As anyone who has watched 28 Days Later can attest, the idea of a virus spinning out of control is one fear that haunts us. And with the outbreaks of bird flu, the H1N1 virus and the risk of equally serious influenza strains in the future, it’s not hard to understand why. With the buzz 3-D printers have generated, meet a company that has developed a 3-D printing technology that could potentially print vaccines to combat a contagion. Talk about your anti-virus software.
Craig Venter’s company Syntheic Genomics was just one of several innovators at the inaugural Wired Health conference with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New York this week. Among other topics explored at the conference were the uses of big data in healthcare and how robots could be directed by doctors with the idea of making healthcare more efficient and accessible.
The concept behind Synthetic Genomics’ technology is that by digitizing the strains of a virus, it can rapidly produce a vaccine using 3-D printing. It could stamp out a virus more rapidly, saving countless lives. In 2010 it signed an agreement with Novartis to use synthetic genomics tools and technologies to speed up the production of the influenza seed strains needed for vaccine manufacturing, according to its website. It is also working on taking DNA from one type of cell, injecting it into another, and letting that “genetic software” reprogram its host, according to coverage of Venter’s presentation in Wired. In addition to producing a cool vaccine, 3-D printing is being put to use for many other applications.
In an effort to make the concept of big data more tangible to a wider audience, Rick Smolan talked about the recent launch of a crowd sourced media project called the Human Face of Big Data. The app for iPhone and Android asks users dozens of questions about where they are based, their lifestyle and beliefs to collect and analyze a lot of data in real-time.
Robots were also on the agenda. InTouch Health takes robot-driven telerounds to a new level. A remote physician appearing on a screen is carried on a wheeled cart, interacting with patients from one bedside to the next. The twist is the robots would carry out the physician’s orders. Charlie Huiner, the vice president of InTouch Health spoke to the company’s CEO, Yulun Wang, who appeared on the screen in a demonstration of its robot model RP-Vita. Wang said: “It’s like the movie Avatar, but for medical applications.” The robot can also interface with third-party apps. The thinking is that smaller hospitals that cannot afford to have a full time specialist for some areas on staff would pay a subscription fee to the company in exchange for a specialist transmissions from a physician hundreds of miles away.
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