Look around at everyoneâ€™s wrists. Fitbits, Apple watches and hosts of other activity monitors have replaced bling-y wristwatches and bracelets. These little data-gatherers are monitoring and collecting data every minute of the day, from steps walked, to hours slept. And with every new generation of device, the list of health data they can collect gets longer, including heart rate, blood pressure and more.
SUBHEAD: How will all this personal data be distributed and protected?
Some of these devices could even provide patient data to doctors, leading to cheaper, more efficient care. But that will take separating useful and accurate devices and data from superfluous ones. The clinical accuracy and privacy of many devices are still unproven. Unlike medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, there’s no approval process requiring the makers of consumer electronics designed for “personal tracking” to meet a medical-grade quality standard.
Another concern is patient privacy. How will all this personal data be distributed and protected? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides protection for data collected through FDA-approved medical devices but doesn’t say anything about safeguarding information from consumer health trackers. Without privacy and security provisions for data collected through consumer electronics, companies are free to profit from the data.
These devices will only become more sophisticated as the technology develops and itâ€™s likely they will be integrated into most everyone’s health care in the not-too-distant future. But reliability, security, and privacy will have to be factored into the adoption in order to have the best possible impact.
Recent research, including a study published in the Journal of Glaucoma, is exploring the connection between dental hygiene and glaucoma. Evidence suggests that excess bacteria in the mouth could be a catalyst for the development of open-angle glaucoma and that maintaining good oral health could reduce the risk.
In addition to glaucoma, cataracts have also been linked with oral health. Toxic elements in mercury fillings have been found to cause the formation of cataracts, retinitis pigmentosa, iritis, color-vision issues, and other eye conditions.
The body is a system and scientists are still working out how various microbiomes in that system can affect the body as a whole. So while you may not want to start passing out toothbrushes to patients at every visit like the dentist, information about how oral hygiene might affect their eye health could prove valuable.
The first human corneas have been 3D printed by scientists at Newcastle University, UK, which could lead to an unlimited supply of corneas for transplant in the future.
The proof-of-concept research, published in Experimental Eye Research, reports how stem cells from a healthy donor cornea were mixed together with alginate and collagen to create a ‘bio-ink’ that could be printed.
“Our unique gel keeps the stem cells alive whilst producing a material which is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be squeezed out the nozzle of a 3D printer,â€ť said Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, who led the work.
Custom made for every patient
The scientists also demonstrated that they could build a cornea to match a patient’s unique specifications. The dimensions of the printed tissue were taken from an actual cornea by scanning the patient’s eye and that data was used to print a cornea of the same size and shape.
“Our 3D printed corneas will now have to undergo further testing and it will be several years before we could be in the position where we are using them for transplants,â€ť Professor Connon said. “However, what we have shown is that it is feasible to print corneas using coordinates taken from a patient eye and that this approach has potential to combat the worldwide shortage.”
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Blindness can be one of the terrible effects of advanced diabetes. And while there are treatments, they are often invasive and painful. Researchers at Caltech are working on a new, gentler treatment in the form of glowing contact lenses.
When diabetics lose their vision, its because the disease damages tiny blood vessels in the eye, reducing blood flow to nerve cells in the retina, starving them of oxygen. The body compensates by growing new blood vessels in the retina, but diabetes often causes these to be imperfectly formed, damaging the retina. That damage is repaired via the growth of scar tissue instead of new nerve cells so the patient loses their sight.
Existing treatments center around reducing the retina’s oxygen demands, such as using a laser to burn away nerve cells in the peripheral part of the retina so the oxygen used by them can instead now be used by nerve cells in the retina’s more important central area.
Another approach involves giving the patient an injection in the eyeball, introducing medication that reduces the growth of new blood vessels.
Yet another approach uses lighted eye masks to illuminate the retina while the patient sleeps which causes the retina’s rod cells, which provide vision in low-light conditions, to remain inactive. Ordinarily, when we make things dark by closing our eyes, the rod cells become very active, consuming about twice as much oxygen as they do in bright conditions. Unfortunately, patients found the masks interrupted sleep as they saw flickers of light every time they moved their eyes.
Thatâ€™s where the contact lenses come in.
Developed by a Caltech team led by graduate student Colin Cook, they incorporate tiny vials of tritium that emits electrons, which are converted into light by a phosphorescent coating. The vials are arranged on each lens in a ring, which lies outside of the wearer’s vision. When they shut their eyes and the pupil expands, however, the glow emitted by the vials is detected by the rod cells, keeping them from firing up.
“If we turn metabolism in the retina down, we should be able to prevent some of the damage that occurs,” Cook says.
In early tests of the lenses, they were found to reduce rod cell activity by up to 90 percent when worn in the dark. And unlike the lights in the sleep masks, the glowing vials in the lenses move with the user’s eyes, so they don’t see the sleep inhibiting flickers of light. The team now plans on conducting research to determine if that reduction in activity will result in the prevention of diabetic retinopathy.
If a child is having trouble reading, itâ€™s only logical for parents to bring them in for a vision check. And if the child shows 20/20 vision, itâ€™s logical to conclude the problem might originate somewhere besides the eyes. But that may not be the case, according to a recent study of Canadian children published in the Journal of Optometry.
Dr. Lisa Christian from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues performed a retrospective review of these children who had all had complete eye exams. These children also had Individual Education Plans (IEP) specifically directed at improving their reading abilities.
The authors found that while most of the children had good eyesight, a substantial proportion had binocular vision that was below the normal limits on testing, so the children may have experienced blurred images, poor depth perception, or double vision among other problems when they read.
Such problems can result from a variety of conditions, such as misaligned eyes, or poor functioning of the oculomotor muscles. A person with such problems will typically have difficulty reading â€” they may lose their place easily and develop eyestrain.
So when there is an issue with a child’s learning to read, it could be important to determine whether eye problems other than myopia are the cause.