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Technology & Health

Epilepsy Gets an App

Bhutan has one EEG machine, 0 qualified neurologists and 10,000 epilepsy sufferers. Here—and throughout the developing world—persistent fears and superstitions often stigmatize those with the disease, preventing them from seeking medical treatment. And for sufferers who do seek care, a lack of medical resources often leads to misdiagnosis, especially tragic today when effective and affordable treatments are available.

Alumna and neurologist Farrah Mateen, MD, PhD '14, whose first trip to Bhutan in 2009 was as a graduate student, is committed to using technology to develop affordable diagnostics and interventions for brain disorders. Now, after many return trips to the country, she’s beginning clinical trials of a low-cost mobile EEG device that combines open-source sensor technology with a smartphone app that’s over 50 times less expensive than a traditional EEG machine.

The technology, which takes the form of a shower cap, has the potential to become a routine diagnostic tool in developing countries, home to 90% of the world’s 65 million epilepsy sufferers.

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mHealth Technology
Could Save Millions

While many industrialized countries still rely on old-fashioned wired telecommunications infrastructures, developing countries have often been able to “leapfrog” over the problems of older systems by directly adopting mobile telecommunications technology.

And it’s this advantage, finds Alain Labrique, PhD ’07, MHS ’99, MS, founding director of the JHU Global mHealth Initiative, that may allow for mobile health (or “mHealth”) innovations that could save millions of lives. 

In some of his own research, Labrique is exploring the use of cell phones in rural Bangladesh to help promote prenatal care with apps that schedule prenatal medical appointments and send regular reminders. 

Read Labrique’s recent column in Forbes to learn more about the lifesaving potential of mHealth.

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Skipping the Waiting Room
with a Smartphone

For those who don’t like going to the doctor, the future is looking brighter, according to researchers at the Bloomberg School and The Commonwealth Fund.

A new study, led by Jonathan Weiner, DrPH '81, MS, professor of Health Policy and Management, finds that the increasing use of innovative new “e-health” apps and electronic health records could dramatically reduce the need for in-person doctor visits in the future and lead to more effective and efficient health care in the U.S.

Before too long, the authors suggest, the majority of patients' interactions with health care systems will be through digital platforms.

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It’s Alive! Creating
Organisms in the Lab

While biological engineers have made substantial progress in creating wholly synthetic chromosomes and DNA in the lab, most work has focused on simple organisms called prokaryotes with easily accessible, single strands of DNA. The ability to engineer chromosomes for more complex organisms known as eukaryotes (including all plants, animals and fungi) has eluded synthetic biologists.

Until now.

Environmental Health Sciences professor Srinivasan Chandrasegaran, PhD, and colleagues created an artificial eukaryote chromosome and inserted it into living brewer's yeast cells, a breakthrough that takes synthetic biology from theory to reality. Learn more about how the field may lead to the engineering of organisms that could be “programmed” to produce everything from alcohol to new biofuels.

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GPS Bracelets Fight
Malaria Outbreaks

Malaria is spread by mosquitoes—and mosquitoes don’t respect geographical borders. That makes tracking the deadly disease across national boundaries a difficult, if not impossible, task for researchers seeking to wipe out the dreaded parasitic infection.

Even in areas where malaria is under control, simple cross-border foot traffic can reignite an epidemic, as travelers pick up and carry the Plasmodium parasite. But Bloomberg School epidemiologist William Moss, MD, MPH, is heading up research to bring GPS precision to malaria prevention efforts.

By monitoring the signals of GPS-enabled bracelets worn by study participants from southern Zambia’s Choma District, Moss is able to track their movements on a malaria risk map, data that could provide insight into the impact of human travel on malaria outbreaks. While he had doubts that locals would agree to wear the devices, “it turns out,” he notes, “that they thought it was really cool.”

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