Top healthcare innovations for consumers

End of the year is the time to contemplate on significant achievements of the past. Cleveland Clinic is releasing the list of top medical innovations 2015 naming telestroke units as number one achievement; ReferralMD are coming with their view on 10 Biggest Innovations in Health Care Technology in 2015 which includes blood nanobotos and almost fantastic Head Transplants and Mind Transfer project, the computerized scanned copies of our brain.

But what are the most important technologies that will help people to better manage their health? From this perspective, here are my top favorites: a) wearables for continuous monitoring of life-threatening conditions (such as cardio failure or stroke); b) nano/bio sensors for predictive and non-invasive diagnostics; c) technologies for personalized medications that will be helpful and not harmful. Please share your views.

  1. Wearables for continuous health monitoring.

Personal wearables allowed people to actively participate in clinical decisions by getting a better insight into their health. Multilayered sensors can scan your body measuring vital parameters such as temperature, perspiration, electrical conductivity of the skin, electric field distribution around the body that, if properly interpreted, can indicate early deviations from individual homeostasis.

Let us take cardio failure. According to Heart.org cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year, a number that is expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030. Instead of checking ECG sporadically during doctor’s visits, people will be able to constantly monitor their heart activity alerting, if needed, a cardiologist of a potential threat.

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Wearable garments such as Niturit, a seemingly ordinary T-shirt developed by the University of Aveiro in Portugal and the Israeli “Moked Enosh” center, was chosen by the European Space Agency to check cardio conditions of  astronauts. With the help of embedded electrodes this T-shirt can record heart activity transmitting it via a smart phone over a number of hours up to four consecutive days directly from a patient to a cardiologist. The examination captures irregularities in heart rate and other disorders that may point to sudden arterial blockages. The T-shirt is being offered as part of examinations by the Moked Enosh center at the cost of $ 117.

QardioCore is another example. This three-channel EKG/ECG monitor can continuously record your electrocardiogram, heart rate variability, body temperature, respiratory rate and galvanic skin response. Bluetooth enabled and connected to the Cloud-based system via a mobile, this device allows doctors to get a real time picture of your heart health without the hassle of gels and patches. HealthWatch is one more variation of a smart T-shirt that has increased its capacities up to 15-lead ECG-sensing. This smart garment can read heart rate, blood pressure, detect cardiac irregularities and other vital signs to prevent sudden heart attacks. Maybe one day smart garments transformed by Ralph Lauren, Diesel and Guess into a truly desirable dresses will become part of our wardrobe?

Arterial hypertension is another area that technology should be addressing urgently. More than a billion people are measuring their blood pressure (BP) daily in order to avoid the possible consequences of hypertension. Elegant wrist bands and watches are attempted to substitute standard clumsy BP devices. But accuracy is still a problem: the arteries at the wrist are narrower and lie not so deep, so to obtain an accurate measurement from wrist bands and watches is more difficult. Wrist devices are also sensitive to muscle contractions that can uncontrollably increase or decrease the pressure readings displayed by the device.

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Nevertheless, the researchers are not giving up.  Scientists from the University of Leicester came with the idea to measure BP directly in the aorta, a so called ‘central aortic systolic pressure’ or CASP. To monitor the aorta BP can be especially important since it is close to the heart, precisely the area where the high blood pressure can cause most damages. Normally, the aorta BP was measured through surgical procedures, since it is hard to reach its location. The scientists from the University of Leicester together with the Singapore-based medical device company HealthSTATS International took an innovative approach. Their sensors are recording the pulse wave. By establishing through multiple tests the correlations between the pulse wave and CASP, they have developed a computerized mathematical algorithms that recalculate pulse wave data into CASP with a 99% correlation.

STBL Medical Research AG (STBL), a Swiss company, and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) came with another version of a comfortable wrist watch device. The sensors embedded into the device simultaneously record contact pressure, pulse and blood flow on the skin surface near the wrist. Since the pressure of the device on the skin is constantly changing, with the characteristic period that is typically less than the reaction time of the device, the accuracy of the measurements was initially rather low. To overcome this issue the EMPA engineers developed a sensor made from piezo-resistive fibers. The electrically conductive fibre detects any movement and change in pressure and rapidly converts such changes into electrical signals transmitting data to the measuring device, thus eliminating the noise from a desired signal. If these devices finally reach consumers they can probably save millions from detrimental consequences of hypertension.

  1. Sensors for preventive care

According to a panel of the independent Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the US National Academy of Sciences, nearly 600,000 people — 1,600 a day — suffer from sudden heart stoppages every year, about 400,000 of them outside hospitals.

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New wave of nanosensors such as tiny blood stream chips designed by Scripps Health (San Diego) can assist in early detection and ultimate prevention of a cardio arrest. In the precursor period before a heart attack the endothelial cells that line the interior surface of blood and lymphatic vessels, are sloughed off an artery producing a specific genomic signal. By picking up this signals, sensors may spot predecessor of a heart attack and alert cardiologists via a smart phone.

HealthPatchMD is a reusable biosensor embedded in a disposable patch. With ECG electrodes, 3-axis MEMS accelerometer and thermistor for skin temperature detection, this device is tracking a single-lead ECG, heart rate, breathing, temperature, steps, and even body position in case of a fall. The data picked up by a biosensor are transmitted via Bluetooth to any mobile device in the real time. The product has received FDA clearance for sale in the US, regulatory approval (CE Mark) for distribution in EU, got Ninsho certification in Japan and is registered for distribution in Canada.

Neurological disorders is another area where sensors can provide rapid and non-invasive diagnostics. EIMindA , an innovative start up from Israel has attracted investors with their elegant helmet containing dozens of electrodes that measure electronic activity of the brain at different points through the skull. Each sensor is recording the activity associated with a specific brain function – thought, memory, activity, etc. detecting and eliminating the “noise”, produced other electrical activities of the brain. The technology will allow physicians to monitor and manage patient’s brain functioning throughout the course of life and diagnose brain injuries such as concussion or potential threat of Parkinson or Alzheimer

3.“Breathtaking” non-invasive diagnostics

Breathanalyzers, formerly used merely for alcohol and drug tests, in future will allow detecting various pathologies reporting data directly to laboratories. Coated with tiny nanowires, these sensors can “sniff” miniscule amounts of chemical compounds exhaled with the breath and identify biomarkers contained in those components. This will help physicians to recognize a vast spectrum of metabolic dysfunction such as diabetes, lung or gastro cancer.

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Ronnie Priefer, Ph.D., a Professor of Medical Chemistry at WNE in Springfield, Massachusetts has developed a non-invasive wearable glucose monitoring device that reports data to physicians and clinical laboratories in the real time. The scientists used nanometer-thick films consisting of two polymers that react with acetone, the organic compound that indicates diabetes and is exhaled with the breath. By interacting with polymers, the acetone alters the chemical nature of the film. The film discloses the detected amount of acetone, which points on the level of glucose in the blood. Given that 10% of the world’s adult population according to WHO are suffering from diabetes, the demand for non-invasive breath analyzers predicted to be huge.

Gastroenterological disorders is another area where breath sensors can be highly required. The initial stage of the gastric or esophagus cancer are often hard to detect as there are typically no distinct symptoms. A patient suspected with gastrointestinal cancer has to go through endoscopy, followed by biopsy of suspicious tissue.  Breathanayzers can detect complex forms of cancer on an early stage without subjecting patients to complex and risky clinical tests. According to the British Journal of Surgery report, the breath test could identify the cancer patients (some of whom had colon cancer) at 76%. And earlier this year, an Israeli study of 74 patients proved that a breath test could correctly tell malignant lung tumors from benign ones in 90% of the time.

Commercial versions of breathanalyzers are already entering the market.  Na nose, created in Technion – the Israel Institute of Technology by the team of researchers under Prof. Hossam Haick can analyze more than 1,000 different gases contained in the breath that may indicate various illnesses. For example, by analyzing the concentrations of eight specific substances (out of 130) in the oral cavity, the technology allowed the researchers to distinguish between patients with gastric cancer and healthy individuals with 92% accuracy.

4.Personalized medication trackers

Medication adherence is a nightmare both for patients and clinicians. Almost 50% of patients are not taking their medications as prescribed by their doctors. According to the Mayo clinic proceedings  the poor adherence to medication incur costs of approximately $100 billion per year”. But the costs of medication damages are even more. According to American Society of Consultant Pharmacies (ASCF), medication-related problems cost $177.4 billion a year. The majority of clinical tests are based on the statistical principle “should work at average”. But each person has a specific metabolic system and hence different reaction on medications depending on multiple factors such as age, gender and life style. The results of clinical tests do not answer the main question: should such medication work for you.

Pharmagenomics promises that medication treatments can finally be tailored to individuals. By taking a sample of your tissues and deciphering your genome, doctors will be able to prescribe medication and dosage precisely for you achieving a successful treatment, while avoiding harmful side effects.

Although the research is still on the initial stage, commercial companies are already entering “direct-to-consumer” genetic tests market. Navigenics (acquired by Life Technologies) is testing 12 drugs including response to beta blockers, while HealthspecPGT is promising its customers 250 medications test including antidepressants, pain killers, hypertension drugs, statins and warfarin.

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The predictions hold that by 2020 the amount of genomic data will exceed that of YouTube, with genomic computations exceeding 5 million computer days per year. To analyze, store and distribute genomic data without powerful IT tools and special analytical platforms will be inconceivable. This novel IT technology will create new opportunities not only for professional ICT companies, but also for some healthcare organizations with large ICT departments. Thus Partners Healthcare is coming up with GeneInsight, a sophisticated computer program able to crash mountains of patient’s data to identify the genetic factors contributing to heart conditions. The company is now promoting the SW to other hospitals on a royalty bases.

Genelex, a Seattle based company, is offering YouScript, a medication analytics tool used by doctors to guide genetic testing and improve drug treatments. This decision support system has already helped hospitals to decrease emergency visits in elderly patients by 71%, and hospitalizations by 39%.

Identification of people with similar genomic structure is a global task involving pharma experts, bioinformatics, and physicians all over the world. Cloud computing  will be extensively used to store and distribute patient’s genomic data by multiple stakeholders. But sensitivity of such a data will require an enhanced security. Not every hospital or lab will have the capacity to invest heavily into the trusted cloud infrastructure. The solutions  addressing security issues are coming to the market. Microsoft is bringing SEAL, Simple Encrypted Arithmetic Library, a free tool for biomedical data processing and encryption. The encryption is based on homomorphic method that encodes data in such a way that they could be stored in the untrusted Cloud environment, while still being protected. Healthcare organizations will be able to outsource patient’s biosamples to, e.g., specialized bioinformatics companies for genomic analysis and continue working on the data on their premises without compromising the security.

Maybe in the future consumers will be receiving medical prescriptions based on their DNA and RNA variations directly via their mobile applications?

What are your top favorite innovations that will help consumers to support their health?

 

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