• Devices
  • Captains log, stardate 26022015: Star Trek's Tricorder is here

    A new development on planet Earth may have been inspired by previous contact with Starship Enterprise. It’s named after Xanadu, Kublai Khan’s ancient summer capital of great splendor and scientific progress, described by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge also remarked that the best physician is he who is “the most ingenious inspirer of hope”. The 18th century was a bleak time for healthcare.

    The Scanadu Scout is a small, round device that’s placed against the forehead. Within seconds, it provides heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and oxygen measurements, and an ECG.

    CNN has a post on the device and its inventor, Belgian Walter De Brouwer. Brouwer claims he was inspired by Dr Leonard “Bones” McCoy, chief medical office of TV’s starship USS Enterprise, and took Scanadu one step further: it is not only for use by medical professionals, as was the Tricoder, but by anyone. He says, “People will no longer ask if there’s a doctor on the plane, but if there’s a Tricorder.”

    Remarkably, Scanadu Scout is not an expensive prototype or a hopeful business plan. It’s a product, undergoing real-world testing. It’s also a finalist for the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, a contest to create affordable, handheld, home diagnostic devices. Development was crowdfunded with Indiegogo.

    We’ll most likely have to wait for local approvals before we see it in Africa. It seems only a matter of time before Scandu, or something like it, is making diagnosis easier at a clinic near you.

  • Google's been busy

    Google’s health-related undertaking over the last 12 months has been impressive to say the least. From Google Glass to its cancer screening smart pill, Google Flu trends and its smart contact lenses meant to monitor blood glucose levels through tears. Google’s approach to healthcare is “anything is possible”. It also helps that they have the financing to back that up.

    In 2014, the largest portion of Google Ventures’ investment was directed toward healthcare, according to a Wall Street Journal report, and an article in Beckers Health IT and CIO review.

    According to the report, 36% of Google Ventures’ 2014 invested capital went toward healthcare and life sciences, up from 9% in 2013 and 2012. And, Google has no plans to stop. “Barring some huge calamity, we’ll see more interesting things in life sciences in 2015,” said Bill Maris, head of Google Ventures.

    If the report is an indication of things to come, 2015 should be an exciting year for healthcare innovation. What they come up with next, is anyone’s guess.

  • USA's FDA releases its guidance for medical device manufacturers

    Health apps are becoming increasingly popular. There’s a wide range health and fitness apps now available at the click of a button. Although this free flow of information provides better insight into patients’ health, and has the potential to improve patient care, it brings with it its own set of risks. The USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) addresses this in a report on guidance and recommendations for manufacturers of medical devices. It urges manufacturers to consider cyber-security risks when they design and develop medical devices.

    Medical devices, like computer systems, can be open to security breaches which could affect their safety and effectiveness. By considering cyber-security risks at the design stage and in software updates, the FDA believes manufacturers can dramatically reduce this risk.

    Commenting on their guidance, Dr. Suzanne Schwartz, director of emergency preparedness, operations and medical countermeasures at the FDA, says, “There is no such thing as a threat-proof medical device. It is important for medical device manufacturers to remain vigilant about cyber-security and to appropriately protect patients from those risks.” This means the goal is to minimise the risk, and recognising that more can be done to move closer to elimination.

    The FDA concerns about cyber-security weaknesses include:

    Malware infections on medical devices Smartphones Tablets or computers that are network-connected and are used to access patient data. Unsecured or uncontrolled password distribution Failure to provide adequate security software updates and patches to medical devices and networks Off-the-shelf software designed to prevent unauthorized access to networks or devices.

    These recommendations are valuable and African countries could apply them to ensure that their medical devices and patients’ health data are protected.

  • Cote d' Ivoire develops its own tablet

    Rumors first surfaced in 2013 that Cote d’ Ivoire was building its own tablet. And now it’s here. It’s called Qelasy, meaning classroom in several African languages, including Akan, Malinke, Lingala and Bamileke. The name comes from the project’s inception, when the team started by converting government-approved Ivorian textbooks into digital format.

    Qelasy is being developed by an expert team Siregex, a technology company based in Cote d’ Ivoire. They’re led by 36-year old Thierry N’Doufou. Paul Adepoju of AfricanIPO, wrote a piece about it in May 2014.

    If you’ve ever wondered whether, as Plato suggested far more eloquently, necessity really is the mother of invention, then this Ivorian tablet will help to convince you. It’s been developed specifically to address local needs, and for local school kids in particular. Apparently Thierry N’Doufou got the idea after watching children struggle under the weight of cumbersome backpacks full of textbooks. “It is more than me feeling sorry for them,” N’Doufou said. “It is also about filling the digital gap between the south and the north, and bringing Ivorian education into the 21st century.”

    “The Qelasy is protected against everything that an African pupil without transportation might encounter during the walk to and from school,” N’Doufou said. “We knew we needed our own product. Our clients’ needs are very specific.” The tablet is resistant to a number of other potentially devastating threats, including to knocks, dust and splashes.

    The team started the project by converting all government-approved Ivorian textbooks into digital format. “We were obligated to process everything in a way [that would produce] quality images for high definition screens. It is a lot of work. We also enriched the curriculum with images and videos to make the educational experience more convivial.”

    Star Africa has reported that it was launched in the commercial capital Abidjan on Friday 12 September 2014. in the presence of the Minister of Postal and Information-Communication Technologies, Bruno Nabagne and students inside the lecture hall of the Felix Houphouet-Boigny University. “Our ambition is to succeed in computerizing all the educational system in a bid to make our system more efficient,” said N’Doufou. “A nation that wants to emerge and develop must have a well-educated and well-informed population.”

    The tablet operates on an Android operating system. It is assembled in China the Qelasy tablet computer will be sold for CFA180,000, about US$360. Will other African countries do something similar? Is the next step a manufacturing plant in Africa? eHNA will be watching to report on both.

  • AliveCor is a life-saving mobile App

    These days, there’s an app for just about everything, from maps, to games, to mobile banking. Health’s part of the craze with numerous health and healthcare apps now available. These can track the number of steps you take, help document your food intake and even monitor your sleep. While these are all interesting up to a point, the extent that they change lives is debatable. An article in WNDU.com says there is now an app that not only changes lives, but can help save them.

    The AliveCor app works with the AliveCor Heart Monitor and records and saves single-channel ECG’s onto its server. The Heart Monitor is available for US$200 and can be used to track your heart rate anywhere. It is available for both Android and iOS. The technology can be downloaded for free by anyone with an app store on their phone.

    The technology uses electrical impulses from the user chest and turns them into ultrasound signals that are transmitted to the phone. The high reliability tracings it produces are very similar to LEAD I on regular ECG machines. These recordings are then saved into the cloud, where the information can be accessed at any time under confidentiality. The information can immediately be sent to a doctor who can make an informed decision without having to see the patient. The technology also allows you to save the readings as a PDF or send it as an email.

    Most international funding in Africa is devoted to child and maternal mortality, HIV, TB and malaria. Cardiovascular disease is often overlooked. According to the World’s Health Organization, the burden is increasing rapidly in Africa. Findings in a Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy journal article show that in 2012, cardiovascular diseases accounted for 9.2% of total deaths in Africa.

    This technology has the potential to save countless lives. Hopefully, the inventors will continue to develop ways in which the heart tracings can be used and that the monitor will be available to African countries soon.

    eHNA covered a study of AliveCor in Sydney 2013.

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    Image from AliveCor website

  • South Africa's SHIP and PATH collaborate for GHIA

    Technology in healthcare in Africa has been boosted with the creation of the South Africa-based Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA). It’s aim is to quicken the pace of development and introduction of sustainable, high-impact health technologies that can save the lives of vulnerable women and children in South Africa and other countries. It’s led by the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP) unit at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and PATH, an international health organization driving transformative innovation to save lives. The organisations behind the SHIP joint venture set up in 2013 are the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and SAMRC.

    GHIA aims to fast-track the most promising technologies that deal with the health needs of low-resource communities. It connects scientific and technical expertise, finance, global networks with local scientists and innovators. The expected result is accelerated product development and use. It’s first priority is advancing medical devices, diagnostics, and health tools for the most vulnerable women and children.

    This matches a South Africa priority due to high rates of maternal and child mortality and HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and other communicable diseases. The National Department of Health’s strategic plan seeks to reduce preventable child deaths and ensure that mothers have access to antenatal, birth, and postpartum care.  The GHIA will support those goals by encouraging investment in the most appropriate technologies. It could also help to lay a foundation to respond to Africa’s demographic shift in the long-term surge in the number of children in Africa identified by UNICEF and reported in eHNA.

    PATH has a history of projects in South Africa. Since 2011, it’s committed US$3.7 million to advance health technologies, so GHIA is another step. All African countries can benefit too.

  • The pupillometer's helping to detect early complications of diabetes

    Thanks to a small wearable devices, we may be able to detect early complications of diabetes sooner, when its more easily treatable. A report in The Optical Society says researchers in Taiwan have developed pipillometer, a new technology. If it proves safe and effective in clinical trials, it may pave the way for the early detection of diabetic autonomic neuropathy, a common condition in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics. The condition affects the autonomic nerves controlling vital organs like the heart and gastrointestinal system. This can lead to problems like fainting, incontinence, nausea, heart arrhythmias and an increased risk of bacterial infection.

    Pupillometer can hang on a pair of eyeglasses and only weighs 78 grams. Developed by a team at National Taiwan University Hospital, Hsin Chu branch and National Chiao-Tung University, the device is designed to be worn for roughly 30 minutes in the doctor’s office, during which time it would monitor the patient’s pupils. By carefully measuring five parameters associated with the pupils, doctors may then be able to detect the earliest signs of diabetic autonomic neuropathy.

    Detecting asymptomatic diabetic autonomic neuropathy in its early stages and treating it properly may lead to far better health outcomes for patients. “Currently doctors rely on observing changes in digestive speed, heart rate and blood pressure to detect diabetic autonomic neuropathy which limits their ability to make a diagnosis early on”, said Mang Ou-Yang, who led the research with colleagues at National Chiao-Tung University. The research team has shown that monitoring the pupils of people with diabetes may be a far better approach. “Compared to the existing diagnostic techniques, the pupillometer is a more reliable, effective, portable and inexpensive solution for diagnosing diabetic autonomic neuropathy in its early stages,” says Ou-Yang.

    The pupil can be used to detect the condition due to the neurological conditions caused by the disease. Like many organs, the eyes and pupil are dually innervated, receiving signals from both the parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system. These divisions control the pupil’s circular and radial muscles, respectively.

    The pupillometer works by emitting four coloured lights to stimulate the pupil. A beam splitter attached to the device then filters the visible light that is reflected from the eye to the device’s camera, which processes the images to analyse the pupil’s size. The device measures ten parameters related to pupil diameter and response time. Of those ten, the researchers found that five parameters were significantly different in people with diabetic autonomic neuropathy, providing the diagnosis.

    Ou-Yang says if clinical trials are successful, the pupillometer could be available by 2020. African countries can start to plan to use it.

  • SAMBA II helping to make HIV testing easier in Africa

    A new transformative point-of-care diagnostic giving rapid results for HIV detection is being rolled out across Africa. The small, portable machine called SAMBA II, will help transform the lives of millions, especially HIV infants, who have a one in two chance of early death if the HIV infection is not diagnosed and treatment started within the first six weeks of life. According to the Welcome Trust SAMBA II is available in Uganda and Malawi and has recently received product approval in Kenya. It’s the first rapid, accurate and cost-effective DNA diagnosis which can be done at the point of care, in even the most environmentally challenging and resource-limited settings.

    Developed by Diagnostics for the Real World, a spin-out company from the University of Cambridge founded in 2002 SAMBA II instrument has taken ten years to develop. It uses innovative technology for “sample-in-results-out” testing without relying on centralised laboratories or specialist technicians. The complete testing process is provided within SAMBA II instrument using disposable cartridges. The results are shown as a simple blue line and available within 2 hours. It’s similar to a pregnancy test.

    Before SAMBA II, doctors have had to use nucleic-acid-based HIV tests that take many hours to perform and need specialist facilities, highly trained personnel and transport, often over long distances to centralised laboratories. There are many logistical problems that cause long delays. Sometimes, many patients were lost before they started treatment. SAMBA II overcomes many of these challenges.

    Dr Helen Lee, Director of Research in the Department of Haematology at Cambridge University and CEO of Diagnostics for the Real World, said “The beauty of these tests is that they are simple, accurate and have a fast turn-around time.” In addition to delivering accurate early infant diagnosis from a small pinprick blood sample, SAMBA II is also designed to measure the level of HIV in the blood.

    The Welcome Trust funded the early stages of development of SAMBA chemistry, bridging the gap between research and design. It further funding from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), the UK Technology Strategy Board and UNITAID. Médecins Sans Frontières, is another vital partner who provided access to their African sites for early SAMBA field testing.

    Peter McDermott, Executive Director of Health at CIFF, said “Since 2009, the number of children receiving HIV treatment has increased, but it still falls woefully short, with only 3 out of 10 eligible children having access. This is in part due to the lack of point-of-care testing. SAMBA II provides, for the first time, a transformational platform to address this critical barrier.”

  • Google to healthcare: we know what we're good at

    I wonder what Google’s healthcare enthusiasts make of the recent comments by Google co-founder Sergy Brin. He said, “Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It’s just a painful business to be in. It’s just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we’ll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs,” according to David Shaywitz’s Forbes article, aptly titled “Google Co-Founders to Healthcare: We’re Just Not That Into You.”

    Fortunately the world is bigger than the US and its regulations. It’s different in other countries, and it can change, and there is plenty of evidence that Google is interested in healthcare as a market for its technology.

    Based on a small sample of eHNA articles we know that Google’s passionate about fitness, is the heartbeat of some wearables, has developed a glucose-testing contact lens for diabetics, owns robots that could help healthcare, is using Google Glass in surgical procedures, is also in emergency rooms with Google Glass, and has an EHR for Google Glass. Google tracks influenza outbreaks, has joined a research team to tackle autism and has setup Calico, a new company to focus specifically on health.

    It’s an impressive list of health innovation by anyone’s standards. It sounds like a company that’s interested in healthcare, but not in providing it. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for African countries to attract the Google projects that are already doing so much eHealth and invariably want to do more.

  • Philips VISIQ ultrasound technology making waves in Kenya

    Technological advances continue to create opportunities to improve healthcare in Africa. Philipsrecently unveiled its latest ultrasound system VISIQ to the Kenyan market with the aim of reducing child mortality rates and improving maternal health, both top priorities for the Kenyan Ministry of Health.

    It’s approximately ten times smaller than a traditional ultrasound machine. With reduced energy consumption; this mobile innovation is easy to administer and imaging quality allows clinicians to perform ultrasound examinations in a variety of clinical settings. Health workers in small outpatient clinics, or community health centres can complete comprehensive obstetric and abdominal scans for diagnosis and treatment themselves rather than refer patients to regional ultrasound centers. VISIQ can also be used in community care programmes in remote rural areas to screen patients, triage patients and complete foetal well-being scans, all of which help to improve maternal and infant care in Kenya.

    JJ van Dongen, senior vice president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Philips Africa said “by launching this new system in Kenya, Philips continues to demonstrate its dedicated support to the Kenyan Ministry of Health in its mission to reduce child mortality rates, improve maternal health, meet the UN Millennium Development Goals 4 & 5 and revitalise Kenya’s health infrastructure as part of Kenya’s Vision 2030,”