In this short animation, John Hengeveld, marketing director for high performance computing at Intel, shares his story of undergoing an appendectomy and learning that, as a result of a burst appendix, a rare and cancer-causing material was now circulating in his body. Currently, there are few good treatment options for his condition, but Hengeveld hopes that by harnessing computers to perform scientific research this could change. Watch the video to learn how computers can help researchers accelerate the scientific process by simulating biomedical experiments to develop new methods of fighting disease.
Beyond providing a much needed escape for children battling cancer, video games can also be used to empower and educate them during chemotherapy and other therapies. As explained in a recent post on Observations, a team of medical researchers and software programmers at HopeLab created a collection of free, online games to help kids understand what’s happening inside their bodies during treatment, cope with unpleasant side effects and reinvigorate them so they have the strength to fight the disease.
HopeLab says that by playing the games, called Remission and Remission 2, pediatric cancer patients are more likely to adhere to their medication schedule, and the nonprofit recently partnered with Stanford researchers to study this potential benefit. Larry Greenemeier writes:
In the most recent study, HopeLab worked with Stanford University associate professor of psychology and neuroscience Brian Knutson on a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study analyzing brain regions activated when people play the original Re-Mission. The paper, published in the March 2012 PLoS ONE, compared brain scans in 57 cancer-free undergraduates who were randomly assigned to actively play Re-Mission or passively watch the game. Re-Mission players experienced more activity in neural circuits associated with incentive motivation when compared to those who merely observed game play. Such reward-related activation could shift attitudes and emotions and boost players’ adherence to prescribed chemotherapy and antibiotic treatments to fight infection, the researchers said, although they acknowledge that further tests are needed on actual cancer patients before they can read too much into the results.
The above video describes the game and offers firsthand experiences from patients.
Entrepreneurs and researchers will now have greater access to information generated and stored by the federal government thanks to an executive order recently issued by President Obama. In the above video, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and U.S. Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel explain the importance of the new open-data policy and how it will promote innovation and economic growth while increasing government transparency and efficiency.
A new Data.Gov. In the months ahead, Data.gov, the powerful central hub for open government data, will launch new services that include improved visualization, mapping tools, better context to help locate and understand these data, and robust Application Programming Interface (API) access for developers.
New open source tools to make data more open and accessible. The U.S. Chief Information Officer and the U.S. Chief Technology Officer are releasing free, open source tools on Github, a site that allows communities of developers to collaboratively develop solutions. This effort, known as Project Open Data, can accelerate the adoption of open data practices by providing plug-and-play tools and best practices to help agencies improve the management and release of open data. For example, one tool released today automatically converts simple spreadsheets and databases into APIs for easier consumption by developers. Anyone, from government agencies to private citizens to local governments and for-profit companies, can freely use and adapt these tools starting immediately.
The open-data policy, and its implications for the medical research community and health-care startups, will likely be a popular topic of discussion among attendees at the Big Data in Biomedicine conference being held at Stanford next week.
Ambulance response time can vary widely across cities, depending on traffic patterns and the location of the emergency situation. As a volunteer medic in Jerusalem, Elli Beer witnessed firsthand how a few minutes can make a significant difference in saving a life. His frustration with poor ambulance response times led him to develop an all-volunteer rescue service called United Hatzalah.
In this recently posted TEDMED talk, Beer talks passionately about how a small neighborhood group dedicated to responding to nearby emergencies evolved into United Hatzalah’s network of 2,000 volunteers. Today, volunteers respond to incidents on “ambu-cycles,” motorcycles carrying the same equipment as a conventional ambulance but lacking the ability to transport patients, and have treated more than 200,000 people in the past year. Beer has rolled out the service in Brazil and Panama and plans to expand to India.
Not long ago, Stanford computer scientist Debashis Sahoo, PhD, told investigators at the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine that in a few seconds he could find many of the important stem cell genes that the researchers were used to finding only after spending millions of dollars and years in the lab. “We laughed and said, ‘That’s impossible,’” recalls Irving Weissman, MD, director of the institute, in a recent video. But Weissman went ahead and gave Sahoo information about two key genes – and within a few seconds, Sahoo had used his desktop computer to scour the world’s public gene databases, analyzed that information with the computer algorithm he had designed, and come up with over a dozen genes new genes that were involved in the development of certain kinds of cells. That search, Weissman estimates, saved his team a decade of work and about $2.5 million.
More details are shared in the video above. And as a reminder, big data – and the ways in which people like Sahoo are mining through vast amounts of publicly available information to further research and advance health care – is the focus of a Stanford/Oxford conference being held here later this month.
My colleagues at CIRM beat me to the punch yesterday (Wernig is a CIRM grant recipient) with a nice blog post about the award.
I’ve written several times (here and elsewhere) about Wernig’s research as part of Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. Essentially, he’s shown that it’s possible to directly convert adult, terminally differentiated cells directly into other types of cells like neurons, without first having to force the cells through a stage called induced pluripotency. It’s exciting stuff.
Wernig, who was in a former life a composer of classical music, joins Stanford researcher Joanna Wysocka, PhD, in the ISSCR hall of fame. She won the award in 2010.
When I recently learned that my cholesterol was a bit high, I was told that a regular exercise routine and a couple of oatmeal breakfasts per week should do the trick to bring the numbers back to a normal range. But for Brenda Gundell, a genetic disease called Familial Hypercholesterolemia, or FH, means that simple lifestyle changes won’t make for a quick fix.
FH affects cholesterol processing from birth, and while the condition is common – affecting more than 600,000 people in the U.S. – it is diagnosed in less than 10 percent of those who have it. Gundell was only 15 when she first heard about FH; her father, just 39 at the time, had such extreme levels of total cholesterol that they led to a fatal heart attack. Fortunately for Gundell, while the disease can be destructive, it is, in fact, treatable. And, with the help of FH specialists at Stanford’s Preventive Cardiology Clinic, Gundell has kept her cholesterol in check for the last 17 years and is looking forward to a long life.
Grundell’s story is detailed in the Stanford Hospital video above.
Although Coca-Cola products are readily available for sale in remote African villages, many of the life saving medicines needed for easily treatable diseases can only be obtained at health clinics located a day-long walk, or further, away. So an innovative nonprofit called ColaLife developed packaging and a method for using the Coca-Cola distribution network to distribute medicines, specifically anti-diarrhea kits, in Zambia.
The nonprofit’s work is highlighted in a new documentary film titled “The Cola Road.” In the above film trailer, ColaLife founders Simon and Jane Berry discuss the project and Tim Llewellyn, designer of the Aidpod device used to deliver medicines in Coke crates, explains how the medicines are packaged and transported. Scientific American’s Talking back blog reports on the success of the project:
Tiny village shops, always stocked with Coke, have now started to receive oral rehydration Kit Yamoyos (kits of life)—and, no, Coke itself is not a particularly good rehydration fluid, despite the lore. Thousands of the kits have been sold already in Zambian rural districts and the Ministry of Health, the film points out, now has plans to use the same supplier network to distribute other types of medicine. The income for the shopkeepers provides an incentive to keep the kits on the shelves.
Marjorie McFadden is not your typical 90-year-old. McFadden retired from her public-school job at the age of 85 and remained very social afterwards, regularly attending social gatherings and playing bingo and pinochle with friends. A condition called achalasia, an unusual tightening of the muscles at the lower end of the esophagus, changed all of that, and McFadden found herself unable to swallow food or water and losing a pound of weight a day. But an innovative procedure at Stanford – the per oral endoscopic myotomy, or POEM – now means McFadden is back to enjoying social gatherings again. Her story is captured in the Stanford Hospital video above.
Whether it’s at a party or in the grocery store aisle, doctors have always been faced with the challenge of patients asking them medical questions outside of the office setting. But now that more physicians are using social media, the question of how to handle medical inquiries in the digital space is becoming an increasing concern.
In this TEDxNijmegen 2013 video, Bertalan Mesko, MD, PhD, discusses using online communication tools to create medical social networks and the challenges in harnessing these communities to crowdsource clinical questions. Pointing to the example of comedian Conan O’Brien jokingly asking his Twitter followers for dermatology advice, Mesko notes that social media can yield misleading medical information and warns, “Crowdsourcing in medicine only works if you know your communities.” Watch Mesko’s full talk to learn more about how he effectively uses online networks to share trusted medical information and why curation is imperative when it comes to crowdsourcing health-care questions.