Biomimetics – How Nature can help us in solving complex problems

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Biomimetics are fascinating as, very often, nature is better skilled than humans to solve complex problems. Historically, humans started to look at birds to be able to develop airplanes to fly themselves. Biomimetics applications are extremely wide, especially because of the complexity of biological systems and, also probably, for the reason that scientists have not yet uncovered all the mysteries of Nature itself.

Life sciences would strongly benefit from more Nature-inspired innovations like spider web silk used for artificial ligaments thank to their strength and robustness. Other amazing examples come from the virus world: most viruses have an outer capsule 20 to 300nm in diameter, which are remarkably robust and capable of withstanding temperatures as high as 60 °C; they are also stable across the pH range 2-10. Viral capsules can then be used to create nano device components such as nanowires, nanotubes, and nanomaterial. Last but not least, viruses (in their inactivated form) are very often used as carriers for other molecules and allow the delivery of drugs to very precise locations in the human body.

Biomimetics as innovation method is characterized by interdisciplinary information transfer from the life sciences to technical application fields aiming at increased performance, functionality and energy efficiency.

Before jumping in the library or clicking on the links shown below, have a look at the TED Talk Playlist on Biomimetics or Biomimicry. You’ll discover stunning examples and fascinating technologies.

Biomimetics is definitely a field where we need to invest more.

 

More to discover:

Innovations

Biomimetics innovations

14 Smart Inventions Inspired by Nature: Biomimicry – Bloomberg – 2015

Life sciences

Biomimetics: forecasting the future of science, engineering, and medicine – International Journal of Nanomedicine – 2015: biomimetics-forecasting-the-future-of-science-engineering-and-medicine-2015

The state of the art in biomimetics – Bioinspiration & Biomimetics Review – 2012: 2012-bioinspirationbiomimetics-the-state-of-the-art-in-biomimetics

Nanomedicine and biomimetics: life sciences meet engineering: nanomedicine_and_biomimetics_life_sciences_meet_en_2009

Biomimetics: Design by Nature – National Geographic – 2008

Biomimetic Materials for Tissue Engineering – Advanced Drug Delivery Review – 2007

Biomaterials

Living, breathing biomimetic meta materials – MaterialsToday – 2016

Biomimicry: Designing to Model Nature – Whole Building Design Guide – 2014

Biological materials sciences – Max Plank Institute – 2010

Biomimetic Solutions to Sticky Problems – Science – 2007

 

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Alphabet (ex-Google) is the next big thing in Life sciences

A lot is currently written about the initiatives launched by Alphabet (Google) in the life sciences field.

I had the wonderful opportunity to have a look at the report written by the internet analyst, John Blackledge, from Cowen and I must say that he’s very smart at showing the huge potential of the life sciences at the core of Alphabet (Google).

This report is amazing as it allows you to have a better understanding of what’s happening now inside Alphabet (Google). I summarized the key points/quotes from the report below and I added other articles at the end of this blog post. Moreover, I will update it frequently as the news come in. This is a fascinating topic, I really hope Alphabet (Google) would be able to replicate the same success it has built with its search engine.

Key quotes & comments from the report:

  • Expansion into health care and related segments allows Google to leverage its core competencies in Internet communications technology, data structuring and analysis, and fundamental process reinvention.

 

  • Specific areas of focus in healthcare include:
    (1) the sequencing the human genome and the rise of precision medicine: despite the monumental significance of mapping the human genome and the implications for drug discovery, this was but one step in a long journey that continues to this day. Moreover, genes are but one factor in disease, and little is known about what role environment and lifestyle play.
    (2) the digitization of health data is exploding, with a virtually endless list of sources that can offer insight into clinical data, drug studies and more. As more data is digitized, there will be a profound impact on how patient care is administered, how therapies are researched, and how drugs are tested. EHRs (Electronic Health Records) are crucial but implementation is very challenging. Harmonization and data aggregation need to find their way. Wearables are another interesting topic in the digitization of health data. Social media and discussion boards as well as patients website are essential parts of the system that must be closely monitored as more and more patients use those communication channels in order to provide feedback and comments on treatments and daily struggles with healthcare providers.
    (3) the shift to value-based care, where payments are based on the value of care, is driving a change in how services are delivered and how much consumers engage in the process. From a provider perspective, doctors are incentivized to manage patients to the best possible health outcome at the lowest cost. From a patient perspective,
    consumers are being empowered to take a more active role in their own health care.
    These health care trends are being accommodated by technology advances in areas such as social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing, all areas of Google expertise.

 

  • Alphabet invests in health in five different ways:
    (1) Google Life Sciences originated in Google[x], a research lab within Google that was funded by the company’s board of directors in January 2010 to pursue “moonshots”—audacious new projects that have a low probability of succeeding, but could be truly revolutionary if they do. The company views moonshots as critical in driving the true innovation required to affect revolutionary change and avoid the “incrementalism” or evolutionary change that tends to lead to corporate irrelevance over time. The Life Sciences team is responsible for such innovations as glucose monitoring smart contact lenses. With an expanding list of intellectual property, Life Sciences has begun to accelerate its collaborative efforts with third parties. The company is aggressively partnering with leading players in the health care space on a growing number of programs.
    (2) Calico’s mission is to harness advanced technologies to increase understanding of the biology that controls lifespan. Calico was originally conceived by Google Ventures President and General Partner, Bill Maris, who observed that most companies seek to find treatments for disease and associated symptoms, but that none address the root cause of disease and death. He wondered if studying the impact of aging on genetic material could lead to the discovery of drugs that could address many age-related diseases and significantly extend the human life span.
    (3) Google Ventures has provided seed, venture and growth stage funding to a host of companies in diverse fields, but its stated focus is machine learning and life science investing.
    (4) Google Capital was formed to invest in later-stage technology companies with a focus on emerging technology leaders and potential disruptors. Unlike the earlier stage companies in Google’s other investment vehicles, the later stage companies in Google Capital tend to be fairly common household names. Although the stated focus of Google Capital is on technology companies, the collision of technology and health care is blurring the lines of what a traditional “technology” company looks like.
    (5) Google Core: Over time, Google has invested in numerous health-related initiatives within its main corporate division. These have tended to be very closely linked to the company’s core businesses, such as Search. Earlier this year, the company announced that it will add health information that has been fact-checked by physicians directly to search results. The company is also talking to the FDA about using search query data to identify adverse drug reactions.

 

  • Google’s Health-Related Focus Areas: regardless of where they are housed within Google’s corporate structure, most of Google’s health-related endeavors share common characteristics.
    (1) Longevity
    (2) Genetics and Chronic Care
    (3) Diagnostics
    (4) Diabetes/Digital Health
    (5) Medical Devices
    (6) Telehealth/Digital Health
    (7) Wearables/Fitness

 

  • Google’s health endeavors fit with the company’s goals of “making the world’s information useful” and helping millions of people. Indeed, Google believes that many of the same principles, techniques and problem solving capabilities employed by its software developers can be applied to the massive inefficiencies that exist in health care to create transformational solutions and medical breakthroughs that help people live longer, healthier lives. Health care ambitions can be summarized as:
    (1) Analyze: Analytics to inform decision-making and provide business insight
    (2) Attract: Attract health care constituents to platforms and solutions that drive engagement
    (3) Aggregate: Aggregate data from disparate sources onto the Internet or GCP

 

Additional resources:

Alphabet to help researchers predict disease – Financial Times – April 2017

Google Life Sciences Exodus – STAT – March 2016

Verily, Google’s Health Gambit, Is Stacked With Scientists. Now It Needs to Build a Business – ReCode – December 2015

Google hires mental health expert to lead new life sciences unit – Financial Times – September 2015 (Subscription required)

Head of Mental Health Institute Leaving for Google Life Sciences – The New York Times – September 2015

Google Bets on Insurance Startup Oscar Health – WSJ – September 2015

Is Health Care Google’s Next Big Business After Search? This Investment Bank Thinks So – Re/Code – September 2015

Why Google Is Going All In On Diabetes – NPR – September 2015

Google’s health startup, AbbVie team up on drug research – Chicago-Sun Times – September 2015

Google Life Sciences Company Has New Deal, Official Nemesis in Diabetes – Re/Code – August 2015

Alphabet Breathes New Life, Resources Into Google’s Health Care Projects – iHealthBeat – August 2015

Google Health – Easy as ABC. Alphabet, Calico and the Aging of Humanity – What on Earth are they doing? – Digital Intervention – August 2015

 

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Scientists are developing an x-ray pill you can swallow for colonoscopy

Less invasive technology is clearly the future. It will allow more cases to be diagnosed and treated early leading to better care and cure.

2015 Design of the Year – Human Organ on Microchip – Financial Times

Innovation

Accelerating the path to market for drugs is the dream of many scientists. Reality is closer than you think…

A Financial Times article (subscription required) highlights this breathtaking innovation that could revolutionize the life sciences world.

“These new organs on chips will enable scientists and researchers to mimic responses to drugs and treatments in human tissue without recourse to animal or human testing”.

It will enable researchers and pharmaceutical companies to spend less time and money in animal models as well as in human clinical trials. It will also accelerate the development and allow patients to be provided with the needed drugs sooner than ever before.

Human organ on a microchip has won the 2015 Design Museum’s Design of the Year contest. Thought and developed by a cross-disciplinary team of researchers led by D. Ingber and D. Dongeun Huh at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, this chip is able to mimick several different types of organs. By using it, it will also be possible to see whether a patient would respond or not to treatments. Personalized medicine will be more precise and more targeted. Additionally, multiple chips can be connected to play the role of the human body.

Have a overview of the technology in their 2-minute video presentation:

 

Go deeper into this amazing technology and its potential application with the TEDx Boston talk by Geraldine Hamilton:

 

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Doctor On Demand Pulls In $50 Million To Continue Expansion Of Its Virtual Doctor Visit Platform

Telemedicine is on the rise. It could be extremely useful for remote areas as well as disabled people unable to visit the GP office. Availability 24/7 is also reassuring for chronic disease patients.
This is clearly one of the main trend in the healthcare industry.

Medtronic – The Digital Pancreas – The Future of Diabetes Management? – Fierce Medical Devices

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A truly interesting article of the transformation of Medtronic Diabetes business

2015 could be a year to remember as the start of a new era in improved diabetes management thank to digital tools.

Diabetes management at Medtronic & deals history

It started several years ago but back in May 2001, a transforming event took place: Medtronic bought Minimed as well as an affiliated company for USD 3.8 billion. Looking only at Minimed, Medtronic paid USD 3.28 billion for USD 400 million in sales (8.2x 2001 sales). Despite its price, quoted as high by some investors and analysts at that time, the deal rationale was pretty compelling as it allowed Medtronic to enter the diabetes management arena. MiniMed offered a beachhead into the field of technological management of diabetes, one of the fastest-growing chronic diseases in the world and one that affects an estimated several millions of people. The devices produced by MiniMed help patients manage their insulin needs and monitor glucose levels.

Since 2001, several deals and partnerships paved the way up to where Medtronic is today. After having a look at my deals database, I can say that some of them clearly stand out:

November 2004: agreement with Novo Nordisk on prefilled insulin cartridges;

– August 2007: co-promotion & co-marketing with Lifescan and Bayer of blood glucose meters (in USA together with Lifescan and outside USA with Bayer extended in 2011). These devices had wireless data transmission to insulin pums;

May 2009: strategic marketing collaboration with Eli Lilly on patient education and disease management;

June 2009: acquisition of PreciSense, a medical device company developing CGM (continuous glucose monitoring) technology. A step forward for “closed loop” systems dedicated to insulin delivery;

January 2013: research collaboration with GI Dynamics on EndoBarrier;

August 2013: acquisition of Cardiocom, a developer and provider of integrated telehealth and patient services for the management of chronic diseases;

June 2014: global strategic alliance with Sanofi, aimed at improving patient experience and outcomes for people with diabetes around the world. The priority is the development of drug-device combinations and delivery of care management services to improve adherence as well as simplify insulin treatment.

Medtronic has built its Diabetes franchise over the last several years and is still fully committed to be the leader in this field. This pledge could lead to the achievement of the digital pancreas, a fully autonomous device (closed loop system) monitoring blood glucose continuously and adjusting insulin doses as perfectly as the biological pancreas without human interaction. Some researchers already have prototypes, studies are ongoing, universities and hospitals are teaming up. The field is really at its boiling point!

Deals and partnerships in 2015

In this FierceMedicalDevices article, we can see Medtronic advancing its franchise by investing with determination and dedication in new technologies.

Many partnerships have been signed in 2015: Diabeter (a diabetes clinic and research center dedicated to providing comprehensive and individualized care for children and young adults with diabetes), DreaMed (artificial pancreas technology for integration into future Medtronic insulin pumps). Beyond healthcare companies, Medtronic is also expanding its network into consumer electronics with Samsung (integration of mobile and wearable devices to improve disease management with an Android mobile app) and diabetes data with a startup called Glooko. It also partnered with IBM Watson Health for next-generation disease management solutions.

All these deals are clearly accelerating innovation at Medtronic but in a patient-centric fashion as in every deal we can see the benefits for them and the management of their disease. What could be the next step? A deal with Apple in order to nearly fully cover all the mobile OS in the world.

For my conclusion I will quote Medtronic CFO, Gary Ellis: “We’re focused on transforming our diabetes group from a market-leading pump and sensor company into a holistic diabetes management company focused on making a real difference in outcomes and costs,” summed up Medtronic CFO Gary Ellis on the most recent quarterly conference call.

 

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Hacking the Human OS – IEEE

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A mind-blowing report from IEEE about the human body’s operating system

Can we harvest digital health data from trackers and sensors to improve our health and well-being? I summarized below what you will find on the IEEE dedicated web page. I was amazed by the variety and depth of all the innovations presented in these pages. Some of them have certainly the power to be game changers in the health care world. I’m looking forward to seeing all the advances coming to life!

Reading the Code

Several technologies are close to the market and will help us monitor our health. A very good example is the biostamps developed by John Rogers from the University of Illinois. These tiny, stretchable and skin-like sensors are able to send information and data to our smartphone alerting us whether something is happening in our body. More and more complex data could be sensed such as blood oxygen, blood glucose and even muscle weakness or sleep patterns.

Another fascinating example that could change the life of Type 1 diabetes patients is the artificial pancreas. It links “data from an implanted blood-sugar sensor to a computer, which then controls how a pump worn on the hip dribbles insulin under the skin through a pipette. In its fully realized form, the machine would take the patient out of the decision-making loop”. Advanced versions of the system are currently in clinical trials. Continuous monitoring is a huge advance in the field of disease management. It could strongly lighten the daily burden of each patient.

Another field where wearable are very popular: athletes. They are always eager to test the last innovation in the wearables arena. Physiological measurements can be extremely useful to optimize training and rest periods, improve performance and avoid injuries. Sleeves, wristbands, sensors equipped with highest technology can really make a difference in the way we monitor and track performance.

A device rapidly diagnosing any medical condition or disorder… Sounds like science fiction, right? Like in Star Trek… Some of you may recall the tricorder. And guess what? It’s about to become reality thank to a competition launched by Qualcomm. 300 teams registered, 10 finalists which are about to deliver their prototypes very soon. Once the winner has been chosen, real life clinical trials will start and we will know if it’s really working as expected. It’s a huge step forward as it will allow the diagnosis (and maybe the start of a treatment) for a lot of people, not only in US or Europe but also in emerging countries where the lack of medical infrastructure is killing human beings…

 

Analyzing the Code

Technology companies showed their interest in healthcare only recently… It’s welcomed because without technology you cannot do anything with data sets. However, some people are afraid of their data becoming public and being hacked. I think that between these two extreme opinions, we can take the good from both sides and see what this can bring us. “Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung, have all launched e-health initiatives, mostly based around smartphones and wearables. Indeed, the fast-growing health care business would seem a natural next step for the tech giants”. A lot of deals have been signed between pharmaceutical companies and technology firms: Google and Novartis; IBM, Apple, Medtronic & JNJ… These are deals to follow in order to analyze the outcomes. Great initiatives could really emerge and I think we are at the beginning of a new era!

Long term analysis could help us understand in a more detailed way how we get sick, how the disease develop and how we could have anticipated it by looking at biomarkers trends.

The new era of precision medicine is making a big difference for patients. An open-source platform has transformed the way patients are being treated. Surgery is not always the best option in oncology for example and sometimes drug treatment is much more effective. A thorough and careful analysis of all the parameters will help doctors taking the right decision for the right patient at the right time.

Real-time epidemics modelling could have saved lives. Building treatment centers at the right locations, anticipating the spread of the disease (in this case, Ebola) and how to limit the contagion were several of the criteria used to run the model. We will never know what would have happen without such a model but globally we can say that modelling is critical in disease management. Additionally, it is not the use of a single model that will be helpful but the customized and accurate modelling for each and every epidemic, according to its characteristics.

 

Changing the Code

Performing surgical interventions at very small scales is becoming a reality. “Thanks to developments in microfabrication and other areas, researchers are pushing the limits on the size and capabilities of objects small enough to move through the human body”. “With the right design, researchers say, a microrobot—or a swarm of them—could deliver a highly targeted dose of drugs or radioactive seeds, clear a blood clot, perform a tissue biopsy, or even build a scaffold on which new cells could grow”. For the time being, tests have only been run in animals.

A new emerging medical field: electrical therapy. Vagus nerve stimulation has the potential to treat several conditions from migraine to asthma, even immune diseases. Progress is very slow and several failures have made history… but new startups are created and renew the interest in this type of technology.

W like Watson, the digital MD. Watson is based on machine learning: “bringing together computer scientists and clinicians to assemble a reference database, enter case studies, and ask thousands of questions. When the program makes mistakes, it self-adjusts. Researchers also evaluate the answers and manually tweak Watson’s underlying algorithms to generate better output. Here there’s a gulf between medicine as something that can be extrapolated in a straightforward manner from textbooks, journal articles, and clinical guidelines, and the much more complicated challenge of also codifying how a good doctor thinks.” Progress is under way.

 

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Defining Digital Medicine – Nature Biotechnology

Notes from the AppsWorld Europe 2013 panel "The Internet of Things Revolution - Functional, Usable, Wearable" with Tamara Roukaerts, Saverio Romeo, Paul Lee, Ben Moir and Mike Barlow.

Notes from the AppsWorld Europe 2013 panel “The Internet of Things Revolution – Functional, Usable, Wearable” with Tamara Roukaerts, Saverio Romeo, Paul Lee, Ben Moir and Mike Barlow.

Healthcare transformation ahead

In this excellent article from Nature Biotechnology written by people at PureTech, we have the chance to get an overview of this new exciting field: Digital Medicine.

This convergence of technology and health will lead to several transformations: disease management, research, clinical trials, medical practice,… A new era is beginning!

However, opportunities are doubled by challenges. We need to tackle the lasts to profit from the firsts.

Definition

Why do we use digital medicine instead of digital health? According to the authors, digital health is too broad as it also includes apps and products not medically validated but simply focused to enhance people’s wellness and wellbeing.

Digital medicine is defined by “technology and products that are undergoing rigorous clinical validation and/or that ultimately will have a direct impact on diagnosing, preventing, monitoring or treating a disease, condition or syndrome.” (quote from the article p. 457)

Digital medicine themes

1. Continuous and remote monitoring. A tool to detect disease earlier leading to lower healthcare costs.

2. Digital phenotype. A additional layer of information enabling the construction of more accurate disease models in order to better understand them.

3. Remote disease management. Chronic disease management will be nearly effortless and the lack of data gap will allow doctors to improve their medical follow-up of patients.

4. The connected patient. The empowered patient. The engaged and sharing patient. Communities of patients.

5. Interpreting the data torrent. The challenge of integrating large and heterogenous datasets could be solved one day with powerful algorithms and machine Learning.

6. Security and privacy. The obtention of the patient’s consent is crucial and should be much simpler than today.

7. Opportunities and challenges. Increased scientific evidence but reimbursement issues, new field of research based on wearables, changes to patient-doctor interactions, integration of patient-specific data by the doctor.

Conclusion

Digital medicine is unavoidable and doctors will have to integrate this trend in order to optimize their relationships with their patients by empowering them and maintaining a two-way discussion toward a unique goal: better patient outcomes.

Nature Biotechnology Article (free)

More on Digital Medicine

Have a look at my posts on this topic.

Why Digital Health Has Not (Yet) Transformed Pharmaceutical Drug Development – 2015 – Forbes

Rock Health Founder On The Future Of Digital Medicine – 2015 – TechCrunch (Video)

Top 20 Technologies that Will Change our Lives: Next Up – Digital Medicine – 2014 – Forbes

How Digital Medicine Will Soon Save Your Life – 2014 – WSJ

Medicine goes digital – 2009 – The Economist

Digital Medicine – Implication for Healthcare Leaders – 2003 – Healthfutures.net (a nice document from 2003, projecting the reader in 2013… with futuristic visions sometimes…)

What is digital medicine? – 2002 – D. W. Shaffer (the first article on the subject)

 

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Needle phobia could become history with new technologies – Fast Company

 syringes

Needle phobia is quite common but may be soon part of history!

Approximately 20% of the population don’t like to be jabbed with a needle… Students from Rice University found a solution by inventing the Comfortably Numb, a new device that makes getting an injection practically painless.

Have a look at how it works with this video:

The cost could be an issue but with scale-up production it could go down significantly (USD 2 per piece today vs USD 0.35 for syringe with needle). The extra cost is worth it, especially for people afraid of needle like children for example.

Fast Company Article

More about Needle Phobia

 

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How medical technology can be hacked? – Wired

Drug Pump’s Security Flaws Lets Hackers Raise Dose Limits

hackerHealth data hacked, hospital system bugged… A lot of news are emerging every day about breaches into the safety and security of electronic medical devices.

In this article written by Kim Zetter in Wired, it is explained that drug infusion pumps could be controlled by anybody anywhere. “Hospira systems don’t use authentication for their internal drug libraries, which help set upper and lower boundaries for the dosages of various intravenous drugs that a pump can safely administer. As a result, anyone on the hospital’s network—including a patient in the hospital or a hacker accessing the pumps over the internet—can load a new drug library to the pumps that alters the limits, thereby potentially allowing the delivery of a deadly dosage.”

Awareness should be raised inside and outside the hospital but, more importantly, in the medical technology industry. They should hire experts in security as well as former hackers to make their devices safe enough to be used in any setting worldwide.

Wired Article

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