Health Tech News This Week – August 13, 2022

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

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This week’s post should probably be subtitled “the sensor edition,” with six articles featured about the continued development of sensor technologies to monitor numerous conditions in real-time and at the point of the patient. I’ve written extensively on remote patient monitoring in health care. But the market continues to evolve, and new types of sensors, combined with AI and Machine Learning, have expanded the clinical applications and accuracy of sensor technology and lowered the overall costs of deploying it. Read on to learn more.

Rockley Photonics books commercial rollout of biosensing wristband with mystery customer

Andrea Park in Fierce Biotech begins the coverage this week with her article on Rockley Photonics. The L.A.-area company and longtime Apple partner boasts a system confined entirely to a slim wristband, offering the standard continuous measurements of heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood oxygen levels, as well as body temperature, blood pressure, hydration, and—in its “Pro” iteration—blood alcohol content, blood lactate and glucose levels. The “Baseline” version of Rockley’s Bioptx wristband could be on consumers’ wrists as soon as the end of this year, the company said Tuesday, now that it has received the first commercial purchase order for the devices. The company says its customers can tailor the Bioptx band to their specifications by adding or subtracting specific biomarker tracking tools and optimizing battery life and overall performance.

Image Credit: Rockley Photonics

Why it’s important – The FDA hasn’t yet authorized Rockley’s Bioptx technology. Still, the company plans to work with its partners and customers to lock down regulatory clearances in the U.S. and beyond. The next iteration of the Apple Watch—its eighth-generation model, expected to make its debut in September—would finally be the one to include a body temperature sensor, allowing the wearable to alert users to a potential fever. However, even if that new feature is coming courtesy of Rockley’s technology, Apple doesn’t seem likely to launch all of the Bioptx sensors at once since Power On’s Mark Gurman previously reported that the Apple Watch likely won’t include a blood pressure monitor until at least 2024, with glucose monitoring falling even further down the line. So, although it will be some time before all of these sensors will come to market, the developments show that real-time measurements at the point of the patient continue to grow.

Infographic of the week – Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute released this infographic contrasting the key features of E-Patients and E-Physicians. I think the six “E”s concept is a great way to frame the conversation.

Image Credit: The Medical Futurist Institute

Bioengineered cornea can restore sight to the blind and visually impaired

Scientists from Linkoping University posted this article on NewsWise. Researchers and entrepreneurs have developed an implant made of collagen protein from pig’s skin, which resembles the human cornea. In a pilot study, the implant restored vision to 20 people with diseased corneas, most of whom were blind before receiving the implant. The study jointly led by researchers at Linköping University (LiU) and LinkoCare Life Sciences AB has been published in Nature Biotechnology.

“This gets us around the problem of shortage of donated corneal tissue and access to other treatments for eye diseases.”

Neil Lagali, Professor, Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at LiU

Why it’s important – The promising results bring hope to those with corneal blindness and low vision by providing a bioengineered implant as an alternative to the transplantation of donated human corneas, which are scarce in countries where the need for them is greatest. An estimated 12.7 million people worldwide are blind because their corneas, the outermost transparent layer of the eye, is damaged or diseased. Their only way of regaining vision is to receive a transplanted cornea from a human donor. But just one in 70 patients gets a cornea transplant. Furthermore, most of those who need cornea transplants live in low and middle-income countries in which access to treatments is minimal.

The world’s first needle-free diabetes test

Freethink’s Kristen Houser reports that Australian researchers have developed a needle-free diabetes test that measures glucose levels from saliva — not blood. It could be ready for consumers as soon as 2023. Researchers at the University of Newcastle have developed a pain-free alternative to the finger-prick diabetes test. It’s a thin sensor about the size of a stick of gum. When a person licks the sensor, a coating on it interacts with their saliva. That reaction creates an electrical current that can be measured to reveal their body’s glucose levels on a smartphone app. They plan to begin construction on a dedicated manufacturing facility before the end of 2022, intending to produce devices by 2023.

“With this highly sensitive platform, we can now detect glucose at the levels found in saliva, for the first time.”

Paul Dastoor, Lead Researcher, University of Newcastle
YouTube video credit: University of Newcastle, Australia

Why it’s important – An estimated 30% of people with diabetes experience anxiety over the finger-prick process. That anxiety has been connected to testing avoidance — and if people aren’t testing their blood glucose levels when they should be, they might not be properly managing their disease. If this device makes it to the market, it would be a game-changer in the management of diabetes care around the world.

This Smart Necklace Soaks Up Your Sweat to Track Health

Engineers at The Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed battery-free sweat sensors that can measure several chemicals and give accurate readouts at various concentrations. Their sensors can be worn like a necklace or even implanted into the skin, where they would work throughout a user’s lifetime. Their research was reported by Maddie Bender in The Daily Beast online. Sweat biosensors are not a new idea for noninvasive monitoring, but most designs are bulky and require batteries that limit their lifespan. In the new study published on July 6 in Science Advances, the researchers combined typical biosensor design with electrical engineering principles to develop their sensors, which work the same way radios tuning into channels do. They then tested how well their flexible biosensors could measure dissolved potassium, calcium, sodium, and hydrogen ions at concentrations typically found in human sweat. Dropped into solutions of sodium, potassium, and hydrogen ions, a calibrated system of sensors measured the concentrations of each with between 97.5 and 98.9 percent accuracy.

“By wirelessly tracking biomarker concentrations associated with the response of the body to environment, stress, and disease, this innovative, versatile device concept can find broad applications in biomedical research and clinical practices.”

Researchers, Ohio State University & University of Wisconsin

Why it’s important – Unlike wearables that can only measure electrical currents at the skin’s surface (think FitBits and Apple Watches), a sweat-based biosensor could track the concentrations of electrolytes and sugar in the bloodstream and alert the wearer when their levels drop too low.

Patient with cancer receives first 3D-printed titanium jaw

A patient with head and neck cancer received the first 3D-printed titanium lower jaw in a successful operation, according to an August 4 press release from the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NCI). The jaw was reconstructed based on the patient’s imaging. Aunt Minnie’s Alex Dagostino reported that following four years of research led by head and neck surgeons from the NCI and Dutch 3D printing developer Mobius 3D Technologies, the new type of 3D-printed mandible was created from MRI and CT scans.

Image Credit: Mobius 3D Technology

Why it’s important – Tumors in and surrounding the lower jaw are commonly treated by removing part of the mandible. If possible, the mandible is reconstructed using bone from elsewhere in the patient’s body. These reconstructive operations are complex, requiring vascular anastomosis and potentially causing morbidity at the donor site. Mandible reconstruction using metal plates poses other concerns as well. According to the NCI, in about 40% of cases, the plates extrude through the mucosa or skin, and the screws come loose, which has considerable consequences for the patient. The new jaw is designed to be the same shape and weight as the original bone and is stronger than the metal plates typically used in jaw replacement surgeries. It also features an improved fastening technique, making the implant much stronger, as the forces are better distributed, according to the NCI.

Bodyport receives FDA 510(k) for connected scale

Emily Olsen from MobiHealthNews brings us this story about Bodyport’s Cardiac Scale, which monitors patients with fluid management conditions like heart failure and kidney disease. The Cardiac Scale, intended for people 21 and over who weigh less than 397 pounds, can be used to track body weight, pulse rate, the center of pressure, and peripheral impedance, which can signal changes in fluid retention. Bodyport is pitching the scale as a way for care teams to monitor fluid status changes noninvasively and intervene before higher level care is needed. More than ten hospitals and health systems in the U.S. have used the tool in Bodyport’s research, according to the company, and it plans to release the scale more broadly later this year.

Image Credit: Bodyport

Why it’s important – The Bodyport Cardiac Scale could be a significant step forward in the standard of care for the remote management of patients with cardiorenal conditions. By providing a longitudinal view of fluid status, care teams can more effectively manage their patients through simple, optimized lifestyle and medication adjustments.

Mawi launches a patch to track heart health faster and in real-time

Tech Crunch’s Haji Jan Kamps reports that the company just released its product, a two-lead cardiac monitor that can be read in real-time. There are consumer-grade products that can do EKG readings, including the Withings ScanWatch (and its fancier-looking sibling, the ScanWatch Horizon). There are other patches on the market, such as the Zio patch, but Mawi claims to have done something unique and suggests that its Heart Patch is the first ever single-use, two-lead cardiac monitor to reach the market. The company describes it as “a stick-and-go, wireless solution” and further suggests that the disposable nature of the device is a benefit; it means that cardiologists can run tests on as many patients as they need to without having to wait for reusable Holter monitors to come back from other patients and get sanitized and maintained between uses. The devices need to be prescribed by a doctor, and pricing heavily depends on whatever medical insurance and what medical care system you are operating on, but the company says that the devices typically cost “under $250 per study.”

Image Credit: Mawi

Why it’s important – Existing solutions are prone to dislodging, peeling, and causing allergic reactions, thus restricting monitoring time. Mawi Heart Patch, the company claims, can be applied in under a minute, and you can live like normal as you wear it. Patients can shower, sleep, work out,” and the company highlights that it’s possible to wear the patch and live all aspects of life as usual.

Sleep Monitoring at Home: Interview with Ziv Peremen, CEO of X-trodes

Finally, this week here’s an interview that Conn Hastings from Medgadget conducted with Ziv Peremen, the CEO of X-trodes, on their development of Smart Skin, wireless monitoring, and analytics technology suitable for at-home sleep monitoring. Smart Skin can detect a wide array of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, narcolepsy, bruxism, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia. The wearable electrodes can also obtain an array of data, including EEG, EOG, EMG, and ECG/EKG tracings. The patient receives the system at home and follows a brief explanatory video through the dedicated smartphone app to set up the system. The setup process takes just a few minutes, and the user does not need to wear the system or “break it in” just before use. It can be worn any time during the evening without disrupting one’s usual nighttime activities. The patient conducts a short calibration process and then simply goes to sleep, in their room and their bed, with all the common sleep conditions they are used to. In the morning, the patient needs only to press a synchronization button on the app, and the data collected overnight is uploaded directly to the cloud, which the physician can then access for sleep scoring and clinical evaluation.

Image Credit: X-trodes

Why it’s important – The current practice of measuring sleep based on a single timeframe within the confines of a clinic is a limiting factor for genuinely understanding our sleep. This usually provides only a partial insight into our sleep profile, the sleep disturbances, and their causes. By making sleep monitoring accessible at home, in our natural sleeping environment, and over multiple consecutive nights, we can optimize the potential of understanding our health. We can leverage a test intended to diagnose sleep disorders to learn more about sleep-related disorders. We can then monitor the progression of the sleep and sleep-related disorders and, through continuous monitoring, guide treatments and select the best treatments and doses. We hope that, soon, we will be able to harness vast amounts of sleep data to facilitate preventive strategies, learning about new disorders early enough to improve treatment and postpone the onset of complications.

Health Tech News This Week – August 6, 2022

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

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Apple Watch Parkinson Disease Symptom Monitor Is Cleared

Howard Larkin’s post in JAMA Network reports on a program that uses motion sensors built into the Apple Watch to monitor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that gained FDA clearance this week. In addition to recording tremors and uncontrolled body movements, or dyskinesia, the StrivePD software from Rune Labs tracks medication use, adverse events, and patient-reported outcomes such as mood and overall health. When integrated with the Medtronic Percept PC Deep Brain Stimulator, it may also gather detailed brain activity information.

Why it’s important – The software enables continuous monitoring of typically fluctuating signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This creates a comprehensive view of disease progression that isn’t possible with periodic in-clinic observations. Such data could be used to identify patients earlier in the course of their disease and tailor treatment more quickly.

Infographics of the week – Interesting infographic created by Dr. Tazeen Rizvi highlighting major technology components enabling digital transformation in health care.

Infographic Credit: Dr, Tazeen Rizvi

This week’s second infographic comes from the recently released 2022 Future of Healthcare study conducted by HIMSS and its Trust Partners – Accenture, The Chartis Group, and ZS Associates. Roughly 9 out of 10 health systems overall are positioning themselves to offer digital-first primary care within the next five years, according to the Future of Healthcare study. During that same span, a similar number intend to gear up for remote patient monitoring. Considering the announcements this week that Amazon intends to purchase One Medical and CVS stating that they will invest heavily in primary care by the end of the year, I, for one, wonder whether health systems have five years’ time to get this done.

Image Credit: 2022 Future of Healthcare study conducted by HIMSS and itsTrust Partners – Accenture, The Chartis Group and ZS Associates.

Cancers and heart disease could be diagnosed more easily with new rapid test

Caroline Brogan from Imperial College, London, filed this story online on how researchers have built a new easy-to-use test that could diagnose non-infectious diseases like heart attacks and cancers more quickly. The new test, called CrisprZyme, has been developed by a team of researchers led by Imperial College London, MIT, and Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin. They say the test could boost access to biomarker diagnostics. The results of preliminary lab studies of the test are published today in Nature Nanotechnology.

“As well as potentially boosting access to diagnostics in developing countries, this technology could bring us a step closer to personalised diagnostics at home or at the GP surgery. By making clinical diagnostic tests simpler, we will be able to provide clinicians with the right tools to test at the same GP surgery instead of having to reschedule for follow-up analyses and blood tests.”

Dr Marta Broto, of Imperial’s Department of Materials

Why it’s important – Diagnostic tests based on RNA or DNA often require controlled temperatures and involve multiple steps. The new test can be used at room temperature in a user-friendly process. The researchers hope this could enable quicker and easier diagnostics in settings like GP surgeries, as well as in resource-limited clinics in developing countries.

Patients did DIY blood draws in a new vaccine study

The study, done by Moderna researchers, checked the antibody levels of people who received three Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses (the regular series and a booster) compared to three Pfizer doses. It sent participants a device called the TAP II, which is made by the company YourBio. As reported by Nicole Wetsman in The Verge, A video on the company website shows how it works. People warm up their skin and then stick on a small plastic device with a plunger on the top and a collection tube sticking out the bottom. They press down on the plunger, and blood fills the tube. (The device can only be used in research right now and is not cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.) Over 800 people signed up for the Moderna study, and each used the TAP II to collect their blood at home. They collected samples when they signed up, after one month, and after a second month. The study found higher levels of antibodies in people who got three Moderna shots than people who got three Pfizer shots.

Image Credit: YourBio

Why it’s important – The findings were probably interesting to Moderna (which funded and ran the study, which is still a preprint and hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed). But it’s also a proof of concept for research done quickly and at home, which the authors said could open up access for more people. It’s always a challenge for research groups to convince people to sign up for studies, and it isn’t easy to ensure they come back for every appointment. Approaches that let people do everything at home could make that easier.

High-tech vest monitors lung function

A press release from the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS outlines their research into a wearable vest that records lung noises using a textile vest with integrated acoustic sensors. The signals are then converted and displayed visually using the software. In this way, patients outside of intensive care units can still be monitored continuously. The technology increases the options for diagnosis and improves the patient’s quality of life. Patients can also benefit from the digital sensor alternative. When wearing the vest, they can recover without requiring constant observation from medical staff. They can transfer to the general ward and possibly even be sent home and move about more or less freely. Despite this, the lungs are monitored continuously, and any sudden deterioration can be reported to medical personnel immediately.

Image Credit: Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS
The visual representation shows the different lung areas and their ventilation situation. Parts marked in red have poor ventilation.

Image Credit: Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS

Why it’s important – Since the system collects and stores the data permanently, examinations can occur at any given time and without hospital staff. Pneumo.Vest also indicates the status of the lungs over some time, for example, over the previous 24 hours. Needless to say, traditional auscultation can also be carried out directly on the patients. However, instead of carrying out auscultation manually at different points with a stethoscope, several sensors are used simultaneously.

Remote surgery robot to be tested aboard International Space Station

Sky News in the U.K. Reports that a miniature robot designed to help conduct remote surgeries could be tested on board the International Space Station before the end of 2024. NASA has awarded the University of Nebraska-Lincoln $100,000 to prepare the robot for its test mission. However, the plan for its first trip into space does not involve operating on human flesh. Instead, the robot, known as MIRA – short for “miniaturized in vivo robotic assistant” – will be exhaustively tested inside an experiment locker on the space station. MIRA will have to gently cut into tautly stretched rubber bands and also push metal rings along a wire, mimicking gestures that are used in surgery.

MIRA Image Credit: Virtual Incision

Why it’s important – MIRA has two key advantages, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. First, it can be inserted through a small incision, enabling doctors to perform abdominal surgery minimally invasively. In previous tests, surgeons have successfully used the device to perform colon resections. Secondly, the technology could enable surgeons to work remotely. In an earlier experiment, retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson took the robot’s controls while at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston. As with most technologies first developed for space applications, this will ultimately allow surgeons to operate remotely, thus making access to minimally invasive surgery available to underserved nations worldwide.

Earbud Chirps May One Day Detect Infections

Futurity’s Cory Nealon-Buffalo reports on the “EarHealth” system, which pairs Bluetooth earbuds with a smartphone equipped with a deep learning platform. EarHealth works by sending a chirp through the earbuds of a healthy user. It records how the chirp reverberates throughout the ear canals, creating a profile of each user’s unique inner ear geometry. Subsequent chirps—for example, a user might set the system for once daily testing—monitor each ear for three conditions—ear wax blockage, ruptured ear drums, and otitis media, a common ear infection—that alter the ear canal’s geometry. Each condition has a unique audio signature that the deep learning system can detect with reasonably accurate results. The researchers presented the work at the ACM’s International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services (MobiSys) in Portland, Oregon. The National Science Foundation provided funding.

Why it’s important – With people worldwide living longer and the prevalence of headphones, it is more important than ever to monitor one’s ear health. The researchers report that EarHealth achieved an accuracy of 82.6% in 92 users, including 27 healthy subjects, 22 patients with a ruptured eardrum, 25 patients with otitis media, and 18 patients with ear wax blockage.

Health Tech News This Week – July 30, 2022

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

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Verily’s heart-tracking wearable evolves into the Zio Watch via iRhythm partnership, new FDA clearances

Connor Hale’s article in Fierce Biotech begins the coverage this week. Verily first won an agency clearance for its ECG-equipped Study Watch in 2019 as a prescription-only wearable designed to help keep tabs on participants in clinical studies. The following year, the Alphabet division added an FDA green light for detecting signs of atrial fibrillation amid an ongoing collaboration with the digital heart monitoring maven iRhythm. Now, that project has evolved into the new Zio Watch, Verily said in a company blog post, sharing the branding of iRhythm’s patch-like Zio devices that stick to the chest to track cardiac signals.

Why it’s important – According to iRhythm, Zeus is designed to not only spot signs of AFib but characterize their seriousness over time to help aid diagnosis. Using the watch’s light-based pulse sensors, the software calculates an AFib burden estimate and delivers a report to the patient’s clinician for review. In a study comparing the latest smartwatch’s AFib accuracy with the chest-worn Zio XT patch, the Zeus system delivered a false-negative rate of 6.4% and a false-positive rate of less than 1%, iRhythm said.

Infographic of the week – From our friends up North comes this infographic showing some of the many startups focusing on agetech in Canada. You’ll see some familiar names here. For my detailed discussion on technologies that support aging in place, see my previous post here.

Image Credit: Agewell

Medicine and the metaverse: New tech allows doctors to travel inside of your body

Is anyone reading this post old enough to remember the 1966 movie based on the Issac Azimov book Fantastic Voyage? (OK, maybe it’s only me.) Louis B. Rosenberg’s article in Venture Beat brings us the current thinking on how technology and specifically telepresence, can bring the movie’s concept closer to becoming a reality. A startup company in Hayward, California, has recently “flown” a tiny robot inside the digestive tract of human subjects. The company is Endiatx, and Rosenberg had a chance to discuss its technology and vision with CEO Torrey Smith.

Pillbot (TM) Image Credit:

Why it’s important – Torrey himself was the first person on the planet to have a robotic drone flown inside his stomach. He volunteered, swallowing the first prototype that made a truly fantastic voyage. Since that initial test, others at the company have swallowed working prototypes many times, capturing live video of the type that will one day be used to screen patients for ulcers, gastritis, cancers, and other ailments. And that day is not far off – the team is currently conducting cadaver tests with doctors at the Mayo Clinic and is planning trials for FDA approval. If all goes smoothly, the PillBot could be diagnosing patients worldwide by 2024. This could be a huge benefit for individuals who go to the doctor with stomach pain. Instead of having a standard endoscopy procedure, which generally requires sedation and involves multiple visits, the tiny swallowable robot could save time, money, and complexity, giving doctors a quick and easy way to look around inside their patients. And it may provide more flexible control than a traditional endoscope, as the untethered Pillbot has the full 3D mobility of a tiny robotic submarine.

Industry Voices—Virtual care should address transition points in our fragmented system

Another interesting article in Fierce Healthcare, authored by my former Sg2 colleague Linette Demers, Program Director for the Digital Medicine Society, and Geoff Matous, President and Chief Commercial Officer of Wellinks. The authors contend that with healthcare facing a pivotal moment of digital transition and the Biden administration recently announcing investments in high-speed internet to power that shift, we have maybe the most significant opportunity of our lifetimes to transform the care ecosystem. But they say we are squandering this moment if we only focus on siloed, add-on telehealth or remote monitoring solutions that mirror the fragmentation and unreliable care transitions of our existing system. As the healthcare industry adapts, we must thoughtfully implement digital technology at every step and every transition in the care journey to create the connective tissue that makes patient-centered, team-based care a reality.

Why it’s important – Virtual-first care models designed with individual patients at the center enable more frequent and personalized touchpoints, offer access to support in moments of need, and provide the support for individuals to become more active participants in their health, which has been shown to drive meaningful outcomes. The work that the Digital Medicine Society and their partners are doing to create a framework for creating a virtual-first strategy is vitally important. Check it out here and join the conversation.

Welcome to Digital Health – A site dedicated to the field of digital health, digital medicine and digital therapeutics.

Dr. Daniel Kraft and his team announced they had built a new platform: Digital.Health, which just launched this week as a resource for clinicians and anyone involved in healthcare innovation to help accelerate the use of and democratization of effective digital health solutions around the planet. Digital.Health is designed as a resource to enable you to find, review and share digital health solutions. The platform also includes resources including digital health-related academic journals, top news, regulatory guidance, funding opportunities, podcasts, an interactive community, and more.

Image Credit: Digital.Health

Why it’s important – I’ve long been a fan of Dr. Kraft’s work at Exponential Medicine and other platforms. The platform he and his team have created, even in its early form, will serve as a trusted, curated resource for information, technologies, and companies making the digital health future. Their directory of solutions is intelligently matched to search criteria. It enables you to find and save products into your own own “digital health formulary” as well as to share selected solutions with patients or colleagues.

The Whole PERSON Health Score: A Patient-Focused Tool to Measure Nonmedical Determinants of Health (Subscription Required)

Riverside University Health System developed a novel and holistic patient-centered assessment tool named the Whole PERSON Health Score (WPHS) to address these critical needs. This article discusses the framework for developing, implementing, and evaluating the WPHS in multidisciplinary, primary care, and safety-net setting. The assessment tool consists of 28 questions (or elements) across six domains of health (one for each letter in the PERSON score [Physical Health, Emotional Health, Resource Utilization, Socioeconomics, Ownership, and Nutrition and Lifestyle]) that were chosen based on a literature review of factors that affect lifespan, mortality, and longevity. The patient receives a letter grade ranging from A (the best) to Z (the worst) in each domain. The A–Z letter assignment is not based on a normalized calculation. Instead, letter assignment is based on the anticipated impact on life expectancy. The grades are classified into three colors — red, yellow, and green — based on the severity of the intervention needed. This color-coding system highlights the areas of critical need and prompts the provider to engage with the patient to act.

Why it’s important – The development of a plan to deliver health care in America often ignores the nonmedical deficits in patients’ socioeconomic resources, well-being, and quality of life, all of which contribute to patient dissatisfaction, poor clinical outcomes, and higher health care costs and utilization. Social determinants of health have been recognized as significant contributors to health, well-being, and, ultimately, longevity. Still, they have been largely unaddressed in primary care because clinicians lack the tools and training to incorporate them while delivering routine care. This excellent framework provides such a tool. The WPHS nudges health care teams to prioritize nontraditional upstream patient needs, including emotional health, ownership, and social determinants of health.

These Vaccines Will Take Aim at Covid—and Its Entire SARS Lineage

Maggie Chen writes in Wired Science that scientists are developing vaccines to target the virus family that spawned Covid-19. Their efforts could thwart future variants or even new related viruses. This pipeline already has several candidates; some have been tested in primates or mice, and one is undergoing a small clinical trial for people. All exploit commonalities shared by sarbecoviruses that could be used to combat their entire lineage. Her article examines some of the various options being considered, including Mosaic Nanoparticle Vaccines and other nanoparticle designs.

“So having something that targets this entire category of viruses might be useful for preventing, or at least mitigating, any future outbreaks.”

Alex Cohen, postdoctoral researcher at Caltech

Why it’s important – Leveraging the work done to combat COVID-19, the development of rapid nanoparticle vaccines will help us address not only future variants of the coronavirus but also create a platform for vaccine development to address the next pandemic the world will face.

MIT engineers develop stickers that can see inside the body

Jennifer Chu from the MIT News Office reports that researchers have developed new stamp-sized ultrasound adhesives that produce clear images of the heart, lungs, and other internal organs for 48 hours. The researchers applied the stickers to volunteers and showed the devices produced live, high-resolution images of major blood vessels and deeper organs such as the heart, lungs, and stomach. The stickers maintained a strong adhesion and captured changes in underlying organs as volunteers performed various activities, including sitting, standing, jogging, and biking.

YouTube Video Credit: MIT

Why it’s important – The team is working to make the stickers function wirelessly. They are also developing software algorithms based on artificial intelligence to better interpret and diagnose the stickers’ images. Then, Zhao envisions ultrasound stickers could be packaged and purchased by patients and consumers, and used not only to monitor various internal organs, but also the progression of tumors, as well as the development of fetuses in the womb.

‘New era in digital biology’: AI reveals structures of nearly all known proteins

John Travis in Science, Technology reports that a new advance from DeepMind’s AlphaFold software could revolutionize biology and medicine. This week, the company unveiled the likely structures of nearly all known proteins, more than 200 million from bacteria to humans, a striking achievement for AI and a potential treasure trove for drug development and evolutionary studies. The structural bounty comes from AlphaFold, one of the new AI programs that have cracked the protein-folding problem, the long-standing challenge of accurately deriving the 3D shapes of proteins from their amino acid sequences. AlphaFold’s newly predicted structures were released yesterday into an existing database through a partnership with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). The database “has provided structural biologists with this powerful new tool where you can look up the 3D structure of a protein almost as quickly as you can do a keyword Google search.

“AlphaFold is the singular and momentous advance in life science that demonstrates the power of AI. With this new addition of structures illuminating nearly the entire protein universe, we can expect more biological mysteries to be solved each day.”

Eric Topol, M.D., Director, Scripps Research Translational Institute

Why it’s important – DeepMind says more than 500,000 researchers have already used the database since its launch last year. Hassabis predicted a “new era in digital biology” in which drug developers could go from AI-predicted structures of proteins important to any medical condition to using AI to design small molecules that influence those proteins—and therefore treat an illness. Others use the structure predictions to develop vaccine candidates, probe basic biology questions such as how the so-called nuclear pore complex gatekeeps which molecules enter a cell’s nucleus, or examine the evolution of proteins when life first evolved.

True Angle To Study The Mobili -T In Combination With Varian’s Noona Patient Engagement Platform In The Treatment Of Swallowing Disorders

Finally, this week, this press release in Medgadget. True Angle, a health technology company, has launched a research project to explore the use of health technology to improve patient outcomes in treating dysphagia (or swallowing disorder), supported by a grant from Alberta Innovates. The research project involves deploying True Angle’s Mobili-T system with the digital Noona® platform from Varian, a Siemens Healthineers company. Noona is a digital solution for patient engagement and outcomes management, initially developed for use in oncology. The plan is to utilize Noona together with True Angle’s Mobili-T swallowing exercise system, which treats dysphagia, a common condition for patients dealing with head and neck cancer, Parkinson’s, or stroke.

Why it’s important – I’ve had the privilege of meeting with True Angle Founder and CEO Dr. Jana Rieger and discuss her work. Jana and the team at True Angle have developed the Mobili-T: a wearable device that uses software-enabled biofeedback technology to deliver a clinically-validated method to target swallowing function for the 500 million people globally who are suffering from a swallowing disorder because of common medical conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, or head and neck cancer. The grant from Alberta Innovates will enable True Angle to work with the Edmonton-based Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine (iRSM) and the University of Alberta Hospital Department of Head and Neck Surgery in conducting this research. This will potentially inform a value-based healthcare model initiated by iRSM to improve cancer patients’ outcomes.

Health Tech News This Week – July 23, 2022

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

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How Bias Can Creep into Health Care Algorithms and Data

Sara Harrison published this article in Discover Magazine’s July/August 2022 issue as “Ghosts in the Machine.” Electronic health records only show what doctors and nurses notice. If they can’t see a problem, even one as serious as a heart attack, the AI won’t be able to see it either. Similarly, doctors may unwittingly encode their own racial, gender, or socioeconomic biases into the system. That can lead to algorithms that prioritize specific demographics over others, entrench inequality and fail to make good on the promise that AI can help provide better care.

“The dirty secrets of a lot of artificial intelligence tools is that a lot of the things that seem like biological variables that we’re predicting are in fact just someone’s opinion.”

Ziad Obermeyer, Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley

Why it’s important – Decisions about which tests to run (or which patients’ complaints are taken seriously) often reflect the clinicians’ biases rather than the best medical treatment possible. But if medical records encode those biases as facts, then those prejudices will be replicated in the AI systems that learn from them, no matter how good the technology is.

Infographic of the week – Another infographic from Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute. This is an updated 2022 version of their look at digital technologies that will impact health care for both professionals and patients. Great research and great visuals.

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

‘Digital Human ’ Teaches How To Walk And Protect Your Knees

Researchers have created a “digital human” that shows how to reduce the force on the knee by teaching people to use different muscles as they walk. Bruce Goldman-Stanford brings us the story on Using results from the digital human, a detailed computer simulation, participants in a small study were able to reduce the load on their knees by an average of 12%, a benefit equivalent to losing about 20% of their total body weight. The lighter load may alleviate pain from osteoarthritis or prevent joint injuries. With the digital human, the researchers found muscle coordination strategies that generated less force on the knee joint. They discovered that by increasing activation of the soleus muscle and decreasing activation of the gastrocnemius muscle, they could drastically reduce the force on the knee without changing a person’s gait.

Why it’s important – Almost a quarter of Americans age 45 and older suffer from knee osteoarthritis, and knee pain accounts for nearly 4 million visits to primary care physicians annually. Traditional treatments for osteoarthritis include weight loss, knee bracing, and joint replacement, but none target the muscle forces. In conjunction with personalized digital human simulations, wearable biofeedback could revolutionize not just treatment for osteoarthritis, but all kinds of joint pain, including overuse injuries in athletes.

New Home Kidney Test Uses Smartphone to Monitor Kidney Health

A new smartphone-enabled test that received 510(k) clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July will provide Americans at risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD) the same ability to monitor their kidney health from the comfort of their own home. Healthline’s Shaun Radcliffe reports that the Minuteful Kidney test, developed by Boston-based company, uses a smartphone camera to look for a specific protein in the urine called albumin. For the Minuteful Kidney test, urine samples need not be sent to a lab. The test also works on many smartphones, including iOS and Android.

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“This new test has the potential to help millions of patients find out if they have CKD while there is still time to prevent progression to kidney failure.”

Kerry Willis, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer, National Kidney Foundation

Why it’s important – An estimated 37 million Americans have CKD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As many as 9 in 10 people with this condition do not know they have it. Some research has found that people of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to have CKD, limited access to treatment, and worse outcomes. Because this test can be done at home with a smartphone, she said people living in underserved communities that may have less access to healthcare can more easily monitor their kidney health.

WORLD FIRST: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland to share unified digital health standards

The Nordic region aims to be the most integrated health region in the world by 2030, according to the Nordic Council of Ministers. A shift towards digital health, and its focus on the self-management of health by Nordic populations, will be an important step on this journey, but it also brings new risks. The news was reported online in Health Tech Digital. Despite the 350,000 digital health technologies on the market, no standardized regulation or risk management system exists in any of the Nordic countries. This has left medical professionals unable to find and prescribe digital technologies safely. To resolve this critical issue and lead the world in adopting connected health technologies on a large scale, the Nordic Digital Health and Evaluation Criteria (NordDEC) program has been created. The NordDEC is a world-first program to unify digital health standards across multiple countries, delivering safe digital health across Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. The accreditation framework was developed by UK-based ORCHA, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps. The project is funded jointly by NIP and the Nordic health tech industry.

Why it’s important – The NordDEC will provide a system for healthcare providers in all five countries to evaluate and identify trusted digital health technologies within healthcare and preventive care. It will also guide product developers and technology owners so they have clear parameters when planning new products and new market access strategies. Drawing from international best practices, the NordDEC establishes a standard benchmark of criteria across the entire region, which provides safety and effectiveness assurance in digital health.

How a cough analyser will use AI to identify respiratory diseases

Martin Lukac, associate professor from Nazarbayev University (NU) School of Engineering and Digital Sciences, and Alessandra Clementi, assistant professor from NU School of Medicine, explore how cough recordings and AI will be used to diagnose patients in the CoughAnalyzer app. The article posted online at Med-Tech reports on the CoughAnalyzer application, a mobile platform used to capture, store, and share cough recordings and their analysis for medical and experimental use. The CoughAnalyzer records sound from contagious patients without any risk of contamination: the cough recording uses your mobile phone, and the resulting recording is communicated to the doctor wirelessly.

Why it’s important – The application should serve as a medium for facilitating long-distance communication with medical experts. The CoughAnalyzer intends to develop into an international tool for audio cough capture and analysis. The overall architecture is to collect coughs from regionally different locations and provide more general evidence of a specific disease.

Signs of Alzheimer’s in Blood 17 Years Before Symptoms Begin

A newly developed immuno-infrared sensor allowed researchers to discover biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in blood samples 17 years before clinical symptoms appeared. The sensor can detect the misfolding of amyloid beta. Julia Weiler from RUB reported on this research in her article in Neuroscience Online. The researchers analyzed blood plasma from participants in the ESTHER study conducted in Saarland for potential Alzheimer’s biomarkers. The blood samples were taken between 2000 and 2002 and then frozen. The immuno-infrared sensor identified the 68 test subjects who later developed Alzheimer’s disease with a high degree of test accuracy.

Why it’s important – The Bochum researchers hope that an early diagnosis based on the amyloid-beta misfolding could help to apply Alzheimer’s drugs at such an early stage that they have a significantly better effect – for example, the drug Aduhelm, which was recently approved in the USA. Even though the sensor is still in the development phase, the invention has already been patented worldwide. BetaSENSE aims to bring the immuno-infrared sensor to market and have it approved as a diagnostic device to be used in clinical labs.

Pharma giant Eli Lilly experimenting with 3d printing to better deliver drugs

Mansur Shaheen, U.S. Deputy Health Editor for the Daily Mail in the UK, brings us this story on how Pharma giant Eli Lilly is taking a bet on 3D printing technology being the next breakthrough in medicine to treat gastrointestinal and other stomach issues. The Indianapolis, Indiana, company is partnering with Chinese firm Triastek to develop drugs that will specifically target specific parts of the organs to deliver medication to the most efficient areas to deal with an infection. If successful, the pair of companies hope to develop oral medicines that can withstand the acid’s effect on the pill and allow for more control of how it diffuses in the body.

Why it’s important – Researchers hope that the technology will allow them to better deliver drugs by controlling how they dissolve in the body. The enteric coating has long been used in medicine to protect it from being destroyed in the stomach and intestine before it reaches its desired destination. Lilly and Triastek are hoping that they can develop a coating that can slowly release the medicine in a way designed to maximize its efficiency. This is not the only research into distributing drugs more efficiently in a person’s body after ingestion. Researchers at Rice University are hoping to launch soon human trials for their ‘drug factories’ – a small ingestible device that delivers cytokines throughout the body to treat cancers.

Can Digital Technologies Be Used To Support Public Health Programs?

“Medicine still overpowers public health, which never recovered from being ‘relegated to a secondary status: less prestigious than clinical medicine [and] less amply financed.”

Paul Starr, Sociologist
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A functioning, just society cannot sustain itself without public health. But the unfortunate product of a society with modest levels of commitment to the social contract and a jaundiced opinion of massive government budgets is underfunding and mistrust of public health. One might ask what could enhance public health without requiring comparatively huge budgets or much active participation by the public. The answer, as with every corner of modern society, is technology. Not just any technology, however, as the digital health tools available to large medical centers are prohibitively expensive for public health and not necessarily what public health needs to do an effective job. So, what would empower public health agencies and professionals?

Public health’s primary goals focus on protecting and improving the health of communities. Public health technology helps reach these goals with greater efficiency. When applied to public health situations, tech provides public health professionals with advanced tools to obtain accurate, detailed population data in real-time. This data can help them build more effective actionable health strategies covering a range of scenarios, from individual care strategies to coordinating support systems that can address widespread disease outbreaks.

Technology encompasses everything from life-saving devices to data-gathering tools, meaning that the synergy between technology and public health is multifaceted. While the following examples demonstrate this interaction in vastly different ways, they are all united by the goal of improving community health.

Geospatial Technology – Geospatial technology has a range of health care functions. Still, perhaps one of its most interesting might be its ability to provide information that can help improve public health. Geospatial technology collects information about several factors, analyzes the data, and displays the results on a multilayered map. For example, geospatial tech can provide in-depth information on disease penetration within a specific region, health risks by age demographic, care delivery logistics, and other social factors that influence population health. These multilayered maps can inform and educate professionals and the community about an area’s actual state of health care and allow decision-makers to improve the locations they govern.

Twitter Monitoring – Don’t laugh. Twitter has much more to offer than celebrity gossip and enticing food photos. Health care professionals are using the popular microblogging platform to monitor the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and predict disease activity. During flu season, researchers at universities across the country analyze millions of tweets containing the word “flu.” These researchers have found Twitter to be a more accurate monitoring tool for the disease than those used in the past, such as public laboratories and Google searches. According to health experts, the real-time information gleaned from Twitter is also more helpful because it is timelier. By receiving information nearly earlier, researchers can more accurately chart disease activity. Doctors can also access the information to make better treatment decisions during a health epidemic.

Wearable Technology – Wearable fitness bands allow users to track their movements throughout the day easily. Metrics such as total steps taken, heart rate, run or ride pace, or the amount and quality of sleep each night help individuals better identify, track, and achieve their health and fitness goals. For those who regularly use a wearable monitor, this information can be a reference point when communicating with health care providers about general wellness goals or other health markers. Health insurance providers have also taken notice and have built incentive programs to encourage the use of wearables. For example, UnitedHealthcare’s UnitedHealthcare Motion program allows its members to earn money toward out-of-pocket medical expenses by reaching walking goals. This metric can be monitored with a wearable device. Beyond fitness, wearable technologies are advancing to monitor vital statistics such as a user’s heart rate, lung function, blood oxygen level, and blood sugar. They are even being developed to track and alert the onset of degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. A user could have the level of medication in their blood regularly monitored according to a physician’s plan and be reminded to administer their next dose when its level drops below a certain threshold.

I know what you are probably thinking. Wearable devices are pretty expensive. So how can they be used to support public health programs? There are ways to incorporate wearables into public health initiatives that don’t require a significant investment. One of the organizations that I love is called Recycle Health. RecycleHealth is a 501(c)(3) charity based out of Tufts University School of Medicine. They collect and refurbish fitness trackers to provide underserved populations with a method to maintain health and fitness. They’ve collected over 5,000 trackers over the past four years. They come from individuals who have unwanted trackers, as well as from vendors, organizations, and workplace wellness programs. They are sent from all over the world. RecycleHealth prides itself on finding trackers and new homes with people who benefit from their use but would not usually be able to afford or seek to purchase one. They provide trackers to underserved populations, including older adults in lower-income communities, veterans, homeless populations, and programs serving intellectually disabled adults. The work Dr. Lisa Gualtieri and her team are doing is critically important in providing these devices to people who would benefit from them. Organizations interested in donating or receiving devices can visit their website for more information.

This author also participated in a program within the local community where I live to solicit donations of recycled mobile phones, wearable devices, and Amazon Echo devices to support underserved communities during the pandemic, albeit on a smaller scale than Recycle Health. I can tell you from personal experience that they made a massive difference in helping people maintain their health, contact care teams to ask questions and receive treatment advice, and connect with loved ones and community support organizations to reduce loneliness and ensure that they were getting meals delivered.

3D Printing – At first, this might not seem like an appropriate choice for a public health application. 3D printing also became a vital asset in the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Various 3D-printed devices and tools have been created to alleviate supply chain shortages, from swabs used for COVID testing to splitting devices that enable multiple people to use a single ventilator. While this technology might seem cost-prohibitive to some, the costs continue to decrease, and sharing the devices across various settings can even lower implementation costs.

This is another technology where the cost has come down dramatically. And, just as mentioned above, it can be done as a partnership play instead of a direct purchase. Public health organizations are partnering with technical colleges in their area to ensure they have access to 3D printers and can do so at little to no cost.

Telehealth – Cell phones, mobile devices, and PCs are helping connect patients with their practitioners. People too ill to attend a clinic, without adequate transportation, or without spare time can video conference with a trained health care practitioner through apps such as Doctor on Demand and NowClinic. Additionally, the health insurance industry’s significant players offer some form of telehealth in their health coverage options. Data amassed by Pew Research indicates that around 5 billion people worldwide have mobile devices, more than half of which are smartphones. Data from research firm Statista also shows that even people in lower annual income cohorts own and use a smartphone. (See graphic below).

Image Credit: Statista

And, as Recycle Health does with wearable technology, that’s exactly what a Maryland nonprofit organization called Secure the Call does. This organization has a mission to provide the millions of Americans who need phones for emergencies get them coupled with an environmental mandate to keep as many cell phones out of landfills as they can. Secure the Call says that they are the middleman by collecting the phones, processing them, and then getting them into the hands of the organizations that can distribute the phones where they are needed. Secure the Call works with 425 community partners to get the phones to the people who need them the most. Besides domestic abuse victims, the nonprofit also provides phones to seniors.

This demonstrates that telehealth can reach patients that traditional forms of health care do not.

For those interested in exploring the topic of connected communities of care, the best resource by far is this book: Building Connected Communities of Care: The Playbook For Streamlining Effective Coordination Between Medical And Community-Based Organizations by Dr. Keith Kosel, Vice President, and Dr. Steve Miff, President and CEO of Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (PCCI). This book proposes a novel approach to the coordination of medical and social services through the use of people, processes, and technology, with the goal being to streamline coordination between medical and Community-Based Organizations and promote true cross-sector patient and client advocacy. The book is based on the experience of Dallas, TX, which was one of the first metropolitan regions to develop a comprehensive foundation for partnership between a community’s clinical and social sectors using web-based information exchange. In the five years since the initial launch, the authors have been able to provide seamless connection, communication, and coordination between healthcare providers and a wide array of community-based social service organizations (a/k/a Community-Based Organizations or CBOs), criminal justice entities, and various other community organizations, including non-collegiate educational systems. This is, in my opinion, the best resource to understand how to build a program that delivers the best outcomes for the communities you serve.

Geospatial technologies, social media monitoring, wearable tech, 3D printing, and telehealth are just some of the tools that medical professionals are employing to improve patient care and outcomes. While time will tell what other high-tech tools will revolutionize public health in the future, each of these current and evolving public health technologies has the potential to impact a community’s health and well-being profoundly.

The Promise of Brain-Computer Interfaces in Rehabilitation

“As computer intelligence gets better, what will be possible when we interface our brains with computers? It might sound scary, but early evidence suggests otherwise: interfacing brains with machines can be helpful in treating traumatic brain injury, repairing spinal cord damage, and countless other applications.”

Bill Maris, Venture Capitalist & Entrepreneur
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Researchers have been investigating the possibilities of brain-computer interfaces or BCIs for quite a while now. At first, these were thought to be tools on one hand to provide constant monitoring of the brain’s electrical activity; this could support a wide range of applications from monitoring epilepsy or ADHD to pain management and sleep assessment. On the other hand, the concept was thought to be a solution for paralyzed people to move and control things around them with only thoughts. Taking it onto the next level, such an implant could also be used as an external hard drive for the mind.

Enhancing cognitive performance would be able to change the lives of millions suffering from memory loss and neurological or psychological disorders. Restorative processes like stroke rehabilitation would also gain from the technology. Or these can help reduce the cognitive effects of aging. No wonder many studies focus on the possibilities such technology can provide for seniors.

I’ve written on the general topic of brain-computer interfaces earlier. But with the rapid development happening in the rehabilitation segment, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the space to review where it stands and explore the potential of the technology to improve people’s lives. I’ll also provide a list of additional resources to explore for those interested in more detail on the topic at the end of this post.

Numerous publications have explored Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) systems as rehabilitation tools to help subacute and chronic stroke patients recover upper extremity movement. Recent work has shown that BCI therapy can lead to better outcomes than conventional therapy. BCI, combined with other techniques such as Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) and Virtual Reality (VR), allows the user to restore the neurological function by inducing the neural plasticity through improved real-time detection of motor imagery (MI) as patients perform therapy tasks.

In recent years, BCIs have successfully enabled dozens of study participants who lost the use of their limbs after strokes, accidents, or diseases such as multiple sclerosis, to control a mouse cursor, keyboard, mobile device, wheelchair, and even a robotic arm that provides sensory feedback to the patient, simply by using their mind. The technology could be a game changer in helping those with paralysis return to work and communicate more quickly and effectively.

One article in Engadget reported that Johns Hopkins University-led researchers had developed a new technique that let a partially paralyzed man feed himself using robotic arms connected through a brain-machine interface. He only had to make small movements with his fists at specific prompts (such as “select cut location”) to have the fork- and knife-equipped arms cut food and bring it to his mouth. He could have dessert within 90 seconds, according to the researchers.

The new method centers on a shared control system that minimizes the mental input required to complete a task. He could map his four-degree freedom of movement (two for each hand) to as many as 12 degrees of freedom for controlling the robot arms. The limbs’ prompt-based intelligent responses also reduced the workload. While still in the early stages of development, this research demonstrates the potential value of the technology.

In another development, BCI manufacturer Blackrock Neurotech and the University of Pittsburgh are working together to make clinical studies more accessible to a greater population of candidates living with paralysis by using a compact, remote BCI system that can be used at home. Researchers will be able to test a broader range of study participants and collect more safety and efficacy data, an essential step to commercializing the technology. The device looks somewhat like an iPad, with a small box the size of a cell phone attached to a type of medical brace. The device can easily attach to a wheelchair and is lightweight. The software used during research trials has also been modified to be operated with little technical support.

Blackrock Neurotech, late last year, was granted Breakthrough Device designation from the Food and Drug Administration for its “MoveAgain” BCI system, which is similar to devices it plans to use in trials and hopes to be its first commercial BCI platform in 2023.

Companies developing brain-computer interfaces for the rehabilitation sector – In the public sector, initiatives such as the Human Brain Project have sought to accelerate research that can help us learn more about our brains to treat diseases better and improve cognitive functioning. In the private sector, several companies are working to develop effective brain-machine interfaces for a wide range of uses. While creating an exhaustive list of companies operating in this space is beyond the scope of a blog post, here are some of the companies focused on rehabilitation BCI tools and platforms:

Neurolutions is a medical device company developing neuro-rehabilitation solutions that utilize a patient’s brain activity to facilitate motor recovery. Neurolutions is spearheading the development of answers that seek to restore function to patients who are disabled as a result of neurological injury. The Neurolutions IpsiHand system provides upper extremity rehabilitation for chronic stroke patients leveraging brain-computer interface and advanced wearable robotics technology.

Image Credit: Neurolutions

BrainQ is pioneering the development of a novel therapy for neuro recovery to reduce disability following stroke and other neuro disorders. The company’s investigative, non-invasive therapeutic wearable device uses frequency-tuned electromagnetic fields to facilitate neuroplasticity processes within the central nervous system. BrainQ’s technology uses explanatory machine learning algorithms to observe natural spectral characteristics found in different motor tasks and derive unique therapeutic insights that are used to target the recovery of impaired neural networks.

Image Credit: BrainQ

A spinout of Oxford University, founded by a global team of experienced entrepreneurs, technologists, and neuroscientists, ni2o is continuing the work started by MIT’s Mind Machine Project – developing a revolutionary brain-computer interface (BCI) that addresses the most pressing and costly medical needs of a rapidly aging global population, the treatment of neurodegenerative brain diseases and disorders.

Cerebtalk – Offers a brain-computer interface (BCI) that provides a communication tool for individuals with severe motor impairments who have limited voluntary movements, e.g., people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinal cord injury, stroke, cerebral palsy, and non-verbal autism.

Synchron is developing an implantable device called the Stentrode that aims to provide a safe way for paralyzed patients to achieve direct brain control of mobility-assistive devices. The system involves a small and flexible device that can pass through cerebral blood vessels, allowing it to implant in the brain and interpret electrical data emitted by neurons. The company is currently preparing for early-stage clinical trials to evaluate the safety and feasibility of the device to enable patient-directed brain control.

YouTube Video Credit: Synchron, Inc.

MindMaze – Founded in 2012 as a spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), this Swiss startup has taken in $108 million to launch devices that use virtual reality, brain imaging, and gaming technologies to retrain the brain how to work again for those suffering from brain injuries like stroke victims. MindMotionPRO can trick the patient’s brain into believing that immobilized regions of their body are still working, thereby spurring the recovery. The platform uses brain data, movement data, and muscle data to produce interactions in VR with “zero latency.” MindMotionPRO devices have achieved the European equivalent of FDA approval (CE Marked) and are actively used in several top university hospitals across Europe. Mindmaze is now working on getting FDA approval so that the device can be put to use in U.S. hospitals as well.

Image Credit: TechCrunch

BrainGate™ is a transformative neurotechnology owned and operated by Tufts University that uses microelectrodes implanted in the brain to let humans operate external devices such as computers or robotic arms with just their thought. Through years of advanced research, BrainGate™ is at the forefront of enabling severely motor-impaired individuals with the ability to communicate, interact, and function through thought. BrainGate™ is the only technology with an FDA-approved investigational device exemption to conduct human trials of brain-computer interface (BCI) technologies.

Image Credit: BrainGate

The future of BCI in rehabilitation – There are roughly 5.4 million people in the U.S. living with some form of paralysis, making BCIs a distant reality for all but a select few. The BCI field is reaching an inflection point as commercial interests advance research-only technology. Now, with BCI companies hoping to expand the market for the technology, a new wave of users is expected to feel the complex bundle of emotions — fear, uncertainty, joy, excitement, relief, and sadness — experienced by the field’s pioneers. Rehabilitative BCIs have a great potential to help people. The known benefits of the BCIs currently being developed for those with spinal cord injuries, strokes, and other neurological conditions far outweigh the possible issues that may arise.

Additional reading – If you are interested in exploring this topic in more detail, here are some additional resources you might find interesting:

  • The brain-reading devices helping paralyzed people to move, talk and touch – great long-form article by Liam Drew published in Nature on April 20, 2022
  • Will We All Have To Become Biologically Enhanced Superhumans?from Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute. Broader than just a discussion on BCI in rehabilitation, but worth a read.
  • Plugged In: The Past, Present, and Future of Brain-Computer Interfaces by Audrey Case – Think of this book as “the layperson’s guide to brain-computer interfaces. Audrey discovered that finding material to explain BCIs to those who didn’t work with them intimately was nearly impossible. So she created a resource for non-experts to learn about the technology so they could form their own opinions instead of just believing the hype. She uses her background in bio-engineering to weave the story of how the technology came to be and all the sometimes surprising turns it took to get to where it is today. And, at 99 cents for the Kindle version, this one is a huge bargain.
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces Are Coming. Will We Be Ready?From the Rand Corporation – RAND researchers developed a path for determining where BCI technology stands now and where it could potentially go. They used a comprehensive method that could be applied to other emerging technologies.
  • What Brain-Computer Interfaces Could Mean for the Future of WorkHarvard Business Review article by Alexandre Gonfalonieri – Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are slowly moving into the mass market. In the next few years, we might be able to control our PowerPoint presentations or Excel files using only our brains. And companies may want to use BCI technology to monitor the attention levels and mental states of their employees. There are numerous ethical questions and concerns surrounding using BCI technology in the workplace. The technology is well ahead of the policies and regulations that would need to be put in place. But, it’s time for business leaders to start building a BCI strategy as soon as possible to address the potential risks and benefits.

Health Tech News This Week – July 16, 2022

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

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This new neural sleeve helps people overcome mobility challenges

Greg Nichols, a contributor on ZD Net, posted this article on a new mobility sleeve under development and out of stealth promises a compelling solution for those suffering various mobility issues. The device is a wearable for people with mobility issues that doesn’t just monitor leg movements but helps activate the person’s muscles. The resulting sensor array successfully combines electromyography (EMG) and functional electrical stimulation (FES). LISiN also helped develop a comprehensive risk assessment strategy to ensure that the product was effective and safe, a critical step in bringing the product to market.

Image Credit: Cioinc, Inc.

Why it’s important – Combining two critical signal technologies to monitor and stimulate the neuromuscular system, the sleeve represents the cutting edge of lightweight next-gen mobility devices.

Infographics of the week – Updated for 2022, this graphic from Dr> Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute shows their top 50 emerging technologies in digital health arranged using the Garter Hype Cycle concept. I always find these interesting.

Image Credit: The Medical Futurist Institute

The second infographic this week comes from a LinkedIn post by Dr. Tazeen H. Rizvi, where he discusses why technology implementation in health care takes so long and why so many companies underestimate how long the sales cycle may be when bringing products to market. I like this framework.

Image Credit: Tazeen H. Rizvi, M.D., LinkedIn post, July 14, 2022

This wearable device can read your brain

CNN Health posted this video featuring inventor Mary Lou Jepsen talking about the future of medical brain imaging. Her company Open Water is in the development of a wearable diagnostic headset capable of measuring features related to cerebral blood flow. Our technology is non-invasive, low-cost, and portable and may allow for broader applications, including point-of-care. Hospital studies are underway for potential future use as a stroke detector on humans in ambulances and urgent care facilities.

YouTube Video Credit: TED

Why it’s important – Endovascular treatment within 2 hours of Large Vessel Occlusion (LVO) stroke onset has yielded a 90% chance of a good outcome. Meta-analysis of endovascular therapy clinical trials has found that >55% of LVO stroke patients suffered poor outcomes of death or severe disability. This highlights that even with the best treatment, without faster stroke routing, we cannot improve outcomes in stroke care. The company’s vision is to equip EMS with better neural diagnostics that could detect stroke sooner to more quickly route patients for definitive endovascular intervention to save lives and prevent disability.

Drones Set to Deliver Medical Products in Washington State in 2024

Zipline, which flies drones in five countries, has a new deal with health care provider MultiCare. Stephen Shankland reported on this news in CNET. Startup drone maker Zipline and health care provider MultiCare said the service would whisk lab samples, medicines, and test kits among Multicare’s local facilities, the companies exclusively told CNET. MultiCare expects the partnership will mean its health care providers, with their on-demand delivery system, will be able to improve the care patients get.

Why it’s important – The Tacoma project marks the latest use of drones to speed up deliveries, which can be slowed by increasingly congested roads. The World Economic Forum expects delivery truck usage will increase 78% by 2030 without alternative shipping approaches, adding 11 minutes to average commute times. The Tacoma project still requires regulatory approval for details of the flight operations, including whether Zipline drones will fly autonomously, as they do in the company’s other operations. In June, Zipline cleared one US regulatory hurdle, winning a Federal Aviation Administration certification that permits flights up to 26 miles.

Mass General Brigham outlines plans to expand hospital-at-home care

Mass General Brigham has plans to expand its home-based care offerings and snagged a field veteran to lead the charge. Fierce Healthcare’s Dave Muoio has the story. The Massachusetts-based system aims to grow its hospital-at-home programs from 25 patients to 200 in the next 2.5 years, according to reported numbers a spokesperson confirmed for Fierce Healthcare. MGB is looking to grow its home care support team from about 800 employees to more than 1,000 by the end of this year. It has already expanded its fleet of remote care delivery support vehicles from two to 10 and could begin tapping outside vendors for additional medical equipment deliveries, per the spokesperson. Guiding the ramp-up strategy will be Heather O’Sullivan, who, according to a Monday announcement, has been named MGB’s first-ever president of home-based care.

“Home care was founded upon the belief that people recover better at home, where they can be surrounded by family and friends in a comfortable and familiar setting.”

Gregg Meyer, M.D., President of MGB’s Community Division, Executive Vice President of value-based care

Why it’s important – I’ve covered the hospital-at-home concept in detail in an earlier post. MGHB’s latest initiative adds to the number of health systems accelerating the movement to making H@H a standard part of care delivery and aggressively shifting the System of CARE (as defined by my former colleagues at Sg2) impact into the home, which is good news for patients, families, and caregivers alike.

New AI That Predicts Heart Attacks Could Save Patients From Cardiac Death For 10 Years

AI-powered heart attack prediction is soon to come and could save a million lives. Joaquin Victor Tacla reports on this technology in his article in Tech Times online. The artificial intelligence and bioengineering technique, created by American researcher Professor Natalia Trayanova from Johns Hopkins University, may save the lives of more than four million Australians who suffer from cardiovascular disease (CVD). The AI developed by Trayanova’s lab aims to close the significant prognostic gaps in SCD. Her team built the system using patient records from 156 persons with cardiac issues over ten years who volunteered to disclose their health information. To estimate a patient’s risk of sudden cardiac death over ten years, Professor Trayanova explained that the AI technology combines algorithms generated from MRI and PET scans in conjunction with deep learning of clinical data.

Why it’s important – The leading cause of death worldwide continues to be heart disease. Up to 20% of fatalities can be attributed to sudden cardiac death (SCD) alone. SCD is an electrical problem that prevents the heart from beating normally rather than a heart attack, which occurs when arteries are clogged. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the country’s economy loses almost $12 billion annually (according to 2018-2019 data) from CVD costs. This new AI tool may be essential to easing the strain on Australia’s healthcare system. In contrast, Americans suffer 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes yearly—a burden contributing to the more than $320 billion in annual healthcare costs and lost productivity caused by cardiovascular disease. So, the potential benefits of this technology could be considerable. receives FDA clearance for smartphone-based home kidney test

Smartphone urinalysis and wound-care company received FDA 510(k) clearance for home use of its Minuteful kidney-damage test. Emily Olsen reported on the story in her article in MobiHealthNews. The test is used to determine the increased presence of a protein called albumin in the urine, which can be an early sign of chronic kidney disease. The kit includes a testing strip, a sample cup, and a color board. Patients dip the test strip into their urine sample and take a photo of their strip alongside the board using the company’s app to determine their albumin to creatinine ratio (ACR). This marks the urinalysis and wound-care company’s third 510(k) clearance.

Image Credit: Healthyio

Why it’s importantAccording to the CDC, 15% of U.S. adults have chronic kidney disease, but many people are unaware they have it. Early-stage kidney disease usually has no symptoms, and many patients aren’t diagnosed until the condition is more advanced. About two in a thousand Americans have end-stage kidney disease, which requires a kidney transplant or dialysis, according to the NIH. This clearance is another example of the growing number of tests that can be performed at home.

FDA clears way for an AI stethoscope to detect heart disease

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the first artificial intelligence algorithm powering a digital stethoscope for doctors to detect valvular heart disease more accurately. Katyanna Quach reports on the clearance in her article in The Register. Eko, a digital health startup based in Oakland, California, has developed software to analyze a patient’s pulse and help health care professionals detect heart murmurs. Its Eko Murmur Analysis Software (EMAS) is the first of its kind to receive FDA approval. EMAS analyzes heartbeat data collected by doctors using Eko’s smart stethoscopes. EMAS characterizes the heart murmurs to detect and better understand what type of valvular heart disease a patient might have in seconds, according to the company.

Why it’s important – Around 2.5 percent of the US population has valvular heart disease, and tens of thousands die each year from complications like heart failure or cardiac arrest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eko claims its EMAS tool has an overall sensitivity and specificity – measures of how accurately it can identify the disease – of 85.6 percent and 84.4 percent, respectively. For comparison, similar tests performed with general practitioners using traditional stethoscopes to detect valvular heart disease reportedly had a sensitivity and specificity of 44 percent and 69 percent, respectively.

Health Tech News This Week – July 9, 2022

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

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Could You Inhale a Future COVID Vaccine?

Tracy Peake from NC State posted this article on Futurity this past week. A new inhalable COVID-19 vaccine is shelf-stable at room temperature for up to three months, targets the lungs specifically and effectively, and allows for self-administration via an inhaler, researchers report. The researchers also found that the delivery mechanism for this vaccine—a lung-derived exosome called LSC-Exo—is more effective at evading the lung’s mucosal lining than the lipid-based nanoparticles currently in use and can be used effectively with protein-based vaccines.

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Why it’s important – The researchers note that while the work is promising, there are still challenges associated with large-scale production and purification of the exosomes. LSCs, the cell type used for generating RBD-Exo, are currently in a Phase I clinical trial by the same researchers for treating patients with degenerative lung diseases. An inhalable vaccine will confer both mucosal and systemic immunity, and it’s more convenient to store and distribute and could be self-administered on a large scale. So while there are still challenges associated with scaling up production, researchers believe this is a promising vaccine worthy of further research and development.

Infographics of the week – Two infographics this week from an excellent report by GWI titled “The Consumer Dilemma: Health and Wellness. A report on the latest health and wellness trends in the US. The first highlights what consumers are cost-sensitive about, and the second is a great graphic showing, by age cohort, which apps or tools consumers are using to track their overall health. Some excellent data in this report. You can find the full report here:

Image Credit: GWI: The consumer dilemma: health and wellness
A report on the latest health and wellness trends in the US. Accessed 7/5/2022
Image Credit: GWI: The consumer dilemma: health and wellness
A report on the latest health and wellness trends in the US. Accessed 7/5/2022

Self-Powered Implant Tracks Spinal Fusion Healing

Conn Hastings brings us this article in Medgadget, where he reports that engineers at the University of Pittsburgh created a self-powered implant that can track spinal healing while also providing mechanical support. The device can be 3D printed to fit a given patient perfectly, and the mechanical properties can also be easily tuned to customize for each situation. The spinal fusion cage contains a triboelectric nanogenerator that creates electricity when the spine pressurizes it. This powers an onboard sensor that measures the pressure on the cage, which indicates spinal healing.

Why it’s important – Spinal fusion cages are often inserted by surgeons to provide support after fusion surgeries. However, these tend to be off-the-shelf solutions that are not particularly tailored for individual patients. This latest technological innovation aims to improve on that by not just making the design more customizable but also by introducing a self-powered sensor that provides information on spinal healing. So far, the researchers have tested the device in human cadavers and hope to progress to animal studies soon. The data reporting technology also has potential in other implantable devices, such as stents and joint replacements.

New platform will speed-develop drugs to combat future COVID-19 variants

A new drug platform for speedily generating anti-viral drugs that target proteins common to all viruses has been developed by a startup named ViroBlock, established by Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) researchers. The research was reported in The Jerusalem Post by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich. ViroBlock has developed a new drug platform for speedily generating anti-viral drugs that target proteins common to all viruses.

Why it’s important – According to a new study by pharma research company Evotec, ViroBlock’s unique technology platform proved its potential to provide solutions for treating existing and emerging viral threats rapidly. The next phase of clinical trials will test the efficacy of this anti-viral approach for humans. The company also has drugs in the pipeline produced by the platform currently being tested that could be effective against other viruses.

Smart Jumpsuit Tracks Motor Development in Children

Conn Hastings is back with an article in Medgadget where he reports that researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland created a smart jumpsuit that can track toddler movements. The idea is to monitor motor development closely and identify any issues early, allowing for earlier interventions. Issues with motor development can be related to broader neurodevelopmental problems, so tracking a young child’s activity can provide a window into their overall development. The suit contains a series of motion sensors. The researchers trained a machine-learning algorithm to identify specific movements children made while wearing the suit, which required some innovation.

YouTube Video Credit: University of Helsinki

Why it’s important – Previously, this required someone to sit and watch the child, or footage of them, making it challenging to track kids for long periods of time. The advantages of the suit include its ability to monitor children objectively over long periods of time and in their natural surroundings, such as at home. The research shows that it is possible to assess an infant’s motor development outside of a hospital or special laboratory setting.

Why you may have a thinking digital twin within a decade

Technology analyst Rob Enderle believes that we will have the first versions of thinking human digital twins “before the decade’s end.” His quote was in an article on the BBC website by Jane Wakefield. In health care, the report outlined the work being done at Dassault Systemes’ who’s Living Heart project has created an accurate virtual model of a human heart that can be tested and analyzed, allowing surgeons to play out a series of “what if” scenarios for the organ, using various procedures and medical devices. The project was founded by Dr. Steve Levine, who had personal reasons for wanting to create a digital twin. His daughter was born with congenital heart disease, and a few years back, when she was in her late 20s and at high risk of heart failure, he decided to recreate her heart in virtual reality.
Boston Children’s Hospital is now using this technology to map out actual patient heart conditions. At Great Ormond Street hospital in London, a team of engineers is working with clinicians to test devices that may help children with rare and difficult-to-treat heart conditions.

Why it’s important – Experimenting on a digital heart also has the knock-on effect of cutting down on the need to test on animals – one of the more controversial aspects of scientific research. The firm now plans more digital organ twins, including the eye and brain. At some point in the not too distant future, we will all have a digital twin that will allow our care teams to personalize treatments to a level we have not seen. The computer processing and data analysis challenges are not insignificant. Still, huge strides are being made in computing power, speed, and precision that will help usher in this new era of medicine.

The first CRISPR gene-editing drug, designed to treat blood disorders, could be on the market by 2023.

Sy Mukherjee in Fast Company reports on a $900 million collaboration between rare disease specialist Vertex, and CRISPR Therapeutics developed the therapy, dubbed exa-cel (short for exagamglogene autotemcel). It has already amassed promising evidence that it can help patients with beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease (SCD), both of which are genetic blood diseases that are relatively rare in the U.S. but somewhat more common inherited conditions globally. Exa-cel reportedly slashed the need for blood transfusions or incidence of severe, life-threatening medical events for months to years after patients received the treatment. New and impressive clinical trial results were announced at a major international medical conference in June. They bolstered the companies’ prospect of producing the first gene-editing therapy of its kind to reach the broader market and patients. All but 2 of the 44 patients with thalassemia hadn’t needed a single blood transfusion in the 1 to 37 months of follow-up after the treatment’s administration. The remaining two had a 75% and 89% reduction in how much blood they needed to be transfused.

“The targets we’re finding with CRISPR . . . are going to guide the drugs coming out in the 2020s.”

Jon Moore, Chief Scientific Officer, Horizon Discovery

Why it’s important – Beta thalassemia is characterized by damaged or missing genes that cause the body to produce less hemoglobin (an essential protein that transports oxygen), potentially leading to enlargement of the liver, spleen, or heart and malformed or brittle bones. It is estimated to afflict 1 in 100,000 people worldwide, and regular blood transfusions are necessary to stave off its most serious effects. While the exact statistics are unknown, SCD is estimated to affect 100,000 people in the U.S. and millions around the world; it is attributed to a defective gene that causes malformed hemoglobin that is stiff, sticky, and sickle-shaped (hence the name) and can thus block healthy blood cells from transporting oxygen around the body.

FUTURE OF MEDICINE Magnetic bandages with stem cells to be used to repair worn joints and mend broken bones

Nick McDermott in The Sun (UK) reports on this research being conducted at Birmingham University. Combining the dressings with an injection of stem cells helps cartilage and bone to regrow, researchers found. The technique sees tiny magnetic particles attached to stem cells — which can turn into bone and cartilage. They are injected before being guided to the damaged areas and activated by the magnetic bandage. In tests on sheep, the treatment sped up bone repair. Human trials are planned. The breakthrough is being presented at the Royal Society summer science exhibition.

Image Credit: The Center Orthopedic & Neurosurgical Care & Research, Portland, Oregon

Why it’s important – The method by which patients recover at home could spell the end of hip and knee replacement operations. The NHS does about 100,000 of each yearly and spends £ 2 billion on treating 850,000 broken bones. (Almost one million hip and knee replacement surgeries are performed in the United States annually, making it one of the most common orthopedic procedures performed today. By 2030, total knee replacement surgeries are projected to grow 673% to 3.5 million procedures per year.) The method worked better than existing treatments and would be “quicker, cheaper and much less painful.”

Henry Ford Health lauds results of completely virtual heart failure study

Health Leaders reporter Eric Wicklund reports that researchers at Henry Ford Health are celebrating the results of a multi-institutional heart failure study conducted entirely on a virtual care platform, saying it could be the model for future clinical studies. Some 476 patients were enrolled in the study through 18 participating health systems between March 2020 and February 2021 – during the height of the pandemic, when every effort was being made to reduce in-person treatments. Researchers connected with study participants through a mHealth app and online portal, where they communicated with patients and collected data from surveys and Fitbit devices. Medications used in the study were mailed to the participant’s home.

“What this study demonstrated is that you can execute a virtual clinical trial with greater efficiency than a traditional, in-person trial.”

David Lanfear, MD, Advanced Heart Failure Specialist, Henry Ford Health

Why it’s important – I’ve written about the use of exponential technologies in virtual clinical trials previously. There are many benefits to virtualizing clinical trials. The costs of conducting clinical trials have risen substantially over time, leading to calls for novel study designs to generate the evidence needed to guide care. Virtual clinical trials could also set the bar for clinical studies by eliminating geographical barriers to patient recruitment, allowing healthcare organizations to find the right participants no matter where they live. And the platform will enable researchers to understand better how patients are affected at home and in their daily lives and routines while gathering biometric and other data in real-time.

Health Tech News This Week – July 2, 2022

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

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Virtual Platforms For Surgery Are Gaining Traction

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: National Academy of Medicine

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

Image Credit: Rock Health

Changing the field of stroke rehabilitation

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

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

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

Operational Health Tech: A New Billion Dollar Market

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Loop, Accessed 6/25/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Dissolvable Implant Could Revolutionize Pain Management

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

YouTube Video Credit: Northwestern University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prianka Jain and Laine Bruzek, Fortune Magazine article June 10, 2022
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In almost every aspect of the world, male bodies have always been the default–from office air conditioning to crash test dummies. But nowhere is that default more dangerous than in medical research. Women are diagnosed significantly later than men on average across over 700 diseases, sometimes waiting up to 10 years for the proper diagnosis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: CB Insights

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