What causes the body to age?


What causes the body to age?

The Greek Philosopher Aristotle thought it was the heart—a “hot, dry” organ at the seat of intelligence, motion, and sensation.

Fast-forward a few centuries, and the brain has overthrown the heart as master of thought. But its control over bodily aging—if any—was unclear. Because each organ has its own pool of stem cells to replenish aged tissue, scientists have long thought that the body has multiple “aging clocks” running concurrently.

As it turns out, that’s not quite right.

This week, a study published in Nature threw a wrench into the classical theory of aging. In a technical tour-de-force, a team led by Dr. Dongsheng Cai from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine pinpointed a critical source of aging to a small group of stem cells within the hypothalamus—an “ancient” brain region that controls bodily functions such as temperature and appetite.

Like fountains of youth, these stem cells release tiny fatty bubbles filled with mixtures of small biological molecules called microRNAs. With age, these cells die out, and the animal’s muscle, skin and brain function declines.

However, when the team transplanted these stem cells from young animals into a middle-aged one, they slowed aging. The recipient mice were smarter, more sociable and had better muscle function. And—get this—they also lived 10 to 15 percent longer than mice transplanted with other cell types.

To Dr. David Sinclair, an aging expert at Harvard Medical School, the findings represent a “breakthrough” in aging research.

“The brain controls aging,” he says. “I can see a day when we are implanted with stem cells or treated with stem cell RNAs that improve our health and extend our lives.”

Hypothalamus: The Ancient Brain

It’s incredible to think that a tiny group of cells in one brain region could be the key to aging.

But to Cai, there are plenty of examples throughout evolution that support the theory. Experimentally changing a few of the 302 neurons in the nematode worm C. elegans is often sufficient for changing its lifespan, he says.

Of course, a mammalian brain is much more complicated than a simple worm. To narrow the problem down, Cai decided to zero in on the hypothalamus.

“The hypothalamus has a classical function to regulate the whole body’s physiology,” he says, “so there’s a natural logic for us to reason that the hypothalamus might be involved in aging, which was never studied before.”

Even so, it was a high-risk bet. The hippocampus—because of its importance in maintaining memory with age—is the most popular research target. And while the hypothalamus was previously somehow linked to aging, no one knew how.

Cai’s bet paid off. In a groundbreaking paper published in 2013, he found that a molecule called NF-kappaB increased in the hypothalamus as an animal grew older. Zap out NF-kappaB activity in mice, and they showed much fewer age-related symptoms as they grew older.

But here’s the kicker: the effects weren’t limited to brain function. The animals also better preserved their muscle strength, skin thickness, bone and tendon integrity. In other words, by changing molecules in a single part of the brain, the team slowed down signs of aging in the peripheral body.

Stranger Cells

But to Cai, he had only solved part of the aging puzzle.

At the cellular level, a cornucopia of factors control aging. There is no the key to aging, no single molecule or pathway that dominates the process. Inflammation, which NF-kappaB regulates, is a big contributor. As is the length of telomeres, the protective end caps of DNA, and of course, stem cells.

Compared to other tissues in the body, stem cells in the brain are extremely rare. So imagine Cai’s excitement when, just a few years ago, he learned that the hypothalamus contains these nuggets of youth.

Now we can put the two threads together, and ask whether stem cells in the hypothalamus somehow regulate aging, he says.

In the first series of experiments, his team found that these stem cells, which line a V-shaped region of the hypothalamus, disappear as an animal ages.

To see whether declined stem cell function contributes to aging, rather as a result of old age, the researchers used two different types of toxins to wipe out 70 percent of stem cells while keeping mature neurons intact.

The results were striking. Over a period of four months, these mice aged much faster: their muscle endurance, coordination, and treadmill performance tanked. Mentally, they had trouble navigating a water maze and showed less interest in socializing with other mice.

“All of these physiological changes reflected an acceleration in aging,” Cai and team concluded in their article.

And the consequences were dire: the animals died months earlier than similar transgenic animals without the toxin treatment.

Spring Back

If the decline in stem cell function is to blame for aging, then resupplying the aged brain with a fresh source of stem cells should be able to reinvigorate the animal.

To test this idea, the team isolated stem cells from the hippocampus of newborn mice, and tinkered with their genes so that they were more resilient to inflammation.

We know the aged hypothalamus has more inflammation and that hurts stem cells, so this step was necessary, explained the authors.

When transplanted into middle-aged mice, they showed better cognitive and muscular function four months later. What’s more, they lived, on average, 10 percent longer than mice transplanted with other cell types. For a human, that means extending an 85-year life expectancy into 93. Not too shabby.

But the best was yet to come. How can a few cells have such a remarkable effect on aging? In a series of follow-up experiments, the team found that the pool of biological molecules called microRNAs was to thank.

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microRNAs are tiny molecules with gigantic influence. They come in various flavors, bearing rather unimaginative names like “106a-5p,” “20a-5p” and so on. But because they can act on multiple genes at the same time, they pack a big punch. A single type of microRNA can change the way a cell works—whether it activates certain signaling pathways or makes certain proteins, for example.

While most cells make microRNAs, Cai found that the hypothalamus stem cells have a “unique, very strong” ability to pack these molecules up into blobs of membrane and shoot them out like a bubble gun.

Once outside the cell, the microRNAs go on a fantastic voyage across the brain and body, where they tweak the biology of other tissues.

In fact, when the team injected purified little bubbles of microRNAs into middle-aged mice, they also saw broad rejuvenating effects.

Cai explains: we don’t know if the microRNAs are pumped out to directly affect the rest of the body, or if they first act on different areas of the brain, and the brain goes on to regulate aging in the body.

Forever Young

Even so, the aging field is intrigued.

According to Dr. Leonard Guarente, an aging biologist at MIT, the study could lead to new ways to develop anti-aging therapies.

What’s more, it’s possible the intervention could stack with other known rejuvenating methods, such as metforminyoung blood or molecules that clean out malfunctioning cells.

It’s possible that stem-cell therapy could boost the hypothalamus’ ability to regulate aging. However, scientists still need to know how stem cells link with the hypothalamus’ other main role, that is, releasing hormones.

Of course, injecting cells into the brain isn’t a practical treatment. The team is now working hard to identify which of the thousands of types of microRNAs control aging and what exactly they do.

Then the goal is to validate those candidate anti-aging microRNAs in primates, and eventually, humans.

“Of course humans are more complex. However, if the mechanism is fundamental, you might expect to see effects when an intervention is based on it,” says Cai.

Shelly Xuelai Fan is a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, where she studies ways to make old brains young again. In addition to research, she’s also an avid science writer with an insatiable obsession with biotech, AI and all things neuro. She spends her spare time kayaking, bike camping and getting lost in the woods.

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Nurse as Maker: Democratizing Medical Innovation Starts Here

Inventing and improving medical devices can be a long and arduous process. Oftentimes it’s also a process that takes place far from the end user—the patient.

But what if research and development of medical devices was democratized? What if the practitioners who work most closely with patients were brought into the product innovation pipeline?

This is what Anna Young, co-founder at MakerNurse and MakerHealth, spoke about last week at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine summit.

Young believes nurses, when empowered with the right tools, can use their own ingenuity to create effective medical devices. This is exactly what MakerNurse is after.

MakerNurse was launched in 2013 as a community of nurses focused on creating inventive new solutions that improve patient care. The MakerNurse community is paired with the founding company, MakerHealth, which builds clinical makerspaces in hospitals to provide training and tools for nurses to create new medical devices.

Historically, nurses have always been makers and creative problem solvers for patient needs. In fact, from the early 1900s until the late 1970s, nurses even had a publication devoted to showcasing new medical devices and outlining how other nurses can re-create them.

Considering how closely nurses work with their patients, it makes sense that this would be a powerful group for inventing new patient solutions.

Young says, “Nurses are faster than a medical device company and they’re closer to the patient than an engineer ever will be…the timelines, turnarounds, and the feedback loops that nurses have with their patients are unlike anything else inside of our healthcare system.”

Back in 2009 Young and her team first dove into this idea during a partnership with MIT’s Little Devices Lab and the International American Development Bank.

Together, they launched a health prototyping tool kit across Nicaragua called MEDIKit. It was a test to see whether mixing in-lab technology with local supply chains would change how medical devices were made.

From this initial idea, the team took it a step further.

Young says, “We thought, ‘What if we installed a makerspace in Nicaragua? What if we get a clinical makerspace and give people access to it?’”

The team installed a makerspace between a hospital and a nursing school. The space was 100 feet away from the hospital, but even this small distance proved to be too far. The hospital staff was too busy to leave and use the space.

Anna-Young-speaking-Singularity-University-Exponential-Medicine-2017
Anna Young speaking at Singularity University’s 2017 Exponential Medicine Summit in San Diego, CA.

This frustrating discovery, however, helped the team learn that they needed to build the makerspaces inside the hospital, which is exactly what MakerHealth now does. What’s inside the spaces?

Through the MakerNurse community, Young’s team conducted a research study to learn what tools and materials are most critical at the point of care.

“We overlaid this information with the tools and materials we’ve been using inside the lab to land on what’s inside the MakerHealth space today,” Young explained.

As MakerHealth has grown, they’ve learned that providing tools alone isn’t always enough; education in technology literacy for nurses is critical too.

With this in mind, the team is building programs to create technology literacy for practitioners, and is also working to build a platform to support a global network of health makers to engage in peer-to-peer learning.

Nurses aren’t the only people empowered when given the necessary tools for innovation. The patient is the true beneficiary of democratizing the medical innovation process.

It’s a great example of how a new shiny product alone isn’t always the best solution. Sometimes the best solutions are scrappy and created in close feedback loops packed with insights from real users—in this case, patients.

Image Credit: Romaset / Shutterstock.com

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New Amazon hire isn’t worried about his 5,000 robot colleagues

New Amazon hire isn’t worried about his 5,000 new robot colleagues

Christopher Musco landed a job at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey on Wednesday, and he can’t wait to meet his new colleagues — 5,000 robots.

“I’ll be working with the robots, mechanics and machines. It’s a really high-tech building and it’s definitely one of the finest I’ve ever seen,” the 22-year-old told Yahoo Finance, noting that he was impressed after a tour of the multilevel, 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse.

We visited one of the 10 job fairs Amazon recently held throughout the US, and robots were definitely a highlight. While hundreds of applicants waited in line, a screen displayed videos of how robots work. “It’s really exciting to see the robots. It’s fun. I promise,” an Amazon employee told applicants while they waited for a tour.

Amazon’s increasing its human and robot workforce

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Lines outside Amazon’s giant fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey. (Krystal Hu/Yahoo Finance)
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Inside the warehouse, applicants saw how robots move around shelves to the pick-up station for workers. The facility is expecting to add hundreds of positions to the current 4,500 employees in the Robbinsville fulfillment center.

While Amazon is hiring humans for its warehouses around the US, the e-commerce titan is also betting on robots. Last year, 45,000 robots worked alongside Amazon associates in more than 20 fulfillment centers, a 50% increase from 2015. At the same time, human employees also rose 48% to 341,400.

The latest numbers shows the investment in robotics is speeding up. Since this May, the company added roughly 20,000 robots in over 25 fulfillment centers worldwide. The shift began when Amazon bought Kiva Systems, a robotics company and later rolled out Kiva’s robots to automate the picking and packing process in 2014.

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A worker in one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers.
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“It was something I’ve seen in the movies. It was great to see them at work,” Shaheryar Abbasi, a Pennsylvania State University graduate who just got a job in operations, told Yahoo Finance. “They’re pretty pretty organized. Working with them will be really exciting.”

Will warehouse jobs diminish like manufacturing jobs?

Despite the optimism shared by several new hires, robots have in fact been displacing some workers in the US, at least in the manufacturing industry. Roughly 85% of the US manufacturing job losses between 2000 and 2010 were due to automation, according to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.

And Amazon’s “smart house” is already testing the limit of human-machine collaboration. “The way Amazon is doing this is specifically creating two distinct zones: One is primarily a robot zone and the other one is primarily a human zone. There’s a very focused point where these zones come together and they exchange the products,” Vikash Kumar, a roboticist at OpenAI, told Yahoo Finance. “Over the time, the robot zone will expand and come closer to the human as the robot’s capability grows.”

That doesn’t seem to be a concern to Musco for now. The former pizza-delivery man feels it’s safer to work with robots, because there is less room for “human errors.”

“There are certain things human can do but robots can’t. I’m not worried about being replaced by robots,” he said. “In the end, you need that human touch.”

Krystal Hu covers e-commerce for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter

 

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Why the Best Healthcare Hacks Are the Most Low-Tech

Technology has the potential to solve some of our most intractable healthcare problems. In fact, it’s already doing so, with inventions getting us closer to a medical Tricorder, and progress toward 3D printed organs, and AIs that can do point-of-care diagnosis.

No doubt these applications of cutting-edge tech will continue to push the needle on progress in medicine, diagnosis, and treatment. But what if some of the healthcare hacks we need most aren’t high-tech at all?

According to Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, this is exactly the case. In a talk at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine last week, Sanghavi told the audience, “We often think in extremely complex ways, but I think a lot of the improvements in health at scale can be done in an analog way.”

Sanghavi is the chief medical officer and senior vice president of translation at OptumLabs, and was previously director of preventive and population health at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, where he oversaw the development of large pilot programs aimed at improving healthcare costs and quality.

“How can we improve health at scale, not for only a small number of people, but for entire populations?” Sanghavi asked. With programs that benefit a small group of people, he explained, what tends to happen is that the average health of a population improves, but the disparities across the group worsen.

“My mantra became, ‘The denominator is everybody,’” he said. He shared details of some low-tech but crucial fixes he believes could vastly benefit the US healthcare system.

1. Regulatory Hacking

Healthcare regulations are ultimately what drive many aspects of patient care, for better or worse. Worse because the mind-boggling complexity of regulations (exhibit A: the Affordable Care Act is reportedly about 20,000 pages long) can make it hard for people to get the care they need at a cost they can afford, but better because, as Sanghavi explained, tweaking these regulations in the right way can result in across-the-board improvements in a given population’s health.

An adjustment to Medicare hospitalization rules makes for a relevant example. The code was updated to state that if people who left the hospital were re-admitted within 30 days, that hospital had to pay a penalty. The result was hospitals taking more care to ensure patients were released not only in good health, but also with a solid understanding of what they had to do to take care of themselves going forward. “Here, arguably the writing of a few lines of regulatory code resulted in a remarkable decrease in 30-day re-admissions, and the savings of several billion dollars,” Sanghavi said.

2. Long-Term Focus

It’s easy to focus on healthcare hacks that have immediate, visible results—but what about fixes whose benefits take years to manifest? How can we motivate hospitals, regulators, and doctors to take action when they know they won’t see changes anytime soon?

“I call this the reality TV problem,” Sanghavi said. “Reality shows don’t really care about who’s the most talented recording artist—they care about getting the most viewers. That is exactly how we think about health care.”

Sanghavi’s team wanted to address this problem for heart attacks. They found they could reliably determine someone’s 10-year risk of having a heart attack based on a simple risk profile. Rather than monitoring patients’ cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, and other individual factors, the team took the average 10-year risk across entire provider panels, then made providers responsible for controlling those populations.

“Every percentage point you lower that risk, by hook or by crook, you get some people to stop smoking, you get some people on cholesterol medication. It’s patient-centered decision-making, and the provider then makes money. This is the world’s first predictive analytic model, at scale, that’s actually being paid for at scale,” he said.

3. Aligned Incentives

If hospitals are held accountable for the health of the communities they’re based in, those hospitals need to have the right incentives to follow through. “Hospitals have to spend money on community benefit, but linking that benefit to a meaningful population health metric can catalyze significant improvements,” Sanghavi said.

Darshak-Sanghavi-speaking-Exponential-Medicine-Singularity-University-2017-XMED
Darshak Sanghavi speaking at Singularity University’s 2017 Exponential Medicine Summit in San Diego, CA.

He used smoking cessation as an example. His team designed a program where hospitals were given a score (determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) based on the smoking rate in the counties where they’re located, then given monetary incentives to improve their score. Improving their score, in turn, resulted in better health for their communities, which meant fewer patients to treat for smoking-related health problems.

4. Social Determinants of Health

Social determinants of health include factors like housing, income, family, and food security. The answer to getting people to pay attention to these factors at scale, and creating aligned incentives, Sanghavi said, is “Very simple. We just have to measure it to start with, and measure it universally.”

His team was behind a $157 million pilot program called Accountable Health Communities that went live this year. The program requires all Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries get screened for various social determinants of health. With all that data being collected, analysts can pinpoint local trends, then target funds to address the underlying problem, whether it’s job training, drug use, or nutritional education. “You’re then free to invest the dollars where they’re needed…this is how we can improve health at scale, with very simple changes in the incentive structures that are created,” he said.

5. ‘Securitizing’ Public Health

Sanghavi’s final point tied back to his discussion of aligning incentives. As misguided as it may seem, the reality is that financial incentives can make a huge difference in healthcare outcomes, from both a patient and a provider perspective.

Sanghavi’s team did an experiment in which they created outcome benchmarks for three major health problems that exist across geographically diverse areas: smoking, adolescent pregnancy, and binge drinking. The team proposed measuring the baseline of these issues then creating what they called a social impact bond. If communities were able to lower their frequency of these conditions by a given percent within a stated period of time, they’d get paid for it.

“What that did was essentially say, ‘you have a buyer for this outcome if you can achieve it,’” Sanghavi said. “And you can try to get there in any way you like.” The program is currently in CMS clearance.

AI and Robots Not Required

Using robots to perform surgery and artificial intelligence to diagnose disease will undoubtedly benefit doctors and patients around the US and the world. But Sanghavi’s talk made it clear that our healthcare system needs much more than this, and that improving population health on a large scale is really a low-tech project—one involving more regulatory and financial innovation than technological innovation.

“The things that get measured are the things that get changed,” he said. “If we choose the right outcomes to predict long-term benefit, and we pay for those outcomes, that’s the way to make progress.”

Image Credit: Wonderful Nature / Shutterstock.com

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Dinosaurs Could Have Avoided Mass Extinction If the Killer Asteroid Had Landed Almost Anywhere Else

The decline of the dinosaurs, the rise of mammals and, ultimately, the origins of humans were even more unlikely than previously thought, according to new research. The huge asteroid collision that sparked this change in the Earth’s diversity was already a highly improbable roll of the celestial dice. But a new study suggests the mass extinction that followed it was only so severe because of where the asteroid struck.

Scientists believe the dinosaurs were largely wiped out 66 million years ago when an asteroid collision released a huge dust and soot cloud that triggered global climate change. The researchers, from Tohoku University in Japan, claim that the soot necessary for such a global catastrophe could only have come from a direct impact on rocks especially rich in hydrocarbons.

Rocks like this would only have been found on about 13% of the Earth’s surface. Add to this the need for a liberal dose of toxic sulfurous compounds in the rocks, and the odds that an impact of the same size (an already astronomically rare event) would have such devastating consequences lengthen to just one in 100.

The impact crater created by the 10-kilometer-diameter asteroid is located close to Chicxulub on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula and was only identified as recently as 1991. Before then, it was hidden to scientists because it lay partly under a blanket of sediment on the seabed.

The underlying rocks were composed of gypsum (rich in sulfur) and also contained large reserves of hydrocarbons. Had the impact occurred a few hundred miles away, or indeed at most locations on the globe, then the consequences of the collision may have been vastly less severe. Terrestrial dinosaurs and many other groups may never have been driven to extinction, and their survival may have hindered or completely prevented the later spread of mammals—and, of course, humans.

Global blackout. Image Credit: Herschel Hoffmeyer / Shutterstock.com

The immediate blast and resulting shock and tidal waves would have killed much in their path no matter where the impact had occurred. Earthquakes and volcanic activity would have been triggered worldwide, and pieces of burning debris may have started extensive wildfires.

But it’s unlikely this would have caused the global extinction of huge numbers of species. Such immediate effects were relatively short-lived, and the real damage, as the researchers show, probably came from fine particulate matter ejected high into the stratosphere. The worst culprit, they argue, would have been fine hydrocarbon soots. This new research claims that those catapulted into the upper atmosphere probably originated from rocks at the impact site rather than from forest fires.

Soot in the stratosphere could have simply blocked out the sun over a period of years, creating the equivalent of a nuclear winter, shutting down photosynthesis and decimating ecosystems as a result. But the researchers argue that as well as general darkening, the effects upon climate were more varied, resulting in droughts towards the equator and more extreme cooling at mid to high latitudes. Sulfate aerosols would also have caused acid rain, altering ocean chemistry and stressing marine and terrestrial ecosystems alike.

The Tohoku scientists used global climate models to predict the size of these effects depending upon the geology of where the asteroid struck, as well as the volume and chemistry of the material thrown into the upper atmosphere. In most other locations, it wouldn’t have produced such devastating results. It seems that the Earth could not have been hit anywhere much worse.

The next mass extinction

All species inevitably go extinct and the history of life on Earth is one of constant turnover. Extinctions also occur at all scales, from the demise of individual species to what we call “mass events” that see 75% or more of species wiped out globally. There have been five such mass events over the last half billion years, and we appear to be sleepwalking into a sixth of our own making thanks to pollution, habitat destruction, and hunting.

The possibility of a future asteroid impact is also very real. NASA’s Near Earth Object Program seeks to map out the trajectories of comets and asteroids that appear set to come close to the Earth. Plans are afoot to develop technologies capable of deflecting objects on a collision course.

But in the meantime, this new research suggests that we should worry slightly less about the probable consequences of the next extraterrestrial disaster, focus our attention closer to home, and reflect on our outrageous good fortune for being here in the first place.

Matthew Wills, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at the Milner Centre for Evolution, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image Credit: muratart / Shutterstock.com 

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Virtual Reality Is Reshaping Medical Training and Treatment

Arthur C. Clarke, a British science fiction writer, is well known for once writing, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Consumer virtual reality is going through a rough patch as high expectations and hype have deflated somewhat, but when VR does work, it can feel a bit like magic.

At Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine Summit this week, the audience learned about fascinating virtual reality applications within a mix of medical contexts.

Here’s a look at two we found particularly interesting.

Surgical Training in Virtual Reality

Shafi Ahmed, co-founder of Virtual Medics and Medical Realities, spoke again this year at Exponential Medicine. Last year we wrote about Ahmed’s efforts to solve the huge global shortage of trained surgeons:

“According to the Lancet commission on global surgery, the surgical workforce would have to double to meet the needs of basic surgical care for the developing world by 2030. Dr. Ahmed imagines being able to train thousands of surgeons simultaneously in virtual reality.”

With this in mind, Ahmed made a splash back in 2014 when he reached 14,000 surgeons across 100 different countries by using Google Glass to stream a surgical training session. In 2016, Ahmed took this a step further by live-streaming a cancer surgery in virtual reality that was shot in 360-degree video while he removed a colon tumor from a patient.

Ahmed’s philosophy is clear. He says, “Forget one-to-one. My idea is one to many. I want to share knowledge with the masses.” To achieve this, his company Medical Realities is building the world’s first interactive VR training module for surgeons. After these successes, Ahmed began searching for other low-cost, high-tech platforms to leverage for surgical training. He landed on social media.

Last year, Ahmed used Snapchat glasses to record an operation in ten-second clips that were uploaded to his Snapchat story. It was a huge success, receiving two million views and 100,000 YouTube downloads. Ahmed said, “It’s incredible reach, and it’s free. That’s the kind of world we live in.” Ahmed also streamed Twitter’s first live operation.

Now, Ahmed is working with virtual reality company Thrive to push the boundaries of remote collaboration in virtual reality. The platform enables doctors to remotely log into a shared virtual office to discuss patient cases. Ahmed showed an example of four doctors from four different locations who logged into a virtual office together to discuss a patient’s case in real time. Inside the virtual office the doctors were even able to access and review patients’ medical files.

Virtual Reality for Therapeutics

Brennan Spiegel, a pioneer of VR in healthcare at Cedars-Sinai, has witnessed firsthand the positive impact of using virtual reality with patients for therapeutic treatment. At Cedars-Sinai, Spiegel leads a team that studies how technologies like smartphone apps, VR, wearable biosensors, and social media can improve health outcomes.

Some of the findings have been incredible.

Spiegel told the story of a young adult suffering from severe Crohn’s disease, which forced him to spend 100 days of the last year in the hospital. The most healing environment he can think of, however, is his grandmother’s living room. Spiegel’s team was able to place a Samsung 360 camera in the grandmother’s living room then give the patient a VR headset to virtually transport him there. The experience nearly brought him to tears and is a perfect example of how VR can make patients in hospital treatment more comfortable.

Spiegel’s team also had success using VR to help men with high blood pressure. Inside of the VR program, users are transported into a kitchen and educated on which types of food contain sodium. The program then brings users inside a human body, where they can see the targeted impact of the sodium intake.

Spiegel’s dream is to see a VR pharmacy where the right treatment experience is mapped to the right patient.

Virtual and augmented reality are creating novel methods in health care for treatment, training, and doctor collaboration. These are just a few examples of practical uses showing VR’s potential applied to medicine. In many ways, however, this is only the beginning of what’s to come as VR and AR mature.

Technology doesn’t always need to feel like magic, but when it can for a struggling patient or doctor seeking access to training, that’s an extraordinary thing for health care.

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