It is the last days of the year again, with the days being short and cold, but the warmth and coziness building up around the holidays. 2011 is coming to an end and it has been a good year for Medgadget. Just like last year we want to give you an overview of what has happened in the medical technology world during the past year.
But first, Medgadget itself: like we said above, it has been a great year for Medgadget. In may, Medgadget received its first major update since its launch seven years ago. The site was moved over from Movable Type to the more versatile and popular WordPress platform, with a brand new design and many new features. The number of visitors has since grown significantly, causing some growing pains as our servers had trouble keeping up with the demand, but a move to new servers and many optimizations have now mitigated these problems. Seven new authors, four doctors and three biomedical engineers, joined the Medgadget ranks. Among the new authors, one even joined the team following a comment on last year’s best of post. Content-wise, this has resulted in more interviews, more in depth reporting and we also covered more conferences than ever before: TEDMED, FutureMed, Games for Health and Medicine 2.0, while also providing exclusive content from the RSNA [1, 2, 3, 4] and the mHealth summit [1, 2, 3]. We have partnered up with Flipboard and The Atlantic, broadening our readership even further. But enough about ourselves, let’s continue with some of the highlights among the approximately 1600 posts we published this year:
Lab-on-a-chip techniques have been under development for years, but it seems they are now slowly starting to become mature. Perhaps the most interesting one this year was the mChip, an HIV and syphilis test on a chip that was actually put to the test in the field in Rwanda. The cheap, credit card-sized device replicates all steps of an ELISA test and showed an impressive 100-percent detection-rate of HIV-positive cases, with only one false positive out of 70 total samples. In addition the chip could also potentially detect hepatitis B and C, herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia, giving it the potential to revolutionize diagnostics especially in developing countries.
Other interesting lab-on-a-chips included a device that assesses semen quality, one that provides a beating heart-on-a-chip for cardiac studies and a petri-dish on a chip. An interesting twist on the lab-on-a-chip theme was the lab-on-a-touchscreen, turning capacitive touchscreens of mobile devices into a biochemical lab.
The da Vinci robot may have dominated medical robotics for the last few years, but this year we saw an influx of robots doing all kinds of things from transporting and dressing patients to shoving in endotracheal tubes and completely replacing the scrub nurse during surgeries. A few more useful robots were also released: one that enhances eye surgery precision, a stereotactic neurosurgical bot, a snake-like robot for cardiac surgery and a catheter-handling robot for cardiovascular interventional procedures. Bringing us closer to our Skynet future were the eerie human-like PETMAN and a robotic hand that can type on a keyboard just about as fast as humans can, although of course with greater precision.
Prosthetic devices continue to get more and more advanced. One of the most advanced new commercially available prostethics is the i-Limb Ultra prosthetic hand, which has five individually powered articulating fingers and manually rotatable thumb and wrist, plus exercising strength proportional to the input signal with pulsing for increased grip force. It can be covered with natural looking skin coverings and you can even take it for a test drive even if you still have both of your hands. Less advanced, but equally impressive is the brain-controlled prosthetic arm developed by a couple of undergraduate biomedical engineers at a quarter of the cost of traditional prosthetic limbs.
For lower limb amputees there were the Power Knee and a combined knee and ankle prosthesis that lets them walk even faster. Curiosities were the prosthetic arm with an integrated phone dock and a Kickstarter funding drive for a prosthetic eye camera. Other posts provided interesting glimpses on both possibly the world’s oldest prosthetic devices and the future of prosthetics.
Last year we tipped the iPad as one of the most important medical innovations and indeed it has continued to deliver innovative medical apps. Although competition from Android devices has heated up, Apple is still firmly in the lead in the medical field with the iPad and its little brother the iPhone. GE, Practice Fusion, SAP and ClearPractice all released or are working on iPad-accessible EMR’s and a plethora of radiological image viewers showed up along with the odd pathology image viewer. Unbound Medical, WebMD and PEPID all brought their reference offering s to the iPad, and textbooks became more interactive, while anatomy can now be studied from 3D models. More innovative however were the ICS Xprezz mobile clone of the patient monitor, an ECG add-on for iPhone or iPad, an app that streams procedures live to significant others in the waiting room and an app that measures vital signs using only the iPad’s camera.
Radiology is one of the most technically advanced fields in medicine and there were many new devices and upgrades to existing devices, each bringing incremental improvements to existing tech. One major breakthrough though was the introduction of whole body positron emission tomography/magnetic resonance (PET/MR) imaging systems by both Siemens and Philips. Siemens offers the Biograph mMR, a fully integrated whole body and simultaneous acquisition PET/MRI system. Philips on the other hand took a less integrated approach with its Ingenuity TF PET/MR, in which the patient table moves from the MRI scanner on one side to the PET scanner on the other side to acquire scans. In other MRI-related news, two years after the first MRI compatible pacemaker became available, Biotronik introduced the world’s first MRI compatible implantable defibrillator (ICD).
Microsoft’s Kinect, launched late 2010, was hacked in many ways for medical purposes. Among the at least ten posts we published about it, were hands-free radiology viewers, Kinect-powered surgical robots and the Kinect being used to assess the weight of astronauts. More directly applicable for patients were hacks for indoor navigation for the visually impaired and a fall monitoring system for the elderly. Although in the end of course it is much more fun to have a magic mirror projecting your own internals onto yourself.
Car manufactures are increasingly turning their attention to in-car health management. Both Ford and Toyota explored the idea of adding ECG sensors to their cars, one integrated in the driver’s seat and the other in the steering wheel. Ford took it even one step further by partnering with Medtronic and others to develop a complete in-car health-management system. The system compromises of a Bluetooth-enabled continuous glucose monitor that connects to Ford’s Sync hands-free entertainment and control system, WellDoc‘s disease management platform where patients can document things like asthma attacks, glucose levels, and allergic reactions, all without letting go of the steering wheel, and access to data from SDI Health‘s Allergy Alert app that can provides local allergy related information as well as some other environmental health indices. And while others are working on autonomous driving vehicles, a heavily modified Ford Escape hybrid allowed a blind man to independently navigate 1.5 miles of a road course section with several obstacles at the Daytona International Speedway.
Google Health Shutdown
Most of our posts are about new product launches and technological innovation, but this year we also saw one prominent service shut its doors: Google Health goes offline this January first. Google’s take at a personal health record was publicly introduced in 2008 and the company managed to team up with an impressive number of partners. Despite that it did not live up to the company’s expectations and suffered the same fate as many Google services that were just not good enough. Aside from Google Health, Google Body Browser also did not survive the Google Labs shutdown, although it will get a second life in the form of Zygote Body.
DNA, one of the most essential and intriguing parts of life as we know it, remains an important topic in medical research and gadgetry. Costs for whole-genome sequencing keep plummeting, bringing us closer and closer to the 1000 dollar genome. A diagnostic chip was introduced that can discern different subtypes of acute myeloid leukemia for more individualized treatment, while another handheld DNA-analyzer will tell you how you react to and metabolize many common types of drugs from just a small saliva sample. DNA-based sensors can also be used to test for drugs, disease markers, contaminants or other molecules, and soon we will also be able to perform such tests and analyses in outer space. Of course, if you cannot afford space travel just yet, you can also eternalize your own DNA on canvas, on a rug or a colorful waterwall.
In these times of economic crises, it seems totally appropriate to end with the more than a few do-it-yourself projects that came by this year. By far the most advanced was the OpenPCR, a computer controlled 16 well PCR machine built mostly with off the shelf components and free schematics. Developed initially with funding through Kickstarter, this little DNA xerox machine costs just $512 compared to $3000 for a traditional PCR machine. On the other hand, the most ambitious project was probably a home built electronic contact lens, which embeds a tiny LED between two fused contact lenses and is powered by a copper wire transmit coil ring that can be attached around the eye. A favorite part for DIY gadgets was the Arduino microcontroller, which was employed to build a sonar system, pulse sensor and combined with Apple’s Siri in Project Black Mirror, using EEG signals to activate Siri using only your thoughts (although various sources around the web have called this a hoax). In case this last one indeed turns out to be a hoax, you can always just revert to using a muscle biofeedback controller to move Mario around and save the princess.
With this, we conclude our list for this year. Of course, many other posts did not make the cut, and we are looking forward to hearing what you thought was the most significant medical technologies or gadgets introduced in 2011. For 2012, you can expect our continued coverage of all things related to medical technology and gadgets. Happy new year to you all!