The medtech minute (or two)

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September 12, 2019

Apple device users to be part of large-scale medical studies

In medical research, the importance of sample size can’t be overstated. That’s why Apple’s announcement this week that it is teaming up with leading academic and research bodies to conduct medical studies using Apple customers as subjects is a pretty big deal. As Apple notes in its announcement, the studies will reach more participants than has ever been possible by collecting data via the devices that Apple customers have already made a part of their everyday lives. The Research app will be available as a free download in the App Store later this year.

 

Apple described the studies and revealed its partners in a press release:

  • A women’s health study, in partnership with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), will be the first long-term study of this scale focused on menstrual cycles and gynecological conditions, according to Apple.
  • Apple is partnering with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association to conduct a comprehensive study of how heart rate and mobility signals, such as walking pace and flights of stairs climbed, relate to hospitalizations, falls, heart health and quality of life.
  • Alongside the University of Michigan, Apple will examine factors that impact hearing health, the first study of its kind to collect data over time in order to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing, according to Apple. The study data will also be shared with the World Health Organization (WHO) as a contribution toward its Make Listening Safe initiative.

 

Tariffs: Develop a long-term strategy

Rather than impulsively reacting to each new tariff announcement in the U.S.-China dispute, medical device manufacturers would be better served to develop a long-term supply chain strategy, advises Pat Shafer in an article published by PlasticsToday sister brand MD+DI. Shafer is Managing Director of the healthcare and life services practice at Grant Thornton, a global audit, tax and advisory firm.

“The September 1 tariffs are a hiccup, with a relatively minor effect on margins. Instead, companies need to think in broader terms to mitigate future supply-chain risks and develop a long-term strategy,” Shafer told MD+DI. These “business-continuity plans” can include “dual-sourcing all materials, especially those from suppliers in countries with political risk; creating dashboards that monitor the risks presented by each supplier; and monitoring suppliers for their own risk management programs, such as whether they keep all their own supplies in just one building.”

That’s sound advice, considering that no one really knows where the U.S-China trade dispute will go from one moment to the next.

 

The AI-powered prosthetic hand

The emerging field of “shared control,” which combines neuro-engineering and robotics, has achieved a fairly stunning result thanks to scientists at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. An interdisciplinary proof-of-concept between neuroengineering and robotics was successfully tested on three amputees and seven healthy subjects, reports EPFL in a press release.

One concept, from neuroengineering, involves deciphering intended finger movement from muscular activity on the amputee’s stump for individual finger control of the prosthetic hand, which has never been done before, according to EPFL. The other, from robotics, allows the robotic hand to help take hold of objects and maintain contact with them for robust grasping. 

“When you hold an object in your hand, and it starts to slip, you only have a couple of milliseconds to react,” explains Aude Billard, who leads EPFL’s Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory. “The robotic hand has the ability to react within 400 milliseconds. Equipped with pressure sensors all along the fingers, it can react and stabilize the object before the brain can actually perceive that the object is slipping.”

You can read more about the technology and watch a demo on the EPFL website.

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