As many as 1 in 10 patients respond well in clinical trials of experimental medicines that U.S. regulators end up rejecting, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). To understand why these patients had such a response, researchers are beginning to use DNA sequencing technology to determine if the patients they call “exceptional responders” carry gene variations that can lead to better targeted therapies, including new treatments and the reconsideration of others.
Traditional treatments such as chemotherapy kill healthy cells along with malignant ones, but targeted therapies are designed to leave healthy cells unscathed and home in on cancer cells that make tumors grow and spread. The catch is that they don’t work for everyone, and even patients who find them helpful tend to develop resistance over time. The NCI and academic medical centers including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., are creating a national database of exceptional responders to aid research. “What was yesterday’s miracle event is today becoming a subject of scientific inquiry,” says Leonard Lichtenfeld, an oncologist and the deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
“Imagine a digital tattoo that transmits skin temperature; a transparent sensor on a contact lens that tests for glaucoma; a pliable pacemaker wrapped around a beating heart; and an implant that controls pain after surgery, then dissolves harmlessly when it is no longer needed.
Each one is an experiment under way today in the biophysics of personal medicine.
At laboratories in the U.S., Switzerland, and Korea, bioengineers are developing unusually flexible ultrathin electronics that promise to free medical diagnostics from the clinical tethers of cables and power cords, to make measuring vital signs more intimate and effective.”
Cyberdyne’s robotic exoskeletal suits are designed for use at rehab centers by patients building strength. The company is also pitching them to hospitals and nursing homes in Japan, where people older than 65 already make up a quarter of the populace.
Cleveland Clinic tested the program in 2012 and now provides MyFamily to a growing number of patients, including many of its own employees, in its primary-care practices and some cancer programs. The clinic is discussing licensing the program to other providers and is also making a brief version of the MyFamily questionnaire and tips available free online to the public at clevelandclinic.org/family.
Other health-history gathering tools are also available online, including My Family Health Portrait developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Surgeon General's office, and Does It Run in the Family? from the nonprofit Genetic Alliance'sfamilyhealthhistory.org website.
"The first time I saw the technology I almost cried," said Alexandre DaSilva, an assistant professor at the university’s School of Dentistry, who is using the virtual cadaver along with his students. "In my wildest dream, I never thought that this would be possible."
The team behind the visualization system say it can be used for many other applications, from helping meteorologists dissect hurricanes to aiding in archaeological or paleontological studies. The previous CAVE system is being used by Department of Energy researchers to visualize subsurface models for tapping geothermal energy, to place power lines and to explore the insides of nuclear reactors.
The Kosair Children’s Hospital physician turned to the University of Louisville’s engineering school for help and was able to secure the use of a MakerBot 3D printer. With the 2D CT data turned into a 3D model and blown up to twice the normal size, it was far easier for the medical team to see the problems they were dealing with. Roland was born with a hole in his heart, with a deformed aorta and pulmonary artery. Because the heart must be stopped for surgery, the timing is critical — not being able to see an organ until you open the patient up means less time for doctors to find and repair damage.
The use of a 3D model for a pediatric heart surgery is a first for KY, but it’s not the first time 3D printers have been used to create models of surgical procedures. According to Tim Gornet, manager of the University of Louisville’s Rapid Prototyping Lab, the engineering school has already worked with doctors to create models of tumors and spinal defects. The total cost of printing up the model on a MakerBot? About $600.
Since electronic cigarettes hit the market in 2007, yearly sales have reached $1 billion in the U.S. Although they’re popular, it’s still unclear how safe they are. Last year, a study from an international group of scientists showed that the toxins in e-cigarette vapor are 9 to 450 times lower than in tobacco smoke. The Food and Drug Administration is still determining its regulatory stance. It’s sponsoring more research while sorting out its position.
A strip of pressure-sensitive floor tiles made of plastic evaluates a walker’s health based on footstep patterns. (Tactonic Technologies) tile system’s cloud-based analytics can provide health updates via smartphone and assist caretakers for the elderly.
A German startup is offering a high-tech monitoring system for this problem, which is set to grow more urgent as the developed world begins dealing with a spike in senior citizens. The company has developed an advanced, conductive textile floor covering they call SensFloor that detects when people are walking or lying on it. The innovation is already alerting European nursing homes when a senior has fallen.
Their flooring is a polyester fleece textile measuring just eight-hundredths of an inch in thickness. They use an ordinary textile production process to laminate a thin, conductive piece of metal into the fleece to make patterns like those found on circuit boards. Some parts of the pattern become sensor fields and others become conductive lanes. These are connected to embedded radio modules that communicate real-time data to the system’s cigarette-box-sized controller.
SensFloor switches lights, controls automatic doors, and detects unauthorised intrusion. For high-security applications like access control in combination with RFID, SensFloor can count individual people.