Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Archive for the ‘Medicine’ Category

Fight malaria by contributing your computer while you sleep

Posted by evolvingwheel on February 16, 2008

Remember the SETI@Home project that was launched in 1999? It has been one of those pioneering projects where grid computing was brought to average consumers who would donate their computer hours for complex analysis of radio-signals from the space. The down-loadable software would receive data from the SETI server in the background and do calculations when the machine is idle at night or when you are away from it. Such grid computing way back then opened the doors for a new class of utility that would one day serve for complex stochastic simulations that could take years with limited computing power. A new possibility emerged!

Paying heed to this tremendous potential of volunteered grid computing across populations with desktops/laptos, MalariaControl.net hosted by AFRICA@HOME has launched a similar grid computing effort to model transmission dynamics and health effects on demographics with potential of getting infected by malaria. These simulations are intensive as they demand a huge set of grid points (human populations) with innumerable attributes that control the derivation of disease progression trajectory and other forecasting knowledge. The idea is simple. The Swiss Tropical Institute has developed a model for malaria epidemiology that uses the volunteer computing ability to calculate a credible analysis and a platform for evidence-based-treatment for malaria in Africa. malaria_kid.jpg

Again, the possibility of grid computing with volunteer computer hours is enormous. Further, to sweeten the deal, the architecture to support such efforts is FREE! The Berkeley Open Architecture for Network Computing (BOINC) is a openly available middleware that can be used to launch any such project. Another greatness of the BOINC framework is the support for both Microsoft Windows and Unix/Linux systems. Even though disease epidemiology studies for non-profit endeavors are great objectives for harnessing BOINC-like utility, the for-profit sector can also benefit from such volunteer contributions. Market research based on demographic behaviors and activity patterns across international borders is a demanding aspect of international business today. Stochastic marketing research models can leverage such grid computing efforts to run comprehensive analysis of product usage patterns. Furthermore, the volunteer attribute can be enriched by a monetary payment factor for hours of modeling usage of one’s computer too.

Picture: Courtesy AMREF


Posted in Computation, health, Innovation, Medicine, poverty, social innovation | Leave a Comment »

Biochips to test toxicity of new drugs outside animal body

Posted by evolvingwheel on December 29, 2007

So a big pharma creates a drug molecule with the potential of becoming a blockbuster. $4 billion dollars have been spent in R&D and the drug-discovery life-cycle . The drug is now up for clinical trials and gets canned because of toxicity reported in animal and human treatments. The company tries to dilute the risk by spreading the failed investment into other drug development and profit margins. Future blockbuster drugs costs astronomically high!

Now consider that a new method of testing has been found that tests the toxicity of a drug-in-process way early in the discovery cycle. Guess how much investment can be saved by deflecting the risk of a flop show towards the end of the process. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., the University of California, Berkeley, and Solidus Biosciences, Inc. have developed a biochip technology that claims to reveal the potential toxicity of chemicals and drug candidates during early experiments. Read the article [here]. toxicity_on_a_chip.jpg

As in earlier cases, I am not going to talk about the technology behind it. You can read that in the article itself. I will rather try to analyze briefly the ecosystem dynamic around this innovation and what could be the potential lines of developments/creations in the industry.

  1. First thing, if this practice catches up, how will the clinical testing industry adjust with the new toxicity test way early in the cycle? How will those business components rehabilitate?
  2. We test drugs on animals earlier for toxicity and use that as a predicate for reactions on humans. Now that is often challenged. However, will the new chips really curtail the testing on animals? EU has already banned several testing on animals considering them inhumane. This policy enactment will definitely drive business development around these chips and their commercialization. How will the market get saturated with this technology and how long will that take. Will thestart-up be able to survive as bigger giants get into the game? If this technology is patented (which it is), what other methods can other companies utilize to enter this market? If there is no other than this then the market barrier is quite high. In that case there could be licensing in the horizon!
  3. Custom drugs?? – “Ultimately, each person would have their own DataChip or MetaChip that contains their own genetic information,” Dordick says, noting that most drugs on the market today are “one size fits all.” —- Now that could be something over the coming years. If we have our genetic makeup embedded in such chips and drug companies start developing molecules customized to our code, will that change the dynamics of drug development significantly. Is custom drug through custom tests the next generation of development ahead? That’s where I will be interested. And guess what – one field that will be greatly leveraged is clinical informatics and bio- informatics.

Similar article of Interest:

Biomedical Engineers’ ‘Body-on-a-Chip’ Could Reduce Cost of Developing New Drugs

Posted in biotech, health, Innovation, Medicine, nanotechnology | Leave a Comment »

A new test to diagnose heart failures better

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 29, 2007

With a special interest for remote healthcare and innovative diagnostics, this news couldn’t go past me. A group of researchers at the University of Leeds have come up with a new technique that helps to identify the difference between a heart attack potential and a chest pain due to other causes. Currently, when a patient lands up in the Er with chest pain, the physician administers a troponin test which can detect and evaluate heart injury and separate it from other chest pains. The test looks for troponin protein in the blood, which is generated when heart cells have died. However this test is not comprehensive and can give both false negatives and false positives. The predictor looks for the protein and only isolates between a scenario of real heart damage and a case of chest pain with no death of heart cells yet. It misses the spectrum in between.

A new test has been developed by the team that looks for a heart-type fatty acid-binding protein (H-FABP) which is released into the circulation following heart injury (myocardial ischemia). According to Alistair Hall, Professor of Clinical Cardiology at Leeds “The H-FABP test is a major advance on what we had before. It appears to be able to detect milder and earlier degrees of heart injury than do current tests which detect heart cell death.

The uniqueness of the test lies in its ability to identify patients whose chest pains are an indication that they are susceptible to heart attack in the following weeks or months. The aspect of prevention makes this test a winner. It not only saves lives, but also saves money and unnecessary services. I will look forward to the eventual commercialization of such a test with an affordable price proposition. And then if such a test can be made portable and easy to administer at the point of care, i.e., homes.

Read the article [here].

Posted in blood, diagnosis, health, Medicine | Leave a Comment »

Should we be worried? Banked blood loses potency fast!

Posted by evolvingwheel on October 17, 2007

This news is up in the channels – about banked blood losing its ability to deliver oxygen to tissues after transfusion. Result: patients receiving tranfusions are more prone to strokes, heart attacks, and often even deaths. The cited reason is the loss of nitric oxide from blood after the RBC leaves the body. Nitric oxide is the oxygen carrier. Dr. Jonathan Stamler, a Duke researcher, has found that ability of the blood cells to deliver oxygen drops pretty fast after the blood has been removed from the source body. Stamler has also noted that if nitric oxide is added back, the banked blood regains this ability. Read the article [here].

I have several questions about this research:

  1. What kind of manifestations are seen when banked blood is first introduced to the receiver’s body and to what degree do these manifestations get debilitating with time?
  2. Did the receiving patient has any pre-disposition to any disease that got triggered for some other reason and henceforth produced a negative impact on the heart?
  3. Will a small transfusion for a relatively smaller wound produce a long-term negative impact in the receiver’s body?
  4. Bottom Line – Should I be worried? 

There is a WSJ blog that talks about this finding and exhanges some nice views.

Another group at Duke, led by Timothy McMahon, MD, PhD, found that red blood cells in banked blood lost some of their flexibility in storage. That process happened more slowly than SNO-Hb loss in banked blood. According to McMohan, replenishing SNO-Hb may enable RBC to stay flexible to carry oxygen to the tissues.

A relevant article on artificial blood posted earlier: Oxycyte™ – Just another invention or a better substitute for blood?

Posted in blood, health, Medicine | Leave a Comment »

Thought provoking article on biotech-cancer-cost of life

Posted by evolvingwheel on October 11, 2007

I really enjoyed reading this article on MSNBC. An open and realistic discussion of the cost of cure for cancer and other terminating illnesses in the US. I am not going to repeat what’s in the post. You can find it [here]. The article talks about one patient who was diagnosed with breast cancer and tries to focus on several pertinent but critical human issues related to the subject. The very well presented story questions the monetary value of life. It’s about the cost of biotech drug therapy – the state-of-the-art medication that targets specific proteins and is capable of expanding the life expectancy of the affected. 800px-genentechheadquarters.jpg

The primary message is the cost of undergoing such elite drugs, and how it affects the patient, his/her family, savings, and lifestyle in general. Most of these drugs are outrageously costly – ranging from $55K to $100K per year of treatment. For an average middle-class individual with a decent salary, the recurring cost of such magnitude gets debilitating. Many loose their lifelong savings, house, and other dear belongings. The human side of the story is very emotional. On the other hand, the drug companies pursue years of research and billions of dollars to bring these revolutionary drugs to the market. Once commercialized, the companies try to salvage their investments several fold. A pressure from the stock market and shareholders moulds the path of profit-making. Some outcries the tremendous cost of ~$100K to maintain a drug regimen and supports the idea of government control over such drug prices – which is right away a damper to innovation and free market impetus. So how do you balance that?

I believe that in the coming years these questions need to be addressed sincerely. Not just from political and social perspectives but also from business platforms. How can these drug companies manage to continue their innovation, leverage their invaluable intellectual capital, benefit from the one-way (seller’s market) cost proposition, address the ethical and social questions, and meanwhile appease the investors to continue growth. Several challenging issues that need to be dealt by business community, political community, scientific community, and the general population.

Picture: Genentech Building

Posted in biotech, drugs, investment, Medicine | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Visual Medication Schedule – a noteworthy innovation in drug delivery

Posted by evolvingwheel on September 28, 2007

In healthcare business, innovation should come not only in drug development but also in the process of drug delivery. We often find that prescribed medications fail to penetrate the daily schedule of vulnerable patients and increase the risk of affliction and further damage – both physically and economically. Disease intervention is enhanced when drugs are taken regularly as prescribed. Often old, illiterate, or foreign speaking patients miss their schedule due to the complicated nature of the prescription texts. A research team from UCSF approached the problem and came up with a visual medication schedule (VMS) with translations in native language. Result: Treatment response status increased twice as fast. You may read the article [here]. pharmacy.jpg

Some of the benefits of VMS could be realized in the following areas:

  1. In immigrant communities VMS drug prescriptions can be used to improve the intake and understanding
  2. In developing societies challenged by illiteracy and lack of communication between the patient and physician/clinician, VMS can help the patient to understand the prescription better – can increase adherence
  3. Online prescription industry can benefit by VMS, where there is a lack of communication between the patient and the interface

Better adherence and understanding of the treatment schedule by the patient will help to prevent recurrence of debilitating conditions and any sudden attack. This will save insurance companies money by preventing the patient from going back to the physician or emergency care even after a correct diagnosis earlier. 

If you can’t open the link, the actual post can be found below.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Innovation, Medicine | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Ultrasound seals punctured lungs

Posted by evolvingwheel on August 31, 2007

This just sounded too good.. almost space-age medicine. Ultrasounds will seal punctures in lungs without any invasive procedures or risky incisions. Shahram Vaezy and his colleagues in the Center for Industrial and Medical Ultrasound in the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory have been working on ultrasound surgery for a while. Recently, the team observed great potential and results in sealing lung punctures by applying high intensity ultrasound on the leaking spot. photo of Dr. Vaezy

The team observed that more than 95% of the 70 incisions were stable after 2 minutes of treatment. The procedure engages a lens that focuses the strong ultrasound to the exact spot and heats and mobilizes the cells around the leak to fuse and close the leak. Another great benefit of this process is that the cells and tissues are not heated along the path of the ultrasound – a drawback encountered with laser treatment. 

From the implementation side, one concern will be the cost associated with the process. Besides, the researchers still have to perform clinical tests on humans and observe the quality of healing and its sustainability. However, if the process clicks, then there is enormous potential not only in the developed world but also in the developing world, which often lacks advanced ER facilities and physicians with the skills to operate efficiently in trauma centers. The payback of the innovation will also depend upon the acceptance of the procedure in the caregiver as well as the patient community. 

[Read Article Here] 

Picture: Shahram Vaezy, courtesy: UW College of Engineering

Posted in Innovation, Medicine | Leave a Comment »

Controlled diet for better infectious disease management

Posted by evolvingwheel on August 30, 2007

Val Smith from the University of Kansas argues that better control of infectious disease in the future may not depend on better and stronger antibiotics but on the availability of nutrients to the infected body. His research is directed toward understanding how the controlled supply or cut-off of specific nutrients to animal bodies infected with different pathogens affects the life-cycle of the disease. Does it aggravates the condition or stops the progression? Most of his researches are being operated on mice with strains of pathogens similar to the ones that produce infectious diseases in humans. His team observed that by controlling carbohydrates, proteins, and specifically irons, to the mice, the disease symptoms got enhanced or mitigated. The idea is to kill the pathogen or slow its progression by depriving it of its basic requirements.

If this research goes further with some really promising results, then it could lead to a whole new dimension of disease control with diets along with prescribed drugs. It may just lead to another area of treatment with diet pills and supplements designed to regulate flow of minerals and nutrients according to the pathogen its going against. The innovation can come from diet supplement industry or from the conventional pharmaceutical industry spreading its arms across to the diet pill domains. It will definitely be a paradigm shift along the thin line separating non-FDA approved supplement industry and stringent Rx market.

More importantly will come the hands of regulatory bodies and governments into play. I may be thinking it out way too far, but with the continual perseverance for mobilizing business models that cross domains of knowledge and applications, nothing anymore looks impossible.

[Read Article Here]

Posted in Medicine | Leave a Comment »

Computer models recommending drugs for cancer treatments

Posted by evolvingwheel on August 5, 2007

Often, two patients with identical types of cancers respond differently to the same drug or the same treatment. This is caused by different genetic histories of two individuals. However, if the medical professional knew about a predictive system that could take into account the various genetic information, tissue characteristics, and reactions to more than 100,000 cancer treating compounds and accurately design a treatment plan, long-term care for cancer patients would have been so much promising.

Dan Theodorescu and his researchers at the University of Virginia have exactly developed a computer model that addresses such expectation. This one of a kind model has been developed using a database of information on human can-cell lines and their responses to different anti-cancer drugs and compounds. In order to articulate a better treatment path, the model also processes gene-expression analysis of the cancer types. As more and more data gets available about the gene characteristics, the model gets more accurate in predicting the responses to any particular treatment regimen.

One other interesting thing is the use of this model in clinical trials of a specific drug. The model selects patients who could be appropriate for one particular drug. This method will greatly benefit drug development in the coming days. Pharmaceutical companies can now target several subsets of patients and develop customized drugs with much less investments in large-scale clinical analysis. The model will also mitigate investment risks associated with the potency of the drug among a wide range of patients. Furthermore, doctors and researchers, who often sit on a goldmine of gene information, can adequately provide a drug development path along with a treatment path.

Read [article] here.

Picutre: Dan Theodorescu – courtesy UVA

Posted in Medicine | Leave a Comment »

Nanoparticle to fight allergy

Posted by evolvingwheel on June 22, 2007

Its the buckyball – a soccer ball shaped nanoparticle that has been found effective in fighting allergies. Researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University have been able to show that certain carbon based nanoparticles have been able to restrict allergic response during cell culture experiments. This finding is going to contribute to nanoimmunology research significantly.

Nanoparticle research is now the emerging gateway for new inventions in material science, technology, robotics, and healthcare. Micro-scale medicine research that involves binding agents to cells and tissues has been a very exciting domain of exploration. Particles that can attach to extremely small bio entities (like blood cells or tumor cells) are capable of activating, limiting, and catalyzing events in our favor. The buckeyball, with 60 Carbon atoms, is relatively inert and stable. This particle is capable of restrict mast cells from releasing histamine.

As with any early research, university research teams are the pathfinders in early breakthroughs. Healthcare and medical startups in nanoparticle domain will more and more tap on these teams and their findings. However, these findings need to go through more rigorous validations in order to reduce the risk of failure in pilot studies leading to launch. The invention-to-market time for nano materials are lower than pharmacological developments (that often range from 5-10 years) for conventional drugs. This whole new area of nanoimmunology will definitely create a new business model for investments and availability of affordable advanced treatments.

Read the article [here].

Posted in Innovation, investment, Medicine, micron, nanotechnology | 2 Comments »