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How high-tech will personalise health

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The health sector is on the cusp of a step change that will see patients benefit from treatment that is more focused on the individual than ever before, writes DR WOLFGANG MERTZ, CTO EMEA for Healthcare, Life Sciences and HPC, Dell EMC Isilon.

Through the better use of data and advances in analytics, precision healthcare promises a more personalised approach that will significantly improve the outcome of even the most serious illnesses.

As well as improving patient care, this new level of personalisation also has the potential to meet the increasing cost challenges faced by the healthcare sector by ensuring resources are allocated in the best way.

It’s generating significant traction as a result, with Global Market Insights recently forecasting that the market size will reach $88 billion by 2023.

Not all patients are the same

The fundamental idea behind precision medicine is that one size doesn’t fit all. While some patients respond to a certain treatment, there will be others that don’t.

For example, for one specific type of cancer, just 20 percent of patients respond well to chemotherapy. This means that treating the other 80 percent in the same way is both time consuming and expensive, with little chance of a positive outcome.

As well as environmental and lifestyle factors, these variations in how patients respond to treatment are often down to genetics. While specific patient details and heath history can inform precision medicine, the ability to analyse individual genomes can take it to a new level.

The role of the genome

Analysis of a patient’s genome can identify biomarkers that provide a strong indication of how they will respond to a certain treatment. In short, this means patients can be offered treatment that is most likely to treat their illness successfully.

Genome sequencing reveals the unique code that defines the physical characteristics of a person, including the likelihood that they will develop certain illnesses.

Specialist companies provide genome sequencing but the fact that the human genome was first sequenced just ten years ago and contains more than three billion base pairs, puts the data challenge in perspective.

Many countries have national collections of genomics data, such as Genomics England, which is funded by the NHS. Using this data, patterns can emerge across populations that can be used to inform treatment.

However, there remain a number of challenges before precision medicine can become a practical reality for the average patient.

Getting the infrastructure right

Firstly, health organisations must gain an understanding of where different data is located and how it can be accessed in an appropriate way.

Patient data is often siloed in hospitals (in Electronic Medical Records or PACS, for example) while other useful genomics data could be spread across regions, countries and beyond. The first challenge is therefore to locate and access relevant data. This requires national and international coordination to establish channels and systems that healthcare organisations can use to access the data they need.

Of course, all of this data must then be consolidated in a way that gives it practical value. Data lake technology – for example, Dell EMC’s healthcare data lake – is particularly useful in this respect, as it brings together structured and unstructured data from a wide range of sources in a single location. Once in place, this data can be easily interrogated by analytics tools to generate useful insight.

There will also be challenges around the approach different regions take with their genomics data. Some countries may have a small number of healthcare regions in a simple structure, while others are more complex. Healthcare organisations, government and research institutions will need to work out the best way to work with the relevant stakeholders, including who will lead the data consolidation and how this can be done as efficiently as possible.

In this scenario, it’s likely that the volume of data that organisations have access to will grow over time, as new connections are made and further bodies of research are created. The size of the data lake is therefore likely to grow, so scale-out storage, such as that provided by Dell EMC Isilon, will be another important element of the technology infrastructure  needed to support  the development of precision medicine.

Making genomics data useable
The latest storage technology will clearly be crucial but there also needs to be a way for GPs and other clinicians to make use of the data when dealing with individual patient cases. The data needs to be presented in a way that can be understood by people who aren’t trained in data science.

The development of platform applications is critical if this progress in data analysis is to make a real impact. Specialist ISVs are already developing applications to deliver these kinds of insights but it will take time for them to be adopted widely.

Security is another key consideration when working with patient data. Strict access controls should therefore be applied and data anonymised where relevant.

As the exciting world of genomics is poised to revolutionise patient care, it’s important that organisations delivering healthcare prepare their technology infrastructure.

Data lakes, scale-out storage and platform applications will all be key technologies in making precision medicine a reality in the coming years. If healthcare organisations put these capabilities in place, they will be able to bring patient care to a whole new level.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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