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How a Paper Toy Could Become a Public Health Boon in the Poorest Countries

Good afternoon, readers. This is Sy taking over for Cliff.

Here at Brainstorm Health Daily, we like to chronicle the groundbreaking advancements in technology that are helping transform health care. Tools like CRISPR gene-editing, blockchain for tracking medical claims, and artificial intelligence which can speed up the drug development process are heralding a brave new world in medicine.

But innovation can come in low-tech forms, too. Consider the “paperfuge,” a 20-cent modified version of an ancient spinning toy that can be used like a regular centrifuge to test whether or not blood samples carry HIV, malaria, and other pathogens. The device is made up of two polymer-based paper discs, fishing line, wooden or plastic handles, straws, and plastic tubes that contain the blood samples. (Check out a video of the paperfuge in action over at CNN.)

Created by a team of Stanford University scientists, the paperfuge could prove a major boon to emerging markets where lab equipment such as traditional centrifuges may be sparse, and where difficulty accessing electricity could make such technology moot even when it is available.

“Ultimately, our present work serves as an example of frugal science: leveraging the complex physics of a simple toy for global health applications,” wrote the Stanford team in Nature.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Stanford researchers create AI that can spot skin cancer as well as a doctor. Stanford University researchers have created an artificial intelligence algorithm that can effectively assess whether or not a mole or lesion is harmless or possible skin cancer. In fact, the AI is about 91% as effective as a human doctor, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature. The algorithm used deep learning methods and a data set of 130,000 high quality medical images of various skin abnormalities to learn how to distinguish between melanoma and benign bumps. And the Stanford group believes that the technology can one day be used to create a simple smartphone screening app for skin cancer. The challenge on that front, of course, is getting the algorithm to assess images that aren’t nearly as high quality as the ones it processed. AI-assisted screening technologies are becoming increasingly popular; both GE Healthcare and IBM Watson have partnered with medical schools to create AI platforms that can assist in reading x-rays and other types of medical imaging. (The Verge)

Gilead, MasterCard exploring partnership to assist hep C patients in poor countries. Biotech giant Gilead Sciences is in the (very) early stages of launching a potential partnership with MasterCard meant to help hepatitis C patients in developing markets. The collaboration would involve MasterCard’s Aid Network (a program that helped land the company a top 10 spot on our “Change the World” list last year), a non-financial digital tool that involves plastic cards pre-loaded with points that can then be used to buy medicines or other crucial supplies in developing regions. The system has already been used by numerous charitable groups like Save the Children to help people in poor countries get their hands on basics. Now, it might be used to distribute hepatitis C medications in highly-afflicted areas. “Our goal is to expand access to effective treatment for chronic hepatitis C”, said Gregg Alton, executive vice president of Corporate and Medical Affairs at Gilead, in a statement. “In exploring the potential use of this technology in a resource poor setting, we hope to better provide essential medicines and services to patients.”


Johnson & Johnson finally bags the elusive Actelion. Ending a months-long saga, Johnson & Johnson has finally struck a deal to acquire European biotech Actelion for $30 billion – and all in cash. That’s a (relatively) modest 23% premium on Actelion’s stock’s closing price Wednesday. Price had been the key issue preventing a deal from materializing; CEO Jean-Paul Clozel, who built the company from scratch, was looking for a significant cashout. Actelion will also be spinning off its R&D division into a separate company called R&D NewCo that will be led by Clozel. J&J will reserve the rights to have up to a 32% stake in the spun out firm. (Fortune)

Google life sciences division Verily snags $800 million in funding. Google’s Verily has snatched up $800 million in funding from Singaporean investment outfit Temasek. The cash infusion gets Temasek a board seat at Verily and will be used to help the company achieve its global marketing plans. As Endpoints notes, Verily has struck a number of prominent deals in recent months, including a $713 million collaboration with pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline on nanotechnology and a partnership with France’s Sanofi for diabetes maintenance. (Endpoints)


GOP’s Philadelphia retreat a venue for plotting Obamacare repeal. Republicans have gathered for their annual retreat in Philadelphia for a three-day policy workshop and strategy session that could help form the contours of a GOP health care plan. Congress recently passes a budget resolution that kicks the Obamacare repeal process into high gear; but lawmakers have yet to settle on a unified strategy for replacing the health law and making good on President Donald Trump’s promise of “insurance for everyone.” Most recently, Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins introduced a bill that would essentially allow states that want to continue certain Affordable Care Act programs to do so. But it’s still unclear whether or not such legislation would be a non-starter for more conservative lawmakers. This week’s retreat should begin to help answer that question. (Fortune)

Want to prevent hospital infections? Limit antibiotics. A new study continues to lend credence to a strategy of closely monitoring and restricting use of antibiotics as a way to fight more difficult-to-treat infections. Researchers found that hospitals where fluoroquinolone antibiotics were rarely used had a far lower incidence of the most deadly strains of Clostridium difficile bacteria; conversely, these nastier strains became the dominant infection type in areas where the antibiotic was used in abundance. (New York Times)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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