Wired Health 2017 was, as ever, packed with new ideas.
Wired Health, held at the home of the Royal College of General Practitioners in London, United Kingdom, is now in its 5th year. Medical News Today went along to sneak a peak at what the future holds.
The conference brings together innovators, leading technologists, and entrepreneurs in the health technology field.
The products on display this year promise to give both clinicians and the man on the street easier access to the tools they need and the data that count.
Although the technology on display covered a range of bases, two strands of innovation seemed to play starring roles - namely, wearable devices and healthful gaming.
Wearable technology and health monitoring
Just a decade ago, the idea of carrying around a device that monitors our every move would have sounded both far-fetched and intrusive. However, skip to 2017 and millions of us constantly carry around a mini-computer capable of tracking a multitude of parameters, including where we are and how many steps it took to get there.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the health sector is keen to utilize our new-found penchant for 24/7 monitoring.
Keeping diabetes at bay
OurPath has designed a 6-week long behavioral change program that helps individuals to manage diabetes or slow its progression. They offer an all-encompassing package that includes a tailored diet plan, a personal mentor, peer support, and some handy technology that provides real-time data.
The tech pack contains a set of weighing scales and a FitBit. The scales house a sim card that feeds data back to OurPath, and the FitBit constantly monitors the number of steps taken, sleep duration, and heart rate.
With these parameters tracked, the accompanying support, and an easy-to-access portal, those with insulin resistance, prediabetes, or diabetes can more easily manage their condition and prevent it from worsening.
Gyroscopes vs. tremor
GyroGlove could be a game-changer for individuals with tremor.
Image credit: GyroGear
GyroGear are also in the business of wearable technology, but they are attacking a wholly different problem; their product is aimed at reducing tremor.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, tremor is the most common type of involuntary movement. They define it as "an unintentional, rhythmic muscle movement involving to-and-fro movements (oscillations) of one or more parts of the body."
Tremor can be a side effect of certain medication or occur as part of a condition, such as Parkinson's disease. It prevents people from carrying out normal tasks and can have a significant impact on quality of life.
This is where GyroGear enter the fray. Their tremor-tackling intervention, GyroGlove, uses gyroscopes, the spinning discs that many of us will have played with as children. The ability of gyroscopes to conserve angular momentum is harnessed to control the tremor.
Although gyroscopes are simple, they are already being used in cutting-edge aerospace technology and, as the scientists from GyroGear say:
"We have weighed the options of elastic bands, weights, springs, electromagnetic shock absorbers, hydraulics, soft robotics, and more. But nothing comes close to the balance of responsiveness, simplicity, and reliability of gyroscopes."
Their product comes in the form of a glove with an attached gyroscope. Although the GyroGlove is still in development, when it is ready for market it will be an off-the-shelf product; the system automatically adjusts to an individual's particular tremor without the need for personal calibration.
It seems possible that, in the near future, individuals with tremor may once again be able to type, knit, and comb their hair simply by putting on a glove.
Constant monitoring for rare diseases
There are currently 7,000 rare diseases, affecting an estimated 30 million people in the United States, 75 percent of whom are children.
Although research into these diseases is ongoing, many studies do not reach useful conclusions or improve our ability to treat the conditions. One of the main issues is that data for clinical trials are often only captured once per day, or at certain brief points in time when the participant visits the hospital or research laboratory.
This is where Aparito comes in. Elin Haf Davies, founder and CEO, hopes that the company's continuous monitoring approach will remove this reliance on what she refers to as "episodic snapshot tests."
They monitor a range of physical parameters including blood pressure, heart rate, calories, movement type (such as walking and running), skin temperature, and sleep patterns. They can then link these data to other information - quality of life parameters, ambient air temperature, and barometric pressure, for example - to build up a comprehensive picture of the individual's internal and external environment.
The bespoke Aparito app also helps to track compliance with drug regimen and visits to their doctor, to ensure that the clinical trial's protocol is being followed successfully by the participant.
A wealth of data is produced, giving vital insight into how, why, and when significant and disease-specific events occur.
Digitally protecting sensitive skin
La Roche-Posay's My UV Patch.
La Roche-Posay have long provided skincare for sensitive skin, which includes a range of sun care products. Their latest offering takes a more high-tech approach to protecting people from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Now available to order, La Roche-Posay recently released the first wearable patch that enables individuals to monitor UV exposure.
The resilient, stretchy, and waterproof sticker (pictured) is coated in photosensitive dye, and the patch gradually lightens when exposed to UV light.
By scanning the patch with the My UV Patch app and a smartphone, the user receives feedback on the level of risk based on the individual's skin tone. The app also provides general tips to help the user to stay safe in the sun.
Cognitive and mental health through gaming
Historically, games have been considered nothing more than an enjoyable way to pass the time. However, as the digital age rolls on and games diversify, they are evolving to become a force for good.
Peak: The future of brain training
Brain training with Peak tailors itself to your needs.
Peak have produced a brain training app and, although this marketplace is packed with products, Peak's offering stands out from the crowd.
Peak make no such claim and, in fact, work with scientists who study the impact of video games from Yale University in New Haven, CT, and University College London, Cambridge University, and King's College London, all in the U.K.
As with similar offerings, Peak tests focus, memory, mental agility, and problem-solving. The difference with Peak lies in its scientific roots and ability to personalize its challenges for each player. Their partnership with researchers has helped them to design games that home in on specific cognitive skills.
Peak recognizes the cognitive abilities that the user excels in, as well as which skills are lacking. It tailors daily gameplay to push the user to improve in areas where the most improvement is needed.
The game allows users to set specific times of the day to be reminded to continue the training regime, helping to add the mental exercises to a daily routine.
The team at Peak are also offering a new app focused on mindfulness. Eager not to become another meditation app, they have applied the same rigorous scientific approach to its design.
Tackling mental health with magic spells
Wired Health's BY Startup Stage hosts a wealth of innovative and intriguing products that are currently being developed. One of this year's most intriguing presentations was given by Simon Fox of BfB Labs. They have designed a computer game that helps children to control their emotions.
Only the most calm and focused player will survive.
A high percentage of mental health issues begin during childhood, a time when many boys - and girls to an increasing degree - find solace in computer games. BfB Labs have designed a product that intervenes at this crucial point in life and encourages self-control and focus.
The game, called Champions of the Shengha, involves "biofeedback gameplay." It comes with a Bluetooth heart monitor that measures not just heart rate, but more specifically, its variance. By monitoring this variance from the norm, the device can understand the player's emotional state.
To defeat an opponent, the player must focus their breathing to gain magical power more quickly. Only by remaining calm can the player be victorious.
Champions of the Shengha has received rave reviews from media outlets: The Guardian called it "genuinely enjoyable," while Sky's reviewer wrote that they were "totally immersed in the game... it does make you focus."
More importantly, however, it has also received glowing reports from the most important critics - young people. For instance, Kyra, age 14, said: "It's shown me I can be in control."
Because, as Fox says, "children are not motivated to improve their mental health," BfB Labs want Champions of the Shengha to be attractive to children in its own right. The game is built to be competitive in a highly competitive gaming market, regardless of its potential mental health benefits.
MNT asked Fox about their future plans, and he said: "We're exploring deploying our technology and Champions of the Shengha as an intervention for specific acute conditions right now, and see a future where a version of CotS [Champions of the Shengha] is used as a meaningful intervention for young people with diagnosed mental health problems."
Although wearable technology and games were big on the agenda at Wired Health 2017, there were, of course, plenty of products tackling other challenges.
Is there gluten in that?
Celiac disease, in which an individual's intestines are damaged by consuming gluten, affects around 1 in 141 U.S. individuals. Aside from celiac disease, an estimated 5 percent of the U.S. population have a less severe case of gluten tolerance that can cause significant intestinal discomfort.
Although the food industry has reacted to this issue by making gluten-free options much more common, ensuring that food and drink is free from gluten is still difficult - for example, at restaurants or when on holiday abroad.
Montaag, in collaboration with Nima, have created the first pocket-sized solution. Their product can detect the presence of gluten in any food or liquid within 3 minutes. Working in a similar way to a pregnancy test, the device uses an antibody-based system to detect even tiny amounts of the protein.
The company is also soon to release a similar system capable of detecting minute traces of peanuts in food, which is another significant and serious health concern, affecting between 6 and 8 percent of children. Quick and accurate testing for allergens in this way has the potential to save lives.
In a nutshell, Wired Health 2017 was a fascinating glimpse into the future of health interventions, clinical research, and innovative disease management.