• Elina V Clavelli

Benevolence of Tech in the Future of Healthcare

Far too frequently we see stories of technology being scary, intimidating, or wasteful. Of course, those are mostly clickbait pieces for skeptics, but they still prominently appear on nearly every mainstream news or media outlet. As a total technophile, I aim to highlight that we can use technology exclusively for good.

Forget spending hours looking at memes on social media or watching creepy new robot videos. The types of innovation I’m discussing today literally save lives. I wish to live in the world where we can read more stories about big data technology expediting treatment of stroke patients. I want us to spread the word about a new device that enables completely paralyzed patients to communicate. And I look forward to seeing the future of heart disease treatment and management, as made possible by technology.

Treating Stroke Patients

Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms, Viz.ai offers computer-aided triage software used automatically to analyze computed tomography (CT) images of the brain for suspected large vessel occlusion (LVO) strokes. The software then sends positive alerts directly to clinical specialists through a mobile medical image viewer. Neurologists and interventionalists can view the patient’s CT images on a mobile device in under 6 minutes.

This is revolutionary because Viz.ai artificial intelligence stroke software promises to reduce time to treatment and increase the number of patients receiving treatment in time. Expediting the treatment of patients before it is too late for a thrombectomy – the interventional procedure of removing a blood clot from a blood vessel – is a life-saving benefit of this software. Viz.ai is compatible with existing CT technology, requires no new or additional hardware, and pushes processed output automatically to standard or compatible devices for review.

Prior to Viz LVO, from Viz.ai, the traditional workflow when a stroke is suspected follows as such: Administer a series of x-rays, CT, CT angiography, and CT perfusion studies; once a radiologist interprets those studies, they communicate the findings to a stroke center; finally, the patient gets to the stroke center, when necessary. The hours this could take mean a difference between a full recovery and a disability or death.

Viz LVO uses a tremendous amount of data to detect strokes in images across an entire system of hospitals automatically, without anyone prompting it. If or when the software detects an LVO, it sends an alert directly to healthcare providers, who can then get in touch with the patient’s physicians in a matter of minutes. Considering that stroke patients lose approximately 1.9 million brain cells every minute, we are looking at a miraculous potential for recovery with this technology on hand.

A New Life for Paralyzed Patients

In Europe, neuroscientists are taking advantage of a brain-computer interface that records “yes” and “no” answers in patents lacking any voluntary movement, thereby enabling completely paralyzed individual to communicate. Patients suffering from “locked-in syndrome” are completely paralyzed, except for some eye movement. In certain cases, patients eventually become unable even to blink, which cuts off their entire contact with the world and raises questions whether they are still fully conscious.

A devastating consideration in this circumstance is that the families and providers of completely paralyzed patients sometimes question whether they desire to go on this way. Presently, scientists in Europe claim to have found a way to communicate and get a direct answer from people completely locked in after losing all voluntary movement. A brain-computer interface, designed by neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, makes this possible.

The brain-computer interface, much like a swimming cap, sits on a person’s head and measures changes in electrical waves coming from the brain as well as blood flow using near-infrared spectroscopy. To establish communication, Birbaumer and his team asked paralyzed patients a series of Yes/No questions, thereby monitoring altered blood flow patterns. The team established that answers transmitted through this system were consistent approximately 70 percent of the time. Patents previously resigned as being in a vegetative state thus confirmed consciousness through changes in blood flow in certain parts of the brain.

The ability of this device to monitor and interpret blood flow patterns leads to paralyzed patients being correctly diagnosed, despite lacking eye movement or it being extremely subtle. The future has marvelous potential – neuroscientists hope that this technology develops in a way that allows patients with complete locked-in syndrome to communicate beyond answering Yes/No questions.

The Future of Heart Disease Treatment

The future of heart disease management lies in a robotic heart. This sounds like science fiction, but not in a way that conjures up images of a dystopian future. To be precise, I am talking about a new device that would cradle the heart and use a probe to anchor to the wall that separates the organ’s lower chambers. With that, the robot will precisely manipulate a particular chamber, letting doctors assist a heart in its normal function thereby foregoing a transplant.

Presently, we have a ventricular assist device, which is an external pump that helps transport blood around, when the heart cannot do that on its own. This has drawbacks, as patients have to take blood thinners because blood is flowing through machinery, and that is not the optimal method in healthcare providers’ opinions. The new heart robot works directly with the heart, incorporated right in it, encouraging normal function. The soft robot made of polymers rests on the heart and better conforms to the organ, not irritating the flesh. It manipulates the heart gentler than traditional complicated and bulky motors.

The innovation goes on. This robot also encompasses a rod, which enters the heart and anchors to the wall that separates one ventricle from the other – a septum. The needle pierces the septum opening up a delivery shaft and anchors on the other side of the wall like an umbrella. The anchor is complete when an operator places a disk on the other side. Thus, the soft robot outside the heart pumps the free wall of the ventricle, and the shaft pulls the septum toward the wall and squeezes the ventricle to get the blood flowing.

Complicated stuff, and I could go into further detail, but it is a beauty. The revolution here is that this robot/septum rod device helps the heart pump blood more precisely than prior devices have. Electrical signals from the heart or pressure changes within the ventricle time the movements of the system, to operate in greater harmony with the normal heart activity. Scientists already showed this robot working in a live pig, and the future looks bright for humans.

And with that, my friends, feel free to go about life a little more hopeful. While you can still enjoy memes and post selfies, know that technology is there in a way that doesn’t just distract you from the complexities of the day-to-day. May we all one day live longer thanks to the benevolence of tech.

Until later!