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Posts tagged ‘Medicine’

The brand new Webicina.com: Curating social media for patients and physicians

In 2008, I was a fifth year medical student and had a simple idea. I thought curated social media resources should be available to patients and physicians for free. My sister helped me launch a company and development of Webicina started right away. For six years, I treated it like a startup but eventually realized, making it free from advertisements and promotional content is the only way to make it purely educational.

In the last two years, I sat down with the best designers, developers and content strategists to redesign Webicina. I’m happy to announce that we’ve used your suggestions to transform Webicina into a constant feed of the best medical news and advice online, hand-picked by our experts.

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We now help you solve all 3 of the major problems patients and physicians face when looking for answers to their health questions or browse medical news:

1) There’s too much information out there. People from cancer patients, patient influencers to leading researchers have told us that managing dozens of blogs, newsletters and social media grows old – fast. Webicina collects the latest news from the best, most reliable sources into one, easily manageable magazine. Start browsing your news feed! >>

2) It’s hard to tell facts from falsehoods. Google and other search engines can only gauge a site’s importance based on popularity – and have no way to decide about it’s medical factuality. It’s easy to mistake biased information or plain falsehoods for facts, and this can lead to severe consequences for your health or patients. That’s why our experts sift through thousands of news sites, blogs, podcasts and social media accounts, separating the ones with reliable information from the ones peddling false advice. Select the conditions or medical fields you’re interested in! >>

3) Saving or sharing useful medical information isn’t easy. Each of us want to stay healthy and live better. We all have communities, loved ones or patients we’d like to help do the same. But over time, this can get hectic, and it’s easy to lose important information among dozens of notes and bookmarks. Any information you find on Webicina can be saved, organized and shared with anyone with a click. Start by saving a useful blog post, news articles or tweet that made you think! >>

 

I cannot wait to hear what you think! You’d help greatly by telling me what you love and what we need to improve.

There Will Be No “Mars Generation” Without These Technologies

NASA is set to send astronauts to orbit Mars and return them safely by the mid 2030s. And a manned landing on the Red Planet will soon follow. However, this work will be in vain if health technology does not advance.

My parents were members of the Apollo generation. The amazing accomplishment of putting men on the Moon defined their era, stretching the boundaries of what humanity can achieve. But after the last Moon landing, no more exciting breakthroughs emerged. Global attention to space declined. Until now.

Visionaries like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are making spaceflight exciting again – turning our children into the Mars generation. Indeed, NASA is set to send astronauts to orbit Mars and return them safely by the mid 2030s. And a manned landing on the Red Planet will soon follow. However, this work will be in vain if health technology does not advance.

THE HAZARDS OF GETTING MAN TO MARS

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Image credit: NASA

The trip to Mars takes around seven months, which is a only a little longer than the time astronauts spend on the International Space Station; however, counting their mission, orbit around Mars, landing, and return, the journey will take years.

Spaceflight has a serious effect on astronauts. Variations in temperature and radiation levels, motion sickness, losing bone and muscle mass despite doing exercises, disruption of vision and taste…all of these cause health issues, not to mention the psychological consequences of space travel.

Unfortunately, today, our health can only be effectively monitored by sensors that, at the present time, fill a room. Treating an injury such as a broken bone—a simple matter on Earth—requires medical manufacturing capabilities, capabilities that we don’t have on the Red Planet.

The technologies we need to solve the aforementioned issues exist, but they are in their infancy. Telemedicine is inaccurate and unregulated; genome sequencing is used in the rarest of cases and only by top medical institutions; 3D printing in medicine is the playground of citizen scientists, but has yet to advance into a viable and effective method of treatment.

The sad fact is, we don’t stand a chance of getting to Mars without a booming digital health industry. With that in mind, here are the top inventions and technologies we need if we ever hope to make a new home for humanity on Mars.

3D PRINTERS THAT CAN CREATE EVERYTHING AVAILABLE IN A DOCTOR’S OFFICE

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Printing with a 3D printer at Makers Party: Via WikiMedia

As astronauts will be alone and cannot bring all the supplies for a lengthy stay on the Red Planet, they will need printers that can print out medical equipment, prosthetics, and drugs on demand. Bringing the ingredients for these, and printing out what is needed on site, makes more sense than bringing a few types of equipment and drugs which could only help under limited circumstances.

Astronauts could establish manufacturing by designing printers that can print out other printers. The whole idea of 3D printing is going to be essential to them. It has been shown that customized prosthetics can be printed out, some forms of medical equipment, and even drug used in epilepsy. The basic examples are here already or trends seem to be pointing into this direction. So the future is looking bright.

WEARABLE AND IMPLANTED BODY SENSORS

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Credit: Professor Takao Someya

Forget smart clothes and devices that can measure your ECG or pulse with a smartphone. On a trip to Mars, every ounce of cargo matters. Without tiny sensors that can measure every important vital sign and health parameter, crew members will not be able to make medical decisions.

Today’s wearable trackers are big, get discharged quickly, and are hard to work with. Astronauts cannot rely on them. Digital tattoos and implanted microchips could do the job without the active participation of astronauts. These would measure every relevant parameter and let them know when there is something they should take care of. The Japanese Professor Someya has been developing such tattoos with his team; as well as the MC10 company.

FULL GENOMIC ANALYSIS TO IDENTIFY ASTRONAUTS’ HEALTH RISKS

Since they won’t have access to proper healthcare for years, knowing what major conditions the Martian astronauts might face would be highly beneficial, indeed, even necessary. A full genome sequencing, assisted by microbiome tests and other lab markers, will let physicians partially predict what major diseases they will probably encounter in their lives and what they can do to try to avoid most of them. This includes what diet to choose based on the types of bacteria they live with and what lab markers to regularly re-check to catch a disease before it would develop.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE THAT CAN DRAW CONCLUSIONS FROM LIVE HEALTH DATA

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IBM’s Watson computer, Yorktown Heights, NY. Via: WikiMedia

No matter how sophisticated sensors are, measurements will not help with day-to-day issues unless there are smart algorithms that can make suggestions. Astronauts will have no constant contact with Earth, and they cannot have all the skills of an experienced physician, researcher, and data analyst.

Algorithms will do this job for them. This will help them get the most out of each day to exploit the theoretical limits of efficiency.

TELEMEDICAL SOLUTIONS THAT ALLOW REMOTE CARE

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Image credit: ITouch

Even though the distance is big between physicians here and the crew on Mars, high quality communication with specialized caregivers on Earth will be an essential part of their care. As was mentioned, the distance and delay in communication will make it tricky, but from time to time, communication with a real doctor will be absolutely necessary.

While the future of smart algorithms used in healthcare is bright, human supervision will still be a crucial part of making sure they are on the right track. InTouch Health is a good example.

THIN EXOSKELETONS TO AUGMENT HUMAN STRENGTH AND POWER

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Fortis exoskeleton. Image credit: FORTIS

Lifting huge weights and working tirelessly for long hours will be must-have features on Mars, as astronauts will need to build a base camp. As exoskeletons get thinner and more comfortable, the crew on Mars will use them as frequently as the first astronauts used screwdrivers. Exoskeletons today can already let paralyzed people walk again; let soldiers not get tired of walking for hours or even run faster and jump higher. As long spaceflights weaken their muscles no matter how much they try to exercise in zero gravity, exoskeletons could supply them with the lost strength.

ENGINEERING IN BIOTECHNOLOGY

Astronauts will need to be able to partially engineer life. By life, I mean bacteria, yeast, and even their own immune system if needed. The new genome editing method, CRISPR, could play a major role in this. Systems involving engineering bacteria to produce hormones, antibiotics, or other materials would allow them to use nature as a manufacturing device, even to filter water or create the desired atmosphere. Community labs currently available in California and the iGem competitions have demonstrated in what a wide range of situations bioengineering can offer solutions.

SURGICAL ROBOTS THAT CAN BE OPERATED FROM A DISTANCE

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Image credit: Weyland

There will be cases, almost inevitably, when astronauts will need to undergo surgery. Current surgical robots that perform big operations are controlled by surgeons through a control panel. The movie Prometheus featured a surgical robot capsule that can perform the whole operation on its own. The Mars generation will require an invention somewhere in between. Surgeons on Earth could pre-plan every step, and the robot could perform those steps while being supervised with the time delay digitally.

I truly believe that humans are discoverers – and the next great enterprise is discovering the cosmos, starting with Mars. At first, the task will fall on a few brave people, and we have to make sure we can keep them safe, healthy, and functioning in an environment that is hostile to human life.

We need to upgrade their health with advancements in digital health to make this possible. Luckily, these breakthrough technologies are all within our reach.

Read more about health technologies we will need to reach Mars and how to start upgrading your own health in my new book, My Health: Upgraded,

Top 10 Medical Technologies of 2016

Every year, I publish my predictions for the coming year. As the Medical Futurist, I’m expected to come up with bright visions and I’m happy to rise to the challenge. Last year my predictions included a digital tattoo, portable diagnostic devices thanks to the XPrize Challenge, IBM Watson’s rise to prominence in analyzing big health data, and brain computer interfaces such as Muse or Thync becoming available to the general public. These visions have since become reality.

It’s time to list the 10 major breakthroughs and trends that will dominate healthcare and medicine in 2016.

1) Virtual Reality

Once The New York Times gave out Google Cardboards with its newspapers, it was clear virtual reality was going mainstream. But now that Facebook’s Oculus Rift just became available for pre-order, virtual reality is going to become a booming industry. With really sophisticated devices on the market, it might have its biggest year ever in 2016. It will be used to let medical students gain realistic experience in examining patients or to let patients see what would happen to them the next day at the hospital for stress release.

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2) Augmented Reality

A Novartis chief announced that the digital contact lens patented by Google would become available in 2016. As it will measure blood glucose from tears, it is supposed to change diabetes treatment and management. Moreover, Hololens from Microsoft also comes out in 2016 which will have a huge impact on fields from medical education to architecture and engineering. It could help medical students do dissections for many hours a day from any angles without the formaldehyde smell.

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3) Fibretronics

2015 was not the year of smartclothes no matter how much we anticipated it. Even the ones with the biggest market potentials like HexoSkin were only traditional shirts with built-in devices in their pockets. But fibretronics are clothing materials with microchips implanted into them. They can react to body temperature or the mood of the wearer, among others. Google has started collaborating with Levi’s to create true fibretronic materials, which could be used to interact with technology through our clothes in novel ways. Imagine this in the OR. As the first promising collaborations in this area came out in 2015, expect to see the first tangible results in 2016!

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4) Smart Algorithms Analyzing Wearable Data

2015 was the year of wearable health trackers. A swarm of devices became available, Amazon launched its Wearable Marketplace and millions of activity trackers were sold. But gaining actionable insights from the constant stream of wearable data is not easy. We need clever algorithms and apps that merge data from several devices and apps, and help us draw meaningful conclusions. It would help lay people put more emphasis on prevention and have a healthier lifestyle. I had experience with Exist.io, one of the earliest attempts, but it still needs to go a long way.

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5) Near-Artificial Intelligence in Radiology

IBM’s Watson supercomputer has been used in oncology to assist medical decision-making. It proved the clear benefits of such a system by making diagnoses and treatment cheaper and more efficient. IBM’s Medical Sieve project aims to diagnose most lesions with a smart software, leaving room for radiologists to focus on the most important cases instead of checking hundreds of images every day.

6) Food Scanners

Food scanners like Scio and Tellspec have been in the spotlight since 2014, but as early developer prototypes have already been mailed to their first users in 2015, 2016 could be the year they become generally available. This would enable anyone to find out what’s really on their plates, providing clear benefits not just to people looking to gain weight or eat healthier food, but people with dangerous allergies as well.  

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7) Humanoid Robots

One of the most promising companies developing robots is Boston Dynamics, acquired by Google in 2013. Since then, they only released teaser videos about animal-like robots and Petman, the humanoid robot. Many technologies they are working on seem to be at a stage where they are ready to become actual products, the first signs of which we’ll see in 2016.

8) 3D Bioprinting

Organovo has been in the focus because of 3D printing biomaterials for years. They announced successfully bioprinted liver tissues in 2014 and they seemed to be 4-6 years away from printing liver parts for transplantation. But first, these bioprinted livers could be finally used in the pharmaceutical industry to replace animal models when analyzing the toxicity of new drugs. If it goes through in 2016, I feel printing actual liver tissue for transplantation could become a commercial service within the next decade.

9) Internet of Health Things At Home

Last year, I released a concept art of a bathroom of the future. All the elements in that image from the smart toothbrush to the digital mirror were partially available in 2015. But an array of sensors will reach the general public in 2016 making IoT a reality in our homes. The long-term goal is to make these devices communicate and learn from each other. This way we would not have to analyze the data of the devices ourselves, but the device manufacturers could merge their findings and share a digestible report with us when there is something to take care of.

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10) Theranos – Thumbs Up Or Down

The end of 2015 saw Theranos embroiled in a scandal. The company claims to perform blood tests from one drop of blood in a transparently priced way. Concerns were raised by the Wall Street Journal about the validity of their claims, and we are waiting for Theranos to reveal the details of their technology.

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Besides these, the new Verily Life Sciences branch of Alphabet and the gene editing method CRISPR might have a big hit in 2016. We will see.

These technologies and trends will create value and have an impact on our lives and the practice of medicine in 2016. To keep an eye on them, subscribe to my newsletter!

How I Optimized My Sleep With Technology

As a data geek, I’ve been quantifying my health for over a decade, measuring different aspects of my life in order to improve it.

For years, I was frustrated by the quality of my sleep. One day, I’d wake up refreshed after just 6 hours of sleep, but another I spent fatigued, even after getting the “recommended” 8 hours of shuteye. Given how important proper sleep is to brainpower, health and overall well-being, I wanted to optimize how I spent my nights.

As many struggle to get a good night’s sleep, I decided to lay down how I measured, understood and optimized mine. Here’s my guide to sleeping better with technology.

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Getting started with improving sleep quality: Finding the problem

A mistake people often make when wanting to use technology to live better is rushing to buy a wearable device. Devising a way to optimize your life is up to you. A wearable can only show you data, which won’t be actionable if you don’t know what should be changed.

As each health tracker has different features, you must find the one that can solve YOUR problem. So the first step is understanding the problem itself.

I knew I wasn’t satisfied with my sleep quality, but to understand more, I started scoring my sleep every day. To learn exactly what I measured, check my free, step by step guide to hacking sleep.

Measuring sleep quality

Making a simple graph in an Excel spreadsheet made it clear that I regularly make mistakes before going to bed, as my subjective sleep quality often plummeted. But the change in quality didn’t depend greatly on time spent sleeping, or other often cited factors in sleep quality. So the scores helped me realize there are many things to improve, but without precise data about sleep quality, the best I could hope for was trial and error approach. To dig deeper into what made certain nights refreshing and others frustrating, I needed more data. It was time to look for a wearable device.

I purchased a small device, Withings Pulse, which, worn on the wrist, measures sleep quality. I chose it because it offers detailed sleep data such as how much time it took to fall asleep; how long light and deep sleep periods I had; and that is what I needed. It was also affordable with a cost of about 90 EUR.

One thing I often hear people worry about is wearing a tracker for the rest of their lives, but don’t worry! I only wore the device daily for about a month when optimizing my sleep. Nowadays I just put it on every other month or so – when I feel something’s amiss with my sleep quality.

In a week, I learnt more about my sleep than in decades before. It confirmed it doesn’t matter whether I sleep for 7 or 9 hours, as long as I have at least one long deep sleep period. Crucial information that flies in the face of common sense.

Improving sleep quality based on data

Now that I had found out how high quality sleep looks like for me with help from Withings Pulse, it was time to find out how to get more of it. The device couldn’t help me do this, so it was time for some experimentation.

I started compiling a list of things I should and should not do before going to bed. I tried each and measured its impact. If something like increased exercise or eating a certain type of food increased my time spent in REM sleep, I noted it down, then tried another. In another week, I learnt I should not exercise after 8 pm or check my phone before falling asleep. These things, among others, definitely ruin my sleep quality.

Upgrading my health with technology

I couldn’t have done it without data and experimentation. But with a simple and affordable device, my sleep quality today is not random, but consistently great and I don’t need to sleep with a device anymore. When I sleep badly for two consecutive days, I re-measure to make sure I’m still on the right track.

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This free guide is only part of the story of upgrading my health with available and affordable technology. As well as improving sleep, this strategy helped me be more active, improve cognitive capacity and reduce stress. If you want to learn how health technology enables us to live a better life, check out my recent book, My Health: Upgraded.

Transporting Lab Samples With Drones? What Else?

The news article of the day award goes to FastCoExist that gave an awful title to its story about how drones could deliver lab samples. They said drones could take urine samples from your own bathroom.

The reason why this issue came up is that getting samples analyzed in big labs is safer than in smaller ones. But because of the distance, drones could do the hard job.

“Currently many, many couriers drive one or two lab samples over long distances (over 50 miles) because there is a medical need for it,” says Amukele. “However, the cost (gas, driver salaries, wear and tear) is incredibly high, especially for rural areas, and makes no sense. This occurs in both rich and poor countries.”

Drones don’t care about poor roads, either, another advantage in rural or developing areas. But the regulation of drones currently stands in the way of using them for medical purposes. Amukele doesn’t see that changing for a decade.

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Last year, there was a demonstration about using drones in emergency at the University of Delft in the Netherlands.

What else could be delivered by drones?

Medical equipment?

Drugs to rural areas?

What else? Please share your ideas!

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What I Learnt While Wearing Body Sensors For Three Days

I use a lot of health trackers to give me data therefore I can fine tune my lifestyle to be as healthy as possible. But I need to be able to analyze data and charge them, not even mentioning Bluetooth connections. So I was glad to find Fusion Vital, a company that tries to help people like me by providing them with actionable data regarding their health.

I wore this sensor for three days without interruptions.

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Here is how it works:

And here is a sample result regarding how stress, physical activity and sleep affected my days and how I could recharge my energy repositories (green means good vibes, and red means stress):

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Here is the summary of one day:

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Things I learnt:

What I learnt is that measuring simple health parameters and vital signs with devices available today is not enough in making lifestyle decisions.

I also learnt that unless you are a medical professional and a researcher, you will need a report like this to understand what’s going on.

I learnt that collecting data constantly and writing notes about what I do helped a lot in discovering new things in my lifestyle. One example is how games such as Lumosity can refresh me in minutes even during a 10 hours-long work session.

Things I missed:

The sensor is still too big (even though it was comfortable) and de-attached from my skin during running and football sessions.

The report requires a professional to go through it, therefore it’s more about personal coaching than smart algorithms.

Summary:

If you wanted to get a clear picture about your lifestyle and your physical form right now, I would definitely suggest giving it a try for 3 days. You will learn things I’m sure you haven’t known about yourself. Although, I expect them to reduce the size of the sensor and to make the whole process of measuring even smoother.

The era of digital tattoos is coming and it looks quite bright.

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Revolutionary Technologies To Bring A Healthier Future: Part I.

An excerpt from my new book, My Health: Upgraded:

Millions of medical studies and papers exist, making it humanly impossible for physicians to remain current without digital help. Some estimate that starting in 2020, the amount of medical data will double every 73 days. During their life an average individual will generate more than 1 million gigabytes of health–related data. Data sets that large can no longer be analyzed by people. Cognitive computers such as IBM’s Watson can analyze tens of thousands of clinical studies and patient records, and suggest–for a particular patient–possible diagnoses and therapy options from which the physican can then choose. The time saved by crunching this enormous amount of data could be spent on direct patient care.

Radiology devices will soon provide real–time and more detailed images of a patient’s internal organs. Virtual– and augmented reality devices will further improve this. Such images could help surgeons plan their operations more precisely by guiding 3D printers to produce models of a tumor or other abnormality. Such printers could also create economical prosthetics and instruments.

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Patients can not receive proper medical care if they are unable to wear devices that monitor their vital signs and health parameters at home. Telemedicine services like this are vitally needed in areas that have a shortage of doctors. Without it, care cannot be delivered, patients must miss time from work, or travel to an institution far away. Biotechnology that can produce artificial organs in the lab could elimiate transplantation waiting lists forever. Virtual models could test potential new drugs in seconds instead of having to rely on lengthy and expensive clinical trials with real people as we do now.

New technologies are disruptive and revolutionary because they are less expensive, faster, and more efficient than previous ones.

The question is not whether we should use surgical robots, but how we can let underdeveloped regions access their benefits. It is not whether patients should measure their vital signs at home, but making sure that doing so doesn’t lead to wrong self–diagnosis and harmful self–treatment. It is not whether patients should be able to access their records and medical data, but how to implement and safeguard that access.

In the past we have asked whether to use a certain technology or not. Today we ask how not to overutilize them and still make them accessible to everyone. Ethical issues lie ahead of us, but so do unbelievable advantages. And yet no government, organization, or authority has been able to prepare populations for that. Nonetheless, revolutionary technologies are coming, and we must prepare.

Hundreds of research trends and thousands of real–life examples demonstrate how reality is getting closer to the science fiction depicted in movies. Supercomputers analyze medical records and draw personalized conclusions. They model how the brain works. Microrobots swim in bodily fluids and might perform small operations soon. External robots draw blood from individuals without the need for human interaction. And yet still I lose days from work when I catch a common cold.

For thousands of years physicians have been the pilots in the cockpit while the patient hadn’t even arrived at the airport not having access to their data and the measurements of their body. Now patients are settling into the cockpit due to the swarm of health trackers, but they are not welcome by their physicians. This is the status quo we need to change by putting them there together in an equal partnership. Together they can make better informed decisions.

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We are at a stage in which the gap between healthcare technology’s potential and what we have in reality has become huge. The only way for human evolution to adjust to the pace of technological change is to embrace disruptive innovations. We need to do so in our jobs as well our healthcare. While robots and the algorithms behind them improve at an increasingly faster pace, we should strive as human beings to improve ourselves and utilize the mind’s utmost creativity. If we cannot make this happen, then we will lose the battle sooner than most skepticists thought.

The changes I propose are not going to happen over our shoulders. Only we, individually, can accomplish that. By upgrading our health to a level not yet seen, and improving the skills that make humans extraordinary we have a chance to retain what’s really important to us while still improving healthcare worldwide.

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