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The Digital Health Update by Paul Sonnier ⋅ May 18, 2017 ⋅ #275

Dear Group,

I’ve published two issues of The Digital Health Newsletter since last week’s group announcement…

The Digital Health Newsletter for May 13
Featuring: Marko Ahtisaari’s Sync Project is producing generative music as precision medicine and wellness; cyberattacks impact the NHS’s ability to deliver healthcare; new $500M in funding for Improbable’s massive virtual worlds to explore disease; Facebook serving as a ‘black market’ for life-saving drugs; Wearable Tech and AI is being used for understanding and prediction related to autism, heart attacks, and menstrual cycles; Guardant Health lands an additional $360M to continue its work in sequencing tumor DNA from more than 1 million cancer patients; a genetic locus is discovered that is associated with anorexia; and the Mediterranean diet can prevent the expression of inflammatory genes in tissues.
Read the newsletter, here.

The Digital Health Newsletter for May 16
Featured news includes for-profit dialysis companies, social media drug dealers, mass market glucose monitoring, enablement & assistance tech, brain-related research, genomics in medicine.
Read the newsletter, here.

I’ve copied and pasted the text from the newsletter below for better web-search (SEO) and archival purposes.

The Digital Health Newsletter for May 13

Can digital music that’s responsive to your physiology serve as precision medicine and precision wellness? In a fascinating talk at WIRED Health, Marko Ahtisaari describes how sculpted music playlists and generative music (machine-generated compositions made by computers and rules, or said another way, music that is programmed rather than composed) can be used as precision medicine to improve cognition in stroke patients, help people with autism to communicate, and aid mobility in Parkinson’s sufferers. It can also be used to treat pain, anxiety, and help people relax and unwind before sleep. Marko’s Sync Project makes music that is responsive to your physiology by mapping tempo and beat salience to biometric effects. Machine learning is used on the gathered datasets to develop personalized music therapeutics.

By exploiting a computer system vulnerability discovered and developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) (and then stolen from the Agency and leaked by a group calling itself ‘Shadow Brokers’), hackers perpetuated cyberattacks and ransomware throughout Europe and Asia. Particularly hard hit was the NHS public health system in Britain, where doctors were unable to access patient files or perform x-rays, and patients were turned away from emergency rooms. Microsoft had previously rolled out a software patch for the vulnerability, but many entities — including hospitals — had not bothered to update their systems.

Wearable biosensors and accelerometers are being used by Matthew Goodwin, PhD, at Northeastern University to determine the behaviors of people with autism and how to better treat their symptoms. In addition to movement, biometric measurements of skin temperature, sweating, and heart rate provide insights into the state of the autonomic nervous system. By looking at the last 3 mins of this data, Goodwin reports an accuracy of 79-80% in predicting whether or not a person with autism is going to aggress to someone else or aggress to themselves within the next minute.

In news that a received a ton of coverage, a UCSF study conducted using the Apple Watch, AI, and the heartbeat measurement app Cardiogram demonstrated 97% accuracy in detecting abnormal heart rhythm. By analyzing 200 people in the UCSF Health eHeart study who had been diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, a deep neural network was trained to identify these abnormal heart rhythm patterns. While this is a preliminary algorithm, it holds promise in helping to identify and prevent strokes caused by atrial fibrillation, a whopping two-thirds of which are preventable with readily-available and inexpensive drugs.

A new study published in Nature took a look at the correlation between pulse measured during sleep (using wearable sensors) and menstrual cycle phases. As the authors state, “despite years of progress in fertility research, a user-friendly, non-invasive, and affordable method to estimate the female fertile window remains elusive. While calendar based methods offer an appealing solution their accuracy is questionable.” They reportedly found that the median pulse rate measured with wrist worn wearable sensors strongly correlates with different phases of the menstrual cycle.

For many people, the high cost of drugs is a major problem for their health and survival. This is driving some patients to beg and trade for drugs on a Facebook ‘black market’. Since you can easily buy,  sell, or trade on the social network, people are also using it to buy or trade for drugs like life-saving insulin. A patient with diabetes can simply post a request for help in obtaining their insulin on their Facebook timeline or they can join any of the Facebook groups dedicated to making drug trades . There are risks to injecting insulin obtained from someone on the Internet, but the alternative is certain death.

A UK startup named Improbable has raised over $500 million to build massive-scale simulations of reality. The funding will be used to develop the company’s SpatialOS cloud-based operating system, which allows gaming and other companies to create massive virtual worlds. According to CEO Herman Narula, the “next major phase in computing will be the emergence of large-scale virtual worlds which enrich human experience and change how we understand the real world.” And Deep Nishar, managing director at Softbank, the lead investor, says that the “technology will help us explore disease, improve cities, understand economies and solve complex problems on a previously unimaginable scale.”

Guardant Health has raised $360M to continue its work in sequencing tumor DNA from more than 1 million cancer patients in the next five years. The objective of the “Guardant 1 Million” program is to provide more data for cancer research and drive the development of blood tests to detect cancer in its earliest stages. According to co-founder Amir Ali Talasaz, “We believe our rapid, iterative approach will generate the data necessary to develop non-invasive tests that are both sensitive enough to detect cancer early in high-risk populations, and specific enough to avoid inflicting unnecessary anxiety and harm through overdiagnosis.”

In a new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers have identified the very first genetic locus on a chromosome that is associated with anorexia. The study suggests that there may be a metabolic basis for the psychiatric disease, which has a very high death rate. While previous studies have indicated genetic factors in the disease, specific variants associated with it had never been identified. According to lead investigator Cynthia Bulik, from the University of North Carolina, “Family and twin studies have shown that anorexia can run in the family and that the disease is heritable. They didn’t point to which genes are implicated but their results encouraged us to do larger, genome-wide association studies.”

It turns out that a Mediterranean diet can prevent the expression of inflammatory genes in different tissues, which may additionally explain why the monounsaturated fatty acid-rich diet is known to be so effective in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, plus helps to decrease overall mortality. Writing in the National Center for Biotechnology Information PubMed, the report’s  authors state that “The wide range of studied tissues and organisms indicate that response to these compounds is universal and poses an important level of complexity considering the different genes expressed in each tissue and the number of different tissues in an organism.”

The Digital Health Newsletter for May 16, 2017

On John Oliver’s show ‘Last Week Tonight’, he takes a look at for-profit dialysis companies, which he says often maximize their profits at the expense of their patients. According to Kent Thiry, the CEO of DaVita, one of the largest dialysis providers in the U.S.(which has also paid close to $1B in settlements over the past 5 years): “I almost never refer to patients in the entire thing because, for me, it’s not about the patients — it’s about the teammates. When you’re in healthcare it is nicer, easier, whatever, in the sense that you’re actually very directly helping a human being. But that, to me that’s just not it. If I had 1,400 Taco Bells and 32,000 people who worked in them, I would be doing all the same stuff.” As Oliver says, “Yes, you heard him right. He just said he manages DaVita, a healthcare company, like a Taco Bell, the exact opposite of a healthcare company.” Readers may recall that I featured a digital health company (Outset Medical) that’s seeking to transform the dialysis industry in my May 10 newsletter.

Is checking your social media ‘likes’ the new smoking? On Bill Maher’s HBO show ‘Real Time’, his ‘New Rule’ monologue focuses on how the tycoons of social media need to “stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world, and admit that they’re just tobacco farmers in t-shirts selling an addictive product to children.” Everything Silicon Valley develops, he says, is purposely designed to compel us to check in constantly. As former Google product manager Tristan Harris stated on 60 Minutes, the methods used are “one way to hijack people’s minds to form a habit and how they (the social media companies) make money.” According to Bill Maher, Apple, Google, and Facebook are “essentially drug dealers”.

Rumored: The next Apple Watch will include glucose monitoring, either via sensors in the band and/or in the watch itself. The company has reportedly “identified the right part of the body and there’s so much more they can and intend to do with the watch”.

Software developer Patrick Morris-Suzuki created an inexpensive headset prototype to help people with limited manual mobility to interact with computers just by blinking. The system uses a $100 off-the-shelf EEG device and electrodes as opposed to other systems costing thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, the EEG signals are noisy and don’t always work as hoped, even though Morris-Suzuki states “It’s the most reliable signal in general. Because it’s actually not really brain, it’s more like muscles.”

A social robot designed by a team of sophomores from Rutgers University is intended to be used in special education classrooms to help kids with special needs better communicate. Named ‘Robota’, the systems identifies students who appear to be distressed and then approaches them to ask if anything is wrong. It is believed that kids see robots as nonjudgmental figures and may be relaxed and willing to communicate with them in certain situations.

Researchers from the Australian National University have developed a semiconductor wafer nanowire scaffold material that allows brain cells to grow and form predictable circuits, which could be used for future ‘brain-on-a-chip’ neuro-prosthetics. According to lead researcher Dr. Vini Gautam,  “The project will provide new insights into the development of neuro-prosthetics which can help the brain recover after damage due to an accident, stroke, or degenerative neurological diseases.”

After discovering that she typically won more games of Go by taking lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Amanda Feilding, who heads the Beckley Foundation for psychedelic research, is planning to conduct a scientific trial to ascertain if microdoses of LSD improve creativity and cognitive function, particularly in regard to intuitive pattern recognition. Study subjects will have their brains imaged using MRI and MEG while engaging in cognitive tasks, including playing Go against an AI system, which will assess player performance. Feilding states that LSD may also replace selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), acting as an antidepressant.

In the rapidly advancing field of pharmacogenomics, Canadian company BiogeniQ is offering genetic tests so that doctors can select the right medications for ADD/ADHD patients. About 33% of patients with ADHD do not respond well to the first drug prescribed. And while 80% do find success with the second drug prescribed, it can sometimes require trying 3 or 4 medications until the right one is found. According to chief scientific officer Michael Cameron, “If your child is diagnosed with ADHD in Oct, it might take until the new year to find the right medication — which means they might lose an entire semester.” The company’s ‘ADHD Pharma Profile’ genetic test is available without a prescription and works by analyzing 7 genes and 9 molecules to determine  which of 13 medications will likely be most effective.

A team from the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s (DFBC) Cancers and Blood Disorders Center shared their key takeaways from the recent annual meeting of the American Society for Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. There are some great quotes by Amy Billett, MD, president of ASPHO, director of safety and quality and a hematologist/oncologist at DFBC, Akiko Shimamura, MD, PhD, ASPHO Trustee-At-Large and director of Bone Marrow Failure and MDS Program at DFBC and a hematologist/oncologist at DFBC, Cameron Trenor, MD, co-director of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center and director of clinical research at the Vascular Anomalies Center and a hematologist at DFBC, and Denise Adams, MD, co-director of the Vascular Anomalies Center and a hematologist at DFBC.

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Complete list of global events

Copyright © 2017 Paul Sonnier

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