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Brainstorm Health: Robot Surgeons, GSK Shingles Vaccine, Uninsurance Rate

October 23, 2017, 5:06 PM UTC

Happy Monday, Dailies. Popular Science is out with its 30th annual list of “The 100 Greatest Innovations” of the year—and the top dozen are in the category of health. The list includes some well-covered breakthroughs, such as targeted killer T cells in cancer immunotherapy and the gene-editing DIY’er CRISPR, which I’ve written about here and here. But among the litany of stand-out innovations are some novel and little-known inventions—devices, moreover, that set out to solve a problem that either no one had set out to solve before or that no one had been able to solve until now.

One of those is the Aeroform Tissue Expander System. Here’s how PopSci writers Claire Maldarelli and Chelsea Harvey describe it:

“When a woman undergoes breast reconstruction, surgeons stretch the existing tissue by injecting saline into implanted bladders—a painful process that demands doctor visits, needles, and analgesics. The Aeroform lets women control the process at their own, more-tolerable pace. Patients use a wireless controller to signal a CO2 cartridge to release air that stretches a silicone implant, bit by bit.”

I’ll take PopSci’s word for it that it works as promised, but the idea itself is brilliant: a personalized approach to healing designed to replace a “one-size-fits-all” solution that never was.

Also on the list is a smart glove that helps stroke victims recover hand movement and agility, a lightweight wearable that makes it easier for those with epilepsy to monitor night seizures, and a cordless breast-milk pump “that’s quiet enough for a woman to use while on a conference call,” the authors write.

The commonality to all of the above? User-centrism. These products are designed to help make a process (stroke rehab, seizure monitoring, breast milk pumping) easier for consumers and patients, not the myriad other players in the health system (physicians, hospitals, insurers). If the digital health revolution can keep moving the dial toward that notion, the dividends for all of us will be profound.

One more great story to highlight: Today, Fortune published online a fascinating read about Intuitive Surgical, a robotic surgery pioneer that, as we said, is turning “medical sci-fi into reality.” Intuitive Surgical is one of the innovative companies featured on Fortune’s brand new “Future 50” list, which we developed with consulting firm BCG and which analyzes companies’ DNA, so to speak—their cultures, investments, patents, workforces, and other internal metrics—to find those that are poised for explosive growth in the coming months and years.

As with so many other companies on the list, Intuitive Surgical’s secret sauce is an intrinsic drive to continually reinvent itself as it reinvents the tools of surgery. And the author of this feature—Brainstorm Health Daily’s very own Sy Mukherjee—did a terrific job of capturing that essence.

It’s a must-read.

With that, here’s the rest of the day’s news from Sy.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE


Coming to an O.R. near you: The robot surgeon. As Cliff so kindly mentioned above, I had an opportunity to explore the corporate DNA—and impressive, pioneering technology—at the heart of Intuitive Surgical, the company that's long been dominating the robotic-assisted surgery space. One major question I set out to answer is: How does Intuitive keep the progress going after being the market leader for so long, especially as competitors are expected to enter the scene? (Fortune)


GlaxoSmithKline wins FDA approval of next-gen shingles vaccine. British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has won a critical Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for Shingrix, a new and improved version of the shingles vaccine. This is a particularly important approval since shingles is one of the few conditions that everyone over a certain age is recommended to get, leading analysts to estimate sales could exceed $1.3 billion per year by 2023. (Reuters)


Uninsured rate ticks upward for first time since 2014 amid Obamacare chaos. Gallup finds that the U.S. uninsurance rate rose to 12.3% in the third quarter of 2017—a 1.4 percentage point rise since the end of 2016 and the first significant increase in the rate of uninsured Americans since Obamacare's coverage expansion and requirement to carry insurance took effect in 2014. In real numbers, this suggests about 3.5 million more Americans who are now uninsured as uncertainty continues to swirl around the health law (and cuts to outreach and other Affordable Care Act funding instituted by the Trump administration). (Gallup)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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