Potpourri of Advances

On November 26, 2011, in Uncategorized

It’s been a week of disparate but interesting advances. Here’s a summary of those I chose to tweet:


There have been very good results in mice of a 2-drug therapy for radiation sickness. And in human ALS patients undergoing a phase II clinical trial of new drug dexpramipexole, the progression of the disease was slowed. Dexpramipexole appears to work by protecting neurons from mitochondrial dysfunction.


The diagnosis of rare diseases will become quicker and cheaper, thanks to the latest sequencing technology. And sequencing technology will continue to get faster and cheaper as the speed of computing increases. The door to computing speed so high that the impact will be revolutionary has been cracked open with two recent advances: One that makes possible an integrated optical chip, and “tunnel FET” computer chips that reduce power consumption by a factor of 100. The latter advance is closer to market.

We don’t need something as exotic as superfast computing to have a revolutionary impact on healthcare. A simple price list for healthcare services might suffice. The cost of care would almost certainly come down. The question is, could the falling cost bring down the industry itself?

(Self-) Caregiving as a Game?

Human jobs are being turned into games. The theory is that when presented as a game, work becomes more interesting and the worker becomes more productive. This might have possibilities for some of the more repetitive, back-office work in healthcare. When I read that a patient has demanded direct, real-time access to data generated by his implant, I couldn’t help wondering what the patient might do with the data and then, assuming that s/he could take some action to “improve” the readings, whether turning the management of a disease into a game for the patient might improve compliance. In any event, this patient’s demand is another sign of the growing trend to patient self-management and self-care

In my writing and talks I almost invariably note that ultimately, neither patients nor clinicians will care: Machines will take total care of our health, unobtrusively. A step in that direction is a wireless ultrasonic pacemaker that enables pulses to be delivered anywhere in the heart.

Brains and Robots

A study has shown that the brain works like a neural network, weighing inputs/assigning probability. This is hardly surprising—the brain is a network of neurons and therefore a neural network—but getting at the detail of how it works is an important step forward for understanding brain disorders. It could also be useful in improving the design of artificial neural networks used to add intelligence to robots. Mind you, when robots take on the forms of giant snakes and spiders we might want to be careful about how much (or about how little) intelligence we give them.


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