If necessity — and science — are the mothers of invention, then the latest wave of innovative digital medical devices is giving birth to its most promising offspring. With the launch of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the prospects are nothing less than historic. Here’s a roundup of what we may expect.

When Dr. Priscilla Chan and her husband Mark Zuckerberg announced this month a $3 billion investment to cure disease, their boldness made hearts skip a beat. The man behind Facebook and his pediatrician partner propose to cure not “a” disease, but to cure, prevent or manage all disease by the end of this century. Their medical and scientific advisers say it’s feasible — less pipe dream than moon shot.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, launched late last year, is focusing on four areas of human illness: heart disease (the number one killer), infectious disease, cancers and neurological disease. The roadmap they’ve charted comprises three routes:

  1. Bring scientists and engineers together.
  2. Build the necessary tools and transformative technology.
  3. Grow the movement to fund science.

That second route may be the most visible of the three insofar as it’s the offspring of the other two. Prior to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s announcement, medtech innovation had already been approaching fever pitch. Answering the necessity of more effective, more efficient, more accessible solutions to the world’s medical suffering, a massive number of medtech incubators have sprung up in cities around the world (examples here and here). Summits and trade associations are providing the venues for innovators and investors to synergize their efforts. The range of their output is dizzying. Here, as part of our ongoing medtech series, is but a cross section.

Transformational Devices

Point-of-care testing. From portable ultrasonography to pulse oximetry and beyond, interoperable bedside diagnostics is coming of age with the maturation of digital technology. Devices like Roche Diagnostics’ Accu-Check Inform II, a system for blood glucose monitoring, are representative of the products revolutionizing this niche.

Hand-held diagnostic and surgical tools. Philips’s app-based Lumify ultrasound system is a hand-held ultrasound device that pairs with a smartphone or tablet. Wilmington, NC, is home to several medical innovators making their mark: Dr. Alan Brown, owner of the clinical practice Surgical Eye Care and a medical-device company, Surgilum, is a serial inventor and member of the Wilmington Investor Network. Among his innovations are the RoboMarker, a device to mark the eyeball prior to cataract surgery, and the Photon Illuminator, a groundbreaking microscopic flashlight. Dr. Ken White, co-inventor of Facelyft Pillow, is a multiple patent holder. Sean Hensler and Dr. Thomas Melin, co-founders of Hensler Surgical, are the creators of the Hensler Bone Press, which efficiently separates bone from fluid during surgery, yielding graft-ready material for fusion procedures.

Star Trek-inspired devices include the Scanadu Scout, which measures a variety of vital signs while sharing the data with doctors (the device has not yet been cleared by FDA), and the GE Healthcare Vscan, a pocket-sized ultrasound machine. The Open Health Stack is a multi-function device that can track everything from vital signs to the presence of environmental threats. It is also intended to help diagnose disease.

Clinical-grade wearables. Wireless wearables and epidermal electronics (electronic tattoos), function in a variety of ways. One example is “allowing pregnant mothers and new parents to monitor their baby’s health at home,” as described here by bio-electronics innovator Dr. Todd Coleman of UC San Diego. Another flexible body-worn sensor  is MC10’s BioStamp Research ConnectTM which captures patients’ vitals and is seamlessly integrated into researchers’ workflow through tablet and web applications. Continuous cardiac monitoring is enabled for up to 14 days at a time by iRhythm Technologies’ Zio XT Patch. Medtronic’s Seeq Mobile Cardiac Telemetry System integrates a peel-and-stick wearable sensor with a wireless transmitter that sends cardiac data to a staffed monitoring center, 24/7. Global Kinetics’ KinetiGraph, newly cleared for by FDA for sales in the U.S., comprises a wrist worn device, the PKG Data Logger, that looks like a wristwatch, that automatically records movement data to assist doctors in diagnosing and treating the symptoms of movement disorders.

Raleigh-based Validic is, according to their website, “a cloud-based technology platform that connects patient-recorded data from digital health applications, devices and wearables to key healthcare companies like hospital systems, providers, pharmaceutical companies, payers, health information technology platforms, health clubs and wellness companies.”

Valencell, also based in Raleigh, produces validated biometric sensor systems for any wearable device that manufacturers want to build.

Real-time, online interactions with doctors is the focus of telemedecine innovators RelyMD. Founded by a group of 90 emergency-medicine physicians in North Carolina, RelyMD understands that a large percentage of urgent-care situations do not require visits to the ER or doctor’s office and can be effectively, promptly treated by phone or online.

IBM Watson Health, launched last year, is applying the cognitive potency of IBM’s Watson technology to mobile-based health care, using artificial intelligence to navigate the ocean of health data. The new unit includes coaching systems centered on preoperative and postoperative patient care and a HIPAA-compliant cloud called HealthCloud that will bring providers, insurers and researchers together much the way the open-source community synergizes brain power. The unit holds all the promise one might expect from the Watson supercomputer.

The Future of Mobile Health was WRAL’s eponymous breakfast event this week, focusing on the role North Carolina’s Triangle is playing in mobile health from the developer, patient, provider and beyond —  an overt confirmation of the Triangle as a maturing, specialized ecosystem in mobile health as well as the importance of the mobile-device market.

3D printing applied to regenerative medicine. If you think this sounds like something out of a Terminator film, you’re right. 3D printing is evolving at startling speed too. Surgeon Anthony Atala captivated attendees at  TED2011 with an on-stage demonstration of a prototype printer that uses living cells to output a transplantable kidney, then introduced a young patient who, 10 years earlier, had received an engineered bladder. Much of this innovation niche is still in its experimental stage but holds untold promise.

Robotic exosuits. The foremost product in the field, the reWalk is a machine exoskeleton that returns the ability of unassisted walking and standing to people who have suffered paralyzing spinal cord injury.

Smart bandages. Researchers in the U.K. are developing a color-changing bandage (not tested in humans as of December 2015) that could be used to detect infection early enough to prevent sickness and possibly avoid the use of antibiotics.

Name your device

What new medical devices do you think will revolutionize digital health in the years to come?

What tools and technologies do you think the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative should aim for first?

We invite your input — and your involvement in the innovation revolution taking place at tekMountain, the go-to source for technological entrepreneurship in southeastern North Carolina.


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumMike PattonRod WhisnerAmanda Sipes, and Zach Cioffi with lead writer Bill DiNome 

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