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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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Missile Technology Fired At Malaria’s Heart

by Michael Keller

There may be a new weapon emerging in the fight against malaria. Researchers say they have successfully used a heat-seeking detector normally employed as part of an anti-tank weapon to quickly sense the parasite in blood during the earliest stages of infection.

Researchers at Australia’s Monash University and the University of Melbourne used an advanced imaging sensor originally developed for the shoulder-fired Javelin missile system, which is used by soldiers and Marines against tanks, helicopters or buildings.

“Our test detects malaria at its very early stages, so that doctors can stop the disease in its tracks before it takes hold and kills. We believe this sets the gold standard for malaria testing,” said Monash chemist Bayden Wood in a statement.

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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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