Forget Counting Steps. Quantifying Health Will Save Your Life.

There's an immense amount of power in data, power that can be harnessed to help keep you healthy.

Daniel Kraft: One of the interesting things about healthcare today is the data is becoming unsiloed and increasingly accessible. So for example, I'm wearing right now a little patch from a company called Vital Connect underneath my shirt. It's talking to my smartphone live. And I can look at a dashboard of my data from my full-on EKG, which will show up right here and it can track the trends and hopefully my EKG looks like it's okay, if there are any cardiologist out there. I can also see data about my steps, my stress level, my position.

If I fall down and I don't get back up, the system can tell that. And this is really an intensive-care-unit-like-type-level data in what will be less than five-dollar-a -ay disposable patch, which can be useful if you're training for a marathon; if you're in a hospital and you're not on a monitored bed; if your home with a disease like heart failure. That's a lot of data. We need to learn to sift through it and pull out the signals because no physician or nurse is going to want to be liable for watching your livestreaming EKG. But is an immense amount of power and data. And we're in this era now of creating digital health exhaust, whether it's my smartwatch, this patch, my phone — it can tell a lot about me, my behaviors.

If, for example, you have a patient who's got bipolar disorder, you can tell from their phone whether they're depressed or they're manic. That can play a role in smart disease, disease management. We can take technologies like 3D printing and tune home-based prosthetics. We can print prosthetic hands for folks and legs in the developing world. Here's mini me in my pocket. It's a 3D-printed version of me. That might be interesting if I need to make a prosthetic for someone who has lost part of her face. Or I was at MIT Media Lab last week and met a young grad student who diagnosed his own brain cancer, written up in The New York Times, and used 3D printing to print a version of his tumor. He said, "Hey, you want a print of my brain tumor?" This helped his surgeons do a better job of finding it and removing it. And he was proactive. He noticed some neurologic symptoms and pushed for his own repeat MRI that helped him get diagnosed earlier.

I have in my pocket a new commercialized version of a brain computer interface from a company called InteraXon. This is the Muse. You can wear this headset and kind of use this for appified mindfulness and meditation. And I might use this to prescribe to a patient who has anxiety instead of giving them a drug, I’d give them a headset. Of course they could do meditation the old-fashioned way but this enables you to quantify it, have a bit of a feedback loop. So the ability to sort of quantify our own minds with brain-computer interface like this can be used to treat everything from PTSD to ADHD. We’re going to see use of video games to improve cognition or to treat disease. We’re seeing fancy brain-computer interfaces from my alma mater Brown University to enable someone who’s quadriplegic just by thinking to move a robotic limb. And those are getting smaller and more integrated. And so the disabled in the future may just think move my arm and it will be rewired back to their own arm even if they had a spinal cord injury.

So lots of ways to take, you know, sometimes consumer devices, crowdsource new apps and platforms on these that will change neuroscience, psychiatry. And when we can pull this data together, we’ll become participatory in health care; we can move to an era kind of like with Google Maps. You donate some data when you use Waze and Google Maps — your privacy, your speed, and your location. But in exchange you can build a map of the streets and of the traffic so you get some information back. I think we can have that same sensibility in health care whether it’s sharing your brainwaves, your genomics, your wearable data while maintaining privacy and opt-in abilities. You know using that information can give us better public health, you know, early signals if it’s Ebola coming or the common flu. Or it can enable patient groups to crowdsource better cures for Crohn’s disease.

For example, there’s this new world of the microbiome. We have 10 times more bacterial cells in and on our bodies than our own human cells. We’re learning that the microbiome plays a role in everything from obesity to inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease. Maybe even some psychiatric disorders. And we’re starting to be in this era of fecal transplants. And you can imagine in five, 10 years you’re going to get a tuned cocktail of a probiotic that’s going to reboot your GI system to help treat diseases or prevent them. So, a lot of these tools are going to enable the clinician. You're going to be going to your corner pharmacy in many cases to get medical care or telemedicine.

It's going to enable you as an individual to own your own health information. There's already thousands of apps out there; some are better than others, but you can use those as tools to stay engaged in taking your vitamins and your aspirin or being on top of a much more complex regiment. And the challenge for all of us is to integrate these in the culture of health and medicine. You can have the best technology, but unless your clinician uses it and gets paid for it in some cases, it may never be adopted. The payers of the world need to start looking at how some of these can provide better outcomes at lower costs. And even before they're FDA approved, bringing these to market. And I think we're seeing many smart pharma companies, payers, physician groups think about how they layer these in to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.

The future of health care could hinge on what Daniel Kraft calls "smart disease management," the operative word being "smart" and referring to innovative diagnostic technology. In this video, Kraft displays several examples of how 3D printing, EKG, and video games can be used to boost your health. The key goal is to pursue lots of good data to help keep track of a person's condition. "There's an immense amount of power in data," says Kraft, and it's power that can be harnessed to help keep people alive.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
Keep reading Show less