Ingestible sensors alert doctors and caregivers when a pill is taken


Proteus Digital Health is creating a new category of products, services and data systems that have the potential to significantly improve the effectiveness of existing pharmaceutical treatments.  Called Digital Medicines, these new pharmaceuticals will contain a tiny sensor that can communicate, via a digital health feedback system, vital information about an individual’s medication-taking behavior and how their body is responding.

Brain scans link math learning abilities to brain structure


Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine used brain scans to look for a link between math-learning abilities and brain structure or function, and compared neural and cognitive predictors of childrens’ responses to tutoring.

The analysis of the children’s structural brain scans showed that larger gray matter volume in three brain structures predicted greater ability to benefit from math tutoring. The predictions were generated with a machine learning algorithm.

The researchers’ next steps will include comparing brain structure and wiring in children with and without math learning disabilities, analyzing how the wiring of the brain changes in response to tutoring, and examining whether lower-performing children’s brains can be exercised to help them learn math.

Babies’ consciousness, development studied


Finding the point at which babies’ reactions change from being purely reflexive to reflecting more intention is leading researches to focus on the first glimmers of conscious thought in infants as young as 5 months old.

Ideally, the infant studies would enable scientists to trace a trajectory of how consciousness generates. “You can start to use this method very early to basically try to check whether there is normal or abnormal development,” says Sid Kouider, a researcher at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.  “We know that autistic children can have trouble being aware of faces, and you could imagine this kind of method to diagnose early on whether someone is reacting in a normal way to objects or faces.”

Google Glass for frail seniors


Google Glass applications can benefit the aging population in many ways:

– Sensors can track a person’s gait, and identify mobility problems that signal a potential fall and broken bones. Early warning signs can trigger preventative treatments and healthcare providers could try stop a fall before it happens.

– Reminders for taking medication can be scheduled and double dosing prevented.

– For those suffering from dementia, the device could recognize family members and offer simple messages such as, “This is your son, his name is John. Say, “Hello John, how are my beautiful grandchildren?”

– Google Glass-type devices could enable family members to patch into what seniors are doing, even what they are seeing. If there were a problem, emergency aid would be on the way in seconds.

A “bionic pancreas” for diabetes management


The bionic pancreas consists of three pieces of hardware. There’s an iPhone with an app that contains the system’s control software and algorithm and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

The CGM’s sensor/transmitter, worn under the skin, streams glucose (blood sugar) data to two connected infusion pumps. One delivers insulin to lower blood sugar and one delivers glucagon to raise it. Based on glucose levels transmitted every five minutes from the CGM, the app determines and dispatches how much insulin or glucagon should be delivered to maintain ideal blood sugar levels.

70% of doctors have self-tracking patients; better outcomes reported


7 in 10 doctors report at least one patient sharing some form of health measurement data with them, according to Manhattan Research’s annual “Taking the Pulse” survey of 2,950 physicians.  Nearly three-quarters agreed that self-tracking leads to better outcomes.

Self-tracking patient impacts include:

  • 40% lead them to ask their doctors new questions
  • 46% changed their overall approach to their health
  • 34% affected decisions about how to best treat their conditions

Multi-use, wireless, wearable sensors


The Bio-patch, developed by researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, measures bioelectrical signals through the skin, gathering data on different parts of the body depending on where it is placed.

“On the chest it provides electrocardiography (ECG), on the skull it measures brainwaves (EEG), and on the forearm it can measure muscle response to stimulation from the nervous system (EMG),” says KTH researcher Geng Yang.  It also has a built-in sensor that constantly monitors body temperature.

Pass-thoughts as the new passwords


Pass-thoughts are thoughts that a headset records through brainwaves. The computer learns what your individual brainwaves are like and then identifies you. Traditionally, these brainwaves, called electroencephalograms (EEGs), are collected through expensive and sometimes invasive devices, so the pass-thought growth has been severely stunted.

Berkeley’s John Chuang and his team conducted a series of experiments to determine whether a single, less expensive, non-invasive EEG channel provided high enough signal quality for accurate authentication. For authentication, the computer needs to be able to accurately and consistently distinguish your brainwave patterns from someone else’s.

By selecting customized tasks for each user and then customizing each user’s authentication thresholds, the team was able to reduce error rates to below 1%, comparable to the accuracy of more invasive multi-channel EEG signals.

A hard look at neuroscience research from The Economist


Sample sizes in neurological research are often too small to draw general conclusions.

Marcus Munafo, from the University of Bristol, and his colleagues analyzed hundreds of neuroscience studies to determine their “statistical power”.  If the researchers’ figures are accurate—and if the 12-month period they looked at is representative of neuroscience research in general—then the implications are alarming. Bluntly, much of the published neuroscientific research is likely to be reporting effects, correlations and “facts” that are simply not real. At the same time, real phenomena are going unnoticed.

Understanding the brain is the most important opportunity of our lifetime.  It’s afflictions and treatments can no longer be based on hypothesis, trial and error.  Let’s not miss it.