Five Up and Coming Technologies in Digital Health

Up and coming technology
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Up and coming technology is transforming health care every day and is contributing to a more connected model of care. Traditional, non-connected devices may soon make way for technology that is taking advantage of new scientific breakthroughs. Health technology can both reduce the costs of care and increase patient access, safety and survival rates. Below are five such technologies that are being adopted across different health-care settings and are, in some instances, also becoming reimbursable by insurers.

1. Scanner That Reduces Melanoma Biopsies

MelaFind is an FDA approved device that can reduce the number of potentially unnecessary and invasive skin biopsies of irregular moles. Previously, a dermatologist needed to perform a biopsy on every suspicious case to make sure an odd-looking mole was not a malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. MelaFind can now be used to gather additional information before deciding on a biopsy, especially when dealing with so-called borderline lesions. Also, for larger moles, multiple areas can be checked which reduces the potential for sampling bias.

This software driven imaging product uses missile navigation technologies, originally sponsored by the Department of Defense, and reaches up to 2.5 mm below one’s skin surface. Collected data then get objectively analyzed and compared to digital images of melanoma and skin diseases. With the help of this device, doctors can either avoid a needless procedure or, in contrast, they can identify a melanoma at a stage when it is most treatable. Furthermore, MelaFind has other advantages over non-invasive techniques. For instance, the process reduces residual scaring.

2. Patient-Controlled Neurostimulator for Pain Reduction

Autonomic Technologies, Inc. has developed a neurostimulation system—the ATI Neurostimulator—that might give new options to patients suffering from chronic cluster headaches. This excruciating type of head and face pain has thus far been treated with injectable medications and inhaled oxygen.

However, this treatment option does not meet the needs of many patients. The innovative patient-powered neurostimulator involves a permanent implant in the upper gum which produces nerve stimulation at the level of the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG)—a facial nerve bundle connected with cluster headache. When a patient senses the onset of pain, he or she can turn on the device with a remote controller placed on the cheek, which in turn produces signals that block the pain-causing neurotransmitters at the SPG. Therapy settings are adjusted to each individual by using a customized laptop computer. Clinical trials show that ATI Neurostimulation System could be an effective form of therapy for pain. For instance, a team from the Department of Neurology at Liège University in Belgium showed that when using this technology, pain relief can be achieved in 67.1 percent of patients compared to 7.4 percent in the control group that were given a placebo.

3. Touch Free Smart Thermometers for Epidemics Aversion

Smart thermometers have been on the market for a while now, but they are constantly being improved and upgraded. They require no physical touch thus reducing the risk of contamination. The Caregiver is just one example of an infrared thermometer that accurately and quickly measures forehead temperature. The device has temperature memory recall. It can also measure room temperature and it comes with a Celsius/Fahrenheit switch.

Smart thermometers are often combined with an interactive app and can upload information to the cloud. These devices offer novel opportunities for tracking, on both the individual and population level. Dr. Dimitri Christakis, of the Seattle Children Hospital, suggests that in the future smart thermometers could help monitor and prevent the spread of diseases. Users might be able to follow the distribution of fever in a certain locality, which will also make it easier to track the development of a disease and react accordingly.

4. Smart EpiPen for Severe Allergic Reactions

Many people suffer from different types of allergies that sometimes require an acute intervention to save the person’s life. Devices that contain epinephrine—a drug that reduces the body’s allergic reaction—have been used for over 25 years. A new generation of epinephrine injections that include sensors and electronics is now being developed. These devices could enable constant monitoring and communication, and some could automatically alert medical staff of an allergic event.

The Veta smart EpiPen case—a reusable carrier for an epi injector—is an example of such a technology. In conjunction with a smartphone, Veta’s sensors can conveniently detect if the epinephrine injection has been left behind, and alarm the user and/or their loved ones. This is particularly useful for parents who get notified if their children forget to take the life-saving device with them. The Veta smart case is currently in beta testing. Aterica Digital Health, the company behind this novel high-tech product, has announced that the shipping will begin in early 2017.

5. Genome Editing With CRISPR

The CRISPR/ Cas9 system is a recently developed technology that aims to edit human genes. The procedure involves cutting DNA at a certain sequence—this is done by the enzyme Cas9—and when the cell repairs the DNA, a change is created.

Scientists hope that genome editing could potentially help to eliminate diseases with a genetic component. Many labs and research groups around the world are working on this biological tool. One day, CRISPR could be used as a single treatment course and permanently correct a person’s DNA, changing the lives of many patients with different chronic diseases.

Different genome editing tools, including CRISPR/Cas9, have already been used to engineer mutant mosquitoes that could potentially fight dangerous diseases (such as malaria and dengue fever). Scientists from the University of California, San Diego, have designed mosquitoes that are not only resistant to malaria, but they can also pass the resistant gene to the next generation, spreading the characteristic through the wild.  

CRISPR/Cas9 technology can now also be used on human cells and it is expected that it could soon be applied therapeutically. Intellia Theapeutics is one of several companies working on genome editing. They are promising to commercialize this procedure. The process they are using can either knockout, repair or insert a gene. When compared to other available genome editing techniques, CRISPR/Cas9 is simpler and more broadly applicable, so it will be exciting to follow its future developments in medicine.

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