high-tech

People with a rare eye disease known as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) suffer a gradual loss of vision; some become completely blind. Now, an innovative new approach to treatment has given dozens of people the chance to see again. With the help of a retinal implant, special glasses and intensive training, people who were blind have a new way of viewing the world which could one day benefit people with other degenerative eye diseases. We spoke to Professor Marie-Noelle Delyfer, University Hospital of Bordeaux, who has already performed eight such operations. What is retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and what is the prognosis for patients? RP is actually around 300 distinct genetic disorders that lead to the loss of photoreceptors on the retina. Some affected individuals have a reduction in their visual field while others become blind. With such a rare disease, it is difficult to describe a typical patient. Some lose their sight early in life or in early adulthood but there are others who become blind only in their 70s or 80s. Until 20 years ago, there were no treatments at all and the disease was not well understood. The first genetic cause of the disease was identified in 1984 – before that it was thought of as an inflammatory disease. What treatments are available? Some pharmaceutical therapies help to maintain photoreceptors but this only slows the progression of the disease – it’s not a cure. In the longer-term, there is some research on gene therapy targeting the mutations responsible for RP. How can technology help? I have used a new technology, from SecondSight, with eight carefully selected patients living with end-stage RP. These patients have an electrode array implanted in their retina. They wear glasses that are fitted with a camera that ‘sees’ their surrounding environment. This signal is sent...
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...
2015 has been predicted, by many commentators, as the year that digital health will officially ‘’take off’’ due to increased consumer-wide acceptance, a growing array of digitally enabled health applications and increased investment levels. All of these factors are contributing to the cause for more and more leading consumer brands to enter into the digital health space, as product innovation and business growth opportunities present themselves accordingly. The FT Digital Health SummitEurope is bringing together leaders from all parts of the healthcare industry to assess the uptake and advancement of healthcare's digital transformation. With executive leaders from Janssen, Sanofi, Boehringer Ingelheim, GSK and Bayer all speaking at the event you will gain insight into how these pharma companies are prioritising their digital strategies. You will also be able to assess how digital innovations can be incorporated into the everyday doctor-patient relationship through a unique panel discussion exclusively involving Chief Medical Officers . Investment in this sector is of course critical for its success so a diverse panel involving speakers from investment banking, private equity and venture capital will discuss the opportunities as well as the risks in financing digital health. Alongside this, speakers from the likes of Genomics England, the NHS and the European Commission will analyse the regulatory challenges that along with investment formats, form the basis of success in digital health business models and consumer acceptance. What can be done then? Building on the Financial Times’ expertise and coverage of health, life science and digital business, the FT Digital Health Summit Europe will bring together stakeholders from across the healthcare ecosystem – payers, providers, technology, data and life science companies as well as financiers, to bring unique focus and insight into the commercial, economical and regulatory challenges that healthcare’s digital transformation faces when it looks to finally ‘’take...
A 3D Printed Breakthrough for Complex Children’s Fractures from Materialise NV on Vimeo . Imagine that you break your arm and it heals back together incorrectly, making it difficult to perform simple, everyday tasks. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your surgeon could use medical imaging data from your arm, make a 3D virtual model and test multiple approaches to figure out the best way to fix it? With 3D visualization software, this is possible. What about going one step further and your surgeon making surgical guides so he/she would know exactly where to cut and drill your bone, and use implants and plates designed to fit your unique anatomy? 3D Printing can make this happen. 3D Printing software and services have drastically grown over the past few years in the medical sector, particularly when it comes to surgical planning software and patient-specific medical devices. Patient-specific guides by Materialise More patients have benefited from 3D Printing software and solutions as more medical centers have adopted this technology. However, with this advancement comes the flipside, which is that regulatory bodies face the challenge to make this technology available while maintaining patient safety standards. This is why we advocate for dedicated regulation when it comes to medical devices so that it can continue to grow consistently and safely in the years to come. Regulatory Obstacles along the Road… This lack of regulation for 3D-printed, patient-specific medical devices can be seen in the current version of the EU’s regulatory framework. The EU has been working for many years on an update to the Medical Devices Directive. This proposed legislation has many noble attributes in addition to overcoming the flaws and gaps of the existing Medical Devices Directive, such as supporting technology and science innovation while simultaneously strengthening patient safety. This is something that we...