Brainstorm Health: Facebook MRI AI, EpiPen Expiration Extension, Implantable Sensors

August 21, 2018, 7:41 PM UTC

Hello, readers. This is Sy.

It seems there’s no shortage these days of big tech companies swerving out of their lane to enter the quagmire of American health care. Many of these firms, such as Apple and Amazon, haven’t exactly been shy about their ambitions, whether through wide-ranging research platforms like ResearchKit or acquisitions of online pharmaceutical delivery services.

This week, Facebook added itself to the list. The company has set the ambitious goal of making MRI scans up to ten times faster than they currently are through the use of artificial intelligence—a project in collaboration with NYU, which appears set on making news left and right recently.

Facebook and NYU School of Medicine succinctly laid out their rationale in a blog post: “[MRIs] are relatively slow, taking anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, compared with less than a second or up to a minute, respectively, for X-ray and CT scans,” they wrote. That slow pace presents both public health barriers to entry and downstream effects; for instance, young children who need MRIs may not be able to stay still for all that long, and certain parts of the country aren’t necessarily abound with available MRI machines, thus creating an unnecessary bottleneck due to a cumbersome process.

“By boosting the speed of MRI scanners, we can make these devices accessible to a greater number of patients,” say NYU and Facebook.

How exactly would that process work? Through a project the organizations dub “fastMRI.” This would—or at least the hope goes—harness AI to change the way MRIs are conducted in the first place. Rather than having to form a full, data-intensive MRI image, artificial intelligence could theoretically be used to “fill in views omitted from the accelerated scan,” the groups say.

This, it should go without saying, isn’t a simple initiative. The neural networks that would ostensibly be used to fill in the imaging gaps would have to be extremely precise so that patients aren’t ultimately harmed. Or, as the researchers themselves put it, “A few missing or incorrectly modeled pixels could mean the difference between an all-clear scan and one in which radiologists find a torn ligament or a possible tumor.”

Read on for the day’s news.


MIT researchers are working on implantable glucose sensors. Scientists at MIT are reportedly working on a way to use "wireless radio signals to detect sensors inside the human body," according to VentureBeat. If the project pans out, the tech could theoretically be used to home in on ingestible sensors that have a variety of practical applications, including medical imaging and shepherding drugs to precise locations for deployment. (VentureBeat)


Desperate measures: FDA expands expiration date on certain EpiPen lots. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is ramping up its efforts to fight back against an ongoing shortage of Mylan's EpiPen, the life-saving, severe allergy-busting device that's been in low supply going into the school year. The agency recently approved the first-ever generic version of the product, from Teva Pharmaceuticals; now, it's saying that specific lots of Mylan's branded EpiPen won't actually expire for four additional months. (Reuters)


Aetna CEO Bertolini on the health care system: "Everybody hates it." Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini has some thoughts on U.S. health care—mainly, that it sucks. “It’s the worst possible experience of any experience you could have,” he told my colleague Andrew Nusca in an interview a few months back during our third annual Brainstorm Health conference. The full video of the interview is now up, and it's well worth checking out for an outspoken executive's frank thoughts on our medical system. (Fortune)

The latest Fortune conference: Brainstorm Reinvent. Speaking of Fortune conferences... We have a new one coming up! Fortune Brainstorm Reinvent will take place between September 24 and 25 in Chicago this year. The inaugural event will include participants such as the CEOs of Slack, Weight Watchers, United Technologies, and dozens of other executives and focus on "the idea that leaders in every industry are confronting the need to transform their organizations for the digital age." Make sure to follow along. (Fortune)


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