AsianScientist (Nov. 7, 2018) â€“ Bill Gates wrote in 2013 that, â€śI have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition.â€ť
This statement is just as relevant today as it was then, especially in the healthcare sector, where the first step of diagnosing disease typically involves measuring some physiological parameter, be it body temperate or heart rate.
While the thermometer and stethoscope remain relevant in todayâ€™s hospitals, there is a need to develop newer and better tools for doctors to probe more thoroughly into the human body. From implantable devices to data analytics methods, innovations in the medical technology sector could transform healthcare by helping medical professionals detect diseases more quickly and accurately, as well as make better treatment decisions.
IPIâ€™s partnership with the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) has brought forth interesting exhibitors from Europe at TechInnovation 2018. The European SMEs showcased a range of technologies that could revolutionise our approach to healthcare. These three inventions caught our attention.
An attractive solution
Size matters when it comes to developing implantable health sensors. The smaller the device, the less obtrusive it is to an individualâ€™s daily activities. But in addition to size, implantable sensors have a more stringent requirement of biocompatibilityâ€”that is, they should be non-toxic and should not trigger an adverse immune reaction in the body.
Slovakia-based technology company RVmagnetics has managed to overcome these challenges with their miniature glass-coated smart sensors.
â€śOur microwires have a metallic core and are glass coated, which makes them more biocompatible,â€ť said Henrich Tauber, Business Developer at RVmagnetics. â€śEach wire is less than one-third the thickness of a human hair and can be embedded into many materials without changing the materialsâ€™ properties.â€ť
The microwires can measure temperature, pressure, tension, torsion, position, electric current and magnetic field simultaneously. Producing these microwires at an industrial scale is also not an issue for RVmagneticsâ€”Tauber highlighted that the company manufactures 100,000 microwires in ten minutes.
In a collaborative project with a research partner, RVmagnetics placed their microwires inside titanium implants and demonstrated real time sensing of the temperature of those implants inside the human body.
â€śBecause of [the microwiresâ€™] magnetic properties, you can get a signal readout from ten centimetres away. You donâ€™t need any electrical contact nor a power source. It is a truly passive sensor,â€ť Tauber added.
Taking wearables to heart
Smart implants are just one format of sensors used in healthcare. Another category of devicesâ€”the wearablesâ€”are also becoming a popular option for health monitoring. While Fitbit and Apple watches are targeted at the mass consumer market, MediBioSenseâ€™s wearables are pitched at healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.
â€śOur key product is a wearable device, the VitalPatchÂ®. Itâ€™s applied to the chest and records a patientâ€™s electrocardiogram (ECG), heart and respiration rate, skin temperature, the number of steps they take, and their posture,â€ť explained Simon Beniston, Founder and CEO of the UK-based company.
The data captured by the patch is then relayed to a mobile phone before being uploaded to a cloud server for analysis.
â€śWhat this means is the patient can be at home or in a different country from the physician or medical team but still be monitored remotely, and in real time,â€ť he said. â€śIf thereâ€™s an issue with the heart, typically, we know before the patient does, and the doctors can then intervene.â€ť
Beniston also noted how the VitalPatchÂ® could be used to bring cardiac screening to remote areas where it may be cumbersome to transport a standard 12 lead ECG apparatus typically used in hospitals. In this case, technology increases access to care.
â€śItâ€™s all about knowing sooner, knowing quicker and responding faster,â€ť he quipped.
The devil is in the data
Combine the information streams from implantable sensors and wearable health trackers with genomic testing and you will have an overwhelmingly large volume of data. Cutting through the noise to derive medically-meaningful insights can be extremely tricky and time consuming.
To help doctors along, MediSapiensâ€”a company located in Helsinki, Finlandâ€”has developed a suite of digital tools that leverage data analytics and machine learning for deep analysis of big data.
â€śWhat we want to do is enable researchers, governments and pharmaceutical companies to find answers to specific questions that they have,â€ť said Hans Garritzen, Key Account Manager at MediSapiens. â€śIt could be for the development of drugs for a specific patient, or for understanding the behaviour of a population.â€ť
Noting that simply providing the software tools is not enough, he emphasised that MediSapiensâ€™ strength lies in good software design that enhances usability. In addition, rather than build a closed software solution, MediSapiensâ€™ platform allows for integration with third-party applications, allowing clinicians and researchers to customise the digital tools to suit their needs.
â€śWe have application programming interfaces to enable others to build on top of what we create, so itâ€™s an inclusive system,â€ť he said.
Clearly, the healthcare space is rich with innovation, and collaborations between inventors and medical practitioners are helping to push the envelope of what can be done for patients. Should you be interested in the technologies and companies featured in this article, IPI can connect you with them to explore partnership opportunities.
Asian Scientist Magazine is a media partner of Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore.