New wallet makes using cards easier

ID cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, life seems to be filled with cards that need to be dug out of purses and wallets, which as fingers get older and joints get stiffer becomes increasingly painful. There’s currently a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new type of wallet that might make using all those cards easier.

Designed by two brothers, the “Glider” is a hard-shelled wallet that resembles an iPhone in both form and function. It’s small, extremely thin and made from a glossy polycarbonate, with a sliding bar in its center. Moving the bar makes a card emerge just far enough to be swiped. Thus, if there’s a card you need to use frequently, say to swipe at the gas pump or supermarket, all you need to do is slide the bar, rather than remove and replace the card. If you need to use a full card, pressing a button makes it emerge.

For more information on how it works, see the video on Kickstarter.

For more information on how it works, see the video on Kickstarter.

The Glider is not yet available because it is still raising funds on Kickstarter. If you want one, you have to pledge that you will buy at least one (there are various tiers of pledges available). If the fund-raising goal is met, you will receive one (or more) and be on the hook for your pledge. If it is not met, you will owe nothing, but alas, you will not get a Glider either.

Caveat: While the design is both clever and practical, we suggest you watch the video to see if either the slider bar or button might be too small for your hands. The wallet in the video is a prototype, so we can’t judge how much pressure it will take to work the slider.


Coming soon (but not soon enough!), pt.2: Fewer injections?

Continuing the theme of fewer needles = happier patients, MIT today described a possible way to deliver drugs in pill form that currently can only be injected. The problem, as the MIT press release describes, is that “many drugs, especially those made from large proteins, cannot be given as a pill because they get broken down in the stomach before they can be absorbed.” Thus, when you were hoping for a pill, you get punctured by a needle instead.

The MIT solution, we have to admit, is just this side of science fiction creepy: “a novel drug capsule coated with tiny needles that can inject drugs directly into the lining of the stomach after the capsule is swallowed.” That’s right, imagine swallowing something that acts like a tiny sea urchin.

Still, it beats needles. (And the pills are coated.)

At the moment, the pills have just started to be tested in pigs, using insulin. If full development goes forward, they are hoped to be “useful for delivering biopharmaceuticals such as antibodies, which are used to treat cancer and autoimmune disorders like arthritis and Crohn’s disease.”




Coming soon (but not soon enough!) near-painless blood draws

The only thing worse than having blood drawn is how much of it needs to be drawn. Just when you think you’ve reached your limit on needle sticks and bruising, a tech comes at you with yet another vial that needs to be filled. Entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes figured, as most of us do, there had to be a better way. Unlike the rest of us, she actually created one.

Much less intimidating.

Much less intimidating.

Starting from the premise that too much blood was required for accurate diagnosing, she and her team developed a new method of analysis that needs only a finger-prick’s worth of drops to run hundreds of tests. Her company, Theranos, is partnering with Walgreens to offer walk-in testing clinics, called Theranos Wellness Centers.

Better still, according to Wired: “The company plans to charge less than 50 percent of the standard Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. And unlike the rest of the testing industry, Theranos lists its prices on its website: blood typing, $2.05; cholesterol, $2.99; iron, $4.45. If all tests in the US were performed at those kinds of prices, the company says, it could save Medicare $98 billion and Medicaid $104 billion over the next decade.”

While a few Theranos Wellness Centers are already open in selected areas, Walgreens is still in the process of rolling them out nation-wide.


A “smart” approach to budgeting?

For many seniors, retirement and/or unexpected medical expenses mean much stricter budgeting than ever before. The Cash Smartwatch promises to help you keep on track—we only hope it can save you enough to make up for its $140 price.

Essentially, it’s a spreadsheet packed into a watch. You put in what you’re spending throughout the day and it keeps a running tally of whether you’re meeting—or alas exceeding—your budget goals.

It reinforces your habits with messages that range from upbeat cheers (“Hell yeah, who’s a budgeting superstar”) or no-punches-pulled nags (“Take the damn bus”). Online, it syncs with a website full of budget planning tools and financial advice; some of which, unfortunately, is blithely impractical, despite the watch being the creation of financial writer Nicole Lapin.

We haven’t tested the Cash Smartwatch, so we can only say that for those of you already good at budgeting, it may be overkill. You’re likely already achieving what it promises with a pad of paper and a four-dollar pocket calculator. Of course, if you’re thinking of spending $140 on a smartwatch, you’re probably exactly the sort of person who needs this.

All of that said, it could make an ideal, albeit pricey, graduation gift for a child or grandchild new to the complexities of personal finances.


FDA approves new treatment for diabetes-related vision loss

According to the American Diabetes Association, “Approximately 25% of Americans over the age of 60 years have diabetes, and aging of the U.S. population is widely acknowledged as one of the drivers of the diabetes epidemic.”

One of the more frightening consequences of diabetes is diabetic macular edema (DME), which can lead to acute vision loss. After three tries, the FDA has approved Iluvien, an implant that releases a low-dose corticosteroid over a three-year period to relieve pressure on the eye, and if all goes well, improve vision.

Alimera expects to begin selling Iluvien in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2015.

Obviously, if you’re considering having something injected into your eye, you want to have a thorough discussion with your doctor about side-effects. In the meantime, watching this demonstration video about Iluvien injection should get anyone who’s been warned about developing Type 2 diabetes to do whatever it takes to avoid the disease.


New website addresses medical conflict-of-interest

As many seniors often grumble, they see their doctors more than they see their children. If your doctor receives a payment from a drug or device company, whether lunch or full-funding of a research program, can she or he stay objective about that company’s offerings? The answer may ultimately lie with the ethics of the individual doctor,* but now at least you have some resources to understand what’s going on behind the scenes.

The Open Payments website, mandated as part of the “Physician Payments Sunshine Act,” has just been launched by the the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. According to Modern Healthcare, it’s supposed to: “to increase transparency of payments for research, consulting and promotional work and other transfers of value of $10 or more, such as gifts, travel, and meals, made by manufacturers and group purchasing organizations to physicians and teaching hospitals. There also will be information about physicians’ ownership and investment in manufacturers or group purchasing organizations.”

You should be able to use Open Payments to check on your own doctor or hospital. Unfortunately, the website is overly detailed, and frankly, confusing. ProPublica does a good job of breaking down what’s on it, and more importantly, what’s still missing. Much information is redacted, although the government promises more complete updates.

ProPublica's Dollars for Docs.

ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs.

If you’ve got a legal or medical research background, you may be able to get something out of the current version of Open Payments, but at the moment, don’t expect something as simple as typing in your doctor’s name and getting an answer. For that, we suggest ProPublica’s website Dollars for Docs which is just what you’d like, although the answers you discover may not be.

*UPDATE: The Pew Charitable Trust has just produced an infographic about drug company influence that suggests we were being overly idealistic:

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 4.54.59 PM

Click on image to enlarge.

For the full graphic with more dismaying statistics, click here.

A nanotech approach to increasing the power of antibiotics

As we age, our immune systems degrade, so the increasing ineffectiveness of many antibiotics leaves seniors especially vulnerable. According to UCLA bioengineering professor Gerard Wong, “It takes upwards of $100 million to develop one antibiotic drug, and bacteria develop resistance to it within two years. It’s a race that we can’t win.”

Fortunately, he and his colleagues have come up with a potential solution, which might be called “drug renovation” instead of drug discovery.

While much antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria mutate, the organisms also have a natural defense: persister cells, which essentially play possum by turning down the cellular processes that antibiotics would normally interrupt. Once the antibiotic attack is over, the persister cells ramp back up, causing recurrent and chronic bacterial infections.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 11.55.48 PMThe UCLA team added amino acids to a molecule of an existing antibiotic, called tobramycin, transforming it into a new, far more effective compound called “Pentobra,” which can be up to a million times more effective at killing bacteria.

“What we’ve done is make a molecule that kills with more than one mechanism,” Wong explains in UCLA’s press release. “Pentobra can punch enough holes in the cell membrane to kill the cell, but that may not be the most efficient way to kill a bug. This antibiotic also messes up their ability to grow by preventing them from making more bacterial proteins.”

Most importantly, the team believes this method can be used to re-engineer other antibiotics as well, thus, saving millions of drug development dollars and potentially, lives.

Far out tech proves practical for surgeons

With hip replacements becoming nearly as common as hair dye among seniors, we thought you might be interested in the very latest in orthopedic surgical training. It’s so far out, we’re going to have to go with the picture’s-worth-a-thousand-words cliché, and urge you to watch the video. In it, we see young French surgeons learning their craft through a 3D video recorded by their mentors. The advantage is this is the only way the apprentice surgeons can actually see the surgery from the lead surgeon’s point-of-view directly, and not as observers from the side.

As explained by The Digital Health Post, the young doctors are viewing the surgeries through the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that has been making hard-core geeks swoon like tween girls at this year’s equivalents of Frank Sinatra and Paul McCartney. The surgeries were filmed with the Go Pro Dual Hero system, which combines two of the popular action photography cameras into one unit that can create 3D stereoscopic still and video images. For those of you into photography, that should move to the top of your wish-list.


The KNFB Reader App released for iPhones

With apologies, we get just as frustrated writing about “one day real soon now” prototypes as you do reading about them, so we’re delighted to announce that the long-awaited KNFB Reader app for the iPhone has just been released.

KNFB, developed in a partnership between Ray Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind, is an uncannily accurate text-to-speech translator, which uses a cell phone’s built-in camera to perform optical character recognition. For examples, see this side-by-side comparison of an earlier version of KNFB, not yet available for iPhones, to the iPhone friendly Pizmo reader. The KNFB readings are virtually error free, while the competing responses are often sadly gibberish.

Equipped with the KNFB app, an iPhone can be aimed at anything from a menu to a street sign and give an accurate reading. It even lets users know that it’s incorrectly positioned over a piece of text or that an “unidentified printed object” that came in the mail has no text on the side the phone’s being held over.Continue Reading

A prototype for automating computer log-offs

The term “backronym” was coined to describe a phase constructed to fit a suitable word, as opposed to the simpler process of making acronyms. NASA is an acronym. ZEBRA, which stands for Zero-Effort Bilateral Recurring Authentication, is a Dartmouth research team’s triple-axel effort at a backronym.

No, not this kind. Courtesy: Odense Zoo, Denmark

No, not this kind. Courtesy: Odense Zoo, Denmark

So what does this ZEBRA do and why should seniors care? Well, it’s a somewhat complicated sounding way to solve a basic computer security problem: People forgetting to log out of websites or log off computer terminals. As the Dartmouth team’s research abstract says, “The most common solution, inactivity timeouts, inevitably fail security (too long a timeout) or usability (too short a timeout) goals.”

To solve the problem, they’ve created a prototype bracelet that has a built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, and radio. The bracelet records the wearer’s precise movements during mouse and keyboard use and communicates them to the computer terminal. If the movements start to differ, the computer knows to shut out this (presumably) different user. The team claims 85% accuracy in correctly identifying users.

We realize this seems more than a bit Rube Goldberg, but highly accurate hand movement sensing could one day find a place in medical diagnostics and physical therapy, as well as helping to keep forgetful seniors password-protected information secure.

In addition to computer security, user sensing might even be the ultimate lock-out in battles over the television remote. Now there’s a market!