Preventive healthcare technology — the future of medicine?

The concept of preventive healthcare technology was explained by Emmanuel Fombu, a physician and the author of ‘The Future of Healthcare.’ (AN)
Updated 05 November 2019

Preventive healthcare technology — the future of medicine?

  • Author Emmanuel Fombu: Personal medical decisions will be influenced by data
  • Fombu spoke at two-day EmTech MENA conference in Dubai

DUBAI: When we feel unwell, we usually turn to a doctor for answers. But what if we were able to find out the diseases we are susceptible to and how to avoid falling ill?
The concept of preventive healthcare technology was explained by Emmanuel Fombu, a physician and the author of “The Future of Healthcare,” on the second day of the EmTech MENA conference at Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai.
Many believe that human genes are the main determinants of our disease risks based on family history.
Fombu believes that personal decisions made around data can change the world of medical care.
“Genes are just the beginning of your life story. Just because you have the genes for a disease, does not mean that you will get it. Your decisions make all the difference,” he said.
Environmental and socioeconomic factors play a key role in determining the probability of developing many diseases, with lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise being crucial to living a disease-free life.
However, Fombu argues that each individual is unique, and therefore requires a unique diet plan, medicine and treatment — a concept that is not currently practised.
Drugs analyzed in most clinical trials are tested on a small sample of people, often consisting of white men and very few women, before they are taken to the market for nationwide use, said Fombu.
“What is depressing in healthcare today is this concept of medicine. Two people suffering from diabetes are not the same,” said Fombu, adding that even twins who share the same gene pool are not destined to develop the same conditions.
Studies in the US have also shown disparity in disease rates in different parts of the same city, based on socioeconomic factors.
“Take diabetes in China. It went from 0.67 percent in 1980 to 9.7 percent in 2011,” Fombu said.
“Did their genes change? Or did people get wealthier and perhaps eat more junk food?”
Fombu highlighted existing and upcoming devices that work on monitoring and predicting disease, providing unique data to each patient.
He said research is underway to enable Apple Watch and other specialized fitness brands to be able to use voice to predict conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and even aid in suicide prevention.
Fombu favors leveraging technologies that give individuals more power over their health through personalized data.
One example is a phone-sized ultrasound device manufactured by a company called Butterfly Network, which can be used through automated instructions by patients at home.
“Why wait to get sick before you intervene? Why not understand the risk of disease going forward and modify your lifestyle?” said Fombu.
Moving from physical health to mental health, speaker Jason Kahn, chief science officer and cofounder of video game “Mightier,” discussed tackling mental health through AI technology.
“Mightier” helps children aged between 6 and 14 to develop emotional strength and build calming skills to meet life challenges.
The game, which is connected to users’ emotions, monitors their feelings and reactions while they go through the different stages.
“There are not enough mental health workers around. Studies show there is one mental health worker for every 11,000 people in the world who need care,” said Kahn.
After a comparison between traditional office-based therapy and AI therapy through “Mightier,” Kahn found that 80 percent of children playing the game showed improvement, as opposed to only 20 percent in regular therapy.
“We need to find new solutions,” he said.
The EmTech MENA conference, which took place on Nov. 4 and 5, was organized by “MIT Technology Review Arabia” in cooperation with the Dubai Future Foundation and Haykal Media.
The two-day event featured 31 prominent regional and international speakers including government officials, researchers and entrepreneurs.

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Japan spacecraft starts yearlong journey home from asteroid

Updated 13 November 2019

Japan spacecraft starts yearlong journey home from asteroid

  • The spacecraft will travel 180 million miles on its journey back to Earth
  • It will bring back soil samples that provide clues to life in space

TOKYO: Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft departed from a distant asteroid on Wednesday, starting its yearlong journey home after successfully completing its mission to bring back soil samples and data that could provide clues to the origins of the solar system, the country’s space agency said.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the spacecraft left its orbit around the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth.
Hayabusa2 on Wednesday captured and transmitted to Earth one of its final images of Ryugu, or “Dragon Palace,” named after a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale, as it slowly began moving away from its temporary home, JAXA said. Hayabusa2 will continue its “farewell filming” of the asteroid for a few more days.
Then Hayabusa2 will adjust its position on around Nov. 18 after retreating 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the asteroid and out of its the gravitational pull. It will then receive a signal from JAXA to ignite a main engine in early December en route to the Earth’s vicinity.
Hayabusa2 made touchdowns on the asteroid twice, despite difficulties caused by Ryugu’s extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during its 1½-year mission since arriving there in June 2018.
In the first touchdown in February, it collected surface dust samples. In July, it collected underground samples for the first time in space history after landing in a crater it had earlier created by blasting the asteroid surface.
Hayabusa2 is expected to return to Earth in late 2020 and drop a capsule containing the precious samples in the Australian desert.
It took the spacecraft 3½ years to arrive at the asteroid, but the journey home is much shorter thanks to the current locations of Ryugu and Earth.
JAXA scientists believe the underground samples contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors that could tell more about the origin of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and may help explain how Earth evolved. Hayabusa2 scientists also said they believe the samples contain carbon and organic matter and hope they could explain how they are related to Earth.