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Brainstorm Health: Augmented Reality in Surgery, Air Pollution Deaths, Pfizer Novartis in NASH

Happy Monday, readers. I hope you had a great weekend.

Earlier this year, I spoke with physician-businessman extraordinaire Dr. Toby Cosgrove, longtime chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, about the role digital health technology will play in medicine. Cosgrove had plenty of thoughts to offer—including about the use of A.I. in health care—but one part of our conversation that struck out as particularly, well, cool was the potential that augmented reality has in the space.

There’s reportedly been some new progress on that very front this past week, according to health tech and imaging specialist Novarad. The firm says that its OpenSight Augmented Reality System was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the first AR system to use Microsoft’s HoloLens in pre-surgical planning.

The platform uses HoloLens to (virtually) map out images onto a patient’s body ahead of surgery—a technique that could theoretically cut down surgical planning times and give care teams more insight into the procedures they’re about to conduct. (The HoloLens’ digital nature also allows overlaid images to be seen and used by multiple users.)

It was this precise kind of cross-use capability that Cosgrove touted to me in our conversation on how the Cleveland Clinic itself now uses the HoloLens to teach anatomy. “I’m walking around a heart and I have a view I’ve never had in 40 years as a heart surgeon. The important thing is, this allows the teaching to scale,” he said.

Now, the tech may very well be coming to an OR near you.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Athenahealth voices optimism on upcoming deal. Health care IT and cloud-based data analytics firm Athenahealth tells CNBC that it’s confident on reaching a buyout deal (reportedly being pursued by multiple bidders) within the next two weeks. Earlier this year, the firm, previously headed by Jonathan Bush (who stepped down amid a swirl of controversy over the summer) was being approached by activist Paul Singer’s Elliott Management; since then, a number of private equity firms have reportedly expressed interest in snapping up the company. Athenahealth shares have fallen 8% year-to-date. (CNBC)


Pfizer, Novartis take on a common (but difficult) liver disease. Novartis and Pfizer are teaming up on disease space the companies believe can eventually rake in the big bucks—but which has also proven an elusive therapeutic area for biopharma. The drug giants will develop treatments for the liver disease NASH (which entails a buildup of fat in the liver unrelated to alcohol but very much related to obesity and diabetes). Other companies such as Allergan and Gilead have also expressed interest in this R&D space, citing the widespread prevalence of obesity and other metabolic disorders in the U.S. A blockbuster treatment has yet to emerge. (Reuters)


90% of kids breathe polluted air. A new World Health Organization (WHO) report finds that air pollution afflicts 90% of children around the world and contributes to 600,000 child deaths annually. Unsurprisingly, the numbers are far more dire in developing nations, where 98% of children under the age of 5 are exposed to more pollutants than recommended. “Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected,” said the WHO’s Dr. Maria Neira in a statement. (Fortune)

Man’s best friend’s nose for disease. Your dog’s nose knows. Seriously. Take a breather from the usual whirlwind of news this Monday afternoon and read this fascinating Wired piece on the science of why man’s best friend can sniff out diseases and infections such as malaria parasites in children. (Wired)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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