In the US, many academic researchers hold the belief that Convergence in Healthcare is the only way for America to remain a leading competitor in medical innovation on an international scale. In spite of evidence supporting its dynamic value, the convergence movement continues to struggle with issues at the educational, governmental and industrial levels in the US, hindering its growth.
While the issue is of economic importance to the US, it is also important on a worldwide level. American leadership in medical innovation allows less economically developed countries to benefit from life-saving research and tools. This enables them to address their own health needs at the local level.
To illustrate how important convergent research can be to the advancement of global human health, listed below are three life-saving medical tools from the last year originating from convergence-based research.
A smart jacket accurately diagnoses pneumonia.
Pneumonia is less of a concern in the US than it once was. However, it is a dangerous infection that can easily claim lives if left untreated. This is especially true for children younger than age 5 years old in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia is responsible for 16 percent of deaths in this demographic, amounting to nearly 1 million lives each year.
One of the main reasons pneumonia has such a high rate of mortality among children is slow diagnosis, especially in sub-Saharan countries on the African continent. Often, medical professionals mistake the symptoms for those of malaria, and therefore treat the disease incorrectly.
A convergent research project in Uganda aimed to address this growing problem led to the creation of a biomedical technology device known as MamaOpe. Equipped with Bluetooth, MamaOpe is a smart jacket which, when worn by a patient with pneumonia, monitors heart rate, body temperature and lung condition.
Readings from the jacket are sent directly to a smartphone app, which records, analyzes and presents the data to medical professionals. MamaOpe inventor Brian Turyabagye stated in an interview with CNN that his team believes the jacket can nearly eliminate human error in the diagnosis of pneumonia. It can also make a diagnosis three to four times faster than a physician.
An artificial pancreas device.
Located deep within the abdominal cavity, the pancreas plays a prominent role in the digestive processes of a healthy body. This includes the regulation of blood sugar through the production of insulin.
In the body of a person living with Type 1 diabetes, however, the pancreas is incapable of producing insulin. This requires Type 1 patients to adhere to a strict, lifelong schedule of insulin injections to control blood sugar.
Early in 2018, online news sources such as CNBC and Healthline profiled a new piece of biomedical technology designed to continuously deliver computer algorithm-calculated levels of insulin to meet the needs of the wearer’s body. The hybrid closed-loop insulin delivery system essentially operates as an artificial pancreas by monitoring glucose levels moment-to-moment and adjusting insulin levels accordingly.
All of the activity occurring within the artificial pancreas can also be monitored by the wearer via smartphone. Ultimately, this biomedical device is meant to alleviate the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes for patients, allowing them to lead healthier lives.
A single childhood vaccine for protection against multiple illnesses.
In developing countries, doctors’ visits to local areas may not occur frequently enough for a child to be fully vaccinated against disease according to a specific timeline. In other cases, parents are not able to comply with the need for the child to return to the pediatrician after a particular amount of time has passed.
Fortunately, convergent research from engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led to the development of a new kind of vaccine that relies on 3D-printed microtechnology. The vaccines consist of individually 3D-printed microparticles made from different types of biodegradable polymers, each one roughly the size of a small grain of sand.
The rounded particles have a basin in the center, taking a shape similar to a microscopic coffee cup. Each particle is filled with a different kind of vaccine and heat sealed to create a type of lid on top.
These particles can then be collected and injected into a child’s bloodstream. The different types of vaccine are engineered to be released from their containers on specific timelines.
The vaccines are contained within an array of polymers with different dissolution rates. As a result, the actual rate of vaccination for each illness could be spread out over the course of days, months and even years as necessary for full immunization against many diseases at once.