Can big data move the needle on the stark racial health inequities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seems to think so, launching PandemicX Accelerator, which finished its pilot in June. Managed by MassChallenge, the six-month accelerator program is designed to support healthtech startups focused on public health challenges through a combination of mentorship and extensive curriculum. As Admiral Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, says, “PandemicX has been a great way for us to create a model for how to improve the way the federal government can—and should—support innovation in the marketplace.”
19th Most Influential Project of 2022
The recent explosion of targeted cancer drugs and DNA sequencing advances have created a deluge of information too vast for any one physician to track. Enter OncoKB. The cancer knowledge database—built at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center by a team of cancer biologists and software engineers—allows clinical oncologists and molecular pathologists to access up-to-date, accurate treatment information while understanding which genetic mutations may predict sensitivity or resistance to a particular drug. In October 2021, OncoKB became the first and only cancer knowledge database to receive partial recognition from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a scientifically valid tool.
27th Most Influential Project of 2022
Drones have the potential to revolutionize healthcare logistics, but so far pilot projects have had a fairly limited scope: delivering supplies to remote communities or expediting “last-mile” medication deliveries in urban areas. The three-year HealthDrone project instead integrates drones into the Danish healthcare system, with the goal of transporting everything from medicine to blood samples to medical equipment between hospital wards, medical centers and homes. Turning that idea into reality has taken a slew of partners: Odense University Hospital, emergency response organization Falck, autonomous vehicle maker Holo, drone traffic integration company Unifly, Scandinavian Avionics and the University of Southern Denmark. The initiative hit a major milestone in May: One of the team’s drones completed a 50-kilometer (31-mile) flight across water—without the airspace having to be shut down. That’s thanks to the team developing a new method for tracking aircraft so the drone can maneuver around them. The groundbreaking timesaver could help move healthcare drones closer to the mainstream.
On 22 March, as Russian forces bore down on Ukraine, a team of 80 medical personnel from Israel’s Sheba Medical Center launched the war-torn country’s first field hospital, Kochav Meir, in Mostyska. Originally intended to be open for four weeks and later extended to six, the project required the team to convert classrooms into hospital wards and erect outdoor tents, roll out training to local physicians, and set up the technology infrastructure to support everything from telemedicine video calls to smart stethoscopes. Even the mental health of affected children was taken into account, with kids making use of game-enabled VR headsets developed by Israeli startup XRHealth. The end result? More than 6,000 civilians treated, 40 surgeries performed, and 21,000 lab tests and 800 diagnostic images analyzed. It was the kind of swift, tech-centric rollout that could provide a template for future field hospitals.
Presbyopia, the loss of close-range vision, is a natural part of aging, but that doesn’t mean people want to live with it. Seeing an opportunity, the AbbVie company Allergan rolled out Vuity in December. It’s the first eye drop approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to address presbyopia, and it works by contracting the size of the pupil and minimizing the amount of light that passes through the eye, making it easier to focus. The project team developed Vuity using a proprietary technology that helps the drug quickly adjust to the pH of the tear film, so it starts working rapidly. Vuity’s release is promising news for the 128 million U.S. adults who have presbyopia—and has inspired competitors to work on similar projects.
Though they’ve long been looked at under microscopes and imaging scanners, the organs of the human body still hold countless mysteries—and finding new ways to visualize the body’s interior landscape could potentially revolutionize human understanding of disease progression. A team of 50-plus imaging scientists, mathematicians, computer scientists and medical scientists did just that, developing a new kind of imaging technique that bridges the gap between larger CT and MRI scans and microscopic biopsies. Called hierarchical phase-contrast tomography, the technique allows users to scan full organs in higher detail and at a greater range of scales. And it’s powering the team’s larger ambition of creating a complete Human Organ Atlas. Think Google Maps, but for the human body. The project—a collaboration between University College London and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, among others—hit a major milestone in November 2021, publishing a study that used the technique to detail COVID-19’s impact on the lungs. By 2025, the team hopes to share images of an entire human torso.
The blood-clotting disorder hemophilia can lead to debilitating joint diseases, particularly when treatment plans aren’t vigilantly followed. But convincing patients (especially teens) to mitigate dangers they can’t see is a tall order for most doctors. In June, Sanofi unveiled its augmented reality joint scanner, which the Australian project team designed to bring those long-term, invisible dangers front and center for patients. The scanner uses a 3D leap-motion camera to scan and map a person’s hand, then software overlaps that scan with imagery replicating the impact of joint disease. More impactful than a photograph, the device brings future hypotheticals to the fore—and could prove a testing ground for integrating more augmented reality into patient engagement around disease management.
In South Sudan, 70 percent of women lack access to menstrual products—a need that regularly keeps girls out of school and forces others to find makeshift, unsanitary alternatives. Simply offering sanitary pads for sale isn’t enough: 4 out of 5 individuals in the country live below the international poverty line, according to the World Bank, and menstrual education is scarce. The South Sudan Football Association, in collaboration with FIFA, launched an initiative in February that uses football as the backdrop for better education—and lasting change. In May, girls from 27 schools participated in a tournament, after which they received reusable sanitary pads and training on how to use them. South Sudan women’s national coach Shilene Booysen said the project allowed her team “to raise awareness of the problem that female athletes and women in general face in this country.”
Admissions paperwork isn’t only a pain for patients—it also eats up valuable time for healthcare staff. When leaders at the Samsung Medical Center in South Korea discovered that staff spent an average of 90 minutes per day processing admission paperwork, they launched a project to make the entire process mobile. That involved developing 14 secure, condition-specific mobile questionnaires that are sent by text, then automatically linked to a personalized bracelet the patient is given upon arrival. A process that once took 20 to 30 minutes has been slashed down to five. The full implementation in October 2021 marked a major step forward in Samsung Hospital’s larger goal: In May 2022, it became to become the first hospital in the world to reach the highest stage in the HIMSS Infrastructure Adoption Model, which measures the maturity of a healthcare system’s IT infrastructure across mobility, security, collaboration, transport and data processing.
Healthcare is an essential human right, yet accessing that care can be fraught for LGBTQ+ people: 1 in 3 transgender people have experienced a negative interaction with a healthcare provider because of their gender identity, according to the U.S. National Center for Transgender Equality. And the Center for American Progress found that nearly 10 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people say a healthcare provider refused to see them because of their sexual orientation. In June, Folx Health, the first major VC-backed health startup specializing in LGBTQ+ healthcare, rolled out an enterprise solution designed to help U.S. companies offer their LGBTQ+ workforce (and their families) an inclusive, tech-laced alternative to discrimination at the doctor’s office. The end-to-end platform includes virtual primary care, gender-affirming care, and prescription and care advocacy, and also offers HR and benefits teams training and learning resources. While Folx is staking its claim as a first mover, that’s likely to shift given the pandemic-fueled rise in employee demands for better workplace benefits—and the fact that nearly 1 in 5 Gen Zers say they’re not straight, according to a 2021 global lpsos survey.