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A Physician In Every Pocket

by Michael Keller

In a subterranean lab at the far corner of Columbia University’s main New York City campus, a couple of men in lab coats and safety glasses discuss a problem in their research. Across the hall, a woman attired similarly is at work in the machine shop. Glassware, chemicals in jugs, tubing and various equipment cover what seems like every corner of bench space.

These people are part of Samuel Sia’s 30-member crack team of chemists, biologists and engineers. Sia, a biomedical engineer, has gathered them together to help foment a medical revolution.

Their idea: to outsource to individuals and family doctors the tests that are now the exclusive domain of centralized labs and hospitals. Their weapons are a new crop of coming diagnostic technologies that are smaller, cheaper and smarter than anything on the market today. Inherent to this change in the business model is the jailbreak of patients’ medical data from healthcare facilities and insurance companies back to the patient and doctor from where it came.

“Whenever we want to know about our own body, we have to go through the healthcare system,” Sia tells Txchnologist. “You shouldn’t have to do that. Are you vitamin deficient? Do you have the flu? Are you trying to get pregnant? What is that new Mediterranean diet doing to your body? You should be able to monitor your own body, but right now it’s out of your hands.”

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Road To Deadly Disease Mapped By Crunching Whole Country’s Medical Records

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by Michael Keller

Researchers have studied the medical histories of the entire population of Denmark to chart how medical conditions are linked and forecast disease before it begins.

In a major advance for the field of biomedical Big Data analytics, scientists followed the medical history of some 6.2 million Danes over the course of almost 15 years. Since the dataset includes those who died in those years, that’s a sample size 600,000 people larger than the current living population of the small Scandinavian country. Using the Danish National Patient Registry, which healthcare providers are required to report to, the data scientists were given access to 65 million inpatient, outpatient and emergency room events from 1996 to 2010.

Over that long study period and with so many data points that included every demographic in the country, they were able to start seeing hidden patterns in how disease progresses from its earliest stages. They found more than 1,100 “sequential diagnostic correlations” that occurred the most frequently in the Danish population, from an early seemingly unrelated medical issue through later diagnosis of maladies like diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, arthritis and cardiovascular disease. 

See below for an example of a disease network.

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Laser And Magnet Make No Touch Glucose Monitor

by Michael Keller

An international team of researchers report they have successfully analyzed glucose in the bloodstream using an off-angle laser, a magnet and a camera. Their prototype, which also demonstrated a basic ability to detect dehydration, could mean a no-contact smartwatch that constantly monitors diabetics for signs of trouble or offers alerts during exercise to drink water and refuel.

The device applies a magnetic field that triggers something called the Faraday effect in glucose molecules suspended in the blood. This phenomenon causes a detectable change in the polarization of light that is reflected off the molecules. A weak green laser next to the magnet then illuminates a patch of skin on the wrist, and this change in polarization is picked up by a camera. 

Their instrument, which still needs to overcome several technological hurdles, used a similar technique to gauge muscle weakness, a telltale symptom of mild to moderate dehydration. Monitoring the change in strength of the laser’s pulse through the tissue, the device could tell qualitatively whether the wearer was dehydrated.

“Glucose is the holy grail of the world of biomedical diagnostics, and dehydration is a very useful parameter in the field of wellness, which is one of our main commercial aims,” bioengineer Zeev Zalevsky of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University told The Optical Society, which recently published the results of their work.

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Nanocomposites May Offer New Weapon To Help MRI Kill Tumors
Just yesterday we were talking about how nanoparticles appear set to advance imaging using terahertz radiation. In that case, researchers announced they had made strides in using nanoscopic rolled sheets of atoms called carbon nanotubes to detect terahertz wavelengths for medical and other applications.
As if not to be outdone, now scientists say they might be able to teach one of the workhorses of modern medical diagnostics, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, some new tricks. 
A team says they have built magnetic composite nanoparticles—iron oxide molecules embedded within silica or polymers—that can be guided by an MRI’s powerful magnets within a disease site like a tumor. Once at their target, the particles can increase the contrast of an MRI image to help doctors diagnose disease better, be heated using the machine’s magnetic fields to destroy cells and tissue or release a payload of drugs.
The researchers, led by Rice University chemist Lon Wilson and The Methodist Hospital Research Institute scientist Paolo Decuzzi, expect the particles to degrade quickly in the body and be excreted within a few days. They also seem to work with less iron than current techniques that use the metal.[[MORE]]
The composite components work together to improve the desired characteristics of each—the researchers say the silica and polymeric nanostructures like the ones seen above naturally accumulate in tumor blood vessels. Iron oxide payloads help steer the composites to the target site and can radiate heat when triggered.
The team’s work was published recently in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

(Nanoconstructs that contain iron oxide particles could make magnetic resonance imaging a far more powerful tool to detect and fight disease. Illustration courtesy Ayrat Gizzatov/Rice University)
Top Image: Silicon mesoporous particles, aka SiMPS, about 1,000 nanometers across contain thousands of much smaller particles of iron oxide. The SiMPs can be manipulated by magnets and gather at the site of tumors, where they can be heated to kill malignant tumors or trigger the release of drugs. The particles were created by an international team led by scientists at Rice University and The Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston. Courtesy of the Wilson Group.

Nanocomposites May Offer New Weapon To Help MRI Kill Tumors

Just yesterday we were talking about how nanoparticles appear set to advance imaging using terahertz radiation. In that case, researchers announced they had made strides in using nanoscopic rolled sheets of atoms called carbon nanotubes to detect terahertz wavelengths for medical and other applications.

As if not to be outdone, now scientists say they might be able to teach one of the workhorses of modern medical diagnostics, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, some new tricks. 

A team says they have built magnetic composite nanoparticles—iron oxide molecules embedded within silica or polymers—that can be guided by an MRI’s powerful magnets within a disease site like a tumor. Once at their target, the particles can increase the contrast of an MRI image to help doctors diagnose disease better, be heated using the machine’s magnetic fields to destroy cells and tissue or release a payload of drugs.

The researchers, led by Rice University chemist Lon Wilson and The Methodist Hospital Research Institute scientist Paolo Decuzzi, expect the particles to degrade quickly in the body and be excreted within a few days. They also seem to work with less iron than current techniques that use the metal.

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