Childhood obesity is increasing, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. In high–income countries, while prevalence may be plateauing, it remains high; and we are seeing an increase among children living in disadvantage. In January 2016, a report by the World Health Organisation’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity called for prevention efforts to target early life, specifically three critical periods: preconception and pregnancy,...

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eHealth technologies are pulling together personal information from diverse sources to ensure a more personalised, informed healthcare service – it’s what patients expect Precision medicine is the use of all available information about a patient to produce the most informed care plan possible. This is often associated with using genetic or other “-omics” information to help doctors select which medicine to prescribe for their patient. For example, testing a cancer patient for specific biomarkers can tell doctors which chemotherapy will work best. But it’s much bigger than that. If you look at what contributes to premature death, around 30% is thought to be genetic. The rest is a combination of our environment, diet, exercise, work, mental health, social interactions and other exogenous factors. So why limit ourselves to genetic data alone? As healthcare is now in the information era, the challenge is to pull together the vast quantity of data that exists and aggregate it in a way that allows health services to be tailored to each patient. There is already a wealth of data and this is expected to increase 50-fold in the next eight years. There is no way any physician can cope with this volume of information. That’s why software companies are playing an increasing role in healthcare. Information overload is essentially an IT challenge: how do we access and surface these data in a way that makes them accessible and actionable? How do we acquire and aggregate data, then reason against it to help manage populations and drive insights? Healthcare is unique but software experts have already overcome huge challenges in areas such as e-commerce and financial services to deliver a more tailored and user-friendly experience while safeguarding data privacy. In fact, the public is so used to this kind of customised intelligence that some patients...
Professor Kevin Warwick is pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence and cyborg technologies How can artificial intelligence (AI ) improve healthcare? AI can be used to learn what is going on in different parts of the body and to predict problems. This gives us the power to prevent problems before they arise or to counteract malfunctions which are detected by sensors. Could you give us an example that will be part of the near future? One immediate application is in the use of deep brain stimulation or DBS. This technology is already used in people with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or depression to stimulate the nervous system with electrical pulses in order to alleviate symptoms. AI allows us to take it a step further by predicting when stimulation is needed. This means we could apply DBS before the patient experiences symptoms. What areas of future research are most exciting? An interesting area is the use of cultured neural networks. Typically, we use neurons (brain cells) taken from rat embryos and connect them to a robot. Sensors from the robot stimulate the culture and we have observed different pathways in the cell culture changing the direction of the robot. How do you do this? Firstly, we separate the brain cells using enzymes and them lay them out on a multi-electrode array (essentially a small dish). Very quickly the neurons start connecting with each other. We have to feed the brain cells using minerals and nutrients. The growing brain, consisting of approx. 150,000 cells has to be kept in an incubator at a controlled temperature of 37 degrees C. After about 10 days the brain has lots of connections so we give it a body. The brain is connected to its body, bi-directionally, via a Bluetooth link. Sensory signals from the robot body...
Never before has there been a more compelling time and a more urgent need to disrupt and transform the way we delivery healthcare to the people of our planet. I am the son of a wonderfully devoted Australian country GP who later became the country surgeon in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. A father of 8, Dad was seemingly forever on-call and, with the exception of his faithful stethoscope, his scary scalpel and his trusty truck, he had absolutely zero technological assistance. No pager, no mobile phones, no EHR, no teleradiology. He was a truly old school practitioner and a mighty man, dedicated to his calling and adored by his patients. As a young lad, accompanying Dad in his old truck on long journeys late at night on those windy roads between each of the country hospitals (trying so hard to stay awake and keep my promise to Mum to make sure Dad did not fall asleep at the wheel), I knew there had to be a better, faster, safer, more effective and more efficient way of delivering healthcare. When my time came, and I followed proudly in Dad's brave footprints, I quietly committed to change the way the traditional hospital based and doctor dependent healthcare service was delivered. I got my chance years later when I set about exploring the possibility of building a simple tele-radiology system over the old 3K copper telephone system to link small isolated communities distributed over an enormous geographical area. This was not an idea borne without experience, as I had found myself performing obstetric ultrasound scans from the back of a truck in remote parts of Western Australia, in oppressive heat, shortly after completing my degree and qualifying as a radiologist. Working with pregnant mums to be in an aboriginal community,...
For the first time in history, a major industrial change is taking place in parallel with a global push towards a shared vision of the future. The 4th industrial revolution can be harnessed to address global development goals How can Europe make the most of the technology changes that are afoot? I would share some of the views of Professor Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum: these are, potentially, the best and worst of times. We have lots of technology but we are not having the conversations with the public about how innovations might affect our lives. There is not enough attention to the potential risks nor to the many positives that technologies can bring. Past industrial revolutions spurred growth but had environmental and other downsides. How can this revolution be better managed? One of the reasons we are lucky to be embarking on this work now is that we know what we want the 4 th industrial revolution to be for . Last year, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed. The SDGs ask every country in the world to play their part to reduce poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This is an unprecedented global consensus for what we want our future to look like. The first thing to do when someone says they have a new industrial or technological revolution for you is to ask them to explain how it will help the SDGs. Does this require a new way for countries and companies to think about their own priorities? Yes, responsible research is a requirement now and we’re seeing it from top companies like Dow, which has mapped their innovative activities against the SDGs. Not everyone is at the same level but growing numbers of corporate actors are producing very clear maps...
Gaming and simulations can engage surgeons in ways that traditional medical education does not, says Professor Marlies Schijven who has shown the power of play in improving surgical skills. As a surgeon, game developer and app inventor – among other things – she is also on the cutting edge of using wearable technologies in the operating room and was the first person to live-stream abdominal surgery on YouTube via Google Glass. What is serious gaming? Serious gaming uses the principles of playful technology and the power of play to get an educational message across without people feeling as though they are being taught. The key is to wrap educational content into the game, in such a way that it is not perceived as ‘homework’. How can gaming and simulations help surgeons? This approach can be used to train anyone - but it has great potential in teaching surgical skills. It is very important to have game designers involved in developing the games otherwise it will just become another boring e-learning module or tedious ask. I have shown that, compared to traditional training methods, well-designed simulations and games actually make for better, more competent surgeons. How did you become interested in working with game designers? For me, it was natural. Before I studied medicine, I studied for some time in a design academy so I can pretty much understand the way designers think and I value their approach. Good serious games are developed by good designers in collaboration with content experts. You have also been experimenting with wearable devices in the operating theatre. What do these technologies do for surgeons? To give one example, you often need to control computers or other devices whilst performing surgery. If this means typing on a keyboard or touching a mouse, you would have to...
Why do we use more advanced monitoring tools in our daily lives than we do in biomedical research? Every scientist knows that discoveries from biomedical research are useless if they cannot be replicated. Yet, in a recent survey by Nature , 70% of researchers indicated that they have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments. That’s an astonishing number, especially if you think of the billions of euros that are then being wasted. Back in 2011, I was running a biotech startup that was involved in a European project to filter stem cells from umbilical cord blood, and then expand them to high numbers while suppressing the differentiation. We had very promising results. As part of the project, we were culturing patient stems cells and - as anyone with experience of cell culture knows - they need to be fed sugar and nutrients regularly. Indeed, they need a lot of care and attention, and the normal practice was to check them twice a day – even on weekends. Unfortunately, one Sunday, the cells were not checked and fed due to a personal emergency of a staff member. Normally this would not pose a big problem – the cells were usually split to a new flask with medium on Monday. However, on that occasion the lack of feeding did cause a problem. The flask grew confluent and the cells were lost, along with much of the work leading up to that point. We had a disappointing meeting with all project members, and I remember that on the way back I was driving and my colleague was working on his smartphone. I asked what he was doing and he said he just changed the climate control in his house and...