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Applied Biotechnology, Immunology, Infectious Disease, Research, Technology

Artificial spleen shown to filter dangerous pathogens from blood

Artificial spleen shown to filter dangerous pathogens from blood

79118_webOur spleens filter out toxins from our blood and help us fight infections. But serious infections can overpower our bodies’ ability to fight them off, especially among older adults whose immune systems are weaker. Now, a research team led by Donald Ingber, MD, PhD, of Harvard has come up with an artificial “biospleen” that can trap bacteria, fungi and viruses and remove them from circulating blood. Science Magazine describes the device in a news story:

The team first needed a way to capture nasties. They coated tiny magnetic beads with fragments of a protein called mannose-binding lectin (MBL). In our bodies, MBL helps fight pathogens by latching onto them. Ingber and colleagues showed that the sticky beads could grab a variety of microbes in the test tube.

With that key challenge out of the way, the researchers were ready to design the rest of the system. They engineered a microchiplike device a little bigger than a deck of cards that works somewhat like a dialysis machine. As blood enters the device, it receives a dose of the magnetic beads, which snatch up bacteria, and then fans out into 16 channels. As the blood flows across the device, a magnet pulls the beads—and any microbes or toxins stuck to them—out of the blood, depositing them in nearby channels containing saline.

The researchers first tested their device with donated human blood tainted with bacteria. They found that filtering the blood through the device five times could eliminate 90% of the microbes.

The device improved survival rates in rats and may decrease the incidence of sepsis, a dangerous side effect of severe infections. The researchers also found that the device could filter the total volume of blood in an adult human – about 5 liters or (1.3 gallons) – in about five hours.

Previously: Our aging immune systems are still in business, but increasingly thrown out of balance
Image, of the magnetic MBL-coated nanobeads beads capturing pathogens, from Harvard University Wyss Institute

Patient Care, Research, Technology

How can health-care providers better leverage social media to improve patient care?

How can health-care providers better leverage social media to improve patient care?

A growing number of Americans are turning to the Internet for health information and many are using social media tools to engage with patients like themselves or health-care providers. But findings recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research suggests that a significant portion of the health-related content on social networking sites is irrelevant or devoted to marketing or promotion of products, events and institutions. Study authors also warned that social media can quickly spread misinformation to a broad audience.

In the study, Stanford medical student Akhilesh Pathipati and colleagues analyzed Facebook search results for common medical conditions. Pathipati explains in a Sacramento Bee opinion piece how health-care providers can adopt social media strategies to address the  concerns mentioned above. He writes:

Providers should build online support systems that reach all patients. A PricewaterhouseCoopers poll found that 40 percent of respondents would use social media to cope with chronic medical conditions. If patients are embarrassed by having a stigmatized illness though, they may lack that coping mechanism.

In the short term, providers may want to set up private groups on social networking sites in which patients can interact with other affected individuals. Setting up an anonymous network may prove to be even more useful, as anonymity has been shown to help people share more about their health. The long-term goal should be to find ways to reduce the stigma associated with certain illnesses.

Previously: Lack of adoption of social media among health-policy researchers = missed opportunity, More reasons for doctors and researchers to take the social-media plunge and A reminder to young physicians that when it comes to social media, “it’s no longer about you”

Bioengineering, Research, Stanford News, Technology

Proteins from pond scum revolutionize neuroscience

Proteins from pond scum revolutionize neuroscience

pond scum smallI wrote a story recently about a cool technique called optogenetics, developed by bioengineering professor Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD. He won the Keio Prize in Medicine, and I thought it might be interesting to talk with some other neuroscientists at Stanford to get their take on the importance of the technology. You know something is truly groundbreaking when each and every person you interview uses the word “revolutionary” to describe it.

Optogenetics is a technique that allows scientists to use light to turn particular nerves on or off. In the process, they’re learning new things about how the brain works and about diseases and mental health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, addiction and depression.

In describing the award, the Keio Prize committee wrote:

By making optogenetics a reality and leading this new field, Dr. Deisseroth has made enormous contributions towards the fundamental understanding of brain functions in health and disease.

One of the things I found most interesting when writing the story came from a piece Deisseroth wrote several years ago in Scientific American in which he stressed the importance of basic research. Optogenetics would not have been a reality without discoveries made in the lowly algae that makes up pond scum.

“The more directed and targeted research becomes, the more likely we are to slow our progress, and the more certain it is that the distant and untraveled realms, where truly disruptive ideas can arise, will be utterly cut off from our common scientific journey,” Deisseroth wrote.

Deisseroth told me that we need to be funding basic, curiosity-driven research along with efforts to make those discoveries relevant. He said that kind of translation is part of the value of  programs like Stanford Bio-X – an interdisciplinary institute founded in 1998 – which puts diverse faculty members side by side to enable that translation from basic science to medical discovery.

Previously: They said “Yes”: The attitude that defines Stanford Bio-X, New York Times profiles Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and his work in optogenetics, An in-depth look at the career of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth, “a major name in science”, Lightning strikes twice: Optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth’s newest technique renders tissues transparent, yet structurally intact, The “rock star” work of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and Nature Methods names optogenetics its “Method of the Year
Photo by Tim Elliott, Shutterstock photos

Events, Medical Education, Medicine X, Patient Care, Stanford News, Technology

Stanford Medicine X: From an “annual meeting to a global movement”

Stanford Medicine X: From an "annual meeting to a global movement"

MedX_musical_finaleAs Medicine X came to a close Sunday, ePatient and American Idol participant Marvin Calderon Jr. gave a special vocal performance that moved audience members to their feet and ended in an explosion of colorful streamers falling from the top of the main auditorium at the School of Medicine’s Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.

The three-day event, which was attended by more than 650 people and watched via live webcast by several thousand more, is Stanford’s premier conference on emerging health-care technology and patient-centered medicine. The conference hashtag #MedX was a top-trending term on Twitter in the U.S. throughout the conference, with more than 48,000  tweets sent out between Thursday and Sunday.

Medicine X has historically examined how social media, mobile-health devices, and other technologies influence the doctor-patient relationship. But this year, the program also focused on how partnerships forged between health-care providers, patients and pharmaceutical industry would define the medical team of the future, amplify patients’ voices, and shape medical education. Along with the topics of relationships and connectedness, a number of key themes emerged over the course of the conference, including engagement, empathy, and the imp0rtance of  treating the whole person.

Daniel Siegel, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, touched on several of these themes during his opening talk about developing a healthy mind, an integrated brain, and empathetic relationships. “Our relationships give us a sense of being seen, of feeling felt, of feeling connected. Those are the fundamental ways we create well-being in our bodily lives,” he said. “We live in connection to each other… Relationship experiences that are stressful early in life can lead to medical problems later.”

Several sessions put a special spotlight on the importance of treating the whole person and the link between mental and physical health. Patients shared their experiences with depression and anxiety, and many revealed how they had to grieve the loss of their healthy self in order to accept their new life. They also spoke about how they felt weakened by their mental-health condition and struggled to be empowered, or proactive, in their health care. Gonzalo Bacigalupe, EdD, MPH, a psychologist and professor of counseling and school psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, told patients, “Maybe the ‘e’ in ePatient is not enough. Maybe you need a ‘c’ that stands for connected. If you are connected, then the burden that you are feeling can be shared.”

Larry Chu and patient - smallSentiments about the need to foster empathy in medicine were discussed in parallel panels and during coffee break chats. Emily Bradley, an ePatient with a rare type of autoimmune arthritis, told attendees at a session about invisible pain, “I don’t fault my loved ones for not understanding my pain. I don’t want them to understand and I’m glad that they don’t. I think what’s missing is empathy.” Liza Bernstein, an ePatient advisor and three-time cancer survivor, told attendees at the closing ceremony, “Empathy doesn’t need that much. All empathy needs is us.”

The conference also tried to keep a focus on all different types of patient populations – including those who underserved. “There is a disconnect between solutions being build and the needs of vulnerable populations,” said Veenu Aulakh, executive director of the Center for Care Innovation during a talk on the “no smart-phone” patient. “We need to be designing [solutions] for today, not the future, and the 91 percent of patients that have a text-enabled phone.”

Larry Chu, MD, executive director of the conference (pictured above with Bernstein), warmly greeted the audience each morning – and on Saturday had a special announcement:  the launch of Medicine X Academy, a new effort aimed at continuing to build community among all stakeholders in health care and filling important gaps in medical education. The initiative will include a second conference in 2015 titled Stanford Medicine X ED (currently scheduled for Sept. 23-24, 2015). Joining Chu on stage to talk about the initiative, Bryan Vartabedian, MD, a Baylor College of Medicine physician and a longtime speaker at the conference, told attendees that medical education is “ripe for disruption.” And he noted that Medicine X – which has evolved “from an annual meeting into a global movement,” was poised to take it on.

Speaking of a global movement, there was very much a sense during the weekend that what was happening was bigger than just a conference – with at least one panel moderator telling attendees, “This conversation doesn’t end when we leave the stage.” And Bernstein summed up the three days of panels, presentations and powerful Ignite talks from ePatients saying, “I leave here re-energized, recharged, re-inspired and I hope you do too. Stay in touch on Twitter and see you next year!”

More news about Stanford Medicine X is available in the Medicine X category.

Previously: Medicine X explores the relationship between mental and physical health: “I don’t usually talk about this”, At Medicine X, four innovators talk teaching digital literacy and professionalism in medical school, What makes a good doctor – and can data help us find one?, Medicine X aims to “fill the gaps” in medical education, Stanford Medicine X 2014 kicks off today and Medicine X spotlights mental health, medical team of the future and the “no-smartphone” patient
Photos by Stanford Medicine X

Medical Education, Medical Schools, Medicine X, Technology

At Medicine X, four innovators talk teaching digital literacy and professionalism in medical school

At Medicine X, four innovators talk teaching digital literacy and professionalism in medical school

med ed panelOne of my favorite talks yesterday at Stanford’s Medicine X was “Fostering Digital Citizenship in Medical School,” where four esteemed panelists talked about the innovative programs they’ve put in place at their institutions.

The physicians joked several times that a good panel often involves controversy or conflict among speakers – but the four of them weren’t in disagreement about much. They all believe that things like understanding social media and knowing how to build one’s digital footprint are crucial skills for doctors-to-be, even if those aren’t an obvious focus for the students themselves. “We can’t expect students to understand” this, said Warren Wiechmann, MD, an associate dean at UC Irvine School of Medicine. “They’re focused on learning core forms of medicine.” (Wiechmann started in 2010 a program to provide each incoming medical student with an iPad and has since added to the school’s curriculum courses on topics such as social media, wearables, and new digital trends in medicine.)

Kyra Bobinet, MD, PhD, who worked alongside Stanford anesthesiologist (and Medicine X executive director) Larry Chu, MD, to develop and teach Engage and Empower Me, an online course that focuses on patient-engagement design, noted that it’s academic leaders’ job to be “forward-thinking” for the students “so they’re so they’re not behind” when they become physicians. And Bryan Vartabedian, MD, who created at Baylor College of Medicine Digital Smarts, a four-year curriculum that focuses on “professionalism, safety, and mindfulness with social media,” agreed. “We’re asking big questions here,” he told the audience. “What does a doctor need to know 20 years from now? Will he (or she) know how to send a tweet? Do we have to be platform-specific [when teaching]?”

A portion of the 45-minute talk was devoted to the difficulty of incorporating new things in a medical school’s curriculum, which is, panelist Amin Azzam, MD, said, already “chock full.” Said Wiechmann: “The big dilemma is what do we take out to put in in?” In turn, many of the schools’ instructions on digital professionalism and literacy come in the form of elective courses.

When discussing other challenges, Wiechmann said the “line ups not very deep” when it comes to leaders in medical school who know about digital media. These topics aren’t “even on the radar” of many faculty-instructors, he said. The panelists also mentioned that the students – most of whom barely remember a time before e-mail, and many of whom consider themselves tech-savvy – don’t always think they need training on digital issues. “In one way they know a lot about technology, but they don’t get how to be doctors,” pointed out Azzam, who developed a University of California elective course that allows 4th year medical students to edit Wikipedia for academic credit. (“We want them to be digital contributors, not merely digital consumers,” he explained.)

Vartabedian said the information that Baylor provides to their students is contextual. Teaching medical students about smartphone use or social media in general wouldn’t be terribly helpful, he pointed out – but it becomes valuable “if you talk about it in the wards.” What should you do, for example, if a patient engages you via Twitter?

The end of the discussion shifted to patient engagement and the need to educate students about just the thing Vartabedian mentioned (i.e. how to interact with patients on social media) and how the e-patient movement works. “I have a responsibility as an educator to put this content [about patient engagement] – more than, say, biochemistry – in front of students,” said Wiechmann.

More news about Stanford Medicine X is available in the Medicine X category.

Previously: Medicine X aims to “fill the gaps” in medical education, More reasons for doctors and researchers to take the social-media plunge, A reminder to young physicians that when it comes to social media, “it’s no longer about you”, A conversation about digital literacy in medical education, Advice for physicians when interacting with patients online and How can physicians manage their online persona? KevinMD offers guidance
Photo by Stanford Medicine X

Medicine and Society, Medicine X, Patient Care, Technology

What makes a good doctor – and can data help us find one?

What makes a good doctor - and can data help us find one?

Ornstein panelWhile much conversation at Medicine X focused around the doctor-patient relationship, ProPublica reporter Charles Ornstein posed to conference attendees this morning a more fundamental question: How do you find a doctor? “This is trickier than you think,” he said and proceeded to discuss how data can yield helpful information for those looking for (or assessing their current) physician. He outlined some of the information – mostly involving doctor-industry relationships and physician-prescribing practices – that ProPublica has gleaned from federal databases, and he outlined questions that patients might want to ask their doctors about such things. (“So my doctor has a relationship with a company. But how is that affecting my care?” he said.)

Ornstein spent a good amount of time discussing the importance of making information – presumably not just information on negative things, such as whether a doctor appears to over-prescribe a certain medication or has ever been disciplined, but also about thoughts on physicians’ care from patients – more widely available.“We all want doctors who are good at what they’re doing clinically, and it’s time for us to stop making that a secret,” he said, before making his closing statement that “Data should be freed so we can make better health-care decisions.”

In the panel session – moderated by our own Paul Costello – that followed, several important points were made. First, Vivian Lee, MD, PhD, MBA, dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine and CEO of University of Utah Health Care, reminded the audience that the “majority of doctors are not bad apples” and can improve on things if given the chance. University of Utah makes patient-survey information publicly available, and she described the six-month period before this service was launched as a time where doctors worked to boost their level of care. Almost every doctor received at least 4 out of 5 stars by the time the rankings went online, she said.

Panelist Carly Medosch, a patient advocate who has had Crohn’s disease for 20 years, expressed support for access to physician data but pointed out that she doesn’t have time to dig through “tons and tons of research” – she not only has a regular job but a second job managing her disease. And “If I’m taken to the ER for a ruptured intestine I don’t have time to ask questions” about, for example, a doctor’s industry relationships, she pointed out. It was an important reminder that access to data alone might not greatly benefit the average chronically ill patient.

Towards the end of the session, the panelists shared their own ideas of what makes a good doctor, with Ornstein listing good clinical outcomes and empathy as two must-haves. Numerous attendees took to Twitter to express their own thoughts, including patient advocate Liza Bernstein, who offered at least 10 criteria. (My personal favorite: “What kind of PERSON are you? Yes, always, top of your field, but are you a #mensch?) Given the complexity of the issue, as outlined during the panel, I think this attendee hit the nail on the head by tweeting:

What makes a good doctor? Medicine is not a monolith. There is no simple, single answer, regardless of data availability.

More news about Stanford Medicine X is available in the Medicine X category.

Previously: Medicine X aims to “fill the gaps” in medical education, Relationships the theme of the day at Stanford’s Medicine X, Stanford Medicine X 2014 kicks off today and Medicine X spotlights mental health, medical team of the future and the “no-smartphone” patient
Photo of Ornstein (far right) and panelists by Stanford Medicine X

Medicine and Society, Medicine X, Patient Care, Technology

Relationships the theme of the day at Stanford’s Medicine X

Relationships the theme of the day at Stanford's Medicine X

Larry Chu long shot

Medicine X began today with a theatrical bang as quotes from past speakers filled the main presentation hall and flashed across on the stage against an electrifying soundtrack. In welcoming both old and new friends to the conference, Larry Chu, MD, associate professor of anesthesia at the School of Medicine and executive director of the conference, repeated a sentiment from last year’s event, saying, “You belong here with us – we all care about health care.”

Stanford’s premier conference on emerging health-care technology and patient-centered medicine, the event attracted more than 400 patients, health-care providers, technologists, researchers and entrepreneurs to engage in moon shot thinking about the future of medicine and health care. Several hundred more watched the conference webcast.

“We’ve seen information technologies transform lives in so many ways; now it’s time to harness this power to improve health,” Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, told the audience in the morning. He encouraged attendees “to think big” and to use their time at Medicine X to identify collaborators to take their ideas from concept to reality.

Collaborations and relationships were the theme of the day, with sessions focused on how engaged patients and their doctors can become the medical team of the future, how the pharmaceutical industry and patients can work together in the drug discovery and clinical trial process, how chronic-disease patients use self-trackers as a sort of partner in their care, and how developers of digital technologies are collaborating with those who might not have an obvious voice. As one Twitter user commented, “Most common words at #medx conference so far: transparent, engaged, relationships, connected.”

Medicine X continues tomorrow and Sunday. If you’re unable to attend the conference in person, you can participate in plenary sessions virtually through a high-quality streaming webcast; registration for the Global Access Program webcast is free. We’ll also be live tweeting the keynotes and other proceedings from the conference; you can follow our tweets on the @SUMedicine feed or follow the hashtag #MedX.

More news about Stanford Medicine X is available in the Medicine X category. 

Previously: Stanford Medicine X 2014 kicks off todayCountdown to Medicine X: 3D printing takes shapeCountdown to Medicine X: Specially designed apps to enhance attendees’ conference experience and Countdown to Medicine X: How to engage with the “no smartphone” patient
Photo by Stanford Medicine X

Medicine X, Stanford News, Technology

Stanford Medicine X 2014 kicks off today

Stanford Medicine X 2014 kicks off today

Medicine_XMedicine X, Stanford’s premier conference on emerging health-care technology and patient-centered medicine, kicks off today on campus. The three-day event opens with a keynote from Daniel Siegel, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California-Los Angeles, titled “Interpersonal Connection, Self-Awareness and Well-Being: The Art and Science of Integration in the Promotion of Health.” During the talk, he’ll discuss his approach to developing a healthy mind, an integrated brain, and empathetic relationships.

The conference is being held at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. This year’s program will spotlight the relationship between physical and mental well-being with three breakout panels. Additional presentations and panels will focus on the medical team of the future, the use of self-tracking tools to improve chronic disease patients’ health, opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry to partner with patients in the drug discovery and clinical trial process, and ways to connect with “no-smartphone” patients — those who don’t have the access or resources to fully engage with health-enhancing technologies.

If you’re unable to attend the conference in person, you can participate in plenary sessions virtually through a high-quality streaming webcast; registration for the Global Access Program webcast is free. We’ll also be live tweeting the keynotes and other proceedings from the conference. You can follow our tweets on the @SUMedicine feed or follow the hashtag #MedX.

More news about Stanford Medicine X is available in the Medicine X category.

Previously: Countdown to Medicine X: 3D printing takes shapeCountdown to Medicine X: Specially designed apps to enhance attendees’ conference experience, Countdown to Medicine X: Global Access Program provides free webcast of plenary proceedings, Countdown to Medicine X: How to engage with the “no smartphone” patient and Medicine X symposium focuses on how patients, providers and entrepreneurs can ignite innovation 
Photo by Medicine X

Medicine and Society, Medicine X, Technology

A call to make digital-health technologies available to everyone

A call to make digital-health technologies available to everyone

In light of my conversation last month about the “no-smartphone patient,” I found this recent Forbes piece on the need to develop culturally sensitive digital-health technologies of interest. Contributor Rob Szczerba writes:

In recent years, technologies involving smart phones and data analytics have become an essential component of how healthcare is delivered throughout the world.  Moreover, some believe these tools hold special promise for people from poor communities, seniors, and ethnic and racial minorities.  In some cases, people from these groups are more likely to have chronic conditions that can be expensive to treat in the short- and long-term.  Unfortunately, many of the innovators developing health technologies are not well-equipped to understand the special needs of these groups.

Rohit Bhargava and Fard Johnmar, co-authors of ePatient 2015, describe this problem as “multicultural misalignment.”  They warn that digital health technologies, such as mobile and wearable devices, will be much less effective if they are not optimized to account for differences in age, gender, culture, ethnicity, knowledge, and literacy.  They believe that preventing multicultural misalignment is vital, suggesting that we must work hard to ensure “health innovations benefit all segments of society.”

As a reminder, Stanford’s Medicine X conference – where this topic will be discussed – begins tomorrow.

Previously: Countdown to Medicine X: How to engage with the “no smartphone” patient

Research, Surgery, Technology

Replicating the sensitivity of human touch in robots

Replicating the sensitivity of human touch in robots

A piece published today in the New York Times examines the importance of replicating the sensitivity of human touch in designing the next generation of robots. Noting that the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory designed the first robotic arm in the 1960s, reporter John Markoff offers a look at ongoing research around campus, and elsewhere, involving robotics:

Consider Dr. Nikolas Blevins, a head and neck surgeon at Stanford Health Care who routinely performs ear operations requiring that he shave away bone deftly enough to leave an inner surface as thin as the membrane in an eggshell.

Dr. Blevins is collaborating with the roboticists J. Kenneth Salisbury andSonny Chan on designing software that will make it possible to rehearse these operations before performing them. The program blends X-ray andmagnetic resonance imaging data to create a vivid three-dimensional model of the inner ear, allowing the surgeon to practice drilling away bone, to take a visual tour of the patient’s skull and to virtually “feel” subtle differences in cartilage, bone and soft tissue. Yet no matter how thorough or refined, the software provides only the roughest approximation of Dr. Blevins’s sensitive touch.

“Being able to do virtual surgery, you really need to have haptics,” he said, referring to the technology that makes it possible to mimic the sensations of touch in a computer simulation.

Markoff goes on to discuss advances in haptics, “a science that is playing an increasing role in connecting the computing world to humans.”

Previously: Stanford surgeon uses robot to increase precision, reduce complications of head and neck procedures, CyberKnife: From promising technique to proven tumor treatment and Stanford researchers develop flexible electronic skin

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