Health Tech News This Week – April 16, 2022

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

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Breakthrough‘TACTIP’ 3D Printed Fingertip Could Give Prosthetics a “Human Sense Of Touch”

Scientists at the University of Bristol have developed an artificial fingertip with the potential to allow amputees to ‘feel’ objects through prosthetic limbs. Paul Hanaphy reported on the developments in his post on 3D Printing Industry. Formed from a series of 3D printed papillae, akin to those found just beneath the surface of human skin, the team’s ‘TacTip’ device can sense shapes before relaying this data in the form of artificial nerve signals.

Image Credit: University of Bristol

Why it’s important – The team says that the neuroscience and robotics fields are starting to “converge,” yielding artificial tactile sensory systems that can better ‘sense’ objects upon contact. With further R&D, the researchers say their synthetic fingertip could revolutionize the world of robotics or help improve the grip of those with prosthetic hands worldwide.

Infographic of the week – Many Americans are concerned about being able to afford basic living expenses for their families. At least half say they are either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about being able to afford gasoline or other transportation costs (71%), unexpected medical bills (58%), or monthly utilities like electricity (50%).

Image Credit: Kaiser Family Foundation, Health Tracking Poll (March 15-22, 2022)

Deploying digital health tools within large, complex health systems: key considerations for adoption and implementation

In a post on Nature Digital Medicine, the authors propose a framework of nine dimensions along which clinically validated digital health tools should be examined by health systems before adoption and propose strategies for selecting digital health tools and planning for implementation in this setting. Key stakeholders who draw from experience in four large organizations—Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston, MA), Atrium Health (Charlotte, NC), and Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City, UT)—convened to identify common lessons from the implementation of digital health tools within these systems.

Image Credit: NPJ Digital Medicine

Why it’s important – By evaluating prospective tools along these dimensions, health systems can determine which existing digital health solutions are worthy of adoption, ensure they have sufficient resources for deployment and long-term use, and devise a strategic implementation plan.

Geisinger’s MyCode Community Health Initiative hits milestone, enrolls 300,000 participants

Geisinger’s precision health project, MyCode, has enrolled 300,000 participants, reaching a significant milestone for the program. With DNA sequence and health data currently available on nearly 185,000 of these participants, MyCode is the most extensive healthcare system-based study of its kind. In a press release on their website, Geisinger reported that to date, more than 3,100 participants who are at increased risk for potentially life-threatening conditions like hereditary breast and colon cancers, familial hypercholesterolemia, and heart disease had received genomic risk results. These results allow patients to work with their care providers to prevent or detect disease early, potentially leading to better health outcomes.

Why it’s important – Providing these clinically actionable results to patients empowers them to take action that may lead to better health outcomes for themselves and their families. Analysis of MyCode data has also contributed to several groundbreaking discoveries, including a rare genetic variant that protects against obesity.

At small and rural hospitals, ransomware attacks are causing unprecedented crises

Marion Renault in Stat reports that the reality of being locked up by ransomware is no longer a concern reserved solely for major health systems, once a primary target. Regional hospitals and specialty clinics are also constantly warding off, and falling prey to malicious cyberattacks as ransomware groups grow more opportunistic. Federal databases detail many small providers — from pediatrics clinics to hearing centers, chiropractors, and child abuse prevention non-profits — caught up in the sweep of attacks targeting the health care system.

“You might think you’re kind of off-the-grid, but that doesn’t mean you’re not susceptible.”

Eric Johnson, Health IT Researcher at Vanderbilt University, Dean, Owen Graduate School of Management.

Why it’s important – Such an attack can be devastating for a health system of any size and scary for anyone relying on its care. But for smaller hospitals and practices, the costs — both to patients and the bottom line — can be incredibly steep. Experts say that small, rural providers are also less likely to be prepared to defend, resolve and recover from a ransomware attack than their larger, urban counterparts. I’ve discussed the topic of ransomware in healthcare in a previous post“. But, the intensity and scale of the attacks are creating real headaches for smaller organizations that might have limited resources to block them.

Aging in place can be so much easier with smart home technology

A great article in The Washington Post by Wendy Jordan describes two very different approaches to implementing technology in the home to support aging in place. Both houses incorporate essentials for safe senior living, including primary bedroom, bath, and living spaces on one level; smooth floors (that would accommodate wheelchairs and rollators); good lighting; and kitchens, baths, laundry, and storage areas designed for safe, convenient use. But when it came to incorporating technology for aging in place, the homeowners took very different approaches. Klitenic opted to start small with a few tech tools. The Galea home is chock full of high-tech enhancements.

“Technology is the ultimate aging-in-place asset if you use it correctly.”

Tom Kamber, Executive Director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) from AARP

Why it’s important – As I’ve outlined in a previous post, supporting health, safety and security are important components of successfully aging in place. So are home management systems that maintain a comfortable environment and communication and recreation systems that enable social engagement, stimulation, and entertainment. I love that this article covers both ends of the implementation spectrum, with one couple starting slowly and the other couple going all-in on the technology.

Thyng introduces MedMirror virtual body tracking technology

In a press release, Thyng LLC announced the launch of MedMirror, a freestanding display that uses advanced 3D body tracking to create a patient experience and enhances the digital care journey. MedMirror is an experience that creates a category of Medical Visualisation – one that interactively puts patients at the center of their healthcare experience by utilizing them as the canvas. It can include everything from anatomical visualization to interacting with a favorite character – creating a unique environment that educates, inspires, and uplifts everyone from children to adults.

YouTube Video Credit: Thyng, LLC

Why it’s important – According to the company, the goals of the MedMirror are twofold, to educate patients through an engaging visual medium and to provide inspirational, uplifting experiences. MedMirror puts patients front and center, using their bodies as a canvas to showcase the spatial relationship between body systems and medical conditions. One experience allows patients to stand in front of the MedMirror and view 3D anatomies digitally overlaid onto their body to understand a medical condition better, effectively allowing patients to virtually “see” inside of their bodies. Another experience enables pediatric patients to become a favorite superhero and reduce the stress and anxiety that often accompany a hospital stay.

Can digital therapeutics become profitable?

As more software-based treatments gain FDA clearance, they still face hurdles in getting insurance reimbursement and garnering adoption among patients and physicians. Elise Reuter provides an in-depth look at the challenges in her article on MedTech Dive. While getting FDA clearance was the first step, experts identified several hurdles ahead, including getting physician uptake, building pathways to reimbursement, and, importantly, developing software that patients will want to use.

“There’s a lot of behavioral change that needs to happen across the stakeholders and their mindsets to think about digital therapeutics as a category of its own.”

Maya Desai, Director of Life Sciences for Guidehouse

Why it’s important – While digital therapeutic companies should not be dismissive about partnering with pharmaceutical companies, their goals should also be aligned. As digital therapeutics look to get indications similar to pharmaceutics, they’re also hoping to take a similar approach to insurance reimbursement. That process generally involves garnering real-world evidence showing their products still perform well outside of a clinical trial setting and publishing studies showing that they have not only a therapeutic benefit for patients but also an economic one. Insurers also face the question of whether to cover digital therapeutics as a pharmacy benefit or medical benefit. So far, the former is easier because it offers greater controls, value-based agreements, and less friction for the provider and the patient.

FDA authorizes 1st breath test for COVID-19 infection

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday issued an emergency use authorization for what it said is the first device that can detect COVID-19 in breath samples. The Associated Press reports that the InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer is about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage, the FDA said and can be used in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and mobile testing sites. The test, which can provide results in less than three minutes, must be carried out under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

Image Credit: InspectIR

Why it’s important – The FDA said the device was 91.2% accurate at identifying positive test samples and 99.3% accurate at identifying negative test samples. While the ramp-up to production may take some time, the ability to get rapid results in various locations will be helpful.

This Startup Wants to Get in Your Ears and Watch Your Brain

Born from Alphabet’s “moonshot” division, NextSense aims to sell earbuds that can collect heaps of neural data—and uncover the mysteries of gray matter. Steven Levy writes about this company in Wired magazine (registration required). The startup’s focus is brain health—improving sleep, helping patients with epilepsy, and eventually enriching people’s lives with a range of mental conditions. The idea is to use its earbuds to capture an electroencephalogram, a standard tool for assessing brain activity. A multinational pharmaceutical firm called Otsuka hopes to use NextSense’s earbuds for evaluating the efficacy of medication, not only for epilepsy but for depression and other mental health issues. NextSense plans to submit its device for FDA approval this year, and Emory University is conducting more studies in hopes of developing an algorithm to predict seizures, ideally hours or days in advance.

“We know about our blood pressure, cholesterol, and respiratory system. But the most important organ is our brain. We don’t assess that systematically.”

Allan Levey, Brain Health Center at Emory University

Why it’s important – There is no easy, non-invasive way to observe a seizure, which is a critical step in treatment, both to assess the efficacy of drugs and predict when the next seizure might strike. For years, people have been shifting from tracking their health through sporadic visits to a doctor or lab to regularly monitoring their vitals. The NextSense team is gambling that, with a gadget as familiar as an earbud, people will follow the same path with their brains. Then, with legions of folks wearing the buds for hours, days, and weeks on end, the company’s scientists hope they’ll amass an incredible data trove to uncover the hidden patterns of mental health. That’s the dream. It will take time and more research to get them to that point. But being able to collect real-time data at the point of the patient quickly will provide researchers armed with machine learning and AI tools the ability to monitor and potentially save countless lives.

Bringing Precision to Musculoskeletal Health

A great post by Zach Wynn on A Slice of MIT reviewing the data-driven approach the startup Figur8 is bringing to musculoskeletal injuries. The company founded by CEO Nan-Wei Gong SM ’09, Ph.D. ’13 has created a sensor-based system that can track body movement and muscle activity to quantify the severity of injuries, help doctors make treatment plans, and measure improvement.

“Figur8 is a musculoskeletal diagnostic system. It’s a solution for the clinician and patient to pinpoint the risk of injury, the source of injury, and to quantify recovery in a health category that traditionally doesn’t have a lot of scientific data readily available.”

Nan-Wei Gong, CEO, Figur8
Image Credit: Figur8

Why it’s important – Besides costing less, setting up Figur8 is also faster than setting up traditional systems. For a full-body evaluation, users strap seven sensors on their bodies. To evaluate a specific muscle group or joint, the system works with only one or two sensors. The sensors send data to a mobile app that walks users through a series of movements similar to a physical exam. The system uses a technology called surface mechanomyography, which tracks tiny muscle movements to measure contractions and other muscle activity. A report is then automatically generated showing the differences between a healthy person’s musculoskeletal performance and the user’s.

Drugmakers unite to set digital standards for Alzheimer’s disease studies

Some of the largest drugmakers tackling Alzheimer’s disease and its related dementias are banding together to ensure their pursuits make the best use of the truly massive amounts of digital data that can be gathered from patients as the companies look to track their progress. Connor Hale reports on the effort in his article in Fierce Biotech. In a collaboration being led by the nonprofit Digital Medicine Society, Big Pharma players such as Biogen, Eisai, Eli Lilly, and Merck plan to establish a core set of digital measurements that can be applied in their clinical trials. They will be joined by researchers from Boston University and Oregon Health & Science University, as well as the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.

“There’s over 70 different measures of physical activity, and there’s over 50 different measures of sleep. The sad truth that led us to this particular project is that despite the enormous unmet need for high-resolution, high-value measures that can be captured frequently over time, only three of the endpoints in the library are being used for Alzheimer’s.”

Jennifer Goldsack, CEO of the Digital Medicine Society

Why it’s important – The group aims to select and develop the most effective tech-enabled biomarkers—built on data collected from wearable devices or tests that may involve analyzing voice recordings or tracing hand movements—that can help determine whether prospective treatments are actually working to slow the cognitive declines associated with neurodegenerative conditions. By agreeing collectively to quantify the course of the disease in a standardized and patient-centered way—and at a point, before the real competition begins—the drug developers ultimately hope to increase each of their chances of getting treatments through the regulatory approval process and to patients faster.

Will Advancements in Synthetic Biology Benefit Everyone?

“The genesis machine will power humanity’s great transformation, which is already underway. Soon, life will no longer be a game of chance, but the result of design, selection and choice.”

Amy Webb, Author, The Genesis Machine – CEO, Future Today Institute
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Synthetic biology is a relatively new interdisciplinary field of science that combines engineering, design, and computer science with biology. Researchers design or redesign organisms on a molecular level for new purposes, making them adaptable to different environments or giving them different abilities. A recent McKinsey report anticipates applications from this bio revolution could have a direct global impact of up to $4 trillion per year over the next 10-20 years, enabling the production of 60% of physical inputs to the global economy and addressing 45% of the world’s current disease burden. However, for synthetic biology applications to reach their full potential, it’s critical to ensure that access and development of knowledge in this sector, along with the relevant research tools, are distributed in low-resource contexts. This can help to avoid the technology being centered solely in advanced, resource-rich economies and widening inequalities in the global bioeconomy.

We can now program biological systems like we program computers. In synthetic biology, DNA sequences are loaded into software tools—imagine a text editor for DNA code—making edits easy. After the DNA is written or edited to the researcher’s satisfaction, a new DNA molecule is printed from scratch using something akin to a 3D printer. The technology for DNA synthesis (transforming digital genetic code to molecular DNA) has been improving exponentially. Today’s technologies routinely print out DNA chains several thousand base pairs long that can be assembled to create new metabolic pathways for a cell or even a cell’s complete genome. Get used to the term bio-economy because these scientific innovations have fueled the rapid growth of an industry intent on making high-value applications that include biomaterials, fuels, specialty chemicals, drugs, vaccines, and even engineered cells that function as microscale robotic machines. Progress in artificial intelligence has provided a significant boost to the field, as the better AI becomes, the more biological applications can be tested and realized.

“We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before.”

J. Craig Venter, geneticist, biochemist and biotechnology pioneer

In the next two decades, synthetic biology technologies will be harnessed to eradicate life-threatening diseases and develop personalized medicines for individual people and their specific genetic circumstances.

What are some of the current advancements in synthetic biology that will drive this growth? For this post, I’ll focus on the healthcare applications and companies working on them at a relatively high level. If you are interested in exploring the topic in more detail, I’ll provide links to curated articles at the end of the discussion.

  • Faster gene synthesis at a lower cost: Synthesis transforms digital genetic code into molecular DNA, allowing scientists to design and mass-produce genetic material. This is what Twist Bioscience does to form as many as 300 base pairs of DNA. Joining these snippets or oligos together forms genes. The price for oligos and the time to produce them are decreasing—while the length and complexity of base pairs are increasing. Twist’s innovation reduces the need for expensive reagents by a factor of 1 million while increasing the number of genes that can be synthesized by a factor of 9,600. It now costs an average of just nine cents per base pair. The DNA snippets produced by Twist can be ordered online and shipped to a lab within days; the synthetic DNA is then inserted into cells to create target molecules, which are the basis for new food products, fertilizers, industrial products, and medicine.
  • Genome sequencing at a lower cost: The first human genome cost roughly $2.7 billion and took 13 years to complete. Today, you can sequence your genome from the comfort of your home for less than the price of a cheap TV. Nebula Genomics, a spinout from a Harvard University lab run by synthetic biologist George Church, offers to provide a person’s genetic code with “medium accuracy” for $99 or, for $900 more, you could have 100% of your DNA decoded “with ultrahigh accuracy and … over 300 gigabytes of DNA data,” according to the company’s website.
  • Create on-demand molecules: Scientists now use synthetic biology to discover and produce molecules on de- mand. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and the MIT-Broad Institute Foundry proved that new molecules could be rapidly generated for practical use. In a research challenge, teams used artificial intelligence and synthetic biology to deliver six of the ten requested designer molecules in just 90 days.
  • CRISPR-based antibiotics: Antibiotic resistance is rising due to overuse or incorrect application. But a new approach could enable us to tackle antibiotic-resistant infections. CRISPR can be programmed to kill certain bacterial cells that contain specific DNA. Researchers at the University of Sherbrooke demonstrated that a CRISPR-edited bacterium could be used to target an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli. Soon, CRISPR-edited probiotic bacteria could be used to treat bladder and skin infections.
  • CRISPR-based therapies: Several trials will test emerging CRISPR therapies in 2022. In Germany, a patient with beta-thalassemia, a genetic disorder that results in low levels of hemoglobin, had the genomes of their blood stem cells edited. Post-treatment, they have not required blood transfusions. Other patients in the trial show normal to near-normal hemoglobin levels. CRISPR is being used to edit T cells, a white blood cell essential for immune system response. A treatment for urinary tract infections, CRISPR-Cas3, combined with three bacteriophages, successfully killed the strain of E. coli responsible for 95% of UTIs.
  • Programmable gene-editing proteins: Scientists at MIT’s McGovern Institute and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have discovered a new class of programmable DNA modifying systems called OMEGAs (Obligate Mobile Element Guided Activity), which could move small bits of DNA throughout bacterial genomes.

What are some of the leading research applications of synthetic biology in healthcare? Here’s a sampling of current research work:

  • mRNA vaccine development: Leveraging the work done during the pandemic to develop mRNA vaccines to protect against COVID-19, both Moderna and BioNTech were researching immunotherapies for cancer. BioNTech is running clinical trials for personalized vaccines for many cancers, including ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma. Moderna is developing similar cancer vaccines.
  • Genetic screening for pregnancy: New genetic screening techniques that test embryos before implantation are making their way into fertility centers. California-based MyOme and New Jersey-based Genomic Prediction use the genetic sequences of parents, along with cells retrieved during a biopsy, to generate an embryo’s entire genome. Next, they use algorithms to calculate the probabilities of certain ailments.
  • “Body-on-a-chip”: The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is leading a unique $24 million federally funded project to develop a “body on a chip,” including different combinations of organoids. Imagine a computer chip, but with a transparent circuit board that’s connected to a system pumping a blood substitute through it. With it, researchers can poison a mock respiratory system with new viruses, lethal chemicals, or other toxins to see how the body would react and then test potential treatments on living human tissue without harming humans or other animals.
  • Development of synthetic wombs: In an experiment at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, researchers successfully printed and implanted synthetic ovaries in mice, resulting in a successful pregnancy. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia created an artificial womb called a bio bag and used it to successfully keep premature lambs alive and developing normally for 28 days. We are still years away from synthesizing and growing a full-size organic womb—but the bio bag represents an intervention that could help the thousands of premature babies born before 25 weeks each year.
  • Synthetic age reversal: As we age, the sequence might stay constant, but chemical changes do occur to our DNA. Observing those changes could lead to new techniques to halt or reverse age-related diseases. I’ve written on the topic of human longevity previously, and you can read that post here.

How do we ensure that advances in synthetic biology are available to all, not just advanced, resource-rich economies? First, we must correct the perception and narrative firmly embedded in biotechnology at all levels that “open source” means “uncommercialisable.” Unfortunately, this leads to an unwillingness to creatively explore openness as one possibility within a range of Intellectual Property (IP) strategies. Many researchers and The World Economic Forum propose an “open source” approach to sharing these developments. Open source approaches play an important role here because, beyond open licensing, they also encourage collaborative development and sharing of know-how, which is essential to overcome barriers to building capacity and innovation.

“Now that we’re two decades into #synbio, it’s a good time to revisit our founding principles — e.g. what kinds of societies do we want to build and who can participate — all while continuing to mature as an industry.”

Meghan Palmer, Built with Biology Conference, 04/13/2022

Open toolkits like the Research in Diagnostics DNA Collection, designed by many collaborators and distributed through the Free Genes project at Stanford, provide a “ready to go” solution that, with the correct manufacturing practices, quality management systems, and regulatory approvals, could also be used for diagnostics kits. Another excellent example of an open project that has already directly impacted scientific progress is the Structural Genomics Consortium. This public-private partnership has openly released data, materials, and research tools for drug discovery against medically relevant human protein structures to academia and industry for around 20 years, resulting in thousands of collaborations and scientific papers and over 1500 protein structures entering the public domain. The leaders of the consortium continue to push the model further, for example, launching pharma companies that aim to apply an open approach to drug discovery for rare childhood cancers.

“My advice to global leaders and policymakers is to ensure that all countries get a seat at the table and focus on building out more than local or regional policies but also systems for international governance that can adapt to the extraordinary pace of technical and social change in the bioeconomy.”

Dr. Jenny Molloy, Senior Research Associate at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Cambridge

My takeaways from reviewing the synthetic biology book and other resources in the recommended reading/viewing list below:

  • Synthetic biology has the potential to solve pressing issues in healthcare, climate, agriculture, global food supply, etc.
  • The U.S. has no national strategy on synthetic biology. The lack of a comprehensive national plan will put us behind other nations like China and Russia. They have committed considerable resources to develop synthetic biology as a competitive advantage.
  • The regulatory framework in the U.S. is a complicated mess with no clear delineation of who is responsible for what. Competing priorities in the FDA, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Department of Interior, and others will slow the development and implementation of potential solutions to critical needs. And this isn’t unique to the U.S. The European Union, along with the United Kingdom, China, Singapore, and many other nations, approach the governance of synthetic biology in similar ways, using existing biotechnology frameworks. Who’s going to regulate mail order DYI CRISPR kits, for example? (btw, they’re already being marketed online)
  • If you thought the CRISPR patent battle between the Broad Institute and UC Berkeley was contentious, wait until you see the upcoming intellectual property and patent battles around synthetic biology. As Amy Webb discovered in the research for her book, the US government had no plan to manage the coming onslaught of intellectual property battles looming on the horizon.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic resurfaced the inequities in our health system. How do we ensure the advances in synthetic biology are available to all nations – rich and poor alike? Will the “open source” approach proposed by the World Economic Forum take hold? Or will this widen the gap between rich and developing nations further?
  • Ethical issues need to be addressed. Global ethicists have come out against germ-line editing, where changes are passed down to future offspring. But enforcement will be a problematic issue. What about gene editing to increase I.Q.? Or creating “super-soldiers” for future wars? I reported earlier about this website meant to imitate a gene-editing company that specializes in babies. It lets you try what it could be like to order a baby with technology likely to be available soon.
  • Misinformation and disinformation will polarize and politicize the conversation and create barriers to adopting synthetic biology advances. Consider what we’ve already experienced with mRNA vaccine pushback or the blowback to GMO (genetically modified organisms) in the food supply.

There are still many questions about the developments in synthetic biology. For example, what constitutes genetic privacy? And do individuals have the right to keep their genetic data private and secure from third parties? As Amy Webb states in her book: “Within the next decade, we will need to make important decisions: whether to program novel viruses to fight diseases, who will “own” living organisms, how companies should earn revenue from engineered cells, and how to contain a synthetic organism in a lab. What choices would you make if you could reprogram your body? Would you agonize over whether—or how—to edit your future children?” How can we democratize the deployment of synthetic biology to all people instead of just the affluent countries? Now is the time to advance the discussion to the level of public conversation. If we wait to have those conversations, the future of synthetic biology could be determined by fights over intellectual property and national security and by protracted lawsuits and trade wars – thus benefiting no one instead of society as a whole.

Want to learn more about synthetic biology? Here are some links to books and articles that I’ve found invaluable in my research on the topic:

YouTube Video Credit: TWiT Tech Podcast Network, 2/19/2022

Health Tech News This Week – April 9, 2022

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

Image Credit:

Responsive Footwear to Prevent Diabetic Foot Ulcers

To prevent diabetic foot ulcers, research scientists at The University of Texas at Arlington have developed footwear technology that relieves pressure on areas of the feet that experience high stress during walking and other activities. The team has received a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a dual-layer insole apparatus for diabetic foot lesion prevention. The technology was developed in partnership with the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Image Credit: University of Texas at Arlington

Why it’s important – Due to numbness in their legs and feet, people with diabetes often cannot detect and respond to stress-related pain by adjusting their foot loading. This can result in repeated stress to high-pressure foot regions such as the heel or toes and can worsen blisters, sores, and ulcers to the point of severe tissue loss or life-threatening infection. For many, foot ulcers can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg. The removable shoe insole designed by Wijesundara’s team relieves stress by periodically regulating and redistributing pressure across all foot areas.

Medical cartoon of the week – We need to make digital health easier for patients and staff.

Image Credit: Jonathan Marcus, MD, Twitter timeline 4/8/2022

Geisinger, Eisai team up to study use of artificial intelligence for early detection and identification of cognitive impairment that could indicate dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease

Geisinger and Eisai Inc. announced a collaborative effort to study the potential effectiveness of an artificial intelligence (AI) tool in detecting cognitive impairment that could identify dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The research collaboration will study the use of an algorithm trained on a set of de-identified patient data to identify individuals likely to have cognitive impairment. The algorithm, known as a Passive Digital Marker (PDM), was developed and tested by researchers at Purdue University and Indiana University. The Geisinger-Eisai team will evaluate the PDM in Geisinger’s de-identified dataset to determine its potential to detect cognitive impairment, suggesting early signs of dementia.

Why it’s important – The number of people with dementia is growing substantially; more than 55 million people worldwide are living with dementia, and this number is expected to increase to 78 million by 2030. Accurate diagnosis remains a barrier to early and effective treatment; research reviews estimate that between 40 and 60 percent of adults with probable dementia are undiagnosed. If effective, the AI tool could potentially be developed to support the early detection and staging of cognitive impairment and dementia, leading to appropriate additional testing for the clinical, biological diagnosis and treatment of dementias such as AD.

New Technology Could Make Biopsies A Thing Of The Past

A Columbia Engineering team has developed a technology that could replace conventional biopsies and histology with real-time imaging within the living body. Described in a new paper published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, MediSCAPE is a high-speed 3D microscope capable of capturing images of tissue structures that could guide surgeons to navigate tumors and their boundaries without needing to remove tissues and wait for pathology results. The team is currently working on commercialization and FDA approval.

Why it’s important – By capturing images of the tissue while it is still within the body, the technology could give a doctor real-time feedback about what type of tissue they are looking at without the long wait. This instant answer would let them decide how best to cut out a tumor and ensure there is none left behind. The team also realized that by imaging tissues while they are alive in the body, they could get even more information than from lifeless excised biopsies. They found that they could visualize blood flow through tissues and see the cellular-level effects of ischemia and reperfusion (cutting off the blood supply to the kidney and then letting it flow back in).

First autonomous X-ray-analyzing AI is cleared in the EU

Nicole Wetsman in The Verge reported on an artificial intelligence tool that reads chest X-rays without oversight from a radiologist that received regulatory clearance in the European Union last week. The tool, called ChestLink, scans chest X-rays and automatically sends patient reports on those it sees as totally healthy, with no abnormalities. Any images that the tool flags as having a potential problem are sent to a radiologist for review. The tech now has a CE mark certification in the EU, which signals that a device meets safety standards. The company said in a statement that it expects the first healthcare organizations to be using the autonomous tool by 2023.

Why it’s important – Important to note that this is for chest x-rays only at this point. The FDA has cleared autonomous AI devices before, starting with a tool to detect diabetes-related eye problems in 2018 (the same tool received a CE mark in 2013). But autonomous radiology devices are more controversial. Professional organizations have spoken out against the idea: the American College of Radiology and the Radiological Society of North America published a joint letter in 2020 after an FDA workshop on artificial intelligence in medical imaging, saying that autonomous AI wasn’t ready for clinical use. Expect radiologists to continue to fight this type of technology. What will be interesting to watch will be whether payers will choose to reimburse for the use of the technology.

Reversing hearing loss with regenerative therapy

The biotechnology company Frequency Therapeutics seeks to reverse hearing loss — not with hearing aids or implants, but with a new kind of regenerative therapy. The company uses small molecules to program progenitor cells, a descendant of stem cells in the inner ear, to create the tiny hair cells that allow us to hear. As reported by Zach Wynn in MIT News, Frequency’s drug candidate is designed to be injected into the ear to regenerate these cells within the cochlea. In clinical trials, the company has already improved people’s hearing as measured by tests of speech perception — the ability to understand speech and recognize words.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 or 15 years, because of the resources being put into this space and the incredible science being done, we can get to the point where [reversing hearing loss] would be similar to Lasik surgery, where you’re in and out in an hour or two and you can completely restore your vision. I think we’ll see the same thing for hearing loss.”

Jeff Karp, Professor of anesthesia at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Why it’s important – Hearing loss can lead to isolation, frustration, and a debilitating ringing in the ears known as tinnitus. It is also closely correlated with dementia. They also believe they’re making significant contributions toward solving a problem that impacts more than 40 million people in the U.S. and hundreds of millions more around the world. Frequency’s work will also advance researchers’ ability to manipulate progenitor cells and lead to new treatments down the line.

If you are interested in online courses in Healthcare Informatics, Strategy, Project Management, and Innovation, check out QuoVadis Learning Systems. These courses were developed by my colleague and friend Thomas Giordano, and his “Plain and Simple” series are excellent introductions to a variety of topics. Excellent course material, reasonably priced and taught by a great instructor. Check them out.

Can An ‘Artificial Pancreas’ Help Conquer Diabetes?

“My diabetes management was significantly improved with my smart alarm system (#DIYPS), but having a closed loop system took it to the next level and significantly reduced the amount of effort required to achieve those outcomes.”

Dana Lewis, Digital Health Analyst – Diabetes Patient
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If you pay attention to diabetes news at all, you’ve undoubtedly heard the terms “Artificial Pancreas,” “closed-loop system,” or “bionic pancreas” a lot in recent years. And if you live with diabetes yourself, family and friends may even be asking if you have one of these yet. In the last 3-5 years and as a response from the active diabetes patient community and their #wearenotwaiting movement propagating the DIY artificial pancreas, major companies have recognized the potential in connected health devices. While they started the quest for the artificial pancreas and tried to keep pace with the emergence of disruptive innovations, dozens of digital health start-ups also appeared, offering smartphone apps, digital patches, and many other connected solutions – constantly challenging the status quo. This futuristic tech, now officially known as AID (Automated Insulin Delivery) systems, is already changing the game for people whose lives depend on insulin.

First, some basics: What is an artificial pancreas (or AID)? Although it sounds like a single appliance that you would plug into your body, the fact is, we are not there yet. An AID system is essentially an insulin pump connected to a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). The monitor is controlled via a receiver (a separate handheld device or eventually a smartphone mobile app) using sophisticated software algorithms to make the whole thing work. The idea is to automate blood glucose (BG) control as much as possible so the wearer no longer has to take fingerstick blood sugar readings and then calculate how much insulin to dose or reduce based on readings. Some systems can even shut off insulin delivery automatically based on low blood sugar readings detected by the CGM. And some systems are experimenting with carrying glucagon in the pump alongside insulin to bring blood sugar up when necessary.

Forms of the technology are already available for adults and kids with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is far less common than type 2 diabetes, which typically strikes in adulthood and is often associated with obesity. The type 1 form is caused by a misguided immune system attack on the body’s insulin-producing cells. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar, and people with type 1 diabetes need to take synthetic insulin daily. Having a child with type 1 diabetes can be a challenging health condition for parents to manage. They still have to calculate how much insulin the pump should deliver and make frequent changes, both day and night. These systems have improved blood sugar control and made life easier for people with the disease.

“The hope is that newer technology, especially artificial pancreas systems, will not only improve [diabetes] control, but also make management easier for caregivers.”

Meredith Wilkes MD, Medical Director, Pediatric Diabetes Center, Mount Sinai, NYC

What’s currently FDA-cleared? – To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved four commercial AID systems:

  • Medtronic: Its MiniMed 670G (2016) and 770G (2020) systems, the first hybrid closed-loop system, continuously monitors blood sugar levels and automatically delivers insulin, but users still have to input the bolus insulin dose (the insulin type usually taken during meals) based on what you eat. Medtronic is now working on an even more advanced model, the 780G, that will be more fully automated and personalized with automatic bolusing and a lower target of 100 mg/dL. It will also be connected to its next-generation CGM sensor, known as Zeus. The current cost is approximately $8,000. But with insurance coverage, most patients pay just over $1,000 to get on the system initially, and then they must pay for pump and CGM supplies separately on an ongoing basis. The annual cost of the CGM transmitter is $699, and sensors run from $50 to $75, depending on the number purchased.
  • Tandem Diabetes Care: Tandem Diabetes Care, makers of the innovative t:slim touchscreen insulin pump, launched the second-ever FDA-cleared closed-loop system, Control-IQ, in January 2020. The cost of the Tandem t:slim X2 pump with Control-IQ is $4,000, but Tandem says health insurance typically covers 80 percent of that cost.
  • Insulet Corporation: Insulet developed the Omnipod 5 system, formerly known as Omnipod Horizon. This is the first-ever closed-loop system to use an insulin pump without tubing. It received FDA clearance in January 2022. It will take some months for the company to ramp up the launch to make this system available to patients around the country. Insulet says its internal research shows the average monthly copay for Omnipod DASH for people using 10 Pods per month was $39 plus a 20 percent coinsurance payment.
  • A vibrant diabetes patient do-it-yourself (DIY) community has been developing its own homemade versions that are now widely used across the country and even internationally.
Control-IQ Technology with Dexcom G6 CGM
Image Credit: Tandem

What’s in development? – As noted earlier, several companies are developing next-generation AID technologies that we might see in the next couple of years. Some excellent research reported in Healthline by Mike Hoskins and Amy Tenderich and fact-checked by Maria Gifford identified some notable examples, which include:

  • Bigfoot Biomedical: This startup grew directly out of the do-it-yourself #WeAreNotWaiting movement formed in late 2014 by former JDRF CEO Jeffrey Brewer and a group of other technology-savvy D-Dads. The company received FDA clearance for its “Bigfoot Unity” pen version with the FDA in May 2021. Unlike other early “Artificial Pancreas” technologies that connect a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and an insulin pump to automate dosing, the Unity system is designed for individuals on multiple daily injection therapy, known as MDI.
  • Diabeloop: Diabeloop is a European pump company and French research consortium developing and testing new AID systems in the United Kingdom and France. It was using the Kaleido hybrid patch-tubed pump in its first developed version. Still, since that device has been discontinued, Diabeloop has been working to integrate other pump technology — such as the Roche Accu-Chek system.
  • DreaMed Diabetes: DreaMed Diabetes is an Israel-based startup established in 2014 as a spinoff of the DREAM International Consortium to commercialize the technology behind its Glucositter software. In 2015, Medtronic signed an agreement to use Glucositter in its future closed-loop technology.
  • Lilly Diabetes: A subsidiary of the Indianapolis-based pharma-giant insulin maker, began working on its AID system in roughly 2014 before announcing it publicly in 2017. But in 2020, Lilly scrapped that project to commercialize the European-made YpsoPump in the U.S., instead only using Lilly’s brands of insulin.
  • Tidepool Loop: In 2018, the nonprofit diabetes data platform startup Tidepool announced that it had obtained funding to start work on an “official” version of the DIY Loop called Tidepool Loop that will be paired with the Omnipod tubeless insulin pump. This will take the DIY community version and build it into a product that can go through the official regulatory process for commercial availability. The organization filed Tidepool Loop with the FDA in early 2021, and the community is very anxious to see it materialize.
  • TypeZero Technologies: Work focused on commercializing what the University of Virginia originally called DiAs (Diabetes Assistant systems) and was first focused on integrating with the Tandem Diabetes closed-loop technology. In 2018, CGM-maker Dexcom acquired TypeZero Technologies with plans to license those algorithms to other players developing these systems.
Image Credit: Bigfoot Biomedical Unity System

What does the research show? – As it stands today, there are several hundred sites around the country and the world conducting clinical trials on AID systems, many of them in “outpatient” settings. This means study participants are not confined to a hospital or clinic. You can review many of the current studies online at Until recently, most research on artificial pancreas systems has focused on adults or older children, though one system is approved in the United States for children aged 2 to 6. A new study, published Jan. 20 in the New England Journal of Medicine, adds to evidence that the technology is safe for toddlers and preschoolers — and may better control their disease. The new trial included 74 children aged 2 to 7. Each spent 16 weeks using a traditional glucose monitor and insulin pump and 16 weeks using an artificial pancreas system developed by the Cambridge researchers. On average, the study found, the children spent about 72% of the day within the normal blood sugar range when they were using the artificial pancreas — just over two hours more than the standard treatment. The system also reduced instances of very high blood sugar without increasing potentially dangerous blood sugar lows.

Currently, nearly 900 patients with type 1 diabetes in England are testing an artificial pancreas. To date, 875 patients have joined the pilot, which will enroll up to 1,000 people. The data collected from the pilot, along with other evidence, will be considered by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as part of a technology assessment. NICE will make a recommendation about broader adoption within the NHS following a review of the evidence.

What does the future hold?Researchers at MIT have developed a device that can keep pancreatic islets alive after being implanted into the body. In addition, collaborators from Cornell University, Novo Nordisk, and the University of Michigan Medical School developed their implants containing living pancreatic cells. These experiments may bring an organic replacement of failing organs in the future – either with gene therapies or new organs developed from stem cells. Glucose-responsive insulin that could be taken once a week could react to variation in the blood glucose levels and not require CGM or a pump. And then, there are several gene therapies that could potentially provide a cure for diabetes.

“A clinical trial in both type 1 and type 2 diabetics in the immediate foreseeable future is quite realistic, given the impressive nature of the reversal of the diabetes, along with the feasibility in patients to do AAV gene therapy.”

George Gittes MD, Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Over 460 million people in the world are currently dealing with diabetes. It is estimated that the number of people affected by diabetes will rise to 700 million by 2045, according to the World Health Organization. And, after older people and nursing home residents, perhaps no group has been harder hit by the COVID-19 pandemic than people with diabetes. Several studies suggest that 30 to 40 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the United States have occurred among people with diabetes. The costs associated with diabetes care are unsustainable, providing the impetus for companies and researchers to find solutions to manage (and potentially cure) this disease effectively.

Researchers are already speculating about microchips that can diagnose type 1 diabetes before the symptoms appear, nanorobots traveling in the bloodstream while measuring glucose and delivering insulin, or silica particles that can slow down the digestion of food to prevent diabetes and obesity.

Don’t expect a slowdown in development any time soon. Patients are demanding solutions, and whatever the future brings, it will undoubtedly make a massive difference in the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Thanks to my friend and colleague Christopher J Farr for suggesting this topic.

Health Tech News This Week – April 2, 2022

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

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Liverpool Hospital trials smart gloves to train surgeons

Hospital and posted an article on the development of smart gloves to provide surgical trainees with instant and accurate feedback. The surgical gloves, invented by engineers at Western Sydney University, have been built around low-cost sensors which can record hand movements in fine detail, giving trainee surgeons and their mentors actionable data to evaluate and improve on intricate surgical procedures.

Image Credit: Western Sydney University/Liverpool Hospital

Why it’s important – While surgical techniques have advanced significantly in the last century, training still fundamentally relies on observation — mentors looking over the shoulder of trainees to give personal feedback. Technology like simulators is hugely expensive, so students have limited access. The gloves developed by this team collect motion data and relay it to a smartphone or computer, where each tiny movement is recorded and visualized. The gloves are not a replacement for trainers but augment their ability to give advice. The next steps include developing a mobile app so students might take the gloves home for practice. Lower cost should mean higher utilization and broader use of the technology.

Infographic of the week – From Dr. Bertalan Mesko and The Medical Futurist Institute, an infographic about the role of #3Dprinting in the future of medicine and healthcare. Everything possible to 3D print today.

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

3D-printed tablets offer taste of personalized seven-second medicine

One of the many promising uses for 3D printing is the creation of personalized medicines, in which dosages and drug combinations can be tailored to an individual’s needs. A new advance in this area has demonstrated how these types of drugs could be produced onsite and on-demand, with a printing technique that makes tablets in seconds. Nick Lavars of New Atlas reports on the work of scientists at University College London (UCL), who were looking to build on a 3D printing technique known as vat photopolymerization. In medicine production, this method involves a resin containing dissolved drugs and a photoreactive chemical, which can be solidified by light during printing to form a tablet.

Why it’s important – Another example of how 3D-printed medicines are evolving at a rapid pace and reaching the clinic. The development of faster 3D printers that can produce pills within seconds can drive a more on-demand approach to delivery. If this can be done in a cost-efficient manner, it could drive adoption.

A Voice-Activated Video Communication System for Nurses to Communicate With Inpatients With COVID-19

Published in the JMIR online, this paper presents a pilot project conducted at Mass General Brigham Health System. They deployed a video intercom communication system (VICS) developed in-house that allowed clinical staff to connect over video to a securely configured tablet inside a patient room. This telehealth solution was implemented to reduce PPE usage and maintain a human connection at the bedside. They used a modified 2-way video communication device (Amazon Echo Show 8) configured to allow drop-in video calls to the patient room.

Image Credit: Mass General Brigham Health System

Why it’s important – This pilot demonstrates the feasibility of deploying a consumer-grade voice assistant device in COVID-19 patient rooms. Although there are a variety of technologies that can be used to deliver similar 2-way video communication, they found the Echo Show device engaging; it differentiates itself due to the voice technologies and Alexa functionalities for both clinician and patient entertainment. To enable future deployments at scale, security and privacy enhancements to the Echo Show and data analytics will need to be further explored.

AI uses voice biomarkers to predict coronary artery disease

Mayo Clinic researchers use artificial intelligence (AI) to discover and test what the voice can reveal about a patient’s heart health. In a recent study, the research team used an AI trained for specific vocal biomarkers to accurately predict which patients were more likely to have clogged arteries that led to further heart problems. Compared to those with low vocal biomarker scores, patients with a high vocal biomarker score at baseline were more likely to have severe chest pain or coronary issues that sent them to the hospital or emergency department.

Why it’s important – This work builds on earlier studies that looked for signals in the voice of patients with coronary artery disease and then identified the most significant vocal biomarker components. Although still in the research stages, AI voice analysis technology could be a low-cost, noninvasive digital health tool to monitor a patient’s risk of coronary artery blockage over time from just about anywhere.

Home-Based Remote Patient Monitoring Yields Highly Accurate BP Readings

A new study shows that home-based blood pressure measurement is highly reliable, with a mean difference of -0.1 mmHg compared with ambulatory monitoring. Mark Melchionna reported on this research in an article on mHealth Intelligence. The study included 510 participants between 18 and 85 years old from 12 Washington State-based primary care centers. These participants were divided equally into one of three groups: clinic, home, or kiosk-based methods of BP measurement. The clinic group had their BP measured during follow-up care, while the home group had their BP measured twice a day for five days, and the kiosk group three times a day for three days. All participants also completed 24-hour ambulatory monitoring (ABPM) at three-week follow-ups.

Why it’s important – These results indicate that home BP monitoring has substantial credibility compared to a clinic- and kiosk-based settings. But to further enhance BP measurements, addressing the detection of excessive or weak hypertension is necessary, according to the researchers. But there are various limitations to the study that could have affected the data. Obtaining participants from a single healthcare organization could have produced skewed results since they were all receiving the same type of care. Lack of variation in the race and ethnicity of participants could have also affected the data.

Smartphone App Calculates Genetic Risk of Coronary Artery Disease

Conn Hastings in Medgadget reports that researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California have developed a smartphone app that can calculate a user’s genetic risk of coronary artery disease. The app can import genetic information from a commonly used genetic testing service, 23andMe, and provide a personalized risk assessment of coronary artery disease. So far, the Scripps team investigated 721 people who used the app to calculate their genetic risk of coronary artery disease. Then they followed up with them a year later to see if the results had changed their approach to treatment.

“We saw about twice the rate of statin initiation in the high genetic risk group vs the low genetic risk group, which indicates that strategies like this could make a big contribution to public health — heart disease being the largest cause of death globally,”

Ali Torkamani, Researcher, Scripps Research Institute

Why it’s important – The researchers behind this latest technology have exploited the increasingly common phenomenon whereby people use online genetic testing services to trace their ancestry or identify health risks. Fortunately, genetic testing is becoming more common. This should help to alert such people to their risk and the need to take pre-emptive action in lifestyle changes and pharmacological intervention.

How AI Is Using Facial Detection To Spot Rare Diseases In Children

An excellent article by Forbes Contributor Ganes Kesari. Technology is stepping up to solve the twin challenges of making a correct diagnosis and offering high-quality care. Kesari tells the story of Andrew’s parents, who consulted Dr. Karen Gripp, Professor of Pediatrics at Nemours Children’s Hospital, and she decided to investigate. In addition to conventional procedures, she ran a quick diagnosis on Face2Gene, a computer vision-powered app that looks for indications of rare diseases. The facial picture uploaded to the app showed a strong match for Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLO), a rare condition that affects about 1 in 40,000 children.

Why it’s important – Two factors make rare genetic diseases deadlier—poor awareness and a scarcity of targeted treatments. One in 12 babies is born with a rare disease. Despite over 300 million rare disease patients worldwide, there is low awareness about these conditions. With over 10,000 rare diseases affecting children, the patient count is spread thin with an extremely long tail. To complicate matters, access to geneticists isn’t easy. An appointment could take months. These results, and others like it, demonstrate that the ease of discovering rare diseases through a click-and-upload app coupled with a strong distribution strategy can make the detection of rare diseases simpler and more efficient. This could help incentivize drug discovery for the next 10% of rare diseases that have no cure today.

New Gait MyoElectric Stimulator Designed to Improve Walking Ability

Innovation Lab, Innovation Institute’s national health care incubator; and MultiCare Health System, a Washington state not-for-profit health care organization; announced the development of the Gait MyoElectric Stimulator (GMES), a unique functional electrical stimulation device that uses dual stimulator technology to help improve walking ability in patients with neuromuscular conditions such as stroke, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. Applied to the lower leg of patients with these conditions, GMES is an intuitive, wearable device for patients with hemiplegia or hemiparesis (paralysis or weakness on one side of the body), the most common physical consequence of stroke. GMES provides stimulation from multiple channels to opposing muscles, with that dual stimulation designed to improve post-stroke gait.

Image Credit: Innovation Lab, Innovation Institute’s national health care incubator; and MultiCare Health System

Why it’s important – Current functional electric stimulation (FES) devices seek to treat only one symptom of hemiplegia: foot drop (an inability to raise the front of the foot). Simply lifting the foot does not smooth a patient’s halted gait, so a significant limp persists. GMES is different: It mimics normal walking function with dual stimulation — dorsiflexion and plantar flexion — plus motion sensors designed for gait and stability improvement. GMES shows the potential to help patients relearn how to walk independently without long-term dependence on the device.

Holograms Are Giving Events the ‘Beam Me Up’ Experience

No longer the preserve of sci-fi movies, hologram technology is becoming a real communications option. Michelle Russell detailed the experience of sitting in the audience at Caesars Forum in January when PCMA Convening Leaders 2022 emcee Holly Ransom spoke from the stage to closing keynote speaker Indra Nooyi, former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo. Nooyi appeared life-sized next to Ransom on the screen as a hologram — the two were seated in similar director-style chairs and spoke to each other in real-time.

Image Credit: Jacob Slaton Photography

Why it’s important – Body language makes up more than half of communication today. Proponents of holograms believe we’re robbing audiences of that when using a webcam in a Zoom call or remote speakers at hybrid conferences. “Holographic presence is about emotions. If I can create the illusion that three people participating in the discussion are there — because we are talking about an illusion — it would mean the world,” according to Andrew Dorcas, ARHT’s senior vice president, sales and marketing.

Next Generation Wearable Device Growth Creates New Opportunities for Real-Time Monitoring of Health Conditions

“Technology is now not only giving people incentive to become more deeply involved and interested in their own health, but they can easily share these data sets with their health practitioners in a far more accurate and structured way.”

Matthew Bardsley, CEO, Medical
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Advances in sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) are helping millions detect and manage chronic health conditions and avoid serious illness on devices small enough to be worn on a wrist or penny-sized patch. We are seeing incredible growth in wearables, with more than 1,000 wearable sensors on the market—from smartwatches to advanced fabrics and materials. Growing demand for wearables has generated a booming market, and now insurers and companies see how supplying wearable health technology to their consumers and employees is beneficial.

Fueled by the increasing demand of consumers to monitor their health and keep track of their vital signs, the use of wearable technology has more than tripled in the last four years. According to research from Insider Intelligence, more than 80% of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology.

Image Credit: Insider, Accessed March 27, 2022

But, we’ve only seen the beginnings of the uses of wearables in health care. The wearable healthcare technology market is surging, and its maturation will put more wearable technology in the hands of consumers and US businesses. Next-generation wearables and implantable technologies are beginning to emerge, and new advances may help detect and track biomarkers, improve our health, and enhance healing. They’ll also report data and adjust settings—independently of a smartphone or computer. And as wearables transition to implantables, we will gain greater visibility into real-time biological health.

“The digitally enabled practitioner will be able to see their next patient, well-equipped with the same wealth of data that the patient has on their own wellness apps and devices – and more. The clinical visit will be more open, accurate and efficient, while the patient and practitioner relationship will become more trusting, personalised and transparent.”

Matthew Bardsley, CEO, Medical

As reported by The Future Today Institute, (IMHO one of the best resources out there for information on future growth of technologies – their complete report for 2022 is 658 pages long, but is a treasure trove of valuable information), the explosive growth in wearable development will usher in a new era of diagnostics and treatments. Given the rapid pace of change in this area, here are some of the most exciting innovations being developed today.

Illness-detecting sensors – Several 2020 studies found that wearables, such as the Oura Ring (fyi, just last week the company announced it had sold its one millionth smart ring. And, I’ll resist the urge to add a Tolkien quote here. 🧙‍♂️), Fitbit, and Apple Watch, can detect early signs of infections. Apple and the University of Washington used the Apple Watch to monitor changes in participants’ heart rate and blood oxygenation as a potential predictor of infection. In a separate Warrior Watch Study, researchers found heart rate variability detected on Apple Watches pinpointed early signs of COVID-19. A study led by Duke University found that a wristband that monitors heart rate, skin temperature, activity, and electrodermal activity could predict viral infection and the severity of illness.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a robotic nose that uses biological smell receptors to detect disease by interpreting patterns of molecules, much like a dog does. Nano-Nose identifies patterns in receptor electrical activity and uses machine learning to link these patterns to disease predictions. The bot has identified prostate cancer via smell with 70% accuracy.

Touch-sensitive materialsChina’s Southeast University developed a material that can respond to pressure or stretching through liquid metal circuits and liquid crystal elastomers. The team demonstrated how the same material could change shape with temperature. The material could be used in soft robotics that sense and respond to their surroundings.

Tattoos and Electronic Skins – The University of Texas at Austin explores how graphene electronic tattoos can measure brain waves, heart activity, and muscle activity through biopotentials. Researchers received a National Science Foundation grant for work with the Georgia Institute of Technology to develop an e-tattoo that remotely monitors pneumonia patients and predicts changes in their condition. At Northwestern University, researchers are investigating soft, flexible skin-inspired electronics called electronic skins or e-skins. They created a device for the throat that monitors speech, respiration, heart rate, and other biometrics for stroke patients, speech and physical therapy, residents of assisted living homes, and sleep monitoring.

Dissolving bioelectronics – Researchers at Northwestern and George Washington universities developed a cardiac pacing device absorbed by the body over five to seven weeks—ideal for post-surgical patients who may need temporary pacing. During surgery, doctors adhere the flexible device to the surface of the patient’s heart. The device then harvests power from an external source using near-field communication (NFC), eliminating the need for batteries or external leads.

Smart threadsMIT researchers created a washable fiber that senses, stores, and processes data. Using AI, the fiber could provide real-time alerts about potential respiratory problems or arrhythmias. And researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology are using smart fibers to develop a helmet that can detect real-time concussions among athletes.

Connected fabrics and apparel – There’s been a lot of innovation in this area since Google announced their Project Jacquard and their partnership with Levi’s back in 2015. Nextiles makes athletic apparel that monitors motion, pressure, bending, torque, and twisting for detailed feedback to athletes—including warning signs of fatigue. Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering is using soft, flexible nanotube fibers sewn into athletic shirts to provide continuous electrocardiographic monitoring. Notably, the shirt remains washable and stretchable. Nanowear devel- oped SimpleSense, a sash worn over the chest lined with billions of nano-sensors. It can capture 85 patient vitals, including blood pressure and heart rate, respiration, lung volume and fluid, and temperature. Nanowear has partnered with health systems in New York City to conduct a clinical trial in COVID-19 patients of its SimpleSense remote diagnostic monitoring platform.

Wearable devices are moving from the fringe to the mainstream, as health-conscious consumers look for more actionable insights from their collected data. As emerging technologies and medical-grade sensors bring the power of the laboratory and diagnostics into our homes and AI expands the possibilities for remote diagnosis, executive teams should ask themselves: “How might these consumer health products unlock new growth opportunities for our business?” Consider the benefits to your organization of creating a “digital health formulary” to identify, curate, and distribute these devices to patients and their families.

Health Tech News This Week – March 26, 2022

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

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‘No-Code’ Brings the Power of A.I. to the Masses

Craig Smith in The New York Times reports on the growth in ‘no code’ AI applications that are entering the market across several industry verticals. He lists a growing army of “citizen developers” who use new products that allow anyone to apply artificial intelligence without writing a line of computer code. Proponents of the “no-code” A.I. revolution believe it will change the world: It used to require a team of engineers to build a piece of software, and now users with a web browser and an idea have the power to bring that idea to life themselves.

“We are trying to take A.I. and make it ridiculously easy.”

Craig Wisneski, co-founder of Akkio

Why it’s important – Just as clickable icons have replaced obscure programming commands on home computers, new no-code platforms replace programming languages with familiar and straightforward web interfaces. And a wave of start-ups is bringing the power of A.I. to nontechnical people in visual, textual, and audio domains. Advances in A.I. itself are making no-code platforms more powerful. Eventually, the broader public will be able to create A.I.-enabled software in much the same way that teenagers today can create sophisticated video effects that would have required a professional studio a decade or two ago. For now, though, most no-code-A.I. users are business professionals who want to streamline the way things are done without involving a programmer.

Infographic of the week – From Chris Lew and Sari Kaganoff at Rock Health, Four Constellations of Human Needs Being Disrupted by Technology.

Image Credit: Rock Health

New technique improves detection of cancer DNA in blood

The Broad Institute posted an article on their work in developing a new method to identify thousands of DNA mutations accurately and efficiently in a patient’s blood sample with minimal sequencing. The approach, called MAESTRO, could one day detect residual cancer in patients who have undergone treatment, alerting doctors to disease recurrence earlier and more cheaply than current techniques allow. The work was published this week in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Why it’s important – To use MAESTRO, researchers first sequence a patient’s tumor biopsy to understand the landscape of mutations. With this information in hand, they can create specialized molecular probes that will bind to only those tumor-associated sequences of DNA. Scientists add the molecular probes to the cell-free DNA from blood samples, then wash away any unbound DNA, enabling the sequencing machines to pick out the rare cancer mutations. This opens up the possibility of detecting MRD earlier or identifying circulating DNA from cancers that shed very little.

OSF HealthCare to help commercialize wireless seizure sensor

Katie Adams reports that OSF Ventures, the innovation investment arm of Peoria, Ill.-based OSF HealthCare, joined a $12.5 million funding round for Epitel. This company makes a wireless, wearable brain wave-monitoring device to detect seizures. The device uses an adhesive that discreetly sticks to a patient’s scalp. The FDA has approved the device for in-hospital use, and Epitel plans to seek approval for its use across various patient care settings.

Why it’s important – This technology helps break down access barriers because it will not only reduce the time to electroencephalogram initiation but the sensors and monitoring software give rural hospitals that do not have electroencephalogram resources the ability to screen patients suspected of seizure activity instead of immediately requiring transfer to a larger tertiary hospital. It’s also another example of how health system venture groups can accelerate the time to adoption of promising technologies through targeted investment strategies.

Google Search will soon let you book checkups and other medical appointments

CNBC’s Sarah Alessandrini reported on this announcement by Google that they are rolling out a new feature in search that allows people to book health care appointments. Users looking to book a check-up or a same-day visit can use Google Search to see the availability of select health care providers in their area. Google is partnering with MinuteClinic at CVS to start.

Why it’s important – Users can book appointments for a check-up, vaccination, skin condition, or an injury/illness without leaving Google search. It may be helpful for people who don’t have regular care providers or who aren’t able to visit their current doctor. Google said the feature is still in the early stages of rolling out. It expressed hopes to expand partners and functionality of the feature to make it easier for users to access the care they need.

Nvidia sets the stage for medical digital twins

George Lawton of Venture Beat covered the news from Nvidia’s GTC. He described how Nvidia showcased a variety of significant advances that could drive the adoption of digital twins in medicine. Key healthcare advances introduced at GTC include synthetic data generation, the commercial release of its Clara medical AI platform, enhanced DNA sequencing workflow, improved pharmacovigilance capabilities, and improved drug discovery tools.

Why it’s important – This isn’t the first time Lawton has written about digital twins in healthcare. I featured one of his earlier articles in a news post last July. I believe that Nvidia’s work on enhanced digital twins capabilities will eventually take advantage of these advances to dramatically improve patient safety and support new business models in the healthcare industry. Digital twin capabilities are more challenging in medicine due to privacy safeguards, medical regulations, and safety considerations. Although companies address these concerns in one-off implementations today, these are difficult to scale. Nvidia’s existing toolchain and the recent announcement could help address these challenges.

When Technology Creates Barriers to Care Delivery, Bad Things Happen

“Overriding was something we did as part of our practice every day. You couldn’t get a bag of fluids for a patient without using an override function.”

RaDonda Vaught, Former Nurse, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
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This week I came across a sobering article in Kaiser Health News (KHN) about the case of RaDonda Vaught, a former nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who is charged with reckless homicide after a medication error killed a patient. Prosecutors do not allege in their court filings that Vaught intended to hurt the patient or was impaired by any substance when she made a mistake. Hence, her prosecution is a rare example of a health care worker facing years in prison for a medical error. Vaught’s case looms large for a profession terrified of the criminalization of such mistakes — primarily because her case hinges on an automated system for dispensing drugs that many nurses use every day.

Vaught’s trial will be followed by nurses nationwide, many of whom worry a conviction may set a precedent even as the coronavirus pandemic leaves countless nurses exhausted, demoralized, and likely more prone to error. Vaught’s defense will center around her statement above, that at the time of the death, the medical center was instructing nurses to use overrides to overcome cabinet delays and constant technical problems caused by an ongoing overhaul of the hospital’s electronic health records system. Others in the profession support that statement. Michael Cohen, president emeritus of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, and Lorie Brown, past president of the American Association of Nurse Attorneys, said it is common for nurses to use an override to obtain medications in a hospital.

Update – March 25, 2022A jury on Friday convicted former Nashville nurse RaDonda Vaught of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult after a medication error contributed to the death of a patient in 2017.The jury deliberated for approximately four hours in a trial closely watched by nurses and medical professionals from across the country, many worried Vaught’s case could set a precedent for medical errors leading to criminal charges.

Maureen Shawn Kennedy, the editor-in-chief emerita of the American Journal of Nursing, wrote in 2019 that Vaught’s case was “every nurse’s nightmare.”

“We know that the more patients a nurse has, the more room there is for errors. We know that when nurses work longer shifts, there is more room for errors. So I think nurses get very concerned because they know this could be them.”

Maureen Shawn Kennedy, editor-in-chief emerita of the American Journal of Nursing,

In my work, I’ve had dozens of conversations with frontline nursing staff who have complained that automated drug cabinets (ADCs) create barriers to care delivery. Whether used as a full decentralized drug distribution model or for limited distribution of controlled substances, PRN (as needed) medications, and first doses only, ADCs today are often interfaced with electronic health record systems in both large and small healthcare settings. Machine-readable (barcode) scanning is usually available to verify the drug and dose in the pharmacy before distribution, upon ADC stocking, and at the bedside before administration. Label printers have been added to the current generation of ADCs to support safe practices after medication removal.

ECRI’s Institute for Safe Medication Practices has identified three unsafe scenarios: overuse of overrides, removal of a drug from an ADC without an order, and removal of an ordered medicine from a non-profiled ADC. Healthcare practitioners have used the term “override” loosely when referring to these circumstances, perhaps because each involves the removal of medication from an ADC without a pharmacist’s review of the order. One of the best resources I’ve found on the use of ADCs is their Guidelines for the Safe Use of Automated Dispensing Cabinets.

The Tennessee case is the most recent and visible example of how technology can create barriers to effective care delivery. ADCs aren’t the only culprit here. Ask any frontline provider about EHRs and the amount of additional work they generally create. I won’t even go into the problem with “copy and paste” issues in using the EHR to document a patient visit – something that I’ve experienced myself when reviewing my own health records in My Chart.

So, how do we approach the issue of technological barriers to effective care delivery? Here are some suggestions from multiple conversations with health care leaders around the country:

Understand that frontline caregivers WILL find and create workarounds for any technological barriers they encounter. The “override” issue in ADCs is a classic example of this. “Copy and Paste” in EHRs is another. It’s basic human nature. “Put something in the way of my doing my job, and I’ll figure out a way to get around it.” Have those conversations with the team regularly. Sit them down with the vendors so they can hear firsthand what’s creating problems for the staff so they can address them in future improvements to the system.

Don’t stop with frontline staff. Bring patients into the conversation as well. If your team has issues with technological barriers, imagine what your patients are experiencing. Engage with your Patient and Family Advisory Board if you have one. If you don’t, create one. They’re the best source of information on what works and what doesn’t. Patients want to see good business practices in healthcare: good customer service, good technology, and good working relationships. They can see and compare the customer service in other industries and help healthcare get better at it.

When technology is involved, always have a “plan B.” This includes providing additional training for frontline caregivers in the effective use of the technology. Schedule regular listening sessions to allow for discussion on new challenges the staff is facing when using technology in their daily work.

Select your vendor partners carefully. Communication is vital for vendor management, so treat them as a member of your team and communicate with them accordingly. Set clear expectations of the type of support you need. Make sure you understand the amount and type of training that your frontline staff will receive when implementing new technologies. And, make sure that additional training is provided after major updates to the system or when connecting it to other systems.

Technology is a crucial ingredient of health care. Indeed, all health care consists of either human interaction, the application of technology, or, most commonly, both. Consideration of technology is vital in examining the organization and functioning of health care services and systems for many reasons. Technology is a significant component of current health care costs and perhaps the key driver of future costs. Major regulatory frameworks and institutions exist solely to manage the introduction and use of safe, effective, and efficient healthcare technology. With any implementation or use of healthcare technology, patient safety and quality must always remain the primary focus. Technology should support human interaction in care delivery. Technologies that make work more difficult for caregivers creates an environment where errors will increase with catastrophic consequences for both patients and providers. Identifying those problem technologies must occur at the frontlines at the point of care.

Health Tech News This Week – March 19, 2022

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

Image Credit:

Hospitals at home poised to save money, keep the patient in familiar environment

HIMSS 2022 reporting from Laura Lovett at MobiHealthNews featured this article on panelists discussing the benefits and challenges of implementing a hospital-at-home program. According to a HIMSS white paper, in-home hospitalizations save between $5,000 and $7,000 per episode. Increasingly, health systems are offering hospital-at-home services. According to the report, 82 health systems and 186 hospitals across 33 states are cleared for Medicare’s Acute Care at Home program. This program allows for CMS to reimburse the hospital-at-home service at in-patient rates if patients meet specific criteria for admissions, under the Public Health Emergency waiver, according to the white paper.

“Patients love it. We nearly universally see that patients want to be at home. They want to have their own food, their own pets; there is less anxiety; there is less delirium; there is less family stress and less caregiver stress.”

Nathan Starr, lead at TeleHospitalist at Intermountain Health

Why it’s important – As I outlined in a previous post, the Hospital@Home movement is gaining traction as the pandemic clearly showed the benefits of caring for patients in the home setting. It’s not just providers that need to adapt to the hospital-at-home model. Patients also need tools to transfer to at-home services safely. Providing patient and caregiver education and home visits from trained medical professionals can help ease this transition.

Infographic of the week – Americans are beginning to travel again. This survey was included in Dr. Robert Pearl’s Monthly Musings On American Healthcare newsletter. Polling was conducted on from February 15-28. A total of 353 votes were cast.

Image Credit: Dr. Robert Pearl’s Monthly Musings On American Healthcare newsletter.

99% of health systems leaders say it’s important to invest in digital health

More HIMSS 2022 reporting, this time from Dr. Caroline Yang of MobiHealthNews. At the HIMSS State of Healthcare 2022, a panel of leaders representing payer, provider, and patient voices joined to discuss the current healthcare landscape and what the future might hold. The speakers shared data from the HIMSS22 State of Healthcare report. These leaders shared research that highlighted global data trends, shedding light on key opportunities and challenges in this journey to transform and personalize medicine digitally. Despite differing priorities, all the speakers agreed that technology alone is not a good solution for digital transformation. We need the buy-in and active engagement of all stakeholders – payers, providers, and patients alike.

“Digital transformation is no longer an option; it’s a mandate.”

Tom Kiesau, senior partner and leader of Chartis Digital

Why it’s important – The report also reveals that 60% of healthcare organizations did not have a structure in place to support digital transformation. Most respondents noted that they were still stuck in the planning and pre-implementation phases. Looking at these findings, it is clear that current technology has not improved healthcare for the provider. The success of healthcare is no longer measured just by clinical outcomes but by looking at the patient as a whole, considering their social and mental well-being. Technology alone is not the solution. We need the buy-in and active engagement of all stakeholders – payers, providers, and patients alike.

Researchers Want to Create ‘Universal Donor’ Lungs

An interesting article in Wired from Sara Harrison reported on work being carried out at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute. Researchers created an ex vivo lung perfusion (EVLP) device that allows doctors to feed donated lungs nutrients and oxygen in a protected environment, which improves their transplant viability. Unlike organs put on ice after being harvested from a donor and then going straight to the operating room, lungs inside the EVLP warm-up, and their metabolism restarts before they’re transplanted. Doctors can then reassess the lungs’ function and use EVLP to administer drugs that improve the quality of the organ, saving slightly damaged lungs that might have been ineligible for use before.

“This would be a major advance in solid organ transplantation.”

Marilia Cascalho, Immunologist , University of Michigan

Why it’s important – The experiment is an important step toward giving more people access to life-saving organ transplants. More than 100,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for organs, but often those most in need can’t get help because of one big problem: Their blood type doesn’t match the available organs. This study is just a proof of concept, meant to show that such a feat is possible, cost-effective, and takes effect quickly enough to work in a real-life transplant scenario. Before the new approach can advance to human clinical trials, the next step will be to test it on animals.

Samsung Medical Center recognized for smart logistics system

Adam Ang in Healthcare IT News posted this story about how the tertiary hospital has rolled out automated guided vehicles as part of its logistics reform. It has started by piloting unmanned vehicles such as automated delivery robots to replace personal transportation, which takes up 74% of the hospital’s logistics. Daytime logistics will also be converted to nighttime logistics. The transition is expected to be completed by the second half of 2022.

Image Credit: Samsung Medical Center

Why it’s important – Samsung continues to pioneer in developing and deploying robotic technologies in the hospital and other care settings. Their “four zeros” goals are ambitious: no billing, no inventory, no warehouse, and unmanned.

Google Health announces Meditech as the first EHR vendor to integrate with Care Studio

Announced at HIMSS22, Fierce Healthcare’s Dave Muoio reports that just a week after pulling back the curtain on new natural language processing features for Care Studio, its clinician-facing patient record interface, at the ViVE conference in Miami, Google Health took to HIMSS 2022 to announce the technology’s first-ever integration with an electronic health record vendor. It has partnered with Meditech to develop “a deeply integrated solution” that marries the search, contextualization, and data harmonization capabilities of Google Health’s Care Studio with Meditech Expanse, the vendor’s web-based EHR platform.

Why it’s important – Google Health said it sees the collaboration between Meditech’s EHR and its patient data harmonization tools as another step forward for the industry regarding interoperability. Color me skeptical. We’ve been talking about interoperability for how many years now? And we invested how much government HITECH money into getting health systems to adopt electronic health records?

Robotics startup NexStem announces launch of BCI headset, software

More reporting from Adam Ang. NexStem, a robotics startup based in Palo Alto, California, with an R&D team in India, is set to roll out across Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the United States its headset that a user’s thoughts can control. NexStem offers mind-controlled brain-computer interface (BCI) solutions for researchers and developers. The non-invasive NexStem headset has 15-pin dry EEG electrodes and 16-channel EEG sensors that capture and deliver accurate EEG signals. It has six hours of battery life and is WiFi and Bluetooth enabled.

Image Credit: NexStem

Why it’s important – When used with the NexStem Wisdom software development kit (SDK), users can conduct real-time analysis of captured EEG signals and build interfaces to gain insights from data coming from the brain’s different cortexes. And the no-code Wisdom SDK, meanwhile, enables developers to build complex machine learning algorithms used in real-time. It can make fast computations and calculations of EEG data using GPUs in its algorithms. They are exploring use cases of BCIs in virtual reality, mental health, and everyday applications. Specifically for mental health, BCI devices will provide practitioners with convenient and low-cost access to EEG data.

Health Tech News This Week – March 12, 2022

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

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Brightline’s behavioral telehealth platform is giving kids—and their caregivers—peace of mind

Ruth Reader reports on Brightline in Fast Company’s issue on the most innovative companies of 2022. Even before the pandemic began, children in the United States were in distress. In 2018, suicide was a leading cause of death for children 10 to 24. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that 22% of kids have mental, emotional, or behavioral health issues. Only a fifth of those gets care from an appropriate provider. In 2021, Brightline expanded beyond traditional therapy to include behavioral coaching, offering a more affordable option. It also went from a cash-pay product in California to an insurer-covered service in 44 states.

Why it’s important – Brightline’s nationally available pediatric behavioral health coaching sessions are an excellent first step for families who are new to mental health care. In these 30-minute video sessions, behavioral health coaches let kids talk about stressful days, help them get on track with school, and boost their confidence.

Infographic of the week – Nine of the top 20 fastest growing jobs are in healthcare or related fields, as the baby boomer population ages.

Image Credit: Visual Capitalist – Source data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Health care statistics of the week – Data released from CDC on US maternal mortality rates in 2020.

Image Credit: CDC

“To put it bluntly, these numbers in general are only possible in a society that doesn’t care for mothers and babies and more specifically for Black mothers and babies.”

Vikas Chowdhry, Chief Analytics and Information Officer, Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (PCCI)

Hospital-at-home program helps Island Health boost patient satisfaction

Healthcare IT News’ Bill Siwicki reported on this effort at Island Health, which will be featured in a session at HIMSS 2022 next week. Island Health is the publicly funded healthcare provider in the southwestern portion of the Canadian province of British Columbia. Island Health’s hospital-at-home program was created to determine whether treating acute-care patients in their own homes is as effective as an in-hospital treatment. The program was launched to enable patients to receive safe, effective care virtually and in person from providers experienced in hospital medicine and acute care.

Why it’s important – The benefits of hospital-at-home programs can include a more patient-centered approach to hospital care, lower rates of hospital-based complications, such as infection, and reduced pressures on hospital beds and emergency departments. And, feedback from Island Health’s patients has been positive. In formally gathering feedback from Island Health’s hospital-at-home patients, 98% of patients interviewed have said that if they had the opportunity to enroll in the hospital-at-home program again, they would.

Digital wound care tech company Swift Medical rolls out new imaging device

Digital wound care startup Swift Medical is building out its imaging capabilities to enable more advanced care in patients’ homes. As reported by Heather Landi in Fierce Healthcare, the company unveiled a new hardware device that wirelessly attaches to a smartphone camera and captures beneath-the-skin clinical data. The device, called Swift Ray 1, fits into the palm of a clinician or patient’s hand and allows them to capture powerful medical images from anywhere, according to the company.

Why it’s important – Patients with wounds frequently suffer from other, more eminent conditions such as diabetes or hypertension, which conceal the severe impact of wounds. In the U.S., more than 30% of all healthcare beds are occupied by patients with wounds, costing Medicare alone nearly $100 billion annually. Patients with wounds often experience chronic pain, loss of mobility, social isolation, depression, frequent hospitalization, amputation, and even death. The new device captures and analyzes critical physiological characteristics of wounds that can indicate causes for concern or improper healing, such as signs of infection, bacterial colonization, tissue compromise, perfusion, inflammation, or blood oxygen levels. The new device illuminates these invisible, beneath-the-skin characteristics through long-wave infrared, near-infrared, ultraviolet, and enhanced RGB imaging technology.

Researchers harness AI and Robotics to treat spinal cord injuries

Rutgers University researchers reported on their work employing artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to formulate therapeutic proteins, which has successfully stabilized an enzyme able to degrade scar tissue resulting from spinal cord injuries and promote tissue regeneration.

“This study represents one of the first times artificial intelligence and robotics have been used to formulate highly sensitive therapeutic proteins and extend their activity by such a large amount. It’s a major scientific achievement.”

Adam Gormley, Assistant Professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers School of Engineering (SOE) at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Why it’s important – Spinal cord injuries, or SCIs, can negatively impact the physical, psychological, and socio-economic well-being of patients and their families. Soon after an SCI, a secondary cascade of inflammation produces dense scar tissue that can inhibit or prevent nervous tissue regeneration. The enzyme successfully stabilized in the study, ChABC, is known to degrade scar tissue molecules and promote tissue regeneration.

How remote patient monitoring is moving into the mainstream

The COVID-19 pandemic most certainly has driven telehealth into the mainstream of healthcare. And one area of telehealth that has seen tremendous gains in the past two years is remote patient monitoring. Bill Siwicki in Healthcare IT News summarizes an interview he conducted recently with Dr. Waqaas Al-Siddiq, chairman, CEO, and founder of Biotricity, a medical diagnostic and healthcare technology company that offers both physician- and consumer-facing RPM devices. He explained how RPM could help manage chronic conditions and ease the burden on hospitals, described the future of wearables, and shared some lessons learned during the pandemic.

Why it’s important – I’ve written extensively on the benefits of RPM for patients. Being able to see what’s happening while they’re at home, away from the clinic, prevents this. Real-time remote patient monitoring is what made a difference here. With real-time monitoring, you’re able to watch blood glucose levels, heart rhythm changes, and vital signs live. If you’re alerted to a problem, you’re able to decide the appropriate course of action before the patient rushes into the emergency room or reaches a point where this is needed. You’re better able to manage treatment and adherence.

Google’s Care Studio announces Conditions, an AI-backed tool

As reported by Laura Lovett in MobiHealthNews, Google is continuing its work in the EHR space, with a new AI-backed tool called Conditions, aimed at giving doctors a holistic view of a patient. The new feature will be part of Google’s clinician-facing search tool that helps organize patients’ medical records, Care Studio; its VP Paul Muret announced at ViVE this week. Muret explained that Care Studio’s original feature is helpful for clinicians when they know what they are looking for in a medical record. Conditions, meanwhile, can help get the most essential information into a clinician’s hands before they search.

Why it’s important – Despite spending millions of dollars in HITECH funding, EHR usability has been a significant challenge in healthcare for more than a decade. A 2019 study out of the Mayo Clinic linked the lack of EHR usability to burnout. Google is pitching this new technology as a way to surface helpful information more readily.

Owlet launches new sleep wearable for kids up to 5 years old

Another Laura Lovett piece features baby wearable company Owlet, which expands its scope to young children with the launch of Owlet Dream Sock Plus, which is intended for children up to 5 years of age. Previously its smart socks only covered children up 1o 18 months. The technology, designed to give insights about a child’s sleep, can be around a child’s foot. The wearable can send data via Bluetooth to a caregiver’s Owlet Dream app about a child’s wakings, heart rate, and movement. Caregivers can tap into the app to see sleep status and statistics over time.

Why it’s important – According to the CDC, sleep is vital to prevent Type 2 diabetes, obesity, poor mental health, attention problems, and injuries. The agency recommends that toddlers get between 11 and 14 hours of sleep a day, and preschoolers get 10-13 hours. Here’s the problem: the system costs $359, which comes with the sock sensor, a base station, and three sizes of fabric socks. That is a pretty costly investment for many new parents, limiting adoption. Also, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the Utah-based startup. In November, the company pulled its connected-sock wearables from the market following an October FDA warning letter that the company was out of regulatory compliance. Following this announcement, investors filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, alleging that it failed to disclose the socks needed FDA clearance before hitting the market. As always, Caveat Emptor.

Optical Probe Measures Dental Plaque Acidity

A team at the University of Washington has developed an optical probe that can detect the acidity of dental plaque. Medgadget’s Conn Hastings reports on the new technology, which the researchers have called the O-pH system, and relies on fluorescence to measure local acidity levels in and around the teeth. The current iteration of the device is a prototype, and the researchers are still figuring out how it can be most helpful to patients and dentists alike.

Image Credit: University of Washington

Why it’s important – The acidity created by bacteria within plaque causes cavities, and knowing which areas of the teeth are particularly acidic could help dentists to predict where cavities are likely to arise. The knowledge could help someone change their oral hygiene practices, such as brushing more in high-risk areas. And the new device provides a quantitative measurement of overall oral health, which may give dentists and other clinicians an easy way to diagnose and track certain conditions.