Stories about: Global health

IBM’s Watson at work: Transforming health care

Part of a continuing series of videotaped sessions at Boston Children’s Hospital’s recent Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2014.

What’s IBM’s Watson been up to since winning Jeopardy? Among other things, it’s been trying to help doctors make decisions. “We live in an age of information overload,” says Mike Rhodin, Senior Vice President of the IBM Watson Group. “The challenge is to now turn that information into knowledge.”

Interestingly, most of the inquiries Rhodin received post-Jeopardy were from doctors, who were interested in the way Watson sorted and ranked possible answers. Here, Rhodin and Dan Cerutti, VP of Watson Commercialization, outline IBM’s vision to improve global health care through a technology platform called CarePlex:

Stay tuned as we post more sessions from the Pediatric Innovation Summit (also available on YouTube) and read our blog coverage.

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Hacking sports medicine in Qatar

MIT Hacking Medicine Qatar

Judy Wang, MS, is a program manager in the Telehealth Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Student leaders from MIT Hacking Medicine had invited me to join a weekend health care hackathon in Doha, Qatar. We had taken our show on the international road before, to Uganda and India, but this hack (November 20–22, 2014) would be our first in the Middle East and the first focused on sports medicine. In partnership with Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), a member of the Qatar Foundation, this hack brought together students, athletes and health care professionals to solve sports medicine’s most pressing challenges.

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Responding to Ebola in West Africa: Farmer calls for staff, space, supplies, systems

Paul Farmer, president and co-founder of Partners in Health, has dedicated his life to the idea that the problems of the world’s poorest people are humanity’s problems writ large. Having recently returned from West Africa, Farmer spoke at Harvard Medical School and appeared on the Colbert Report last week, calling for a stronger response to the Ebola outbreak.

“We want to have a radical inclusiveness,” Farmer told the Harvard Medical School audience. “We readily acknowledge that we are overwhelmed by this.”

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Hacking Pediatrics 2.0 draws 22 digital health pitches

Hacking Pediatarics brainstorming wall
(Dana Hatic for MedTech Boston)
What are the pain points in pediatrics? There are at least 37: the number of clinicians, parents and others who lined up at the podium last weekend to pitch problems they hoped to solve at the second annual Hacking Pediatrics.

The hackathon, produced by Boston Children’s Hospital in collaboration with MIT Hacking Medicine, brought out many common themes: Helping kids with chronic illnesses track their symptoms, take their meds and avoid lots of clinic visits. Helping parents coordinate their children’s care and locate resources. Helping pediatric clinicians make better decisions with the right information at the right time.

Hackathons have a simple formula: Pitch. Mix. Hack. Get Feedback. Iterate. Repeat—as many times as possible.

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Leveraging bacteria biofilms for vaccines

biofilm vaccine cholera
Through genetic engineering, this Vibrio cholerae biofilm can be loaded with extra antigens, creating a super-charged but inexpensive vaccine.
Malaria. Cholera. Now Ebola. Whatever the contagion, the need for new, or better, vaccines is a constant. For some of the most devastating public health epidemics, which often break out in resource-poor countries, vaccines have to be not only medically effective but also inexpensive. That means easy to produce, store and deliver.

Paula Watnick, MD, PhD, an infectious disease specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, has a plan that stems from her work on cholera: using a substance produced by the bacteria themselves to make inexpensive and better vaccines against them.

Cells do all the work

Bacteria produce biofilms—a sticky, tough material composed of proteins, DNA and sugars—to help them attach to surfaces and survive.

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Innovation inspiration: From Shakira to Toys ‘R’ Us

A fleet of toddlers get ready to race in their Go Baby Go cars, customized by therapists and parents to provide disabled children with mobility and help them strengthen weak muscles.
Start your engines: A fleet of GoBabyGo cars, customized by therapists and parents to give disabled children mobility and help strengthen weak muscles. (Courtesy Cole Galloway)
TEDMED2014 focused on a powerful theme: unlocking imagination in service of health and medicine. Speaker after speaker shared tales of imagination, inspiration and innovation. Here are a few of our favorites:

$100 plastic car stands in for $25,000 power wheelchair

In the first (and likely only) National Institutes of Health-funded shopping spree at Toys R’ Us, Cole Galloway, director of the Pediatric Mobility Lab at the University of Delaware, and crew stocked up on pint-sized riding toys.

Galloway’s quest was to facilitate independence and mobility among disabled children from the age of six months and older and offer a low-tech solution during the five-year wait in the United States for a $25,000 power pediatric wheelchair.

The hackers jerry-rigged the toys with pool noodles, PVC pipe and switches, reconfiguring them as mobile rehabilitation devices to promote functional skills among kids with special needs.

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OPENPediatrics: A blueprint for big innovation

My father had a favorite bit of advice as we embarked on our adult lives: “Go big or go home.” Going big is exactly what OPENPediatrics is doing, empowering physicians and nurses to care for children across the globe.

The Web-based digital learning platform was conceived 10 years ago by Jeffrey Burns, MD, MPH, chief of critical care at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Traci Wolbrink, MD, MPH, an associate in critical care. It concluded a year-long beta test in April 2014, and version 1 has now been launched.

Developed to impart critical care skills, OPENPediatrics uses lectures, simulators and protocols to deliver training. In the process, it has helped save lives.

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Was it ethical to give two Americans an experimental Ebola therapy?

Ebola response ethics experimental treatment therapy ZMapp
Guinean Red Cross volunteers prepare to decontaminate a hospital in the capital, Conakry. (European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr)

The world paused for a moment when the news broke last week that two Ebola-infected American missionaries working in Liberia had received an experimental therapy called ZMapp. As I write this, both patients are back on U.S. soil, and seem to be responding well to the treatment.

But was it ethical?

That difficult question can be divided into two. First is the question of whether it was ethical to give the two patients a drug that, up to that point, had never been tested in people. The second—in some ways thornier—question is: Was it ethical to give the treatment to two Americans but not the nearly 1,850 West Africans infected in the outbreak (as of August 11)?

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Bhutta: $13 ‘nonsense’ innovation makes a huge impact

global health innovationZulfiqar Bhutta, MBBS, PhD, inaugural chair in global child health at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and founding director of the Center of Excellence in Women and Child Health, Aga Khan University, Pakistan, is a global child health superstar. Presidents, prime ministers and princes welcome his advice. Yet India ignored him when he called its proposed innovation to curb infant mortality “nonsense.” “I was dead wrong,” says Bhutta. “What happened is remarkable.”

The simple innovation, which Bhutta now publicly commends, cut perinatal mortality 25 percent.

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Tracking the Ebola outbreak in near real-time: HealthMap, ProMED and other tools

This interactive map of the Ebola outbreak, produced by HealthMap, paints a picture of the epidemic's course from its first public signs in March. Mouse around, scroll down, zoom and explore. And click play to see how events have unfolded thus far.

Sobering news keeps coming out of the West African Ebola outbreak. According to numbers released on August 6, the virus has sickened 1,711 and claimed 932 lives across four nations. The outbreak continues to grow, with a high risk of continued regional spread, according to a threat analysis released by HealthMap (an outbreak tracking system operated out of Boston Children’s Hospital) and Bio.Diaspora (a Canadian project that monitors communicable disease spread via international travel).

“What we’ve seen here—because of inadequate public health measures, because of general fear—is [an outbreak that] truly hasn’t been kept under control,” John Brownstein, PhD, co-founder of HealthMap and a computational epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told ABC News. “The event started, calmed down and jumped up again. Now, we’re seeing movement into densely populated areas, which is highly concerning.”

If you’re interested in keeping tabs on the outbreak yourself, there are several tools that can help.

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