innovation

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...
I wonder, have you ever had a conversation with your doctor or nurse about barcodes? Not likely, I guess! Whilst the humble barcode is so ingrained in everyday life (after all, we all scan barcodes at the checkout), its potential in healthcare is both enormous, but unfortunately largely unknown. The reality is that for patients and caregivers, the beep of a scanned barcode has the possibility to help ensure that a patient receives the right medical product at the right time and that caregivers have the benefit of additional surety in their processes. Scanning barcodes can help to minimise errors due to incorrect identification of product or patient and ensure the correct product is in the hospital when the patient needs it. The global, voluntary user community, GS1 Healthcare - which brings together all healthcare supply chain stakeholders, including manufacturers, distributors, healthcare providers, solution providers, regulatory bodies and industry associations - recently produced a video to illustrate the value global standard barcodes add in hospital processes. For every one of us, this is a must-watch - after all, at one point in our lives, we will all be patients. For staff of healthcare product supplier organisations this is even more important. After all, suppliers are applying GS1 barcodes to meet a range of regulatory and trading partner requirements. In turn, these barcodes should be used by all healthcare stakeholders, most importantly, the healthcare provider organisations and staff that are issuing these suppliers’ products to patients. Please take two minutes of your time, open your minds and remember that the use of global standard barcodes in healthcare empowers all of us - patients, healthcare provider staff and healthcare provider organisations. A simple scan can contribute to doctors and nurses being able to focus even more on caring for every one of...
As ‘thinking season’ kicks off, the focus is on how technology and big data can deliver better value healthcare to more people than ever before. January is a time for reflection, planning and predicting what lies ahead. It’s the season for assessing the mega-trends that will shape our future and working out how we will respond. Perhaps the most prestigious venue for future-gazing is Davos where world leaders from politics and business gather on 17-20 January for the World Economic Forum . Here, global influencers will look at how prevailing economic, social and political forces present challenges and opportunities for all of us. Last year, the key phrase from Davos was the ‘ 4 th Industrial Revolution’ . The WEF set the tone for thousands of conversations on the topic last year, including at the MedTech Forum in Brussels last December. This year – with the convergence of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological systems still very much in view – the theme will be Responsive and Responsible Leadership . But what can healthcare leaders expect from 2017? When it comes to healthcare , the WEF frames the conversation with some key demographic statistics: - By 2050, the world’s population will have risen to 9.7 billion - 2 billion people will be over the age of 60 To continue to meet the (growing) demands of healthcare consumers without blowing up healthcare budgets, new ways of delivery services will be required. Smarter, more efficient, technologies and systems will be essential. This brings us to the concept at the heart of many new-year health policy forecasts: value . Value-based healthcare has been something of a buzzword since it was coined by Harvard’s Michael Porter . Most of us have an intuitive sense of value. In healthcare, Porter...
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,...