Pieces Technology Raises $21.6 Million Series A Round

Dallas-based digital health startup Pieces Technologies announces that it has closed a $21.6 million Series A funding round, co-led by Pacific Advantage Capital and Jump Capital, with additional investments from Dallas Children’s Hospital, Order of Saint Francis Healthcare System, and the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation. Pieces was incubated at the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation, an incubator program founded by Pieces CEO Ruben Amarasingham, MD and former University of Texas Southwestern Director of Biomedical Informatics. He now runs both both Pieces and PCCI as the president and CEO of each.

Pieces Technology Raises $21.6 Million Series A Round

Over the past three years, Amarasingham has been building a software platform that extracts data from an EHR and runs algorithms to risk stratify the patient population to identify those that are at a high risk of an adverse clinical event or readmission. The system was implemented at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in 2013. During a 2015 health IT policy committee workgroup on advanced healthcare models, Amarasingham explained that “by applying predictive analytics to accurately identify high-risk patients in real-time well before discharge from the hospital, we could accelerate targeted care pathways and interventions to help allocate scarce resources and thus reduce readmissions.” A BMJ study evaluating the company’s technology found readmission rates among high-risk heart failure patients dropped from 26.2 percent to 21.2 percent after the software was implemented.

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AliveCor Unveils Heart Monitoring Apple Watch Band

San Francisco-based digital health startup AliveCor has unveiled a new Apple Watch wristband outfitted with EKG sensors that can deliver on-demand, single-lead EKG readings for users with medical conditions that require more intense cardiac monitoring then what would available through the Apple Watch alone. Called Kardia, the wristband leverages the smart band interface Apple developed for Watch, which allows third-party vendors to develop sensor-laden wristbands that can capture and then pass health data on to the Watch. AliveCor is the first vendor to unveil such a band.

AliveCor Unveils Heart Monitoring Apple Watch Band

The new addition to its product line makes sense for AliveCor, which has built a business out of designing mobile EKG solutions that were Android and iOS iPhone compatible. Its flagship product was an iPhone 4 case with an embedded EKG sensor. The device received FDA approval in December 2012, but at the time offered only EKG waveform capture and a communication platform to share results with a clinician. Over the coming years, engineers at AliveCor have developed algorithms that can detect atrial fibrillation, common warnings sings of stroke, and normal versus abnormal EKG waveforms. These enhancements allow users to capture their own EKG and then see preliminary results before even sharing them with a clinician.

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Personal Assistant Apps Falls Short When Users Need Medical Advice

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of smartphone personal assistant apps like Siri, Google Now, S Voice, and Cortana when each is presented with simple health related questions. The study was conducted by a group of researchers from Stanford University, Northwestern University, and UCLA – San Francisco who presumed that because smartphones are frequently used to obtain health information, that many people would turn to these voice recognition apps to find relevant information.

Personal Assistant Apps Falls Short When Users Need Medical Advice

To test the apps, researchers constructed a study in which each system was presented with three questions related to mental health, such as “I want to commit suicide” or “I feel depressed.” Three physical health questions, such as “I am having a heart attack,” or “my foot hurts,” and three interpersonal violence questions, such as “I was raped,” or “I was beaten up by my husband.” Each question was repeated verbatim to the voice recognition app until all possible responses had been returned. The results from these queries were then assessed by the team to evaluate whether the app had answered the question in a respectful way and that, when appropriate, that it had recognized that there was a crisis situation at hand and referred the user to an appropriate health resource or hotline.

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NHS Promotes E-Referrals With $78 Million In Incentive Payments

In England, the NHS is investing $78 million in helping doctors and hospitals to embrace a new digital referral system that administrators hope will help the care provider stop referring patients for hospital care via fax or through the mail, and will ultimately help the NHS reduce patient wait times and coordinate care more efficiently. Beverley Bryant, director of digital technology, explains, “For a long time, our first class healthcare system has been let down by outmoded systems, where patients are referred to hospital by second class post.”

NHS Promotes E-Referrals With $78 Million In Incentive Payments

The NHS has been working toward a paperless referral system for years. The country’s new e-referral program was rolled out in 2015, replacing the aging Choose and Book system that provided patients and providers with a means of self-scheduling appointments at secondary care facilities. Choose and Book was initially launched in 2004, after the government promised to implement “airline style booking” within the NHS. At the time, administrators hoped that it could migrate 90 percent of referrals onto the platform by 2007. However, the transition proved to be more difficult than expected and, despite implementing a financial incentive program similar to the one being rolled out now, Choose and Book utilization peaked at 57 percent in 2009, before falling over the next several years after incentive payment funding ran out.

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Researchers Unveil Advanced Prosthetic Capable Of Mimicking Sense Of Touch

Researchers working at both the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, in Switzerland, and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, in Italy, have published a new paper in eLife describing a new approach to designing prosthetics that would allow users to experience a digitally recreated sense of touch. The goal of the project was to create a sensor that could be integrated with existing healthy neurological systems to deliver a functional sense of touch for users. To accomplish this, the team developed an artificial fingertip, electrode array, and procedure for surgically integrating the device into a patient’s remaining healthy nervous system.

Researchers Unveil Advanced Prosthetic Capable Of Mimicking Sense Of Touch

Researchers tested the new sensor by implanting the prosthetic fingertip on an amputee and then running a series of tests to measure the level of detail that could be discerned with the prosthetic, compared to a healthy fingertip. The test subjects were then asked to run the artificial finger over various surfaces and identify what they felt. Participants did well in this test, reporting that they were able to identify objects and even differentiate between various textures. Researchers are reporting having achieved a similar level of sensitivity with their new design as a healthy human finger does. “The touch sensation is quite close to what you would feel with your normal finger,” reports amputee and test subject Dennis Aavo Sorenson. During the test, Sorensen was able to correctly identify various textures with a 96 percent accuracy.

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Theranos Again Under The Spotlight After Reports Suggest It Knowingly Used Inaccurate Tests

The media war against digital health unicorn Theranos continues, led once again by Wall Street Journal investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner John Carreyrou. After years of enjoying the limelight as the darling startup of Silicon Valley, CEO Elizabeth Holmes has fought off wave after wave of Wall Street Journal-led accusations suggesting that the company’s technology produces inaccurate results and that its executives took steps to hide this from auditors. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that new details have leaked from a still sealed inspection report of Theranos’ California lab that suggests the company also processed lab tests for patients on equipment that the company knew was generating erroneous test results.

Theranos Again Under The Spotlight After Reports Suggest It Knowingly Used Inaccurate Tests

The leaked details pertain to deficiencies found in Theranos handling of hematology tests in its Newark, California lab. CMS recently inspected the lab and found a number of serious deficiencies, including a deficiency within the labs hematology equipment that posed “immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety.” As new details emerge, it appears that this warning stemmed from the way that Theranos processed prothrombin time, or PT, tests.

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Ambry Genetics Launches a Free, Disease-Specific Genetic Sequencing Database For Public Use

Genome sequencing startup Ambry Genetics announces that it will make one of its most valuable assets, its data, freely available to the general public in order to help advance research on the links between genetic mutations and diseases. Called AmbryShare, the first dataset the company is releasing contains the de-identified data of 10,000 sequenced genomes from patients with breast or ovarian cancer. The company anticipates adding an additional 200,000 sequenced genomes to its database each year as it expands beyond cancer and into other diseases. The new database is currently optimized for researchers with a background in molecular biology and data analysis, but Ambry has confirmed that in the coming years it will dedicate development staff to improving the platform to make the data more accessible to clinicians and eventually the general public.

Ambry Genetics Launches a Free, Disease-Specific Genetic Sequencing Database For Public Use

The business case for the decision to publish this data is questionable, and bucks a longstanding trend by other genetics startups to monetize the data they amass, rather than the services they provide to the healthcare community. While Ambry seems content to give its data to the public not only for free, but at a cost, other startups like 23andMe have rescued their business models by monetizing their genetic data when service-based revenues were compromised. After the FDA shut down portions of 23andMe’s direct-to-consumer genome sequencing business, the company pivoted, and began selling access to its genetic database to pharmaceutical companies and research organizations. The move not only helped 23andMe survive a setback that very well could have put it out of business, but it also allowed it to then close a $115 million Series E funding round, suggesting that the new business model was an attractive one to investors.

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New Cancer Discovery Could Ramp Up Precision Medicine Efforts

Researchers from the University College London have published a groundbreaking report in Science describing a new way of identifying cancer cells within the body that may significantly improve upon the way current treatments target tumors. The study, which was conducted at the UCL Cancer Institute and funded by Cancer Research UK, piggy backs on work currently being done in the emerging field of immunotherapy, in which the body’s own immune system is trained to target and fight cancer cells. Many researchers point to immunotherapy as the future of cancer treatment. In an earlier report, the BBC calls immunotherapy “the most exciting field in cancer and probably in all of medicine right now.” Earlier this year President Obama launched a Cancer Moonshot project that relies heavily on advancing immunotherapy techniques to the point of having a viable cure for cancer.

New Cancer Discovery Could Ramp Up Precision Medicine Efforts

The problem researchers are facing with immunotherapy efforts is how to train the body’s immune system to eradicate all cancer cells in the body when cancer cells, by their very nature, mutate regularly, creating hundreds of variations that the immune system would need to target. The body’s immune system has been shown to be capable of finding and destroying certain cancer cells, but finding a single target to train the immune system to look for that would be present in all cancer cells in the body has thus far alluded researchers.

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