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.”
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.
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.