At HIT Consultant, we are always thinking about how digital innovation is impacting healthcare. As a result, we’ve compiled a list of innovations that have the potential to create greater change when it comes to the application and practice of healthcare in our series: HIT Consultant’s Selected Six Digital Health Innovations.
Take a look at what we’ve chosen for May’s selected six, including a genomic search engine with fishy inspiration, a smartwatch that turns your skin into a touchscreen, and a thermometer 20,000 times smaller than a single human hair.
1. GeNemo Search Engine
The sequel to Disney’s “Finding Nemo” may not come out until June, but the genomic search engine partially named after the fishy tale is already here. GeNemo—the “Ge” part stands for the word gene— is a Google-like search engine for functional genomics data that was created by University of California San Diego bioengineers and led by Professor Sheng Zhong. It’s arguably the first genomic search engine of its kind, designed to solve a very pressing and complex pain point for researchers: effectively searching functional genomic data from online data repositories.
The new search system may lead researchers to uncover the functional aspects in specific parts of genomes that are associated with normal physiology or disease of specific organs and tissues. Unlike text-based search engines, GeNemo’s searches are based on pattern matching of functional genomic regions. Instead of just “searching by text,” the new tool allows researchers to search inside the functional data. Searching for binding patterns that are similar to that of a novel transcription factor, is just one example.
“If you think of functional genomic data files as video files, then the ‘text search’ is like searching by keywords in the title or the description of a video file. The ‘inside data search’ is like searching for a video clip by pattern matching within the video itself,” explained Zhong in the paper.
The work from Sheng Zhong was published online by the journal Nucleic Acids Research.
2. Google’s Cardboard
It may look reminiscent of the beloved 80’s ViewMaster, but Google Cardboard packs some serious capability inside of its paper-light frame for healthcare. In fact, it has already saved a baby’s life—a twin girl named Teegan—who was born with half a heart and one lung.
Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, a pediatric cardiologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital (NCH) in Miami, FL, used the device to make a 3D model of the little girl’s heart in preparation for the complex surgery to amend her life-threatening condition. In collaboration with an iPhone app called Sketchfab, the cardiac team was able to see Teegan’s heart in 3D from a variety of angles quite easily and elegantly with Cardboard. This allowed Dr. Redmond Burke, chief of cardiovascular surgery at NCH, and his team to carefully plan the complex procedure, including the safest and most effective points of incision.
Cardboard’s model prices start around $15.00, or you can build one for free using the blueprints on its site. The model Muniz used was only $20.00, which produced a priceless end result for Teegan’s family. Cardboard won’t turn every app into a 3D experience since you need a split screen optimized for the device to create the effect. However, Google has made it easier for developers to create apps for Cardboard, so its potential will continue to unfold.
3. SkinTrack Smartwatch Turns Your Skin Into A Touchscreen
Who would have thought that turning your skin into a touchpad was a possibility? Students of the Future Inferences Group (FIG) at Carnegie Mellon University did apparently, as they have created just that with SkinTrack. It’s a system that uses embedded electrodes from a smartwatch band in conjunction with a ring on your finger, which generates an electric signal upon touching your arm. The approach even works when the skin is covered with clothing.
To be fair, this is not the first skin touchpad ever created, but the researchers at FIG think it’s certainly a more functional one. It greatly increases the surface area and thus the functionality of a smartwatch, eliminating the frustrations of its small screen for users. The possibilities for application of SkinTrack technology seem vast, but FIG still has some work to do on the device, including decreasing the size of the ring’s large battery, which makes it fashionably awkward.
SkinTrack recently made its public debut at the ACM CHI 2016 (Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing) in San Jose, CA.
4. STAR—Surgical Robot
Could robots replace surgeons in the operating room? It’s quite possible. The Children’s National Medical Center and John Hopkins University recently tested a Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) during an experimental surgery on anesthetized pigs. The robot was only tasked with suturing during the procedure, but it was reported to have performed very well, having sewed more consistent than veteran doctors or other robotic assistants.
One of STAR’s advantages is it uses a light field camera to find florescent markers placed inside the tissue, which helps it spot folds that may otherwise go unnoticed. Robots like STAR have the potential to free surgeons from repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on the more complex aspects of surgery. Still, the technology lacks the ability to autonomously carry out multiple tasks, thus we are not likely to see a robot replacing the human touch in the OR any time soon.
5. DNA Thermometer
Many developers would love to claim they have created the world’s smallest medical device, but it’s going to be tough to beat out a thermometer 20,000 times smaller than a single human hair. How do you build a device that small? You can’t—but it turns out, you can create one out genetic material.
Researchers from the Laboratory of Biosensors and Nanomachines at the University of Montreal developed the tiny thermometer by creating various DNA structures than can fold and unfold at specifically defined temperatures. More than 60 years ago, researchers discovered DNA molecules that encode our genetic information unfold when heated and more recently discovered that biomolecules are employed as nanothermometers in living organisms to report temperature variations by folding and unfolding.
The thermometer has a range of 122°F, and when the temperature reaches certain levels, the thermometer sends out light-based signals. It’s possible that one day the tiny temp tool will be used to monitor temperature changes between individual human cells. According to the report, the tiny tool could one day be used to measure temperature in nanotechnology or even to monitor changes in temperature between individual cells in the human body.
6. True North- IBM’s Fake Brain
The idea of implanting a computer chip inside a human brain sounds like something right out of a science fiction novel, but pretty soon, this idea could be a true story. At IBM’s Lab in Australia, researcher Stefan Harrer and his colleagues are building a system that analyzes brain waves in the hopes of recognizing epileptic seizures.
The system uses a neural network to analyze the data, which mimics the systems of neurons within a person’s brain. This system is similar to the neural networks that recognize photos on Facebook. This neural network is running on an experimental IBM chip called True North. The chip uses similar architecture, thus it’s inherently adept at running neural networks. Harrer’s hope is to one day use the chip to build a wearable device that works in tandem with a brain implant that monitors for seizures and notify patients of a seizure before they happen. The warning-system may be years in the making, but with the advances in AI growing ever year, the future of implantable devices may be closer than we think.
That’s it for this month’s picks. Check back next month for more.
Do you have a digital health innovation in mind for this series? Contact HIT Consultant about it here for further consideration.