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Healthy Appetites

Ashraf Amlani - Friday, July 01, 2011

There is no doubt about the extent to which modern technology influences the way we live. Less than 2 hours after the infamous Vancouver riots started following Game 7 of the Stanley cup finals, a Facebook page was created asking responsible citizens to show up at 7am in downtown Vancouver and clean up the aftermath. 12 hours later, some 10,000 people had shown their support and countless volunteers joined in the efforts to clean up the city. It inspired me to explore a topic I have been pondering for some time now: the smartphone apps revolution within the health sciences industry.

TrixieTrackerOne of the most popular use of smartphones is as tracking devices, whether it be to store vaccine records or make sure you have taken your daily dose of pills. Many diet and fitness tracking applications exist in app stores, some even estimating the required calorie intake and exercise regiment to reach the body-mass index that you desire.Other interesting apps include an Ovulation Calendar allowing women to increase their chances of conception by indicating their fertility levels and Trixie Tracker where parents can track their baby’s feeding and sleeping behavior. In addition, companies are beginning to make many monitoring devices compatible with smartphones. The iBGStar blood glucose monitor designed by Sanofi Aventis maintains a log of daily measurement of a patient’s blood sugar level, thereby allowing doctors’ to see the progression of diabetes and adjust medication appropriately.

With the world wide web being the ultimate source of information on disease symptoms and treatment, a multitude of apps exist for diagnosis and medication. Use Symptom Navigator to diagnose your ailment or test your vision on the fly with Eye Exam. Use iPharmacy to read about thousands of prescription drugs, or check out alternative therapies using Medicinal Herbs. Many medical professionals are using apps to make their jobs easier; for instance, Epocrates Rx is a pharmaceutical reference tool that allows one to get detailed information about a large variety of prescription drugs. Numerous pharmaceutical companies have also developed apps to allow physicians to determine the disease prognosis or possibility of recurrence, e.g. Novartis' IPSS and GIST calculators.

But perhaps the most recent development that rocks the foundations of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies came in early June with the FDA approval of the Remote study. Pfizer LogoDesigned to replicate a 600-patient study that was conducted in 2007 through traditional methods, this Pfizer-led clinical drug trial will be conducted entirely using computers and smartphones! Study participant are being recruited through internet ads and directed to the study website. Enrolled patients will visit local clinics to have their blood drawn, have medications mailed to them and keep diaries using a mobile phone that has an application specifically designed to track symptoms of overactive bladder. In addition, participants will fill out assessments on a secure website four times throughout the study. If proven successful, studies of this nature may become more prevalent and an accepted clinical trials practice.

RockHealth LogoWith the current generation looking to solve problems instantaneously, it is no wonder that the first tool they choose to approach is the non-biological extension of their own hands: the smartphone. So where is the future of mobile health care heading? Earlier in June, RockHealth, a seed accelerator for Web and mobile health application, chose 10 start -up companies (from 350 applications) to kickstart its program to develop next-generation mobile application for the healthcare industry.Skimble Interface The list included BrainBot (to improve mental performance), CellScope (at-home disease diagnosis), Genomera (personal health collaboration), Pipette (patient monitoring & education), Skimble (mobile fitness) and WeSprout (connecting health data and community). Many companies are investing heavily in mobile application development for healthcare, as can be seen from the increasing number of app development contests. Perhaps on of the most challenging of these is hosted by Elsevier, the world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information. The Apps for Science Contest encourages developers to create an application ”to enable over 15 million researchers globally to better “navigate scientific content, improve scientific search and discovery, [and] visualize sophisticated data in more insightful and attractive ways and stimulate collaboration”.

Canada has no shortage of brain power when it comes to innovative technology. Waterloo, Ontario, is home to Canada’s best computer engineering university and the headquarters of Research in Motion, the creators of Blackberry. Toronto is another emerging tech pocket, spearheaded by Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ), situated one floor above Google Toronto’s offices. DMZ is a space for budding entrepreneurs to get their projects off the ground, with help in the form of mentoring, financial assistance and other resources. It will be interesting to see how these digital masterminds transform the biotech sector in the years ahead.

Content for this post was derived from articles by Smart Phone Health CareNursing Degree.netInPharm: Digital Pharma BlogThe Globe & Mail, and the Wall Street Journal.

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