Discord within Apple's health team, benefits from brain training games and more digital health news briefs

Also: Why digital medicine requires data interoperability; Portable smartphone tool quickly detects cholera in the field.
By Dave Muoio
03:20 pm

Trouble in Cupertino. Morale is low and tensions are high within Apple’s health team, where conflicting ideas and strategies have led to a number of high-profile departures, according to a new report from CNBC.

While the company’s primary focus has so far been on new features for generally healthy users, anonymous employees said that some team members wanted to tackle major healthcare challenges such as telemedicine, health payments and new devices specifically focused on health. This has led a handful of prominent team members to exit the group, including Christine Eun, Brian Ellis and Matt Krey, alongside others whose departures were reported previously.

Fun for ages 8 to 80. A study published yesterday in PNAS lends support to cognitive training games, which researchers found could bring older users’ multitasking abilities closer in line to those of less practiced young adults. The trial focused on a task-switching game offered by online brain training game platform Lumosity, and examined the performance of 1,000 random users who played between 2012 and 2017. By comparing the results among users aged 21 to 80 years who had played the games fewer than 60 times to those aged 71 to 80 years who had logged at least 1,000 sessions, the team found that practice allowed older individuals to perform at a “functionally similar” level to their younger, less experienced peers.

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"The brain is not a muscle, but like our bodies, if we work out and train it, we can improve our mental performance," Mark Steyvers, a University of California, Irvine professor of cognitive sciences and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. "We discovered that people in the upper age ranges who completed specific training tasks were able to beef up their brain's ability to switch between tasks in the game at a level similar to untrained 20- and 30-year-olds."

Data silos need not apply. A recent editorial published in npj Digital Medicine offers a breakdown on the types of data interoperability, and how achieving each within healthcare will play a major role in the development and adoption of digital medicines. The writeup highlights four specific healthcare focuses toward which free-flowing data and format standardization may offer the greatest benefit: AI and big data, medical communications, medical research, and cooperation across institutions and governments.

“As interoperability requires the collaborative efforts of healthcare professionals, researchers, IT experts, data engineers and politicians, it is important to make interoperability a prominent topic in medicine and healthcare,” the authors wrote in the editorial. “Eventually, efforts to improve interoperability will pay huge dividends: With international standards and medical terminologies, interoperability can pave the way for an interconnected digital health infrastructure that overcomes barriers between individuals, organizations and countries. This will make it possible to turn digital medical data into meaningful information and improve the health and well-being of patients worldwide.”

Point-of-care cholera detection. Purdue University recently highlighted a portable smartphone-powered tool that can detect cholera in water samples within about 30 minutes. Developed at the school and currently being commercialized by affiliated startup OmniVis, the technology consists of a cradle device which houses the smartphone and disposable test kits. It was recently tested in the field thanks to a partnership with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh.

“This was such an incredible opportunity for us and an acknowledgement of the research being done by Purdue with cholera,” Dr. Katherine Clayton, cofounder of OmniVis, said in a statement. “This organization in Bangladesh has been responsible for groundbreaking research over the decades that has really transformed the world’s understanding and treatment of cholera.”