Three Major Areas of Diagnostic Advancements in 2019

by the bioMérieux Connection Editors

As the baby boomer generation grows older, they are also acquiring a rising number of chronic diseases, fueling the demand for diagnostics tools. Simultaneously, healthcare is becoming more patient-centric and decentralized, emphasizing the greater need for convenient care. This has resulted in continuing advancements in the healthcare industry, led by diagnostics and new technology for efficient testing and faster diagnosis.

Throughout 2019, the transformation of diagnostic technology has been centered around machine learning, maximizing patient value, and the needs of those with chronic ailments and diseases. As technology advances, so does the ability to diagnose and treat, whether in the ICU or over the phone.

1. Machine Learning

Machine learning is furthering our abilities to detect disease and administer treatment more quickly and appropriately. James Fackler, the Director of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Medicine at John Hopkins Medicine, recently published an article on machine learning and the ability to predict septic shock. His team studied whether septic shock could be predicted from a patient’s health record data. In doing so, they applied three different machine learning techniques to the electronic health record data of 15,930 patients. The study demonstrated that early prediction of impending septic shock, and thus early intervention, is possible many hours in advance. Fackler is currently working on a machine learning algorithm for predicting sepsis.

2. Maximizing Patient Value

The patient-centric approach is guiding healthcare systems to establish partnerships among practitioners and patients, with the goal of aligning decisions with patients’ wants, needs, and preferences. Today, patients want care on their schedule, with immediate test results, at the least possible cost.

Students, professors, and corporations around the world are working to create more convenient and faster diagnostics. For example, scientists at the University of Toronto and Hangzhou Normal University in China have shown that it may be possible to use existing smartphones to measure blood pressure. Their study, published in August 2019, uses transdermal optical imaging. This technology processes imperceptible facial blood flow changes from videos captured with a smartphone camera and uses advanced machine learning to determine blood pressure from the captured signal.

3. Chronic Diseases

The increase in chronic diseases means more patients will need frequent monitoring for longer periods of time, and healthcare costs will continue to rise. Many of the tools developed in 2019 were created to diagnose and monitor cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. 

Researchers at Imperial College London and MIT have developed a simple cancer urine test. The test is based on injected gold nanoclusters, which enter the urine only in the presence of cancer, and has shown promise in detecting the presence of colon cancer in mice. The initially injected gold nanoclusters are bonded to a protein carrier. “The researchers designed the bond between the gold-nanoclusters and the protein carriers to be cleavable by MMPs [enzymes that are highly active in many cancers] in the tumor microenvironment. This liberates the nanoclusters, which are small enough to pass through the kidneys and enter the urine,” states a MedGadget article about the new test. Once the sample is treated with hydrogen peroxide and a chemical substrate, it will turn blue if nanoclusters are present. 

“By taking advantage of a chemical reaction that produces a color change, this test can be administered without the need for expensive and hard-to-use lab instruments,” said Molly Stevens, one of the researchers involved in the study. “The simple readout could potentially be captured by a smartphone picture and transmitted to remote caregivers to connect patients to treatment.”

A Year of Innovation

Every day, new diagnostic technologies are being developed to make healthcare more efficient and to improve patients’ lives. 2019 saw advancements in machine learning, convenience of care, and potential solutions for managing chronic disease. On the cusp of 2020, only time will tell what the new decade will bring.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of bioMérieux, Inc.

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