Februaury 2009

NEWS REVIEW – WORLD

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Greek scientists develop heart attack calculator

Researchers have developed a quick and easy artificial intelligence approach to successfully calculate a patient’s heart attack risk with respect to many lifestyle factors. Named online analytical processing (OLAP), the approach makes it possible for physicians to just use their system to provide patients with a personal risk factor and so advise on lifestyle changes or medication to lower their risk.

It is well known that lifestyle factors including depression, education, smoking, diet, and obesity, play a part in the risk of cardiovascular disease. But, epidemiologists who study how health risks vary through populations have not found a way to extrapolate from such broad studies to individual risk levels.

Now, Hara Kostakis of the TEI Piraeus Research Centre, in Methonis, Greece, and colleagues have investigated patterns of cardiovascular risk factors in a large population by collecting data for almost 1000 patients enrolled in the CARDIO 2000 study who had been hospitalised with the first symptoms of acute coronary syndrome (ACS).

Instead of using conventional methods for analysing statistics, the researchers borrowed an approach from the computer science field of artificial intelligence, OLAP, which was developed in the early 1990s and was exploited primarily in industrial and commercial applications, for financial and marketing analysis.

Global resource for free ehealth education

Health Sciences Online (www.hso.info) has launched a website where anyone can access more than 50,000 courses, references, guidelines, and other expert-reviewed, high-quality, current, cost-free, and ad-free health sciences resources.

The up-to-date, authoritative information is aimed primarily at healthcare practitioners and public health providers, enabling their training, continuing education, and delivery of effective treatments to patients.

The information is delivered by powerful search technology from Vivisimo, Inc., which allows users to easily see comprehensive search results and quickly find the answers they need with an intuitively navigated graphic interface. Through integration with Google Translator, users can search and read materials in 22 languages.

HSO is a portal that includes more than 50,000 world-class health-sciences resources, selected by knowledgeable staff from already-existing, reliable, professional sources and resource collections.

Founding collaborators for this site include CDC, World Bank, the American College of Preventive Medicine, and the University of British Columbia, and financial support has come from WHO, the NATO Science for Peace Program, the Canadian government, the Annenberg Physician Training Program, and many volunteers.

HSO’s next phase will be developing programs using the gathered materials to help train and educate public and clinical health providers around the world.

New data tools on how infectious diseases spread

The European Science Foundation (ESF) has called for development of new mathematical and statistical tools capable of probing deeper into existing databases relating to human contact and pathogens.

The lack of tools was highlighted in a recent ESF workshop on infectious disease transmission. “One of the most exciting conclusions we came to was the realization that vast amounts of information were already available in various data banks,” said Mirjam Kretzschmar, convenor of the ESF workshop, from the Medical Centre at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Particular pathogens such as the influenza virus as identified by their genotype can have different transmission patterns. Therefore correlating details of the unfolding contact networks between sufferers, as a disease spreads, with the possibly evolving genotype of the pathogen involved can yield valuable insights into the molecular factors relating to transmission. These factors can also be analysed, leading to appropriate strategies to combat a disease, such as development of a vaccine or public health recommendations, for example that certain high individuals stay at home where possible. For more information on the European Science Foundation see: www.esf.org

Ambulance service- a case study for Harvard Business School

Four years ago, five friends in Mumbai decided to do something to save lives. Today, their ambulance service, 1298, is likely to be taught as a case study in social entrepreneurship Harvard Business School.

A team of post-grad students from the Harvard Kennedy School-widely considered as one of the best schools for leadership studies-visited the 1298 office at Bandra Kurla Complex. This was the second batch of students that visited Mumbai for the purpose. One of the founders, Sweta Mangal, explained that as they had no marketing budget in the beginning, they used innovative branding devices like painting the fleet yellow to make their ambulances stand out on the crowded Mumbai street.

They networked with hospitals (which receive the maximum calls for an ambulance) and conducted radio campaigns to spread the word. When they learnt that in the West the concept of ambulances was drilled in from a young age, we started first-aid training across schools and colleges.

Research to improve early diagnosis of breast cancer

HAMAM – European Highly Accurate Breast Cancer Diagnosis through Integration of Biological Knowledge, Novel Imaging Modalities, and Modelling – consists of 9 project partners from 7 countries with leading expertise in the field of breast imaging diagnosis, with EIBIR as the coordinating partner. The 3-year project started in September 2008 and is supported by the European Commission with a financial contribution of EUR 3.6 m.

The exact diagnosis of suspicious breast tissue is ambiguous in many cases. HAMAM will resolve this using statistical knowledge extracted from the large case database. The clinical workstation will suggest additional image modalities that may be captured to optimally resolve these uncertainties. This ultimately leads to a more specific and sensitive individual diagnosis. HAMAM goes beyond currently available technology by developing a prototypical solution that will be able to efficiently integrate all relevant clinical and imaging information within a single platform. The overall strategy of the project is to foster the exchange and collaboration between basic scientists, clinicians, and IT experts, and to condense all information and knowledge in a common database and prototypical platform for multi-modal breast diagnosis.

Mobiles to monitor HIV and malaria patients’ conditions

In future, cell phones could be used to monitor the health of HIV and malaria patients. Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have created a cell phone that can monitor the condition of HIV and malaria patients and test water quality at disaster sites and undeveloped areas.

UCLA electrical engineering professor Aydogan Ozcan has constructed the new innovative imaging technology, which has been miniaturised by researchers in the lab to the point that it can fit in standard cell phones. The imaging platform, known as LUCAS (Lensless Ultra-wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging), has now been successfully installed in both a cell phone and a webcam.

Data collected by LUCAS can then be sent to a hospital for analysis and diagnosis using the cell phone, or transferred via USB to a computer for transmission to a hospital. LUCAS is not a substitute for a microscope but rather a complement. Unlike microscopes, which produces detailed images, images produced by LUCAS are grainy and pixelated.

“This technology will not only have great impact in healthcare applications, it also has the potential to replace cytometers in research labs at a fraction of the cost. A conventional flow-cytometer identifies cells serially, one at a time, whereas tabletop versions of LUCAS can identify thousands of cells in a second, all in parallel, with the same accuracy,” said Ozcan.

Pan-European 112 emergency number a reality

Citizens across all European Union countries can now access emergency services by dialling 112, the single European emergency number, now that 112 can be called from any phone in Bulgaria (the last country in EU to provide this service). It achieved complete availability just before the Christmas period when thousands of people travel between EU countries.

In September 2008, the Commission referred the case to the European Court of Justice, but delayed by three months to allow Bulgaria to finalise its implementation plan. The Commission says it has since verified that, that 112, together with caller location – which allows emergency services to locate people when they dial the number – is now fully available in Bulgaria.

The European emergency number 112 was introduced in 1991 to complement national emergency numbers and make emergency services more accessible in all EU Member States. Since 1998, EU rules require Member States to ensure that all fixed and mobile phone users can call 112 free of charge.

American Journal of Medicine launches blog

The American Journal of Medicine (AJM), a leading medical journal for more than 50 years has launched a blog to create a dynamic forum where physicians and other healthcare professionals can discuss the research and applications for clinical practice that have been published in the Journal. They plan to call it a Blog AJM.
The editorial and administrative arms of the Journal and publisher Elsevier feel that the time is right to take greater advantage of the interactivity and social networking opportunities offered by the web.
They welcome opinion, relevant statistics, quotations from other sources, rational and thoughtful commentary and academic debate. Their expectation is that the Journal’s blog will spark informative – perhaps even spirited – discussions, similar to those found on other media blogs. Primary content for the blog is taken from the pages of the Journal including most editorials, commentaries and lead research articles.

European drugs to carry barcodes

Medicines sold across Europe will have to carry barcodes and other improved security mechanisms, under proposals unveiled by the European Commission to crack down on counterfeit drugs.

The Commission says it aims to use technology to enable “total traceability” of all medicines bought in pharmacies or online. Even with the new measures, some repackaging will continue to allow the parallel trade in pharmaceutical products to continue.

Under the new proposals, products will have to employ mandatory safety measures such as seals and barcodes that only certified manufacturers will be able to use.

The move was announced as part of a package of measures that would also allow drug manufacturers to promote information about their prescription-only products directly to EU citizens � direct to consumer (DTC) – for the first time. As part of the package of measures the Commission says it wants to give patients access to centralised EU information on the side effects of drugs.

Moreover, to ensure clarity of information, the EU utive calls for advertising of prescription medicines to be scrapped. It also wants to introduce stricter rules regarding the content of pharmaceutical adverts, including those on the internet, in the form of an EU code of conduct.

Philips leads European SonoDrugs project

Royal Philips Electronics recently announced that it is leading a new European project to develop drug delivery technologies that could significantly impact the treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The project, which involves a total of fifteen industrial partners, university medical centers and academic institutions from across the European Union (EU), will run for four years and has a budget of EUR 15.9 million, EUR 10.9 million of which is being funded under the EU’s 7th Framework program.

Cardiovascular disease and cancer are currently the two biggest killers in the world. Although powerful drugs are available to treat certain types of cancer and cardiovascular disease they are mostly administered as intravenous or oral doses. This allows only very limited control over the distribution of drugs in the body, which can circulate in the patient’s bloodstream and interact with many different tissues and organs, both diseased and healthy. The SonoDrugs project aims to address this challenge by developing drug delivery vehicles that can be tracked by ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and triggered by ultrasound to release the drugs at the desired location. It is hoped that such control of the drug delivery process will increase therapeutic efficiency and minimise side effects, while also providing a means of tailoring the therapy to individual patients.

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