Here’s our weekly summary of tweets from @hfdigest, and their significance.

The Practice of Medicine

A study has claimed to show that an MRI brain scan can detect pedophiles. Well, that study may have a lot of problems; however, it is part of an inexorable trend in which medicine is turning from an art to a science. Funnily enough, that is partly what makes the practice of medicine more, not less, accessible to amateurs. For example, we now have a cheap lens that turns an ordinary cellphone into a microscope able to photograph blood cells. Although the images currently have to be sent to a doctor for analysis, pretty soon there’ll be an app for that, enabling anyone to perform a blood analysis. Could that be one reason why doctors are slow to adopt innovations? Do they just want to delay the inevitable? No. According to Emily Singer, it’s because they don’t get paid for it.

Postmodern Medicine

Genomic medicine too continued on its inexorable roll with the discovery of a genetic marker for severe hypoglycemia that will probably help lead to a treatment for the condition, and the even more exciting finding that mice with severe spinal muscular atrophy lived 25 times longer than untreated mice alao infected with the human form of severe SMA, after they were injected with an “antisense” genetic drug. Human trials of the drug are to start this year.

In digital medicine, however, a cautionary note was sounded: The massive datasets such as those resulting from the implementation of EMRs, genomics, and so on can be dangerous. The data may be unethically gathered (as Facebook, Google, and many corporations are often, and in our estimation fairly, accused of) and there is a tendency to think might makes right–the the sheer scale of a dataset assures validity and reliability. It ain’t necessarily so.

In bionic medicine, it will be a relatively short step to go from a system enabling monkeys both to feel and to move objects using only their brains, to robotic prosthetic arms enabling paralyzed patients to feel and to move real objects. The question posed by a BBC News article–“Ready for the robot revolution?” is clearly timely. (BTW, you may answer “Yes!” if you have read my latest book about the emergence of machine intelligence.)


Injections of a natural compound present in both mice and humans have helped reverse diabetes in mice. Another natural compound, the hormone orexin, has been found to have possibilities to prevent and treat obesity. And beta blockers (commonly used to treat heart conditions) appear to prevent breast cancer metastasis in some cases. These are all very important developments.


The Nobel prize for medicine went to three scientists for their work in immunology. Sadly, one of the three died three days before the announcement.

We found most intriguing an article by Christopher Mims in Technology Review suggesting that interactive storytelling via a game interface could replace the book. Mims provides a current example. It is a step towards the ultimate “book,” which will be like the Star Trek holodeck, whose development we have tracked and written about often before, and which is essentially here.





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