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The Instant, Custom, Connected Future of Medical Devices

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When Jeff Dachis suddenly and unexpectedly learned he had Type 1 diabetes at the age of 46 in September 2013, he was stunned. After all, he ran marathons, followed a healthy diet and never had an inkling of any medical troubles during previous annual physicals.

“I went to the doctor, got about six minutes with a nurse practitioner, an insulin pen, a prescription and a pat on the back, and I was out the door,” Mr. Dachis said. “I was terrified. I had no idea what this condition was about or how to address it.”

Feeling confused and scared, he decided to leverage his expertise in digital marketing, technology and big data analytics to create a company, One Drop, that helps diabetics understand and manage their disease.

The One Drop system combines sensors, an app, and a Bluetooth glucose meter to track and monitor a diabetic’s blood glucose levels, food, exercise and medication. It uses artificial intelligence to predict the person’s blood glucose level over the next 24 hours and even suggests ways the person can control fluctuations, such as walking or exercising to offset high sugar levels — or eating a candy bar to raise low glucose levels. Users can also text a diabetes coach with questions in real time.

With 30 million Americans living with diabetes, Mr. Dachis said he knew the potential market for his technology was big. Indeed, more than one million people have downloaded the app to date, he said.

One Drop is among a surging number of companies that are using “internet of things,” also known as IoT, technology to create new treatments in the health care sector.

“Advances like robotics, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, and IoT are fueling an exciting era within health care innovation,” said Jeff Becker, a senior analyst and health care I.T. expert at Forrester. “Many of these efforts will undoubtedly fall flat, but some could end up as transformative as the X-ray itself.”

And consumers are paying attention.

About 79 percent of consumers surveyed in the United States said technology is important to managing their health, according to a 2019 report by Accenture.

The latest tech-related medical treatment advances run the gamut from implants that help paralyzed people walk to smart pills that detect when patients fail to take their medication.

Spinal cord research took a major step forward when a 29-year-old man, who had been paralyzed from the chest down since a snowmobile accident in 2013, was able to walk the distance of a football field with the help of a rolling walker. The milestone, which was published in Nature Medicine last fall, came after a team of researchers at the Mayo Clinic implanted an epidural electrical stimulator device into the man’s lower spine and gave him six months of intensive physical therapy.

“This is a revolutionary breakthrough,” said Kendall Lee, a neurosurgeon and director of neural engineering laboratories at the Mayo Clinic. He said the device had so far been successfully implanted in two people.

While the implant isn’t a cure, it offers hope to millions of paralyzed people around the world. But Dr. Lee was careful to note that the technology is still some time away from being publicly available.

“We were able to do the study under the F.D.A.’s investigational device exemption,” Dr. Lee said. “This is not something for the general population yet.”

At least three different research groups — Mayo Clinic, University of Louisville and the University of California, Los Angeles — are now aggressively expanding their trials to include more patients.

Then there’s the smart pill. The World Health Organization estimated that 50 percent of people with chronic diseases in developed countries fail to take their medicines as prescribed, whether from forgetfulness, concern about side effects or other reasons.

This noncompliance costs the heath care system in the United States from $100 billion to $290 billion a year from emergency room visits, hospital stays and other costs related to worsening medical conditions, according to the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation.

AdhereTech built a smart pill bottle that alerts patients when it’s time to take a medication and sends an automated text or phone message if they miss a dose in real time. But it only tracks the use and contents of the bottle, so there’s no definitive way to detect whether a person has actually swallowed the pill.

The pharmaceutical maker Otsuka goes a step further: It worked with Proteus Digital Health to create a digital smart pill for Otsuka’s Abilify medication, which is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. The Abilify MyCite pill, which will be rolled out in the next few months, is embedded with a sensor that’s activated by stomach acids. The sensor is tracked by a patch worn on the person’s stomach, which then sends the information to a smartphone app, where the patient and doctor can track when the medication was taken — and even send notifications if it hasn’t.

But the technology goes far beyond pill-taking reminders, said Andrew Thompson, co-founder, president and chief executive of Proteus Digital Health. The sensor patch also tracks physical activity, heart rate, rest patterns and other metrics, which will help doctors and patients know whether a medication is working and the right dose has been prescribed.

The Abilify MyCite pill doesn’t come cheap: It will cost $1,650 a month, significantly more than the $30-to-$40-a-month cost of a generic version of the Abilify pill. However, most patients would only take the digital pill for two to three months — just enough time to collect data on pill-taking adherence, dosage and health impact to revise a treatment plan, Andrew Wright, Otsuka’s vice president of Digital Medicine, said.

Efforts are now underway for both Proteus and Otsuka to add the technology to pills for other chronic conditions. Mr. Thompson believes it’s the future.

“Years from now your grandchildren or your children will be incredulous that you put things into your body and didn’t know if they were real or fake, the right dose or the wrong dose, in-date or out-of-date,” Mr. Thompson said. “So yes, eventually this will be in every drug everywhere.”

In the world of prosthetics, scientists have found a way for tetraplegics — those paralyzed from the neck down — to feel touch by electrically stimulating parts of the brain. Paralysis can mean the loss of both control and feeling in affected areas, and while prosthetics can return motor function, sensing requires treatment of the nervous system itself.

Initially, the challenge seemed daunting, considering the brain contains 100 billion neurons, and matching up the neurons that control sensory nerves with the prosthetic hands and arms was tough, said Sliman Bensmaia, an associate professor in the department of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago, who was part of the research team. But after surgically placing an electrode implant into the brain, the team was able to electrically stimulate the portions of the brain that controlled sensation, allowing the patient to feel the size, shape and texture of objects and to tell when a finger was touched.

Plans are now in the works to expand human trials at the University of Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago. The biggest challenge now? Making the brain implant wireless and upgrading it so that it doesn’t wear out after five years.

“You can’t be having brain surgery every few years,” Dr. Bensmaia said. “We need an array or implant technology that lasts a lifetime.”

Dr. Bensmaia said the brain implant technology could someday have far-reaching applications, such as improving memory or retrieving information faster.

Another hot area: The use of 3-D printers to create patient-specific medical devices, like knee joints and spinal implants. The printers make it faster, easier and cheaper to make customized medical devices based on a patient’s M.R.I. and C.T. scans.

“They can be made in one-fifth to one-tenth” of the time that traditional custom-made devices are made, said Scott Hollister, a professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. And 3-D printed devices often fit far better, cause fewer complications and require a shorter recovery period than off-the-shelf joint replacements that come in sizes small, medium and large.

At least 80 3-D-printed devices have received F.D.A. approval as of 2016, although their use has largely been confined to academic and research hospitals.

While many of these breakthrough technologies have shown promise in clinical trials, experts caution there’s no guarantee they’ll ever make it to market.

Mr. Becker, the Forrester analyst, cited the disastrous example of Theranos, which made false claims for years that it had a revolutionary blood-testing technology that only required a small amount of blood. The company raised more than $700 million, was valued at $9 billion at its peak in 2014, and made its founder Elizabeth Holmes a billionaire, before collapsing after scientists and regulators discovered the technology didn’t work.

“Theranos is the pockmark of health care I.T.,” Mr. Becker said.

But sometimes it’s not malicious — it’s just promising science that doesn’t pan out.

In 2014, the Google X lab, now called Verily, unveiled news — with much fanfare — that it was developing a smart contact lens that could monitor blood glucose levels in real-time by measuring tear fluid in the eye. The company’s partner on the project, Novartis, said it expected to have the device on store shelves within five years.

“This was huge news — the holy grail of life sciences — it was something that everybody wanted to be the first to bring to market,” Mr. Becker said.

But then, “we all waited for updates and nothing came — just radio silence.” Last November, the company announced that the project had been scrapped because of inconsistent testing results.

“So, clearly the science wasn’t there,” Mr. Becker said. “They prematurely announced it, got excited about it, they made a big splash, and it was all for not.”

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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