New technology has been developed in the fight against heart disease. This will be realized through a new partnership between two biotechnology companies: Insilico Medicine and Tara Biosystems.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in many high-income countries. Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect the heart, and it is interchangeable with cardiovascular disease. The types of diseases include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects people are born with (congenital heart defects), and others.
The new partnership is working on the notion that the old tools and traditional steps of cardiac disease research, described as a combination of Petri dishes and “hit-and-miss” drug discovery, are no longer suitable. In their place the researchers are working on artificial intelligence and drug testing with human tissue. This type of technology also avoids the need for animal research.
By functioning together, the artificial intelligence and so-called “Heart-on-a-chip” technology are set to help medical researchers discover drugs to fight heart disease faster and at a lower cost. This forms part of the advancements with ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology, which describes is devices that integrate one or several laboratory functions on a single integrated circuit. These devices are typically only a few square millimeters in size, and they are used to achieve automation and high-throughput screening.
Insilico Medicine has been teaching its artificial intelligence system to predict the therapeutic use of new drugs before they enter the human testing process. Insilico’s Alex Zhavoronkov explains further: “We interrogate hundreds of disease-relevant assays on a regular basis to identify those biological systems that we can trust to validate the targets and molecules identified using our end-to-end drug discovery pipelines.”
Tara Biosystems, in a complimentary role, has grown actual human heart cells under laboratory conditions. This biological side of the partnership allows the cells to be tested with different drugs and monitored for side effects.
According to Tara’s Misti Ushio (quoted by Select Science): “At TARA, we engineer human cardiac tissue to mimic specific human disease phenotypes which are used to validate novel targets and rapidly evaluate new compounds for positive effects on cardiac function. Partnering with Insilico Medicine further maximizes TARA’s cardiac drug discovery platform.”
The two biotechnology companies, working together, aim to discover new treatments for heart disease. This will have the societal benefit of saving lives and extending the human lifespans.
Tiny 3D-printed heart fabricated complete with blood vessels
Given the shortage of organs for transplantation worldwide, medical researchers have been investigating the fabrication of artificial organs. One step towards this is a 3D-printed heart.
In a new medical breakthrough, Israeli scientists have successfully 3D printed a tiny heart complete with functioning blood vessels and human tissue. The heart is seen as step forward in developing artificial organs for transplant. With diseased hearts in particular, heart transplantation is the only treatment for patients with end‐stage heart failure. This fact is complicated not only by the risks involved with surgery, and the risk of organ rejection, but also the shortage of suitable organs for transplant.
The approach taken by the researchers from Tel Aviv University was within the field of cardiac tissue engineering, where there is growing interest with this alternative approach which involves integrating cardiac cells and 3D biomaterials.
The biological techniques are also orientated towards the patient, in terms of better addressing the organ to be replaced and lowering the chance of rejection. Through this the researchers showed, in a proof-of-concept study, that they could 3D print thick, vascularized, and perfusable cardiac patches to serve as functioning hearts. The first heart produced is a tiny organ, only the size of a cherry (equivalent to the size of a rabbit’s heart).
The developmental hearts are theoretically compatible with the immunological, cellular, biochemical, and anatomical properties of the patient. The success paves the way for further research, with the aim of producing larger hearts that will be tested to see if they are suitable for human transplantation. There is more work to do first, however; while the cells of the heart are currently able to contract, they do not yet have the ability to pump.
Speaking with The Daily Telegraph, Professor Tal Dvir who led the project notes: “Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely.”
The research has been published in the journal Advanced Sciences, with the peer reviewed paper titled “3D Printing of Personalized Thick and Perfusable Cardiac Patches and Hearts.”
Artificial intelligence system detects often-missed cancer tumors
Medical scientists and engineers have come together to develop an artificial intelligence system designed to detect often-missed cancer tumors, thereby helping to boost patient survival rates.
Researchers based at University of Central Florida developed the system by teaching a computer platform the optimal way to detect small specks of lung cancer in computerized tomography (CT) scans. These are of the type, according to size and appearance, that radiologists sometimes have difficultly in identifying.
In trials, the healthcare artificial intelligence system was found to be 95 percent accurate in total. Moreover, this was ahead of the typical scores achieved by human medics, which usually fall within the range of 65 percent accuracy.
The method used to train the artificial intelligence platform was not dissimilar to the way that facial-recognition software is taught key characteristics in relation to image analysis. To train the platform, the researchers provided in excess of 1,000 CT scans (taken from the U.S. National Institutes of Health database) to the software.
Over time the platform was taught to ignore other tissue, nerves and masses found in the CT scan images and instead to only focus on lung tissues and abnormal formations that could be tumors. The platform began to show success, and learnt to differentiate between cancerous and benign tumors. Given that successful diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer is highly dependent on early detection of lung nodules, developing a system to assist with this can help to boost patient survival rates.
Discussing how the platform was developed, researcher Rodney LaLonde explains: “We used the brain as a model to create our system…You know how connections between neurons in the brain strengthen during development and learn? We used that blueprint, if you will, to help our system understand how to look for patterns in the CT scans and teach itself how to find these tiny tumors.”
The new medical imaging research will be presented to MICCAI 2018 (21st International Conference on Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Intervention), which takes place in Granada, Spain during September 2018. The associated conference paper is titled “S4ND: Single-Shot Single-Scale Lung Nodule Detection.”
A road map for assessing blockchain health care startups
Blockchain-backed health care startups are all the rage right now, and a new open-source tool that tracks data about startups in the aim to help potential investors navigate the pile of startups clamouring for their time and money.
“Blockchain” truly is the buzzword of 2018. In February this year Reuters reported that companies who added “blockchain” to their name experienced a temporary boost in share price, and it’s being applied to health care in a very big way.
Outlets credit blockchain startups with creating new opportunities for health care, and blockchain is being seen, overwhelmingly, as a transformative technology for the health care industry, and even changing the world for the better. In the midst of all this, as in any industry utilizing emerging technologies, there’s concern that not all the blockchain-backed startups are living up to the hype they create around themselves.
Digital biomarker registry Elektra Labs and the Center for Biomedical Blockchain Research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have partnered to create a open-source database of blockchain health care startups that have passed their review.
Are you thinking about investing in a healthcare blockchain… but are unsure what’s hype vs legit? 🏥💸
— Andy Coravos (@AndreaCoravos) July 25, 2018
Andy Coravos, the CEO of Elektra Labs, and Noah Zimmerman, the Director of Health Data and Design Innovation Center at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, wrote a piece about the project in the health and medicine news website Stat about the “most promising blockchain projects in the health care ecosystem” and how buyers and investors should be aware of startups that could be taking them for a ride.
“After reviewing more than 150 white papers, one thing is clear: many of these blockchain projects fall somewhere between half-baked and overly optimistic, with strong marketing teams and shaky technical fortitude (we excluded the outright scams, and strove to be generous to the remaining early projects),” reads the Stat piece by Coravos and Zimmerman.
The researchers on this project established a set of criteria and questions that they used to establish if a blockchain project is “quality,” as they put it. Some of these questions include: “Does the project have a technical white paper that outlines the project roadmap?”, “Does the project have a demo or working project?” and “Does the project publish a public code base?”
Other metrics that are tracked include funding and how funding is raised.
“Health care blockchains have raised hundreds of millions of dollars of capital which will be deployed in the next few months or years,” reads the Stat piece. “(A)nd these projects will form the foundation of our healthcare system for years to come.”
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