The genetics of relatively healthy obesity

Image of an overweight individual

Enlarge (credit: Matthew Horwood / Getty Images)

In general, obesity is linked with a large range of health problems—for most people, at least. But for a substantial minority of those who are overweight, obesity is accompanied by indications of decent health, with no signs of impending diabetes or cardiovascular disease. These cases have probably received unwarranted attention; who doesn’t want to convince themselves that they’re an exception to an unfortunate rule, after all? But the phenomenon is real, and it’s worth understanding.

To that end, a large international team of researchers has looked into whether some of these cases might be the product of genetic influences. And simply by using existing data, the team found 61 instances where a location in our genomes is associated with both elevated obesity and signs of good health, cardiovascular or otherwise.

Good and bad

The team’s method of searching the genome is remarkably straightforward, and it relies on the fact that many research groups have already done so much work to look for factors associated with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular health. This work includes searching for areas of the genome associated with measures of obesity, like body mass index, body fat percentage, and waist-to-hip ratio. Insulin and glucose levels have also been studied genetically, as these numbers give some indication of how the body is responding to weight and food intake. Cardiovascular health measures, including things like cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure, have also been explored.

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#biology, #genetics, #genomics, #health, #medicine, #obesity, #science

0

Biden’s COVID Plan Is Just a Beginning

The public health system needs wide-ranging reform to address weaknesses exposed by the pandemic

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

0

Massive Google-Funded COVID Database Will Track Variants and Immunity

Open repository will give free access to more than 160 million data points with details about individual infections

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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How COVID Is Changing the Cold and Flu Season

Measures meant to tame the coronavirus pandemic are quashing influenza and most other respiratory diseases, which could have wide-ranging implications

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#features, #health, #public-health

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Foresite Capital raises $969 million fund to invest in healthcare startups across all stages of growth

Health and life science specialist investment firm Foresite Capital has raised a new fund, its fifth to date, totally $969 million in commitments from LPs. This is the firm’s largest fund to date, and was oversubscribed relative to its original target according to fund CEO and founder Dr. Jim Tananbaum, who told me that while the fundraising process started out slow in the early months of the pandemic, it gained steam quickly starting around last fall and ultimately exceeded expectations.

This latest fund actually makes up two separate investment vehicles, Foresite Capital Fund V, and Foresite Capital Opportunity Fund V, but Tananbaum says that the money will be used to fuel investments in line with its existing approach, which includes companies ranging from early- to late-stage, and everything in between. Foresite’s approach is designed to help it be uniquely positioned to shepherd companies from founding (they also have a company-building incubator) all the way to public market exit – and even beyond. Tananbaum said that they’re also very interested in coming in later to startups they have have missed out on at earlier stages of their growth, however.

Image Credits: Foresite Capital

“We can also come into a later situation that’s competitive with a number of hedge funds, and bring something unique to the table, because we have all these value added resources that we used to start companies,” Tananbaum said. “So we have a competitive advantage for later stage deals, and we have a competitive advantage for early stage deals, by virtue of being able to function at a high level in the capital markets.”

Foresite’s other advantage, according to Tananbaum, is that it has long focused on the intersection of traditional tech business mechanics and biotech. That approach has especially paid off in recent years, he says, since the gap between the two continues to narrow.

“We’ve just had this enormous believe that technology, and tools and data science, machine learning, biotechnology, biology, and genetics – they are going to come together,” he told me. “There hasn’t been an organization out there that really speaks both languages well for entrepreneurs, and knows how to bring that diverse set of people together. So that’s what we specialized i,n and we have a lot of resources and a lot of cross-lingual resources, so that techies that can talk to biotechies, and biotechies can talk to techies.”

Foresite extended this approach to company formation with the creation of Foresite Labs, an incubation platform that it spun up in October 2019 to leverage this experience at the earliest possible stage of startup founding. It’s run by Dr. Vik Bajaj, who was previously co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Alphabet’s Verily health sciences enterprise.

“What’s going on, or last couple decades, is that the innovation cycles are getting faster and faster,” Tananbaum said. “So and then at some point, the people that are having the really big wins on the public side are saying, ‘Well, these really big wins are being driven by innovation, and by quality science, so let’s go a little bit more upstream on the quality science.’”

That has combined with shorter and shorter healthcare product development cycles, he added, aided by general improvements in technology. Tananbaum pointed out that when he began Foresite in 2011, even, the time horizons for returns on healthcare investments were significantly longer, and at the outside edge of the tolerances of venture economics. Now, however, they’re much closer to those found in the general tech startup ecosystem, even in the case of fundamental scientific breakthroughs.

CAMBRIDGE – DECEMBER 1: Stephanie Chandler, Relay Therapeutics Office Manager, demonstrates how she and her fellow co-workers at the company administer their own COVID tests inside the COVID testing room at Relay Therapeutics in Cambridge, MA on Dec. 1, 2021. The cancer treatment development company converted its coat room into a room where employees get tested once a week. All 100+employees have been back in the office as a result of regular testing. Relay is a Foresite portfolio company. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“Basically, you’re seeing people now really look at biotech in general, in the same kind of way that you would look at a tech company,” he said. “There are these tech metrics that now also apply in biotech, about adoption velocity, other other things that may not exactly equate to immediate revenue, but give you all the core material that usually works over time.”

Overall, Foresite’s investment thesis focuses on funding companies in three areas – therapeutics at the clinical stage, infrastructure focused on automation and data generation, and what Tananbaum calls “individualized care.” All three are part of a continuum in the tech-enabled healthcare end state that he envisions, ultimately resulting “a world where we’re able to, at the individual level, help someone understand what their predispositions are to disease development.” That, Tananbaum suggests, will result in a transformation of this kind of targeted care into an everyday consumer experience – in the same way tech in general has taken previously specialist functions and abilities, and made them generally available to the public at large.

#alphabet, #articles, #biotech, #biotechnology, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #foresite-capital, #fund, #fundings-exits, #health, #innovation, #investment, #jim-tananbaum, #machine-learning, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital, #vik-bajaj

0

How to Make ‘Immunity Passports’ More Ethical

Requirements that travelers be vaccinated must be implemented in a humanitarian way

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #policyethics

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Unraveling the Complex Link between COVID and Diabetes

Infection with the pandemic-causing virus seems to trigger diabetes in some patients. Here are five plausible explanations as to why

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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7 Ways to Reduce Reluctance to Take COVID Vaccines

Trusted messengers and repeated reminders can overcome hesitancy, social science shows

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #medicine, #public-health, #the-science-of-health

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COVID Variants May Arise in People with Compromised Immune Systems

The case history of a U.K. man in his 70s shows how selective “pressures” bring about viral mutations

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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Eat this, exercise now; new personalized software predicts and helps prevents blood sugar spikes

Not everyone has Type 2 diabetes, the disease that causes chronically high blood sugar levels, but many do. Around 9% of Americans are afflicted, and another 30% are at risk of developing it.

Enter software by January AI, a four-year-old, subscription-based startup that in November began providing personalized nutritional and activity-related suggestions to its customers based on a combination of food-related data the company has quietly amassed over three years, and each person’s unique profile, which is gleaned over that individuals’s first four days of using the software.

Why the need for personalization? Because believe it or not, people can react very differently to every single food, from rice to salad dressing.

The tech may sound mundane but it’s eye-opening and potentially live-saving, promises cofounder and CEO Nosheen Hashemi and her cofounder, Michael Snyder, a genetics professor at Stanford who has focused on diabetes and pre-diabetes for years.

Investors like the idea, too. Felicis Ventures just led a $21 million Series A investment in the company, joined by HAND Capital and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. (Earlier investors include Jerry Yang’s Ame Cloud Ventures, SignalFire, YouTube cofounder Steve Chen, and Sunshine cofounder Marissa Mayer, among others.) Says Felicis founder Aydin Senkut, “While other companies have made headway in understanding biometric sensor data—from heart rate and glucose monitors, for example—January AI has made progress in analyzing and predicting the effects of food consumption itself [which is] key to addressing chronic disease.”

To learn more, we talked this afternoon with Hashemi and Snyder. Below is part of our chat, edited for length and clarity.

TC: What have you built?

NH: We’ve built a multiomic platform where we take data from different sources and predict people’s glycemic response, allowing them to consider their choices before they make them. We pull in data from heart rate monitors and continuous glucose monitors and a 1,000-person clinical study and an atlas of 16 million foods for which, using machine learning, we have derived nutritional values and created nutritional labeling [that didn’t exist previously].

[The idea is to] predict for [customers] what their glycemic response is going to be to any food in our database after just four days of training. They don’t actually have to eat the food to know whether they should eat it or not; our product tells them what their response is going to be.

TC: So glucose monitoring existed previously, but this is predictive. Why is this important?

NH: We want to bring the joy back to eating and remove the guilt. We can predict, for example, how long you’d have to walk after eating any food in our database in order to keep your blood sugar at the right level. Knowing what “is” isn’t enough; we want to tell you what to do about it. If you’re thinking about fried chicken and a shake, we can tell you: you’re going to have to walk 46 minutes afterward to maintain a healthy [blood sugar] range. Would you like to do the uptime for that? No? Then maybe [eat the chicken and shake] on a Saturday.

TC: This is subscription software that works with other wearables and that costs $488 for three months.

NH: That’s retail price, but we have an introductory offer of $288.

TC: Are you at all concerned that people will use the product, get a sense of what they could be doing differently, then end their subscription?

NH: No. Pregnancy changes [one’s profile], age changes it. People travel and they aren’t always eating the same things. . .

MS: I’ve been wearing [continuous glucose monitoring] wearables for seven years and I still learn stuff. You suddenly realize that every time you eat white rice, you spike through the roof, for example. That’s true for many people. But we are also offering a year-long subscription soon because we do know that people slip sometimes [only to be reminded] later that these boosters are very valuable.

TC: How does it work practically? Say I’m at a restaurant and I’m in the mood for pizza but I don’t know which one to order.

NH: You can compare curve over curve to see which is healthier. You can see how much you’ll have to walk [depending on the toppings].

TC: Do I need to speak all of these toppings into my smart phone?

NH: January scans barcodes, it also understands photos. It also has manual entry, and it takes voice [commands].

TC: Are you doing anything else with this massive food database that you’ve aggregated and that you’re enriching with your own data? 

NH: We will definitely not sell personal information.

TC: Not even aggregated data? Because it does sound like a useful database . . .

MS: We’re not 23andMe; that’s really not the goal.

TC: You mentioned that rice can cause someone’s blood sugar to soar, which is surprising. What are some of the things that might surprise people about what your software can show them? 

NH: The way people’s glycemic response is so different, not just between by Connie and Mike, but also for Connie and Connie. If you eat nine days in a row, your glycemic response could be different each of those nine days because of how much you slept or how much thinking you did the day before or how much fiber was in your body and whether you ate before bedtime.

Activity before eating and activity after eating is important. Fiber is important. It’s the most under overlooked intervention in the American diet. Our ancestral diets featured 150 grams of fiber a day; the average American diet today includes 15 grams of fiber. A lot of health issues can be traced to a lack of fiber.

TC: It seems like coaching would be helpful in concert with your app. Is there a coaching component?

NH: We don’t offer a coaching component today, but we’re in talks with several coaching solutions as we speak, to be the AI partner to them.

TC: Who else are you partnering with? Healthcare companies? Employers that can offer this as a benefit?

NH: We are selling to direct to consumers, but we’ve already had a pharma customer for two years. Pharma companies are very interested in working with us because we are able to use lifestyle as a biomarker. We essentially give them [anonymized] visibility into someone’s lifestyle for a period of two weeks or however long they want to run the program for so they can gain insights as to whether the therapeutic is working because of the person’s lifestyle or in spite of a person’s lifestyle. Pharma companies are very interested in working with us because they can potentially get answers in a trial phase faster and even reduce the number of subjects they need.

So we’re excited about pharma. We are also very interested in working with employers, with coaching solutions, and ultimately, with payers [like insurance companies].

#ame-cloud-ventures, #felicis-ventures, #health, #marc-benioff, #marissa-mayer, #recent-funding, #saas, #signalfire, #steve-chen, #tc, #venture-capital

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Coronavirus News Roundup, February 13 – February 19

Pandemic highlights for the week

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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The Coronavirus is Here to Stay–Here’s What That Means

A Nature survey shows many scientists expect the virus that causes COVID-19 to become endemic, but it could pose less danger over time

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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How Will the Coronavirus Evolve?

If we’re lucky, mutations will make SARS-CoV-2 less lethal, as happened with the 1918 flu—but there’s no guarantee of that

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine just got a lot easier to transport and distribute

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech now has less stringent and extreme transportation requirements than it debuted with. Originally, the mRNA-based vaccine had to be maintained at ultra-low temperatures throughout the transportation chain in order to remain viable – between -76°F and -112°F. New stability data collected by Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for review, allow it to be stored at temps between 5°F and -13°F – ranges available in standard medical freezers found in most clinics and care facilities.

The vaccine should remain stable for up to two weeks at that temperature, which vastly improves the flexibility of its options for transportation, and last-mile storage in preparation for administration to patients. To date, the vaccine has relied largely on existing “cold-chain” infrastructure to be in place in order for it to be able to reach the areas where it’s being used to inoculate patients. That limitation hasn’t been in place for Moderna’s vaccine, which is stable at even higher, standard refrigerator temperatures for up to a month.

This development is just one example of how work continues on the vaccines that are already being deployed under emergency approvals by health regulators across the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Pfizer and BioNTech say they’re working on bringing those storage temp requirements down even further, so they could potentially approach the standard set by the Moderna jab.

Taken together with another fresh development, study results from Israeli researchers that found just one shot of the ordinarily two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be as high as 85 percent effective on its own, this is a major development for global inoculation programs. The new requirements open up participation to a whole host of potential new players in supporting delivery and distribution – including ride-hailing and on-demand delivery players with large networks like Amazon, which has offered the President Biden’s administration its support, and Uber, which is already teamed up with Moderna on vaccine education programs.

This also opens the door for participation from a range of startups and smaller companies in both the logistics and the care delivery space that don’t have the scale or the specialized equipment to be able to offer extreme ‘cold-chain’ storage. Technical barriers have been a blocker for some who have been looking for ways to assist, but lacked the necessary hardware and expertise to do so effectively.

#amazon, #articles, #biden, #biontech, #biotech, #clinical-trials, #covid-19, #covid-19-vaccine, #health, #medical-research, #medicine, #moderna, #pfizer, #president, #tc, #uber, #united-states, #vaccine

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Toronto’s UHN launches a study to see if Apple Watch can spot worsening heart failure

A new study underway at Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN), a group of working research hospitals in the city, could shift our approach to treatment in an area of growing concern in human health. The study, led by Dr. Heather Ross, will investigate whether the Apple Watch can provide early warnings about potentially worsening health for patients following incidents of heart failure.

The study, which is aiming to eventually span around 200 patients, and which already has a number of participants enrolled spanning ages from 25 to 90, and various demographics, will use the Apple Watch Series 6 and its onboard sensors to monitor signals including heart rate, blood oxygen, general activity levels, overall performance during a six minute walk test and more. Researchers led by Ross will compare this data to measurements taken from the more formal clinical tests currently used by physicians to monitor the recovery of heart failure patients during routine, periodic check-ups.

The hope is that Ross and her team will be able to identify correlations between signs they’re seeing from the Apple Watch data, and the information gathered from the proven medical diagnostic and monitoring equipment. If they can verify that the Apple Watch accurately reflects what’s happening with a heart failure patient’s health, it has tremendous potential for treatment and care.

“In the US, there are about six-and-a-half million adults with heart failure,” Ross told me in an interview. “About one in five people in North America over the age of 40 will develop heart failure. And the average life expectancy [following heart failure] is still measured at around 2.1 years, at a tremendous impact to quality of life.”

The stats point to heart failure as a “growing epidemic,” says Ross, at a cost of some “$30 billion a year at present in the U.S.” to the healthcare system. A significant portion of that cost can come from the care required when conditions worsen due to preventable causes – ones that can be avoided by changes in patient behavior, if only implemented at the right time. Ross told me that currently, the paradigm of care for heat failure patients is “episodic” – meaning it happens in three- or six-month intervals, when patients go into a physician’s office or clinic for a bevy of tests using expensive equipment that must be monitored by a trained professional, like a nurse practitioner.

“If you think about the paradigm to a certain degree, we’ve kind of got it backwards,” Ross said. “So in our thinking, the idea really is how do we provide a continuous style monitoring of patients in a relatively unobtrusive way that will allow us to detect a change in a patient status before they end up actually coming into hospital. So this is where the opportunity with Apple is tremendous.”

Ross said that current estimates suggest nearly 50% of hospitalizations could be avoided altogether through steps taken by patients including better self-care, like adhering to prescribed medicinal regimens, accurate symptom monitoring, monitoring dietary intake and more. Apple Vice President of Health Dr. Sumbul Desai echoed the sentiment that proactivity is one of the key ingredients to better standards of care, and better long-term outcomes.

“A lot of health, in the world of medicine, has been focused on reactive responses to situations,” she said in an interview. “The idea to get a little more proactive in the way we think about our own health is really empowering and we’re really excited about where that could take us. We think starting with these studies to really ground us in the science is critical but, really, the potential for it is something that we look forward to tackling.”

Desai, has led Apple’s Health initiatives for just under four years, and also spent much of her career prior to that at Stanford (where she remains an associate professor) working on both the academic and clinical side. She knows first-hand the value of continuous care, and said that this study is representative of the potential the company sees in Apple Watch’s role in the daily health of individuals.

“The ability to have that snapshot of an individual as they’re living their everyday life is extremely useful,” she said. “As a physician, part of your conversation is ‘tell me what’s going on when you’re not in the clinic.’ To be able to have some of that data at your fingertips and have that part of your conversation really enhances your engagement with your patients as well. We believe that can provide insight in ways that has not been done before and we’re really excited to see what more we’re learning in this specific realm but we already hearing from both users and physicians how valuable that is.”

Both Ross and Desai highlighted the value of Apple Watch as a consumer-friendly device that’s easy to set up and learn, and that serves a number of different purposes beyond health and fitness, as being key ingredients to its potential in a continuous care paradigm.

“We really believe that people should be able to play a more active role in managing their well-being and Apple Watch in particular, we find to be — and are really proud of — a powerful health and wellness tool because the same device that you can connect with loved ones and check messages also supports safety, motivates you to stay healthy by moving more and provides important information on your overall wellness,” Desai said.

“This is a powerful health care tool bundled into a device that people just love for all the reasons Sumbul has said,” Ross added. “But this is a powerful diagnostic tool, too. So it is that consumer platform that I think will make this potentially an unstoppable tool, if we can evaluate it properly, which we’re doing in this partnership.”

The study, which is targeting 200 participants as mentioned, and enrolling more every day, will span three months of active monitoring, followed by a two-year follow up to investigate the data collected relative to patient outcomes. All data collected is stored in a fully encrypted form (Ross pointed to Apple’s privacy track record as another benefit of having it as a partner) and anyone taking part can opt-out at any point during the course of the research.

Even once the results are in, it’ll just be the first step in a larger process of validation, but Ross said that the hope is to ultimately “to improve access and equitable care,” by changing the fundamental approach to how we think about heart failure and treatment.

#anatomy, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-watch, #biotech, #hardware, #health, #heart, #north-america, #physician, #science, #self-care, #stanford, #tc, #toronto, #united-states

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Experts Answer the Biggest COVID Vaccine Questions

What does “95 percent effective” mean? Should you get vaccinated if you have had COVID? Is there a best vaccine? 

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #medicine, #public-health

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Nursing Home Workers Had One of the Deadliest Jobs of 2020

An analysis of incomplete data shows they had a death rate higher than that of loggers, and may have rivaled fishers for most perilous profession

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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Booster Shots Against Scary COVID Virus Variants Are In the Works

Vaccine makers are designing follow-up shots, based on new mutations, to keep the disease at bay

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #medicine, #public-health

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COVID Vaccines Are Safe and Effective–What the Research Says

As more coronavirus vaccines are rolled out, researchers are learning about the extent and nature of side effects

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #medicine, #public-health

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Jamaica’s immigration website exposed thousands of travelers’ data

A security lapse by a Jamaican government contractor has exposed immigration records and COVID-19 test results for hundreds of thousands of travelers who visited the island over the past year.

The Jamaican government contracted Amber Group to build the JamCOVID19 website and app, which the government uses to publish daily coronavirus figures and allows residents to self-report their symptoms. The contractor also built the website to pre-approve travel applications to visit the island during the pandemic, a process that requires travelers to upload a negative COVID-19 test result before they board their flight if they come from high-risk countries, including the United States.

But a cloud storage server storing those uploaded documents was left unprotected and without a password, and was publicly spilling out files onto the open web.

Many of the victims whose information was found on the exposed server are Americans.

The data is now secure after TechCrunch contacted Amber Group’s chief executive Dushyant Savadia, who did not comment when reached prior to publication.

The storage server, hosted on Amazon Web Services, was set to public. It’s not known for how long the data was unprotected, but contained more than 70,000 negative COVID-19 lab results, over 425,000 immigration documents authorizing travel to the island — which included the traveler’s name, date of birth and passport numbers — and over 250,000 quarantine orders dating back to June 2020, when Jamaica reopened its borders to visitors after the pandemic’s first wave. The server also contained more than 440,000 images of travelers’ signatures.

Two U.S. travelers whose lab results were among the exposed data told TechCrunch that they uploaded their COVID-19 results through the Visit Jamaica website before their travel. Once lab results are processed, travelers receive a travel authorization that they must present before boarding their flight.

Both of these documents, as well as quarantine orders that require visitors to shelter in place and several passports, were on the exposed storage server.

Travelers who are staying outside Jamaica’s so-called “resilient corridor,” a zone that covers a large portion of the island’s population, are told to install the app built by Amber Group that tracks their location and is tracked by the Ministry of Health to ensure visitors stay within the corridor. The app also requires that travelers record short “check-in” videos with a daily code sent by the government, along with their name and any symptoms.

The server exposed more than 1.1 million of those daily updating check-in videos.

An airport information flyer given to travelers arriving in Jamaica. Travelers may be required to install the JamCOVID19 app to allow the government to monitor their location and to require video check-ins. (Image: Jamaican government)

The server also contained dozens of daily timestamped spreadsheets named “PICA,” likely for the Jamaican passport, immigration and citizenship agency, but these were restricted by access permissions. But the permissions on the storage server were set so that anyone had full control of the files inside, such as allowing them to be downloaded or deleted altogether. (TechCrunch did neither, as doing so would be unlawful.)

Stephen Davidson, a spokesperson for the Jamaican Ministry of Health, did not comment when reached, or say if the government planned to inform travelers of the security lapse.

Savadia founded Amber Group in 2015 and soon launched its vehicle-tracking system, Amber Connect.

According to one report, Amber’s Savadia said the company developed JamCOVID19 “within three days” and made it available to the Jamaican government in large part for free. The contractor is billing other countries, including Grenada and the British Virgin Islands, for similar implementations, and is said to be looking for other government customers outside the Caribbean.

Savadia would not say what measures his company put in place to protect the data of paying governments.

Jamaica has recorded at least 19,300 coronavirus cases on the island to date, and more than 370 deaths.


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#amazon-web-services, #caribbean, #government, #health, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #prevention, #privacy, #quarantine, #second-life, #securedrop, #security, #united-states, #web-services, #whatsapp

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Certific, a health tech startup from the founder of TransferWise, aims to be the rails for certified home testing

Certific, a health tech startup co-founded by TransferWise’s Taavet Hinrikus, is breaking cover today with the launch of what it claims is the first “certified” remote COVID-19 testing service.

The British-Estonian company is using techniques borrowed from the worlds of fintech and telemedicine, including asking users to film themselves while taking the at-home test, in a bold attempt to solve remote testing’s adherence and trust problem.

Initially targeting private individuals and businesses in the U.K., with other markets to follow, tests can be ordered online and are carried out remotely with the promise of a certified result the following day for PCR tests and in under 90 minutes for antigen tests.

More broadly, the Certific app and user journey is designed to increase trust in remote testing and ensure that self-performed tests reach the same standard as those carried out in a clinical setting.

“When the pandemic hit, we started toying around with the first finger prick tests to see if you have antibodies, and thinking, ‘hey, is there a way to make use of these to help the world along,’ ” Hinrikus told me during an interview earlier this week. “[But] then it turned out that these kind of antibody tests, and the end immunity, was a very unclear concept. And so we kind of put it on hold, but we kept on thinking about what better things we can do to make testing more trustworthy and easier”.

Then late last year he and Certific’s other co-founders — physician Dr. Jack Kreindler and CEO Liis Narusk — realised that there were things “that we can and should be doing to come up with a more democratised way of medical testing, and apply this to the pandemic”.

Hinrikus doesn’t quite say it, but as the founder of TransferWise and a prolific angel investor, including backing Estonian verification platform Veriff, there’s little doubt that Certific is partly inspired by the authentication techniques that have gained prominence in fintech, such as video selfies used to onboard new customers at digital banks. In addition, medical director Kreindler has experience with anti-doping in close-combat sports.

Coupled with more traditional identity checks, the Certific app asks you to film yourself while you take the test. The recording and test result is securely uploaded to Certific and checked by a qualified physician to ensure you have adhered to the manufacturer’s instructions properly. A medical certification containing the test result is then delivered back to the app. PCR tests cost £64, and the soon to be available rapid antigen tests will be sold in 12-packs for £249 (making the price of a single antigen test £20.75).

But how easy would it be to cheat the test and therefore fake a result? “That’s one thing we definitely are very, very focused on solving,” says Certific CEO Narusk. “Our experience in all the anti-fraud and anti-cheat areas means that we went far and beyond to make sure that you can’t actually tamper with the process. So when you record the video, and after you have recorded the video, it is checked by our test verification officers who make sure that you haven’t moved the tests away from the screen”.

In addition, Certific ensures that the test you have used is actually the test that you ordered and contains the same unique ID, and that you are the person who was supposed to do the test.

That in itself isn’t entirely fraud proof, and Hinrikus clarifies that Certific is initially focusing on ensuring that a test is carried out medically correctly. He says that a higher-priced tier will be offered at a later stage with enhanced video verification, such as a live operator acting as a witness.

This could be particularly useful for businesses, such as live events or travel, where there could be incentives for individuals to cheat and where operators may be required to prove to insurance companies or government authorities that they are COVID-19 safe.

Kreindler, Certific’s medical director, contrasts this with key workers that are currently permitted by U.K. authorities to carry out coronavirus home-testing without any additional verification, but who aren’t nearly as likely to want to fake a result.

“If you think about it, those public servants are not at a great disadvantage if they test positive, because they still get paid. So there’s less of an incentive to cheat. And the challenge comes where you are doing point of care testing in an environment where there actually is some incentive or a big disadvantage [to testing positive]”.

Kreindler also says it’s not just about individuals and that Certific has worked with academics in Estonia, North America and in the U.K. to develop a computational risk model for mass testing for “super spreader” environments, such as large events. People will not only be able to take a test at home before attending, but a risk model that continually learns and takes into account “democratised decentralised testing” and an understanding of vaccination and immunity, could enable further mitigations to be put in place to make sure there’s no net spread of the virus back into the community. “That’s very core to our thinking going forward,” he says. “It’s not just about certifying testing, it’s also about certifying crowds”.

Zooming out even further — and beyond the current coronavirus pandemic — Certific has been built to be entirely test agnostic. Combining speed, convenience, adherence and trust, the company aims to be the rails on which existing and future home tests can run (my words, not theirs). In the future, this could span testing for sexually transmitted diseases (SDIs) to anti-doping tests in sports. And, of course, new types of COVID-19 tests as they come on stream.

#certific, #covid-19, #europe, #health, #health-tech, #startups, #taavet-hinrikus, #tc

0

Notable Health seeks to improve COVID-19 vaccine administration through intelligent automation

Efficient and cost-effective vaccine distribution remains one of the biggest challenges of 2021, so it’s no surprise that startup Notable Health wants to use their automation platform to help. Initially started to help address the nearly $250 billion annual administrative costs in healthcare, Notable Health launched in 2017 to use automation to replace time-consuming and repetitive simple tasks in health industry admin. In early January of this year, they announced plans to use that technology as a way to help manage vaccine distribution.

“As a physician, I saw firsthand that with any patient encounter, there are 90 steps or touchpoints that need to occur,” said Notable Health medical director Muthu Alagappan in an interview. “It’s our hypothesis that the vast majority of those points can be automated.”

Notable Health’s core technology is a platform that uses robotic process automation (RPA), natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning to find eligible patients for the COVID-19 vaccine. Combined with data provided by hospital systems’ electronic health records, the platform helps those qualified to receive the vaccine set up appointments and guides them to other relevant educational resources.

“By leveraging intelligent automation to identify, outreach, educate and triage patients, health systems can develop efficient and equitable vaccine distribution workflows,” said Notable Health strategic advisor and Biden Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board Member Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, in a press release.

Making vaccine appointments has been especially difficult for older Americans, many of whom have reportedly struggled with navigating scheduling websites. Alagappan sees that as a design problem. “Technology often gets a bad reputation, because it’s hampered by the many bad technology experiences that are out there,” he said.

Instead, he thinks Notable Health has kept the user in mind through a more simplified approach, asking users only for basic and easy-to-remember information through a text message link. “It’s that emphasis on user-centric design that I think has allowed us to still have really good engagement rates even with older populations,” he said.

While the startup’s platform will likely help hospitals and health systems develop a more efficient approach to vaccinations, its use of RPA and NLP holds promise for future optimization in healthcare. Leaders of similar technology in other industries have already gone on to have multi-billion dollar valuations, and continue to attract investors’ interest.

Artificial intelligence is expected to grow in healthcare over the next several years, but Alagappan argues that combining that with other, more readily available intelligent technologies is also an important step towards improved care. “When we say intelligent automation, we’re really referring to the marriage of two concepts: artificial intelligence—which is knowing what to do—and robotic process automation—which is knowing how to do it,” he said. That dual approach is what he says allows Notable Health to bypass administrative bottlenecks in healthcare, instructing bots to carry out those tasks in an efficient and adaptable way.

So far, Notable Health has worked with several hospital systems across multiple states in using their platform for vaccine distribution and scheduling, and are now using the platform to reach out to tens of thousands of patients per day.

#artificial-intelligence, #automation, #biden, #covid-19, #covid-19-vaccine, #health, #healthcare, #machine-learning, #natural-language-processing, #robotic-process-automation, #science, #startups, #vaccine

0

Printing a Brain Aneurysm in a Dish

Scientists make and treat a 3-D-printed model of a ballooning blood vessel

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#advances, #health, #medicalbiotech, #tech

0

How President Biden Can Deliver on His Vaccine Promise to Communities of Color

It will require the federal government to use a scientific, data-driven system for identifying those most in need

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #policyethics

0

Wyndly aims to bring allergy drops to the masses

Chronic allergy sufferers know well the daily discomfort of seasonal allergies and environmental allergies. They also likely know about allergy shots — the treatment that requires you to go into an office to get shots on a weekly or monthly basis. But there is a lesser-known treatment, allergy drops, that requires a bit less effort. Wyndly, a startup participating in Y Combinator’s current batch, aims to make allergy drops more accessible to people.

Before the pandemic, Dr. Manan Shah, an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, throat doctor), would have his patients come in for an evaluation and then prescribe them personalized allergy drops to train their immune system to fight off allergy triggers.  When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Shah, began treating his patients suffering from allergies via telemedicine. That went well so Dr. Shah and his cousin, Aakash Shah, took their idea to Y Combinator. They showed their idea was working well in Denver, Colorado but wanted help taking it nationwide.

Through Wyndly, Dr. Shah can conduct both allergy testing and treatment via telemedicine. Unlike allergy shots, allergy drops can be taken at home. Wyndly aims to treat environmental allergies, like cats, dogs, dust mites, mold, pollen, trees, grasses and weeds.

“Most people don’t realize there is this other option,” Dr. Shah said. “I think most people think the only option for allergies are shots or taking antihistamines every day. we educate people there is this wonderful therapy and we can make it available to you in the most convenient way.”

Wyndly works by first evaluating a patient’s allergies. Patients can either submit a recent allergy test to Wyndly, or take Wyndly’s at-home finger prick test. Next, Wyndly prepares personalized allergy drops for the patient and sends a vial to the patient’s home. Then, at some point during the day, patients take five drops under the tongue. Dr. Shah said most patients see a decrease in their symptoms after taking these drops daily for six months.

Wyndly costs $99 per month for allergy drop treatment, which could come out to around $594 in total, if a patient takes them for six months. If you become a patient, the allergy test costs $0 but if you don’t become a patient, the test costs $200.

While allergy drops are easy to take, there’s a caveat. Insurance companies typically do not cover the cost of the treatment, while they generally do for allergy shots. But Wyndly says it aims to be the same cost as what someone would pay for insurance-covered allergy shots plus co-pays.

It’s also worth noting that these allergy drops are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. While they are made using the same medications that are FDA-approved for allergy shots, the compounded medication is not itself approved and regulated by the FDA, Dr. Shah said.

Down the road, Wyndly may look to treat food allergies but Shah says there’s not enough data about its safety.

“I just want to see a little more research and for the field to reach a consensus on safety,” Shah said. “We hope to do food in the future if it ends up being proven to be really effective.”

Wyndly is has been in Y Combinator for a little over a month now and has been slowly expanding its offerings. Through partnerships with physicians, Wyndly is able to offer its services in 38 states throughout the country. By the end of 2022, Wyndly hopes to be in all 50 states.

#health, #tc, #y-combinator

0

Coronavirus News Roundup, February 6 – February 12

Pandemic highlights for the week

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

0

Ember names former Dyson head as consumer CEO, as the startup looks beyond the smart mug

Ember today announced that founder Clay Alexander will transition to Group CEO effective February 16. In his place, the Los Angeles-based smart mug company is bringing on Jim Rowan as Consumer CEO. The executive served as CEO of Dyson from 2017 to 2020, after five years as COO.

It’s a big get for a relatively small company like Ember, which is best known for its smart, heated mugs. Founded in 2012, the hardware startup most recently raised a $20 million Series D in early 2019, bringing its total funding up to just shy of $50 million.

Alexander’s continued role at the company points to additional categories for Ember beyond consumer. “When I founded Ember, I knew there were endless applications for our temperature control technology and with Jim joining our team, we’ll be able to focus on our emerging healthcare vertical and use our technology to help improve and even save lives,” the exec said in a statement.

Courtesy of clever technology and smart design, the company has built a pretty sizable footprint for what might otherwise be a fairly niche product, expanding retail sales to Target, Costco, Best Buy and Starbucks, among others. The startup has done so while maintaining a low headcount of around 100 staffers.

“They have great IP, great design and great innovation, all around precise temperature control,” Rowan said in an interview with TechCrunch. “Obviously that started with the temperature control mugs and flasks, but that IP lends itself to so many other application. For me, that golden thread of being able to use that in myriad of different industries and markets is really, really exciting. One of them, of course, is the cold chain, which has become a lot more important since the beginning of the pandemic. That’s a good indication of how you can disrupt and innovate in new markets.

Rowan has previously served as the COO of BlackBerry and as a senior exec at Flextronics. After exiting Dyson, he joined both PCH International and KKR as an advisor. It’s Dyson, however, that provides the most direct analogy for what the executive hoping to do at Ember. At its core, Dyson is a company that moves air. That translates to vacuums, fans, hairdryers and myriad other product categories.

The underlying question is how Ember’s proprietary heating and cooling tech can translate to other fields. On an industrial level, it means, potentially, helping keep foodstuff and medicine at a predetermined temperate while shipping in the international cold chain. It also means additional consumer products built around the same underlying tech.

“There will be a lot more products that come out, beyond the current mugs and travel mugs,” Rowan says. “There’s a whole bunch of new products which are in the consumer pipeline and will launch in the next year or couple of years. And then you have the expansion into new geographies with existing products.”

That largely means Asia (Rowan will remain based in Singapore) and Europe. Thus far Ember’s footprint has been U.S.-centric, though a push toward online commerce amid the pandemic has helped expand it some. There does, however, remain a question of how high the ceiling is on adoption for a $130 electric smart mug. Ember has yet to release any actual numbers, and Rowan, whose experience at Dyson has more than familiarized him with selling premium products at a premium price point, isn’t ready to commit to a lower price point or less premium take on the space.

It’s worth noting, of course, that low end of the mug category is ready available at your local 99 cent store, and that’s not likely a space Ember is raring to compete in. And certainly those products — unlike its current lineup — likely wouldn’t end up in Apple Stores. Instead, it seems likely the company will continue a play as a premium consumer brand into additional categories at a more rapid pace. “The actual technology can expand into a whole bunch of new areas beyond just beverages because of the temperature control technology,” Rowan said.

#dyson, #ember, #hardware, #health, #personnel

0

Immunai raises $60M as it expands from improving immune therapies to discovering new ones, too

Just three years after its founding, biotech startup Immunai has raised $60 million in Series A funding, bringing its total raised to over $80 million. Despite its youth, Immunai has already established the largest database in the world for single cell immunity characteristics, and it has already used its machine learning-powered immunity analysts platform to enhance the performance of existing immunotherapies, but aided by this new funding, it’s now ready to expand into the development of entirely new therapies based on the strength and breadth of its data and ML.

Immunai’s approach to developing new insights around the human immune system uses a ‘multi-omic’ approach – essentially layering analysis of different types of biological data, including a cell’s genome, microbiome, epigenome (a genome’s chemical instruction set) and more. The startup’s unique edge is in combining the largest and richest data set of its type available, formed in partnership with world-leading immunological research organizations, with its own machine learning technology to deliver analytics at unprecedented scale.

“I hope it doesn’t sound corny, but we don’t have the luxury to move more slowly,” explained Immunai co-founder and CEO Noam Solomon in an interview. “Because I think that we are in kind of a perfect storm, where a lot of advances in machine learning and compute computations have led us to the point where we can actually leverage those methods to mine important insights. You have a limit or ceiling to how fast you can go by the number of people that you have – so I think with the vision that we have, and thanks to our very think large network between MIT, and Cambridge to Stanford in the Bay Area, and Tel Aviv, we just moved very quickly to harness people to say, let’s solve this problem together.”

Solomon and his co-founder and CTO Luis Voloch both have extensive computer science and machine learning backgrounds, and they initially connected and identified a need for the application of this kind of technology in immunology. Scientific co-founder and SVP of Strategic Research Danny Wells then helped them refine their approach to focus on improving efficacy of immunotherapies designed to treat cancerous tumors.

Immunai has already demonstrated that its platform can help identify optimal targets for existing therapies, including in a partnership with the Baylor College of Medicine where it assisted with a cell therapy product for use in treating neuroblastoma (a type of cancer that develops from immune cells, often in the adrenal glands). The company is now also moving into new territory with therapies, using its machine learning platform and industry-leading cell database to new therapy discovery – not only identifying and validating targets for existing therapies, but helping to create entirely new ones.

“We’re moving from just observing cells, but actually to going and perturbing them, and seeing what the outcome is,” explained Voloch. This, from the computational side, later allows us to move from correlative assessments to actually causal assessments, which makes our models a lot more powerful. Both on the computational side and on the on the lab side, this is really bleeding edge technologies that I think we will be the first to really put together at any kind of real scale.”

“The next step is to say ‘Okay, now that we understand the human immune profile, can we develop new drugs?’,” said Solomon. “You can think about it like we’ve been building a Google Maps for the immune system of a few years – so we are mapping different roads and paths in the in the immune system. But at some point, we figured out that there are certain roads or bridges that haven’t been built yet. And we will be able to support building new roads and new and new bridges, and hopefully leading from current states of disease or cities of disease, to building cities of health.”

#artificial-intelligence, #biotech, #biotechnology, #cambridge, #cancer-immunotherapy, #funding, #health, #life-sciences, #machine-learning, #machine-learning-technology, #mit, #recent-funding, #science, #stanford, #startups, #tc, #tel-aviv

0

Masks Can Be Detrimental to Babies’ Speech and Language Development

The good news is that parents can take action to compensate

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#cognition, #health

0

Why It’s So Hard to Make Antiviral Drugs for COVID and Other Diseases

Antibiotics abound, but virus-fighting drugs are harder to come by. Fortunately, scientists are getting better at making and finding them

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #medicine

0

A Visual Guide to the New Coronavirus Variants

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus seems to be suddenly acquiring mutations at a rapid rate. The most worrying variants, first discovered in South Africa and Brazil, increase the virus’s contagiousness…

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

0

Why COVID Vaccines Are Taking So Long to Reach You

Bottlenecks in supply chains and difficult appointment-registration systems are slowing distribution

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health, #tech

0

Society’s End-of-Life Problem

Americans have unequal access to the benefits of advance care planning

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #policyethics

0

NASA will use Fitbits to help prevent spread of COVID-19 to astronauts and employees

NASA will provide 1,000 of its employees, including 150 astronauts, with Fitbit devices in a pilot program designed to see if they can help supplement efforts to keep these mission-critical personnel healthy ahead of key space missions. The program will see NASA employees outfitted with a wearable, and provided access to a daily check-in app they can use to log potential symptoms, as well as their body temperature and other key health metrics, which could potentially help spot developing cases.

NASA has already been taking measures to isolate astronauts and to limit or prevent the spread of COVID-19 across its facilities, which are located across the U.S. It has of course followed local guidelines and requirements regarding COVID-19 protections, but it also introduced its own level-based system last year and implemented remote work protocols for many employees wherever possible. On the astronaut side, it has also beefed up existing isolation and sequestration procedures that are already quite strict in order to guarantee that its spacefarers don’t get sick before they’re set to make a trip to the International Space Station.

The new Fitbit program is designed to supplement those existing measure, providing tracked health metrics including resting heart rate and heart rate variability, as well as respiratory rate, changes in all of which all of which have been linked to COVID-19. Those stats, along with the self-reported metrics logged by users themselves, including any reports of potential symptoms, will be used by the app to provide individuals in the program with guidance about whether they should go into work, or stay home and take additional measures to find out if they have COVID-19.

Fitbit is already engaged in studies to determine whether or not its wearable devices and the metrics they log can be useful in providing early COVID-19 detection. Regardless of those results, self-reporting as well as the baseline health metrics that the app logs from its devices are already likely to be handy in providing a supplement to existing self-assessment measures regarding the level of risk you pose to others if you’re feeling off, which is the primary purpose of this program with NASA.

#aerospace, #astronaut, #biotech, #clothing, #covid-19, #fitbit, #health, #internet-of-things, #nasa, #space, #tc, #united-states, #wearable-devices, #wearable-technology

0

Ancestry says it fought two police requests to search its DNA database

DNA profiling company Ancestry has confirmed it fought two U.S. law enforcement requests to access its DNA database in the past six months, but that neither request resulted in turning over customer or DNA data.

The Utah-based company disclosed the two requests in its latest transparency report covering the latter half of 2020. The report said Ancestry “challenged both of these requests, which were withdrawn,” and that the company “provided no data” at the time of the report, published Tuesday.

Ancestry did not say which agencies or police departments requested the DNA data or for what reason the company challenged the request. Ancestry spokesperson Gina Spatafore confirmed the search warrants were to obtain DNA data but declined to comment beyond what was in the report.

The company also said in its most recent report that it “refused numerous inquiries” from U.S. law enforcement for failing to obtain the proper legal process. The report also said the company received four valid law enforcement requests, but that it did not provide any data in response.

Ancestry has more than 3.6 million subscribers and has more than 18 million customer DNA profiles in its database, making it the largest in the world.

DNA profiling companies like Ancestry are increasingly popular with customers wanting to learn more about their family heritage, their genetic markers, and to understand their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. But as these DNA databases become larger, they are also attracting attention from law enforcement who want access to help solve crimes.

On its website, Ancestry says: “We believe that the nature of our members’ DNA data is particularly sensitive, so we insist on a court order or search warrant as the minimum level of due process before we will review our ability to comply with the request. We also seek to put our members’ privacy first, so we also will try to minimize the scope or even invalidate the warrant before complying.”

It’s not the first time Ancestry has pushed back against a legal demand. Last year the company said it rejected an out-of-state search warrant, ordered by a court in Pennsylvania, to “seek access” to its DNA database on the grounds that the warrant was “improperly served.”

Ancestry has only complied with one search warrant for DNA data from a database it acquired and later made public, not realizing that police would use the database to search for leads.

It’s not uncommon for companies with large amounts of customer data to frequently receive law enforcement demands for user data — or for companies to publish periodic transparency reports that detail the number of legal demands they receive.

To its credit, Ancestry is one of only two DNA profiling sites that publishes a transparency report. 23andMe also publishes the number of data demands it receives each quarter, but to date has not released any customer data to law enforcement. FamilyDNA said over a year ago that it was “working on publishing” a transparency report.

The move by Ancestry and 23andMe came shortly after police used DNA profiling site GEDmatch to identify the DNA of a suspected serial killer, a breakthrough which later led to the arrest of the so-called Golden State Killer in 2018. GEDmatch said it was “not approached by law enforcement” prior to the search. GEDmatch soon after allowed its users to opt-in for their DNA to be included in police searches.

Last year, GEDmatch confirmed it was hit by two data breaches that made user profiles visible to other users, including law enforcement.

#health, #security

0

Is It Safe to Delay a Second COVID Vaccine Dose?

Some evidence indicates that short waits are safe, but there is a chance that partial immunization could help risky new coronavirus variants to develop

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #medicine, #public-health

0

Mount Sinai study finds Apple Watch can predict COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before testing

A new study from Mount Sinai researchers published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research found that wearable hardware, and specifically the Apple Watch, can effectively predict a positive COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before current PCR-based nasal swab tests.

The investigation dubbed the ‘Warrior Watch Study,‘ used a dedicated Apple Watch and iPhone app and included participants from Mount Sinai staff. It required participants to use the app for health data monitoring and collection, and also asked that they fill out a day survey to provide direct feedback about their potential COVID-19 symptoms, and other factor including stress.

During the course of the study, the research team enlisted “several hundred health care workers” to participate, and collected data over several months, between April and September. The primary biometric signal that the study’s authors were watching was heart rate variability (HRV), which is a key indicator of strain on a person’s nervous system. This information was combined with information around reported symptoms associated with COVID-19, including fever, aches, dry cough, gastrointestinal issues, loss of taste and smell, among others.

The Warrior Watch Study was not only able to predict infections up to a week before tests provided confirmed diagnoses, but also revealed that participants’ HRV patterns normalized fairly quickly after their diagnosis, returning to normal roughly one to two weeks following their positive tests.

As to what the study could lead to in terms of actual interventions, the study’s authors note that it can help anticipate outcomes and isolate individuals from others who are at risk. Most importantly, it provides a means for doing so remotely, allowing caregivers to anticipate or detect a COVID-19 case without even doing a physical exam or a administering a nasal swab test, which can help take precautionary measures in high-risk situations when cases are suspected, possibly preventing any spread before someone is highly contagious.

The study is ongoing, and will expand to examine what else wearables like the Apple Watch and their onboard sensors can tell us about other impacts of COVID-19 on the health of care workers, including what factors like sleep and physical activity can have in association with the disease.

#apple, #biotech, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #disease, #fever, #health, #iphone, #medicine, #tc

0

Nanome raises $3 million to help scientists get up close with molecular structures in VR

Discovery and research of new molecular compounds is an expensive business, with development costs exceeding $10 billion per substance in some cases. Part of that comes from the need to closely examine every relevant molecule, studying its chemical composition and interactions as well as its physical structure at the atomic level. Despite advances in software to help model these compounds and molecules, there are still challenges in fully understanding their shapes through a two-dimensional computer screen.

San Diego-based startup Nanome uses virtual reality to solve that problem. The idea for Nanome came out of CEO and Founder Steve McCloskey’s time in the nanoengineering program at UC San Diego, where he saw a need for a better understanding of three-dimensional molecular structures.

“Understanding structure empowers our users to understand how their designs function,” he wrote in an email. “Yet, the R&D process for drug discovery relies on 2D monitors, keyboard, and mouse, which limits the understanding of complex 3D structures or interactions and contributes to massive R&D costs averaging $2.5B per drug.”

Nanome recently closed a funding round led by Bullpen Capital for $3 million to establish new business partnerships, build up the company’s brand, and expand their science and engineering team. “Nanome is reimagining the way we interact with science at a time when innovation in collaboration is more important than ever before,” said Bullpen Capital General Partner Ann Lai in a press release. Formic Ventures, led by Oculus co-founder Michael Antonov, also took part in the round.

McCloskey thinks that Nanome’s platform has become even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, as researchers might be forced to work remotely on occasion, limiting their access to in-lab technology and software.

“Nanome helps scientists get on the same page quicker,” he wrote in an email. “Traditionally scientists working with molecules use screenshots or screen sharing, and rely on the mouse cursor and Zoom to communicate their insights and ask for feedback from other team members.” Nanome streamlines this process by bringing researchers to the same virtual reality space to work on molecule development together.

So far, Nanome has worked largely on projects with companies in the food and beverage industry, as well as another to develop more sustainable batteries. But they have plans to use this new funding to expand into pharmaceutical chemistry, synthetic biology, and even education. Their next product update will feature what McCloskey calls ‘Spatial Recording,’ that will allow users to record their work for later review – basically a screen recording but with a VR experience. “This is not only an amazing feature for asynchronous collaboration among researchers, it is also useful for producing lectures and lessons,” he wrote in an email.

#ann-lai, #biotech, #bullpen-capital, #chemistry, #drug-discovery, #funding, #health, #oculus, #pharmaceutics, #recent-funding, #san-diego, #science, #startup, #startups, #virtual-reality

0

Safely Reopening Requires Testing, Tracing and Isolation, Not Just Vaccines

No matter how effective vaccines are, they are not enough

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

0

Bangladesh-based Maya, a startup focused on accessible healthcare, raises $2.2 million seed round

Based in Bangladesh, Maya is dedicated to making it easier for women to get healthcare, especially for sensitive issues like reproductive and mental health. The startup announced today it has raised $2.2 million in seed funding. The round, which Maya said is the largest raised by a Bangladeshi health tech company so far, was led by early-stage fund Anchorless Bangladesh and The Osiris Group, a private equity firm focused on impact investing in Asian markets.

The funding will be used to introduce new products to Maya’s telehealth platform and expand into more countries. Maya recently launched in Sri Lanka and plans to expand into India, Pakistan, Middle Eastern markets and Indonesia.

Maya uses natural language processing and machine learning technology for its digital assistant, which answers basic health-related questions and decides if users need to be routed to human experts. It has about 10 million unique users and currently counts more than 300 licensed healthcare providers on its platform.

Founder and chief executive officer Ivy Huq Russell, who grew up in Chittagong and Dhaka before moving to the United Kingdom for university, started Maya as a blog with healthcare information in 2011. At the time, Russell worked in finance. She had just given birth to her first child and her mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Russell told TechCrunch she realized how many challenges there were to seeking medical care in Bangladesh, including financial barriers, a shortage of providers and long travel times to clinics.

She began Maya with the goal of providing trustworthy health information, but quickly realized that the site’s visitors needed more support. Many sent messages through WhatsApp, email or the site’s chat box, including survivors of sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. After receiving a grant from BRAC, a Bangladeshi non-governmental organization, Maya’s team began developing an app to connect users with medical information and experts.

Bangladesh-based healthcare app Maya's homescreen

Maya’s homescreen

“We were very focused on two things,” Russell said. “One is how do we built trust in our community, in their language, because it’s very important that they communicate in the language that they’re comfortable using. At the same time, we realized as soon as we started getting hundreds and hundreds of questions, that we’re not going to be able to scale up if we just have 50 experts on computers typing.”

To support Bengali and regional dialects, Maya spent more than two years focused on developing its natural language processing technology. It collaborated with data scientists and linguists and took part in Google Launchpad’s accelerator program, working on tokenization and training its machine learning algorithms. Now Maya is able to provide automated answers in Bengali to basic questions in 50 topics with about 95% accuracy, Russell said. Out of the four million queries the platform has handled so far, about half were answered by its AI tech.

Many have to do with sexual or reproductive health and the platform has also seen an increase in questions about mental health. These are topics users are often hesitant seeking in-person consultations for.

“Growing up in Bangladesh, we got minimum sexual education. There’s no curriculum at school. Recently in the last one or two years, we’ve also started to see a lot of mental health questions, because I think we’ve made a good drive toward talking about mental health,” said Russell. She added, “it’s quite natural that whatever they couldn’t go and ask a question about very openly in traditional healthcare systems, they come and ask us.”

More consultations are coming from men, too, who now make up about 30% of Maya’s users. Many ask questions about birth control and family planning, or how to support their partners’ medical issues. To protect users’ privacy, consultations are end-to-end encrypted, and experts only see a randomly-generated ID instead of personal information.

In order to understand if someone needs to be routed to a human expert, Maya’s algorithms considers the length, complexity and urgency of queries, based on their tone. For example, if someone types “please, please, please help me,” they automatically get directed to a person. The majority of questions about mental health are also sent to an expert.

Russell said Maya’s approach is to take a holistic approach to physical health and mental wellness, instead of treating them as separate issues.

“People don’t just ask about physical health issues. They also ask things like, ‘I wear a hijab and I want to go for a run, but I feel really awkward,’” said Russell. “It sounds like a very normal question, but it’s actually quite a loaded question, because it’s affecting their mental health on a day-to-day basis.”

One of the company’s goals is to make the app feel accessible, so people feel more comfortable seeking support. “We’ve literally have had sweets delivered to our office when a user has a baby,” Russell said. “These are the personal touches that I think Maya has delivered in terms of dealing with both physical as well as mental health conditions combined together.”

The company is currently working with different monetization models. One is business-to-business sales, positioning Maya as a software-as-a-service platform that employers can offer to workers as a benefit. Garment manufacturing is one of Bangladesh’s biggest export sectors, and many workers are young women, fitting Maya’s typical user profile. The startup has worked with Marks and Spencer, Primark and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

Another B2B route is partnering with insurance providers who offer Maya as a benefit. On the direct-to-consumer side, Maya recently launched premium services, including in-app video consultations and prescription delivery. Demand for consultations increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it now handles about 300,000 video visits a month. Russell expects many users to continue using telehealth services even after the pandemic subsides.

“They’ve really seen the advantage of just having a doctor right in front of you,” she said. “For people with chronic conditions, it’s easier because they don’t have to go somewhere every week, and the fact they have monitoring and their history gathered is helpful for regular users, too.”

#apps, #asia, #bangladesh, #fundings-exits, #health, #healthcare, #maya, #south-asia, #startups, #tc, #telehealth, #womens-health

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Why the U.S. Is Underestimating COVID Reinfection

Many U.S. states aren’t rigorously tracking or investigating suspected cases of reinfection

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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Indian healthtech startup Phable raises $12 million to serve patients with chronic conditions

Phable, a three-year-old healthtech startup that is serving patients with chronic illnesses in India, has raised $12 million in a new financing round as it looks to scale in the world’s second most populated nation.

Manipal Hospitals, one of the largest healthcare providers in India, led the Series A round in Phable. Existing investor New Jersey-headquartered SOSV also participated in the round.

Hundreds of millions of people in India suffer from chronic diseases. One of the biggest challenges they face is the volume of transactions they have to manage each day. There are appointments with doctors and labs for tests, purchasing of medicines, medical devices and insurance, and keeping a log of their test results.

The Bangalore-based startup has built a full-stack solution to process all these transactions. It has also developed what it claims to be the world’s largest integration with medical IoT devices.

The purpose of this is to automatically collect patients’ data so that doctors can keep a better track of their progress. The app also enables patients to share what medicine they are taking, and the frequency of the intake.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Phable co-founder Sumit Sinha explained that patients often become less disciplined about taking full dose of their medication once they start to see improvements in their conditions.

Phable has created a more transparent and real-time communication channel that allows a doctor to nudge their patients to take their medicine on time, and make any necessary changes to the lifestyle or medication cycle, or request a follow-up appointment. The app itself can be used for tele-consultation, the demand for which has skyrocketed in recent quarters as coronavirus forced people to stay indoors.

“This creates a feedback loop between the patient and the doctor even when the patient is not at the clinic or hospital and enables active interventions to get the best outcome,” he said.

Image: Phable

The startup also sells a range of medical IoT devices through its platform that patients can buy for tracking their body performance such as blood pressure and glucose levels. Sinha said that even if a patient has bought a machine from some other place, Phable’s app is compatible with most devices. (Even if it is not — as is sometimes the case with low-cost, non-branded devices — patients can manually enter their result, or take a picture of the result and through computer vision, Phable is able to understand and make a record of it.)

“The growing burden of chronic diseases in India is exacerbated by issues around compliance of patients with the treatment regime – including medication, lifestyle changes and periodic follow-ups. Phable would help to fill that gap and would enhance the quality of life for many patients. Manipal Hospitals is pleased to have this opportunity to work with the team at Phable to enhance and grow their offerings,” said Dr. Ranjan Pai, Chairman of Manipal Education and Medical Group, in a statement.

Phable, which employs 72 people, also maintains partnership with 1mg and Medlife to make it easier for patients to place orders for their medicines and get them delivered at their doorstep.

In recent quarters, millions of Indians have consulted with their doctors through their phone or computer and bought medication online for the first time. According to Frost & Sullivan, e-pharmacy market in India was estimated to be around $512 million in 2018. In a recent note to clients, analysts at Bank of America estimated this market to be worth $2.4 billion by 2022. (The preventive healthcare market, which caters to physical and mental well-being, is expected to grow to $102 billion by 2022.)

Phable today serves patients with cardiovascular and endocrinology related chronic diseases. It has already served over 220,000 patients and plans to deploy the fresh capital to scale the startup to reach 5 million patients and 35,000 doctors by the end of the year. It also plans to broaden its offering, including allowing patients to purchase insurance from within the app or website.

Currently Phable is used by over 5,000 doctors. These doctors are using the platform to stay better connected with their existing patients and are not being paid by Phable. The startup, however, also enables patients to discover more doctors. All in all, Sinha said doctors have seen their revenue grow by 20% by using Phable’s platform.

“Phable started with an uncompromising vision of connected healthcare, reimagined through leading-edge technology, and has been unrelenting in their efforts since day one. It’s been our privilege to work with the team through our accelerator MOX and to further support Phable as they go on to better millions of lives in India,” said William Bao Bean, General Partner at SOSV, in a statement.

#apps, #asia, #funding, #health, #healthcare, #healthtech, #india, #sosv

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Vaccines Alone Are Not Enough to Beat COVID

It could take years to immunize everyone, so we need to work on discovering new treatments as well—and fast

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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Whose Underlying Conditions Count for Priority in Getting the Vaccine?

Some disorders that make COVID riskier don’t appear on official lists

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #policyethics

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Coronavirus News Roundup, January 30-February 5

Pandemic highlights for the week

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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The Pandemic Has Caused a Steep Decline in Living Standards

A survey of more than 30,000 households in developing countries shows increased food insecurity

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#health, #public-health

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Health tech startup Bold raises $7 million in seed funding for senior-focused fitness programs

Virtual health and wellness platforms have grown increasingly popular throughout the pandemic, but a new startup wants to focus that effort exclusively on senior citizens. Bold, a digital health and wellness service, plans to prevent chronic health problems in older adults through free and personalized exercise programs. Co-founded by Amanda Rees and her partner Hari Arul, Bold picked up $7 million this week in seed funding led by Julie Yoo of Silicon Valley-based Andreessen Horowitz.

Rees said in an interview that the idea for Bold came from time she spent caring for her grandmother, helping her through health challenges like falls. “I kept thinking about solutions we could build to keep someone healthier longer, rather than waiting for until they have a fall or something else goes off the rails to intervene,” she said. Rees started Bold to use what she’d learned from her own experience in dance and yoga to help her grandmother practice maintaining balance to prevent future falls. “My passion really was around ways to sort of widen the aperture, and make these solutions more accessible and built for older people.”

The member experience is pretty straightforward. Users fill out some brief fitness information on the web-based platform, outlining their goals and current baseline. From that information, Bold creates a personalized program that ranges from a short, seated Tai Chi class once a week, to cardio and strength classes meeting multiple times each week. “The idea is to really meet a member where they are, and then through our programming, help them along their journey of doing the types of exercises that are going to have the most immediate benefit for them,” said Rees.

Bold’s funding round comes at a time of concern around ballooning healthcare expenses for older populations, and a focus on how to reduce these costs for both current and future generations. While falls alone aren’t necessarily complex medical incidents, they have the potential to lead to fractures and other serious injuries. Bold’s preventative approach to falls is a more active solution than necklace or bracelet monitors that send a signal to emergency services when they detect a fall. And by offering virtual programs, they can help at-risk older populations engage in exercise while avoiding potential COVID-19 exposure at gyms.

Research shows that this works. Even simple, low-intensity exercise can improve balance and strength enough to reduce the incidence of falls, which is currently the leading cause of injury and injury death among older adults.

Fewer injuries would mean less need for medical care, which would lead to money saved for hospitals and health insurers alike. That’s why in addition to their seed funding, Bold has plans to start rolling out partnerships with Medicare Advantage organizations and risk-bearing providers, which will help make their exercise programs available to users for free.

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #balance, #exercise, #falling, #health, #julie-yoo, #medicare, #occupational-safety-and-health, #recent-funding, #silicon-valley, #startups, #tc

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Google to offer heart and respiratory rate measurements using just your smartphone’s camera

Google is introducing features that will allow users to take vital health measurements using just the camera they already have on their smartphone, expanding health and fitness features typically only available on dedicated wearables to a whole new group of people. Beginning next month, and available initially on Google Pixel phones exclusively (but with plans to offer it for other Android devices in future), users will be able to measure both their heart rate and their respiratory rate using just their device’s camera.

Typically, taking these measurements has required specialized hardware, including red or green light-based heart rate monitors like those found on the Apple Watch or on fitness trackers like those made by Google-acquired Fitbit. Google’s hardware and software teams, including the Google Health unit led by Director of Health Technologies Schwetak Patel, have managed to develop computer vision-based methods for taking these measurements using only smartphone cameras, which it says can produce results that are comparable to clinical-grade measurement hardware (it has produced a study to validate these results, which it’s making available in pre-print format while it seeks peer review through an academic journal).

For respiratory rate, the technology relies on a technique known as ‘optical flow,’ which monitors movements in a person’s chest as they breathe and uses that to determine their breathing rate. In its clinical validation study, which covered both typical individuals in good health, and people with existing respiratory conditions, Google’s data indicates that it’s accurate to within 1 breath per minute across all participants.

For heart rate, Google is initially using the camera to detect “subtle color changes” in a user’s finger tip, which provide an indicator about when oxygenated blood flows from your heart through to the rest of your body. The company’s validation data (again, still subject to external review) has shown accuracy within 2% margin of error, on average, across people with a range of different skin types. Google is also working on making this same technology work using color changes in a person’s face, it says, though that work is still in the exploratory phase.

Google is going to make these measurement features available to users within the next month, it says, via the Google Fit app, and initially on currently available Pixel devices made by the company itself. The plan is then to expand the features to different Android devices running Android 6 or later, sometime “in the coming months.”

Image Credits: Google

“My team has been working on ways that we can unlock the potential of everyday smart devices,” Patel said in a press briefing regarding the new features. This would include smart devices in the home, or a mobile phone, and how we leverage the sensors that are starting to become more and more ubiquitous within those devices, to support health and wellness.”

Patel, who is also a computer science professor at the University of Washington and who has been recognized with an ACM Prize in Computing Award for his work in digital health, said that the availability of powerful sensors in ubiquitous consumer devices, combined with advances in AI, have meant that daily health monitoring can be much more accessible than ever before.

“I really think that’s going to be a really important area moving forward given that if you think about health care, the journey just doesn’t end at the hospital, the four walls of the hospital,” he said. “It’s really this continuous journey, as you’re living your daily life, and being able to give you feedback and be able to measure your general wellness is an important thing.”

It’s worth noting that Google is explicit about these features being intended for use in a person’s own tracking of their general wellbeing – meaning it’s not meant as a diagnostic or medical tool. That’s pretty standard for these kinds of features, since few of these companies want to take of the task of getting full FDA medical-grade device certification for tools that are meant for general consumer use. To that end, Google Fit also doesn’t provide any guidance or advise based on the results of these measurements; instead, the app provides a general disclaimer that the results aren’t intended for medical use, and also offers up some very high-level description of why you’d even want to track these stats at all.

Many of the existing dedicated wellness and health tracking products on the market, like the Oura ring, for instance, provide more guidance and actionable insight based on the measurements it takes. Google seems intent on steering well clear of that line with these features, instead leaving the use of this information fully within the hands of users. That said, it could be a valuable resource to share with your physician, particularly if you’re concerned about potential health issues already, in place of other less convenient and available continuous health monitoring.

Patek said that Google is interested in potentially exploring how sensor fusion could further enhance tracking capabilities on existing devices, and in response to a question about potentially offering this on iPhones, he said that while the focus is currently on Android, they ultimate goal is indeed to get it “to as many people as possible.”

#android, #apple, #biotech, #computing, #fda, #fitbit, #google, #google-health, #health, #internet-of-things, #physician, #science-and-technology, #smart-devices, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc, #technology, #university-of-washington

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