Live longer using your smartphone in 2016
What technology do you think will assist our health the most in 2016?
Earlier this year I watched an amazing episode from the CNN documentary series Inside Man. The episode in question was from season 2 titled “Futurism”, in which Morgan Spurlock presents on a number of unique (and extreme) “life extensions”. He covers many futuristic ideas such as creating an avatar and uploading your consciousness, to the more rational sounding concepts of genome hacking and the promising 3D organ printing, which is already happening now.
One bold prediction made during the show was from notable computer scientist, inventor and chief engineer at Google, Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil is somewhat of an expert on a theory called “technology singularity”, which is the hypothetical event related to the advent of genuine artificial general intelligence. Kurzweil says that due to the exponential growth we are witnessing in technology today, in roughly 30 years’ time a computer or robot would theoretically be capable of recursive self-improvement. Meaning it could build & design other computers or robots far better than itself and create intelligence that far exceeds the human capacity.
He states that health & medicine is effectively all information technology and that it is evolving at the same exponential rate. Kurzweil says that as smartphones are now several billion times more powerful, and hundreds of times smaller than computers than when he was an undergrad, in 30 years they will again be this much smaller and this much more powerful. By the year 2045, this amount of computation will be the size of a blood cell and we could easily have computerized devices within our bodies that will augment the immune system and complete tasks such as targeting cancer cells for repair.
(Image: Genetic Literacy Project)
As the year draws to a close, I was thinking about this documentary and I wanted to discuss some of the interesting developments that I had seen in 2015 that might be moving us towards eliminating illnesses & increasing our longevity.
Google vs Apple: Smartphone health monitoring
Take out your iPhone and open up the Health App. It’s the one that you might glance at every now and then to see how many steps you’ve taken that day, week or month. If you look at the Health Data tab, there is a number of predefined indicators that we can monitor very easily using smartphone apps and by wearing various devices.
(Image: Tech Times)
Health is on the iPhone for a reason and it’s going to be a major part of our lives moving forward. It will hopefully help us to take better care of ourselves, avoid various illnesses & treat diseases more effectively. By being able to track all our test results and have a real time view of our health, we may soon be able to know when we are about to get sick; and then be told what to eat or what to take to avoid or reduce the symptoms of the illness.
We are starting to see more and more apps and devices that will feed various types of data into platforms like this on our smartphones. Apple has already built ‘HealthKit’ that allows developers to make 3rd party apps that provide health and fitness services to share their data with the Health app and with each other.
However there are many people that are saying that current development in this space is delayed by the ambiguous regulatory environment. When a consumer starts sharing personal, private data with companies & hospitals for example, issues about security and protection are thrust front and center.
Be that as it may, apps already exist for personal consumer use for the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases including Autism, Epilepsy, Melanoma, Asthma, Parkinson’s Diseases, Diabetes and Breast Cancer.
There is currently a host of fitness apps like My Fitness Pal and Human that aim to keep us healthy. Along with apps like Argus which tracks calories and monitors your sleep; and Azumio that can measure your heart rate by placing the tip of your index finger gently on the iPhone camera lens.
(Image: Apple iTunes)
By making it possible for the Health app to integrate data from a range of other health & fitness apps & devices, Apple is looking to cement itself as the complete go-to area for all your wellness moving forward.
Where else might this data come from?
In April 2015, the apple watch was launched. Although not defined as a medical device, it certainly has the elements of one as it tracks your heart rate and fitness activity. The Apple Watch “Generation 2” is set for release in June 2016 and is rumored to have enhanced health sensors. Although Apple CEO Tim Cook toldThe Telegraph that he won’t put the watch through the FDA accreditation process & make it a regulated medical device, he is wanting to put adjacent technology to work in that arena. So keep an eye out for further device investments from Apple in this space.
It’s not just Apple that’s investing heavily in this area. Google launched their own health app called ‘Google Fit’ to compete with Apple and now Google Life Sciences is becoming very interested in medical devices as well.
Google & Novartis have already teamed up to produce a ‘smart contact lens’ that will track glucose levels through monitoring the tears in your eyes. The lens are made for people who suffer from diabetes and are also engineered ‘to restore the eye’s natural auto-focus’.
The release date for this product could be sooner than we thought. In June 2015, Google had apparently already drafted a report on how it would like to package these. Around 29 million people in the US have diabetes, so this is a huge market for technology and bio pharmaceutical companies.
Blood test diagnostics:
On December 6, 2015, Google Life Sciences (now called Verily) filed a patent for a watch that seems to use a pinprick device to draw the wearer’s blood and measure glucose levels, along with possibly a wide variety of other diagnostic tests.
The patent describes a blood draw system that works by sending a surge of gas into a barrel containing a micro-particle that pierces the skin. Once blood is released from the skin, it’s sucked up into the negative pressure barrel. This would be possibly be used to draw a small amount of blood for say, a glucose test. So this technology could also end up being used to help people with diabetes.
It’s not the first we have heard of this type of technology. Theranos has said it has developed a blood testing device with finger prick technology that will test for a range indications such as many infectious diseases. This technology would replace the existing venipuncture blood test that we all know and would significantly reduce the cost of lab work for consumers & insurance co’s.
HealthTell is another company in this space; they describe their mission is to provide the most accurate and affordable diagnostic for early disease detection, all from a simple drop of blood.
The hope would be that we could soon use our smartphones to periodically test on a range of indicators and monitor our health like never before. Being able to test for the onset of diseases like cancer, where early detection is key for current drug therapies, would be a major step in advancing humanity.
New technologies are not just impacting the consumer retail market. Theranos is said to have tested their technology in clinical trials with Pfizer & GSK for many years.
This year, both pharmaceutical companies and academia have been increasing their use of wearable technology to monitor patients in clinical trials.
According to Citeline’s Trialtrove solution, which contains the industry’s most robust granular details on global ongoing & completed clinical trials, more & more trials are incorporating wearable’s & other technologies such as Fitbits, Accelerometers & Smartphones.
(Image: Medical Economics)
I spoke with Citeline’s head of editorial, Karen Currie, who said that wearables are set to become increasingly valuable to sponsors running clinical trials.
“No doubt partnerships between trial sponsors, CROs and tech companies will be increasing and the tech industry will be actively seeking to identify the sponsors and trial protocols that are the early adopters of these technologies”.
“An ongoing study sponsored by Bayer in 2015, is comparing data gathered via Fitbit to data gathered via the more ‘standard’ measure of a 6-minute walk test. This is an example of a study where the main objective is to validate the use of the Fitbit, so that potentially it could be used to measure efficacy in other clinical trials. Validation is a key hurdle in getting regulatory authorities to accept data claims based on these various devices that are increasingly being used in clinical development programs.”
A snapshot from the Bayer clinical trial protocol is below:
By adding these devices into clinical trials, in many cases it can improve patient engagement in the clinical trial, which can favorably impact recruitment and retention of study subjects.
Wearables could also help to improve the accuracy of safety and efficacy results in trials, resulting in better treatments and lower healthcare costs for both insurers and the consumer.
As you can see it has been an exciting year for consumer health tech and the way that venture funds have been investing in life sciences recently, 2016 shouldn’t be any different. Although we might still be some time away from the radical life extensions discussed on Inside Man, it’s clear that we’re evolving at a rapid & exciting pace.
I would love to hear what everyone else has seen or heard on this topic. Please discuss in the comments section below. What technology do you think will shape our health the most in 2016?
Wishing you all happy holidays, a great Christmas and a fantastic New Year!
If you’re interested in learning more, below are some links worth looking at:
Age related diseases: Aubrey De Grey’s Youtube video of his talk at Google. De Grey’s SENS (repair the damage) approach to age related diseases has been getting interest. He also has a Tedx Talk here.
3D organ Printing — Surgeon Anthony Atala demonstrates an early-stage experiment that could someday solve the organ-donor problem. See his TED Talk here.
Clinical Trial intelligence — Citeline’s Trialtrove solution is the leading resource for ongoing & completed trials globallyhttps://citeline.com/products/trialtrove/
Healthcare wearables. A small look at some of the top smart wearables that can be found and are engineered for the healthcare industry.
Apps that connect with HealthKit for iPhone are here.
Health & Fitness Apps. The 49 Best of 2015, according to The Greatest.