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Brainstorm Health: DNA Testing Privacy, Dementia Treating Robot, Child Vaccination Rates

Happy Friday, readers! This is Sy.

An adorable robot seal that’s meant to help elderly people with dementia is getting some serious recognition—or at least its creator, Japanese scientist and artificial intelligence pioneer Takanori Shibata, is.

Shibata has been awarded the 2018 Ryman Prize—an international scientific award worth $250,000 and is meant to honor entrepreneurs who focus on ways to improve the lives of the elderly—for his decades of work in robotics and AI for that very purpose. Shibata’s signature creation is the PARO robot; the device, which is shaped like a seriously adorable baby seal (I highly recommend checking out some videos of PARO in action for a bit of Friday decompression), is a therapy bot that’s been commercially available since 2005.

Since then, PARO has become a relatively common sigh at long-term care facilities for dementia patients. In many ways, it’s a digital version of animal/pet therapy, which provides emotional support to patients. Its various cameras, sensors, artificial intelligence capabilities, and motors allow it to respond to petting and react to patients’ calls and commands. Clinical studies have suggested it’s effective in improving mood, reducing anxiety, boosting sleep, and reducing pain perception in patients who use it.

“I set out to find a way to use technology as an alternative drug-free therapy to ease the suffering of patients with dementia,” said Shibata when accepting the Ryman Prize. “The health challenges faced by older people are enormous and growing but technology is changing just as quickly. We’ve proved that this is possible, and that AI has huge potential for the future.”

Read on for the day’s news, and have a wonderful weekend.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Researcher sounds alarm on genetic testing privacy concerns. A new study published in the journal Science suggests that sharing data gleaned from increasingly-ubiquitous consumer genetic ancestry test kits make it far easier to identify individuals. The researchers say that, regardless of whether or not a person volunteered their DNA for use, their relatives’ use of ancestry services could open them up to identification (the study was inspired the fascinating story of police using genomic databases to ID the Golden State Killer). (Gizmodo)

INDICATIONS

FDA sets generic drug approval record. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has followed through on Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s pledge to significantly ramp up generic drug approvals. In fact, the agency has set an all-time record on that front this year, with 651 full generic drug approvals and 835 total if you include tentative clearances. Gottlieb said at the outset of his appointment that speeding up generics’ market entry would be one of his main strategies for lowering drug prices through increased competition. (RAPS)

THE BIG PICTURE

Fewer American children getting their vaccines. The number of American kids getting their recommended vaccines continues to fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The overall effect is relatively minor since pre-school vaccination rates still stand at about 90% for major vaccines; but the rate of completely unvaccinated two-year-olds quadrupled from 0.3% in 2001 to 1.3% for those born in 2015. Anti-vaccine movements have been criticized for likely fosterin a resurgence in preventable childhood diseases such as measles and whooping cough. (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

Twitter Under Formal Investigation for How It Tracks Users in GDPR Eraby David Meyer

Sears Only Has Itself to Blame for Its Declineby Phil Wahba

The Stock Market Cleaned Out Billionaires Over the Past Week. Here’s Who Lost the Mostby Brittany Shoot and Glenn Fleishman

Facebook Hack Compromised 30 Million People, Exposing Phone Numbers, Emailsby Jonathan Vanian

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

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