a facility nearly $53,000 in payments, even though other, cheaper forms of radiation are just as good for prostate cancer. And the marketing around these centers is off the charts. Ullman said he’s seen providers try to entice patients by offering to help with the referral documentation needed for insurance coverage. “If you build it, and they don’t come” is a recipe for financial disaster. The world of proton therapy is littered with bond defaults and bankruptcies. The simplest explanation is they spent too much on massive buildings and equipment — multiroom facilities easily top $200 million — and couldn’t woo enough patients or collect enough money from reluctant insurers. Color me skeptical. Studies to date haven’t shown a clear benefit of proton therapy beyond conventional radiation for all types of tumors. Many clinical trials run by the National Institutes of Health won’t produce results for several years.


Digital Twins And The Promise Of Personalized Medicine

Another interesting article from Dr. Bertalan Mesko” and his team at The Medical Futurist. in this post, he reviews the current state of development of digital twins and the various applications they will be used for in healthcare.

Why it’s important – in the future, if you could create a digital twin of a patient with all their organ functions all their cellular functions and can simulate this complexity, you would be able to predict weeks or months in advance which patients will get ill, how a particular patient will react to a specific therapy, which patients will benefit the most. As the authors point out, there are challenges to be overcome in the development of digital twins, including the amount of computing power necessary to run those simulations and navigating all of the ethical issues associated with using (and potentially profiting from) this massive amount of personal data.


Medtronic and DaVita announce New Kidney Health Technology Company

In a press release this week, Medtronic plc (NYSE: MDT) and DaVita Inc. (NYSE: DVA) today announced the intent to form a new, independent kidney care-focused medical device company (“NewCo” or “the Company”) to enhance the patient treatment experience and improve overall outcomes. The Company will focus on developing a broad suite of novel kidney care products and solutions, including future home-based products, to make different dialysis treatments more accessible to patients.

Why it’s important – while the transaction isn’t expected to close until the next calendar year, creating more home-based solutions to manage chronic conditions like kidney disease will allow patients and their families the ability to receive more care in the home and remove some of the scheduling, transportation, and coordination issues that exist in the current outpatient center-based model.


Smart Pacifier Monitors Electrolyte Levels

Conn Hastings in Medgadget reports that a team at Washington State University developed a smart pacifier that can provide continuous monitoring of electrolyte levels in saliva. The measurements could help to avoid twice daily blood draws for premature infants. The new pacifier uses microfluidic channels to draw saliva inside. Then, sensors within the device measure sodium and potassium ion concentrations and transmit the data wirelessly to a caregiver through Bluetooth.

Image Credit: University of Washington

Why it’s important – The measurements could help avoid twice daily blood draws for premature infants. Blood draws are currently routine to monitor for signs of dehydration, which can be dangerous for infants born prematurely. So far, the researchers have tested the device in several infants and found that the electrolyte measurements it provides are comparable to those obtained using conventional blood draws.


Scientists grow cells on a robot skeleton (but don’t know what to do with them yet)

Back to The Verge for this article by James Vincent on a proof of concept research idea in tissue engineering. The science of tissue engineering — or growing human cells for use in medicine — is very much in its infancy, with only the simplest lab-grown cells able to be used in experimental treatments today. But researchers say a new method of tissue engineering could potentially improve the quality of this work: growing the cells on a moving robot skeleton. As described in a paper published in Communications Engineering, they adapted an open-source robot skeleton designed by the engineers at Devanthro. They created a custom growing environment for the cells that can be fitted into the skeleton to bend and flex as required.

Why it’s important – This is very early research and experimentation. However, the team has shown that growing cells in a robot skeleton is undoubtedly possible. They need to find out if it’s worth the time. In the paper, though, the researchers enjoyed some optimistic speculation about the potential of this line of work. They reason that, in the future, detailed scans of patients could be used to create joint-perfect replications of their bodies, allowing tissue-like tendons to be grown for surgeries in human simulacra.

Health Tech News This Week – May 21, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Researchers Pinpoint Reason Infants Die From SIDS

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) accounts for about 37% of sudden unexpected infant deaths a year in the U.S., and the cause of SIDS has remained largely unknown. As reported in BioSpace online, last week, researchers from The Children’s Hospital Westmead in Sydney released a study that confirmed not only how these infants die but why. They found the activity of the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) was significantly lower in babies who died of SIDS compared to living infants and other non-SIDS infant deaths. BChE plays a significant role in the brain’s arousal pathway, explaining why SIDS typically occurs during sleep.

“This discovery has opened up the possibility for intervention and finally gives answers to parents who have lost their children so tragically. These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault.”

Carmel Harrington, PHD, Sleep Medicine, Sydney University in Australia

Why it’s important – This is huge. This finding represents the possibility of identifying infants at risk for SIDS before death and opens new avenues for future research into specific interventions. In the next few years, those in the medical community who have studied SIDS will likely work on a screening test to identify babies at risk for SIDS and hopefully prevent it altogether.


Infographic of the week – Terrific graphic from Harvard Medical School outlining the list of diseases linked to chronic inflammation.

Image Credit: Harvard Medical School

Hope for heart attack patients as scientists use stem cells to repair damaged organ in pigs

Colin Fernandez’s article in The Daily Mail reports on research by scientists from Germany, Sweden, and the drug company AstraZeneca who have created a new therapy using stem cells that can mend damaged heart tissue. They could regenerate heart cells in pigs using human ventricular progenitor (HVPs) cells.

Why it’s important – Previous studies that used heart cells grown from stem cells have resulted in patients suffering side effects such as irregular heartbeats and fatal arrhythmia. The new approach uses the more flexible HVP cell. The researchers said their results show that damage to the heart can be reliably repaired even in large animals with no severe side effects observed. The next step will be to translate their current research findings to develop a treatment for human heart patients over the coming years.


Using AI to Predict Bone Fractures in Cancer Patients

A new study suggests that scientists use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict how cancer may affect the probability of fractures along the spinal column. As reported in Axis Imaging News online, the study, published in the International Journal for Numerical Methods in Biomedical Engineering, describes how the researchers trained an AI-assisted framework called ReconGAN to create a digital twin or a virtual reconstruction of a patient’s vertebra. By training ReconGAN on MRI and micro-CT images obtained by taking slice-by-slice pictures of vertebrae acquired from a cadaver, researchers could generate realistic microstructural models of the spine.

Why it’s important – For a field like orthopedics, using a non-invasive tool like the digital twin can help surgeons understand new therapies, simulate different surgical scenarios, and envision how the bone will change over time, either due to bone weakness or to the effects of radiation. The digital twin can also be modified to patient-specific needs.


Magnetic marker liquid could be used to show if breast cancer has spread

Women with invasive breast cancer could be injected with a magnetic marker liquid to tell doctors if their disease has spread, according to a recommendation by the U.K. government’s health advisers. The substance, called Magtrace, has been shown to locate the presence of sentinel lymph nodes, which indicate if cancer has progressed beyond the breast. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), which advises ministers and the NHS on which treatments represent value for money in England and Wales, has issued draft guidance endorsing the use of Magtrace in conjunction with a probe called Sentimag.

Why it’s important – Once the sentinel lymph node has been located, surgeons remove it and undertake a biopsy, during which a pathologist checks if any signs of cancer are present. If so, they may carry out further surgery to remove more lymph nodes. People with breast cancer want to know if their cancer has been isolated or has spread to the rest of their bodies. The earlier this is established, the better the potential outcomes will be.