Applications of Digital Health Research
Imagine this scenario: a patient provides a tumor sample, which a physician then sends to a lab for genetic sequencing. The resulting analysis shows the location and type of genetic changes, which would allow patients to receive personalized care. Baylor College of Medicine, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Harvard Medical School researchers are aiming to make this scenario a reality through a comprehensive study of genetic mutations in the P13K pathway – the most commonly mutated pathway in cancer. With support from National Institutes of Health grants, researchers are taking what has been learned about the P13K pathway in labs and analyzing it together with information about the genes and proteins present in cancer cells. This study is the largest of its kind and will be important in developing cancer therapies that target the P13K pathway.
Monitoring vital signs like heart rate and understanding blood flow is essential to health care, especially in critical care. However, measuring these signs requires skin contact, which can cause severe damage to the skins of babies and others with sensitive skin. Rice University researchers are developing a growing suite of methods, including CameraVitals and PulseCam, which measure the vital signs and blood flow below the skin of a patient by recording video of their faces for non-contact monitoring. One of the core algorithms in CameraVitals called distancePPG extracts pulse rate, pulse rate variability, and breathing rate from video footage of a patient’s face or any other exposed skin surface. The algorithm is based on estimating tiny changes in skin color due to changes in blood volume underneath the skin surface. This research, funded in part by the National Science Foundation for expeditions in computing, can be instrumental in reducing infection and mortality rates among newborns.
Originally developed by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers to share information among healthcare workers treating patients with HIV in Uganda, emocha now has capabilities that enable patients to use a HIPAA-compliant mobile application to record videos of themselves taking their medication. Monitoring patients’ medication intake dose-by-dose can improve medication adherence thereby reducing hospital readmissions and lowering health care costs. This technology, which is now licensed to a company named emocha Mobile Health in Baltimore, is used to treat HIV, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis C, opioid use disorder, and other chronic and infectious diseases. emocha Mobile Health has received a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to research the feasibility of video DOT for patients undergoing the initiation phase of buprenorphine treatment through office-based opioid treatment programs. Patients using emocha’s technology have achieved medication adherence rates greater than 90 percent, compared to 50 percent adherence on average. emocha has shown great potential of being a scalable platform that improves health outcomes.
Sequencing over one million genomes might sound like a daunting task, but it’s what the All of Us initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is setting out to accomplish. Researchers are studying participants’ biological data as well as their environments and lifestyles to develop ways to measure risk for a range of diseases. They hope that the data can help identify biological markers that signal increased or decreased risk of disease, and possibly use existing mobile health technologies to correlate activity, physiological measures and environmental exposures with health outcomes. The data will be used to create a platform that enables trials of targeted therapies, and the NIH hopes that the data and resources will be of use to multiple sectors, including academic and not-for-profit research groups, patient groups, and the private sector.
One of the biggest barriers in wearable electronics has been an inability to interface soft circuits with rigid microchips and electronics hardware needed for sensing, digital processing, and power. With support from grants from the Department of Defense, Carnegie Mellon University researchers are addressing this through smart tattoos – soft, water-resistant, medical-grade adhesive embedded with wireless electronics that can be easily customized to measure different health parameters and cost less than one dollar to print. This technology is being used in pulse oximetry monitoring for patients with type 1 diabetes, for whom 24/7 pulse oximetry monitoring does not yet exist. The researchers are also working in conjunction with NASA to use smart tattoos to help robot doctors assess their patients’ vital signs.
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