Electronic medical records now exist for millions of people. The data locked within them represent a giant trove that researchers could potentially mine to uncover lifesaving secrets. Now scientists have delved into these records to complete the first large-scale analysis of genetic variants and the medical problems linked with them.
A little colorful sticker you can slap onto your shirt may prove to be one of the most efficient methods to ward off malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, its inventors say. A team of scientists and entrepreneurs have developed the Kite patch, which they have shown can effectively repel mosquitoes while being easy to use and imparting no side effects.
“Once a person places it on a shirt, jacket or backpack, it will be active for 48 hours,” says Grey Frandsen, project lead and chief marketing officer of ieCrowd, the company behind the patch. After having proven that their technology works in a lab, the company plans to field-test the first batch of Kites in Uganda, a hotbed of malaria. The promise of putting a dent in mosquito-borne infections has led supporters of the project to more than quadruple ieCrowd’s campaign goal to fund the initiative on IndieGoGo.
The World Health Organization says malaria alone kills one African child every minute—their 2012 World Malaria Report estimates there were 219 million cases of the disease in 2010, which led to around 660,000 deaths. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of whose goals is to eradicate the disease, the numbers are even higher—nearly a million deaths a year, with children under five accounting for 85 percent of the total. While most preventative measures help, they are far from perfect: DEET, the widely used repellant, is toxic, bed nets are cumbersome and tear often, and medications’ efficacy often drops after prolonged use.
Researchers have created implantable bioengineered kidneys made of living cells that have allowed rats to clean their blood and generate urine.
Their ultimate goal is to make new organs for patients suffering from kidney disease by using their own cells.
Kidneys filter wastes and liquids from the blood, and disorders afflicting them can be fatal. The most severe form of chronic kidney disease plagues nearly 1 million patients in the United States, and while blood dialysis machines can help them survive, the only cure is a kidney transplant.
If there is one bright spot in health care in the United States it is new information technology including social media. Consider the medical app industry, currently valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars with some 40,000 apps available for download in the iTunes store.
This boom is thanks to entrepreneurs from various backgrounds who are combining medical research with the latest developments from the digital world to create new and promising applications of medical information technology. “It’s a fascinating time to be in health care in Silicon Valley and elsewhere,” as one person I spoke with put it.
The first generation of medical apps was novel but relatively trivial. They monitored caffeine intake, tracked calories and gave helpful exercise tips. Today a more sophisticated generation of apps is emerging.