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When innovation doesn’t equal improvement

February 14, 2020, 11:02 PM UTC

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I imagine a decent number of you have seen the Sam Mendes’ World War I drama 1917, which depicts the insanity of trench warfare. So keep the movie (or any other WWI drama) in mind when thinking about this: The helmets used by soldiers in the first World War were just as effective as modern combat helmets in protecting soldiers from overhead blasts, according to a new study by Duke University researchers. Surprised? I was too.

Biomedical engineers at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering found that pretty much all helmets were effective at numbing the effects of blunt force trauma to the head and warding off shrapnel. But some of the century-old helmets fared even better at handling certain types of blasts.

“While we found that all helmets provided a substantial amount of protection against blasts, we were surprised to find that the 100-year-old helmets performed just as well as modern ones,” said lead author Joost Op ‘t Eynde in a statement accompanying the report.

And, in some cases of protecting the brain against shock waves created by nearby and overhead blasts, the old school helmets actually offered more protection than their modern counterparts.

Here’s how the engineers came to their conclusions: They strapped various helmet types on the heads and necks of dummies, which were also outfitted with “shock tubes” that emulated the effect of an overhead explosion on a soldier’s head. The specific magnitudes of the shocks were calibrated to various types of shells historically used in combat.

The pressure that made its way to the crown of a dummy’s head was then used as a proxy for determining how risky a blast might be for brain health. According to the researchers, the test’s top performer was the 1915-era French “Adrian” helmet design, which bested both German and British rivals, as well as modern day, advanced combat helmets.

It just goes to show that, sometimes, you can still take plenty of public health lessons from history.

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day. We’ll be taking a short break for Presidents’ Day on Monday, but will be back in your inboxes with more on Tuesday, February 18.

In the meantime, read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Medtronic expands its robotic surgery ambitions. Medical technology giant Medtronic is expanding its footprint in the robotic surgery space with the acquisition of London-based Digital Surgery. The purchase will bolster Medtronic's artificial intelligence and analytics surgery business. The acquisition price was not disclosed. "Computational power has impacted our lives in so many ways, and within surgery it is almost absent," said Dr. Jean Nehme, CEO and co-founder of Digital Surgery, in a statement. Digital Surgery has a product suite which includes software that helps train surgeons and sniff out efficiency gaps in the operating room. Medtronic has been putting up a challenge to rivals like Intuitive Surgical, the dominant player in the robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery field, and Johnson & Johnson

INDICATIONS

AstraZeneca shares fall as coronavirus drags its 2020 outlook. The coronavirus' effects on business supply chains round the world continued to manifest themselves on Friday. British drug giant AstraZeneca said that its 2020 financial outlook would be marred by uncertainty over the coronavirus given China's key role in its revenue pool. In 2019, some 60% of Astra's total $8.1 billion in emerging market product sales came from China (including 21% of its overall global product sales). The ongoing disruptions in China related to the Covid-19 outbreak clearly represent a threat to the company's business. AstraZeneca stock dropped as much as 4% in Friday trading. (Fortune)

The windfall of cancer immunotherapy drugs. Cancer immunotherapy has been booming over the past few years, with new treatments such as Merck's Keytruda and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo raking in billions in sales across dozens of different cancer types. That hasn't just inflated drug makers' bottom lines—it's been a boon to investors as well, writes Ryan Derousseau for Fortune. Ryan writes that immuno-oncology treatments were a $22 billion business in 2019 alone, and that titanic figure could nearly double by 2023. What has that meant for investors? Growing demand for shares of companies like Roche, which earns nearly 60% of pharmaceutical revenues from cancer therapies, and bullish outlooks for other firms in the space. (Fortune)

THE BIG PICTURE

Parsing China's fluctuating coronavirus counts. Tracking a virus' spread can be tricky business (not to mention a source of confusion and frustration). But this evolving information is critical to keep track of since it provides context about critical issues such as transmission and mortality rates. For instance, Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began, reported 15,000 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday; another 5,000 patients were added to the count on Friday—but at the same time, the city has been shifting its total death count from the virus, adding certain deaths while subtracting others from the tally. What gives? A combination of adjustments for double-counting and reporting previously unconfirmed cases to provide a more detailed count. (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

Putting politics aside to close the skills gapby Alan Murray

Why a strong dollar and cheap oil could mean bad news for marketsby Bernhard Warner

Coronavirus has had a multi-billion dollar impact on a (former) world's richest manby Adrian Croft

Mobile World Congress vows to return after canceling this year's event over coronavirus concernsby Aaron Pressman

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