The rapid development of digital health technology has resulted in scores of awesome gadgets and cool devices. It’s hard to grasp how transformative they are until you look beyond the shiny chips and lines of code. Time to fill your hearts with hope towards the future of medicine. Here are the five most inspiring and jaw dropping stories.
1) 3D-Printed Heart Saves the Life of a Nine-Month-Old Baby
The nine-month-old baby was born with a fatal heart defect in China. He was suffering from a rare condition extremely difficult to repair.
„The little boy was taken to hospital in a critical condition due to heart failure and severe pneumonia. He was so young and small, and needed treatment immediately. His chances of dying before his first birthday would have been as high as 80 per cent, if treatment had been delayed” – said the baby’s surgeon, Zhang Xueqin, the director of the paediatric cardiac surgery center at the People’s Hospital of Jilin.
The team of experienced doctors decided to build a full-sized model of his tiny heart with the use of a 3D printer to pre-plan the complicated surgery. This was the first time someone used this method in China.
“With the model, we were able to know precisely where and how we should cut, and how big the incision should be. And with such a thorough plan, we spent only half the time we had expected to complete the surgery,” Doctor Zhang Xueqin said.
The doctors completed the extremely risky and complicated surgery in March 2016. They were successful and the little boy is expected to survive with little to no lasting ill-effects.
2) Artificial Pancreas Saves Diabetes Patient And Let’s Her Have The Perfect Wedding
Diabetes is a lifelong condition with no cure. It requires constant attention from the patient and his or her environment. To monitor glucose (a type of blood sugar) levels successfully, diabetes patients use insulin pumps and monitors, which send alarms if the glucose levels are too low or too high. More often than not, however, these alarms are quite inefficient. For example, they are often unable to wake up diabetes patients during the night to correct their glucose levels, risking death in their sleep.
Dana Lewis, diagnosed with diabetes when she was 14 has already suffered this terrifying event several times. She tried to make her continuous glucose monitor (CGM) louder but it turned out to be extremely difficult. Dana and her date, Scott Leibrand, a former Twitter engineer and an expert in computer networks, decided to defy existing technology and fate and started hacking together a homemade ‘artificial pancreas’ to help Dana manage her disease.
Instead of creating a new organ inside her body, they installed a group of electronics that can mimic the missing functions of her pancreas. A Raspberry Pi mini computer takes data from a USB stick and glucose monitor and transfers the recommendation to the insulin pump. It’s all online, so Dana and Scott can track glucose levels and administered insulin on their smartwatches.
Their groundbreaking invention could help scores of diabetes patients. The pair has already started to spread their best practices and the method to assemble the DIY pancreas.
And not only did the artificial pancreas ease Dana’s life, but it also helped her on her wedding day. Unlike many diabetes patients, she did not have to cut into the lining of her dress to make a pocket for her monitor. Finally, it was Scott who wore the monitor under his shirt.
“No alarms – no problems,” the groom said. “Diabetes was not in the picture during the wedding, and that was exactly how it should be.”
3) Robotic Exoskeleton Help A Paralyzed Groom Walk Down the Aisle
Matt Ficarra broke his neck and became paralyzed from the chest down in a freak boating accident in 2011. That moment changed his life forever. The surgeon who operated on him had said that he would be paralyzed from his nipples down for the rest of his life. However, during his rehabilitation, there were promising signs. He had motion in his arms, could make a fist with his left hand and a partial fist with his right, he also recovered some sensation in his legs.
With his determination and strong will, later he was able to dress and feed himself without assistance. When Matt and her girlfriend, Basile got engaged in 2013, he vowed not to use a wheelchair at the wedding.
His dream came true thanks to an Ekso Bionics suit that functions as a gait-training exoskeleton. The robotic equipment provides a means for people with complete paralysis and minimal forearm strength to stand and walk. It provides function based rehabilitation, over ground gait training, and upright, weight bearing exercise under the supervision of a physical therapist.
As the device was designed only for use in a clinical setting, Matt had to drive seven hours to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania every week for months until his wedding so he could practice walking with the Ekso. He even broke hospital records for most number of steps taken in an hour with the bionic suit.
In the end, the feeling as he could walk down the aisle with the woman he loved, was more than worth it. “It feels great to be married!” said Matt on the Big Day in an ecstatic mood. “And I am so happy to have met my goal of walking at my wedding.”
4) Dad Quits Job To Establish Research Company To Fight His Son’s Rare Disease
Ilan Ganot was a banker at J.P. Morgan in London when his two and a half years old son, Eytani was diagnosed with Duchenne Syndrome. For this devastating disease, there is no cure and no effective treatment. Patients with Duchenne lose the ability to walk by their teens, and often die from one of a number of complications—like respiratory or heart failure—at a young age.
Devastated to receive the news, Ilan didn’t want to give up on his son’s life. Deciding to challenge fate, he left his job and started a company called Solid BioSciences to fight the disease. Though he left J.P. Morgan, to help his quest, his former employer raised $17 million for his startup.
The company has three subsidiaries – Solid GT, Solid One and Solid Suit – each pursuing a different strategy to help impact Duchenne. Solid GT houses a gene therapy program which the company aims to get into clinical testing in 2017. Gene therapy—a method of using a virus to shepherd genetic instructions into the body—has been tried for Duchenne before, but never successfully. Ilan believes key scientific advances will make a difference this time.
Meanwhile, Solid One is in-licensing drugs used for other diseases and trying them out as potential treatments for certain symptoms of Duchenne, hoping to find a cure faster than if a new drug had to be developed to fight the disease.
Finally, with Solid Suit, Ilan aims to develop a “soft exo suit” that Duchenne patients could wear to help offset their loss of muscle function. The dad noted that as Duchenne patients use their muscles over time, they break down. The idea would be for a suit to make, for instance, 1,000 steps feel like 600. “Maybe we can save the other 400 steps for tomorrow,” he says. “This is a battle against time after all.”
5) Fast Genetic Sequencing Saves A Newborn Baby’s Life
No one knew what was wrong with the little boy who spent his entire short life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. When his liver failed in April 2013, the medical staff warned his parents there is little hope for a successful recovery.
Then geneticist Stephen Kingsmore and his team took on the mysterious case. They performed what is called the rapid genetic sequencing technique. It means that a group of four or five specialists collects DNA to quickly identify mutations in the person’s genome, then sequences the DNA. As the next step, they use specific software to target specific parts of the genome on the basis of the symptoms and finally, they set up a gene-based diagnosis.
To help the little boy they had sequenced the genomes of the baby and his parents within three days. The team identified a rare mutation that was common to the child and both of his parents.
The mutation was linked to a disease in which an overactive immune system damages the liver and spleen. Armed with a diagnosis, the baby’s physicians put him on drugs to lower his immune response.
Now, the boy is healthy and at home. Had physicians not sequenced his DNA, or sent it off for a conventional genomic test, the diagnosis might never have arrived or could have taken more than a month — by which time the child would most likely have died.