PSFK Picks: Top 10 Health Innovations Of The Week

PSFK Picks: Top 10 Health Innovations Of The Week

From an algorithm capable of detecting early childhood autism to a new sensor that lets doctors detect HIV with the naked eye, we bring you the most innovative stories from the world of wellness research.

Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs
  • 25 november 2012

PSFK has partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim to bring you a snapshot of Ten Innovative Ideas each week that are reshaping the health care industry. Continue reading below for the most exciting ideas from the past seven days.

Webcam Detects Behaviors That Signal Autism
Using computerized motion-tracking researchers in Minnesota have developed a system that can detect behaviors linked to a higher risk of autism in toddlers. The system looks at the body movements of children as young as 2 and tracks their arms, torso, legs and head as they perform ordinary tasks, and the software identifies the behaviors that autistic children exhibit at that age. In trials comparing the system with the opinions of autism experts and child psychiatrists, it outperformed the child psychiatrists by agreeing with the experts more often. The hope is that if autism can be identified earlier in a child’s life, they can be taught social skills before autistic behaviors become ingrained. This system would drastically reduce the time and cost of identifying at-risk children.

Bluetooth-Enabled Inhalers Track Asthma Patterns Where They Occur
Asthmapolis is a suite of tools designed to help patients and health providers better monitor the causes linked to asthma. Each time the inhaler is used, a Bluetooth-enabled sensor records the time and location of the incident. The GPS-specific information is transferred to Asthmapolis’ servers where the data can be used by individuals to track their response to treatments or by public health officials to spot and map patterns and outbreaks. Due to the variability of asthma within different environments, the innovation aims to provide precise information about where and how an inhaler is needed.

The Latest Treatment In Drug Therapy? Flashes Of Light
A research study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has offered new insight into managing a person’s habits and addictions through simple bursts of light. The experiment consisted of a T-shaped maze, a group of rat subjects, and a technique called optogenetics in order to determine how designed influences can break learned habits. By adding a light-sensitive protein to the brain of the rats and then flashing a light of a particular color at the subject’s eyes, the scientists were able to shut down the neurons associated with the targeted habitual behavior. The immediate success of the experiment gives the scientist hope that optogenetics could be used in treating human addictive behaviors.

New Sensor Helps Doctors Detect HIV With Their Bare Eyes
British scientists at Imperial College London have developed a sensor that enables physicians to detect diseases such as prostate cancer and HIV in very early stages with the naked eye. The super-sensitive prototype sensor uses blood samples to measure biomarkers in the body that are associated dangerous diseases. Depending on the ailment, the sensor will produce a color of red or blue, allowing doctors to diagnose diseases visually without having to wait for time-consuming blood tests to be performed. The researchers claim that their new visual sensor technology is 10 times more sensitive than traditional disease detectors, allowing physicians to detect life-threatening illnesses much earlier than previously possible.

Your Saliva Could Soon Tell Doctors If You Have Cancer
New research published by UCLA’s School of Dentistry in the Journal of the American Dental Association suggests that salivary diagnostics or ‘salivaomics’ could become a frontline resource in the early detection of a broad range of potential health problems like autoimmune diseases, diabetes and even life-threatening conditions like cancer. While the analysis of saliva is a relatively new field, initial studies show the presence of the entire genome and a slew of other supporting characters that could be isolated to screen for various conditions. The paper’s authors see the results generated from saliva samples being just as meaningful as those taken from blood and other bodily fluids, with the added benefit of requiring non-invasive procedures.

Surgical Implant Tracks Food Consumption, Helps Patients Lose Weight
IntraPace, a medical device company, has repurposed pacemaker technology into an implantable stimulator that diminishes hunger pangs and the desire to eat. The abiliti system is implanted using a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, which only requires a small abdominal incision, and is able to detect when a person consumes food or drink, delivering low energy impulses to reduce food cravings. Paired with a wireless sensor and monitoring system patients are able to track food activity levels and monitor food consumption. By using the stimulator and tracking system in unison healthcare providers hope to reinforce healthy behaviors and activities that help make weight loss plans more effective and long lasting.

Medical Testing Kit Can Detect Genetic Disposition For Multiple Diseases
Yahoo Japan is set to release a DIY DNA testing kit called GeneLife2012, which is designed to allow anyone to test themselves for a genetic predisposition to various diseases. A user simply swabs the inside of their mouth for saliva and lets the sample sit for about 10 minutes, before packaging it up and sending the sample to the Genesis Healthcare lab for analysis. The company claims the kit can test a user for up to 68 genes indicating proclivities toward conditions including allergies, gout, diabetes, obesity, and a number of other possible future medical conditions. The kit retails for $371, and Yahoo Japan ensures that it will not have access to the genetic testing results data.

Could Future Pacemakers Be Powered By The Human Heart?
Research conducted by the American Heart Association suggests that the human heart produces more than enough energy to continually power a pacemaker, pointing to a potential future where medical implants would no longer need to be replaced due to failed batteries. The study used a prototype piezoelectric energy-harvesting device developed by the University of Michigan, but rather than test it out on an actual human heart, the pacemaker was measured against the kinetic energy made available by the heart, recreating those energy levels using mechanical shakers. The results demonstrated that the human heart could produce as much as 10 times the energy needed to power a modern pacemaker. Furthermore, advocates of these pacemakers claim that, unlike battery-powered versions, the device is not affected by electromagnetic interference from devices such as mobile phones.

Digital Hopscotch Teaches Kids How To Have Fun With Exercise
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have developed an interactive version of the playground game Hopscotch that’s designed to couple learning with fun and fitness. The redesigned HOPSCOTCH consists of a sensor mat subdivided into nine fields and a motion sensor that is connected to a monitor. The mat is used to complete tasks or answer questions displayed on the screen with a user jumping, between boxes. An ActiSENS motion sensor, which is housed in a box hooked to the user’s belt, measures the intensity of physical activity used while completing the tasks, and transmits the data in real-time via Bluetooth. The concept helps encourage users to jump and pool information in ways that can be stored for later evaluation.

How Crowdfunding Is Moving Scientific Research Forward
Scientific research into rare and lesser known diseases without the funding to advance clinical trials have begun sourcing financial support from interested parties and science enthusiasts online. Historically, niche scientific research projects have been stifled by a combination of a lack of backing from drug companies only inclined to research cures that will bring in profits, and the National Institutes of Health, which only funds 18% of research projects that come its way, compared to 30% back in 2003. In response, many projects have turned to unconventional outlets for financial backing. Startups like PetriDish and Microryza offer highly specific crowdfunding sites that aggregate niche research projects onto one platform, which are in dire need of funding. Though the high cost of ongoing clinical trials may preclude crowdfunding as a complete solution, the hope is that one day these projects might seed enough startup capital to advance testing to the stage where a pharmaceutical company would be interested in funding it, thereby representing a new milestone for the role of crowdfunding in scientific research.

PSFK has partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim to bring you a steady stream of inspiring news and ideas in the health and wellness space. Once each week, we will be posting an article on If you would like to gain access to the full stream of content, please check out Boehringer Ingelheim’s Facebook page, where they are publishing a regular stream of inspiring and informative content.

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