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  1. Living Health
4 December 2015

Improving lives – one miracle at a time

Recent innovations in healthcare technology are now enabling people to achieve things they never thought possible.

By Becky Slack

Advances in healthcare technology are disrupting our world like never before. They are having a huge impact upon the way in which care is delivered, and transforming the lives of the patients.

The Breathless Choir – helping those with severe breathing difficulties to sing

Prior to this autumn, breathing was a constant challenge for Claire, aged 18, with severe lung complications from cystic fibrosis. Singing was therefore out of the question – or so she thought, until she discovered Philips’ Breathless Choir initiative. Led by a choirmaster, the Breathless Choir brought together 18 people who each had debilitating respiratory health problems. Alongside Claire was Evie, a mum of two with COPD, Addison’s disease and chronic pneumonia, and Lawrence, a 9/11 first responder with chronic lung problems from his rescue efforts at the Twin Towers.

Philips’ commitment to improving lives was demonstrated in an unexpected and emotional way throughout this campaign. None of the 18 participants thought it was possible he or she could learn to sing. With the help of the choirmaster’s expertise and Philips SimplyGo Mini portable oxygenating devices, the singers’ lung capacity was strengthened so much they were able to perform live. Their emotional wellbeing was improved too. Being part of a choir helps people form bonds. The social activity of singing and the fun it creates can help people feel liberated form their life-changing illnesses.

Philips’ SimplyGo Mini portable oxygen concentrator (POC) provides nearly 20 per cent more oxygen output than any lightweight POC, enabling respiratory patients to live life to the full and for them not to be defined by their illness.

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A bionic arm allows a paralysed person to ‘feel’ again 

A paralysed volunteer has been given a revolutionary prosthetic hand that will allow them to ‘feel’ physical sensations for the first time in ten years.

The organisation behind this life-changing project, Darpa (the US government’s defence research agency), is primarily famous for its work in military robotics and, specifically, drones. However, the aim of this project has been to find a way of enabling people with paralysis or missing limbs to manipulate objects using a robotic prosthesis that is directly connected to their brain. The wires in the brain are then linked up to electrode arrays, which are placed on the volunteer’s sensory cortex – thus reconnecting the patient with their sense of touch.

When tested, the volunteer was able to distinguish even very light touches with almost 100 per cent accuracy.

“At one point, instead of pressing one finger, the team decided to press two without telling him,” said Justin Sanchez, who manages the Darpa programme.

“He responded in jest asking whether somebody was trying to play a trick on him. That is when we knew that the feelings he was perceiving through the robotic hand were near-natural,” he added.

Woman’s skull replaced with a 3D print-out

A 22-year old woman from the Netherlands who suffers from a deadly bone disorder has had half her skull replaced with a 3D print out.

The condition has caused her skull to increase in thickness from 1.5cm to 5cm, causing problems with her eyesight as well as severe headaches. The condition would one day have killed her.

“It was only a matter of time before critical brain functions were compromised and she would die,” said Dr Bon Verweij, who led the operation.

Thankfully, evolutions in 3D printing meant that the surgery was possible and successful. The procedure, which took 23 hours, was undertaken by a team of neurosurgeons at the University Medical Centre Utrecht – and was the first time a 3D printed cranium has not been rejected by the patient.

Since the operation, the patient has regained her sight, is symptom free and has even gone back to work.

“It is almost impossible to see that she’s ever had surgery,” said Dr Verweij.

Gene therapy has been discovered that can help blind people see

A gene therapy procedure could soon restore sight in patients suffering from retinal damage.

Retinitis pigmentosa – an umbrella term for human inherited eye conditions where the light-sensing cells contained in the retina become damaged or die – affects around one in 4,000 people.

These debilitating conditions could soon be remedied, using a gene therapy based on maleimide-azobenzene-glutamate or MAG – an injectable designed to restore retinal cells.

When tested on mice and dogs, the gene-therapy helped cells to take on a renewed capacity to respond to light. The effects, which in the mice were shown to be the return of a degree of sight, can then last up to nine days.

The implications of this innovation are enormous for those suffering from a range of conditions and it is hoped that human testing and subsequent successful procedures will now be possible.

Philips creates portable, life changing technology for COPD patients

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease spend much of their time in and out of healthcare facilities, limiting their ability to lead fulfilling independent lives.

Philips is addressing this with a package of technology that includes the HealthPatch MD, HealthSuite digital platform and eCareCoordinator application.

The patch sticks to the chest of COPD sufferers and monitors vital signs such as heart rate, respiratory rate, skin temperature and posture. The patients also receive a spirometer to measure the air capacity of their lungs, and a tablet computer. The data from all of these devices is sent to the Healthsuite digital platform and eCareCoordinator app, giving healthcare professionals access to an unprecedented level of real-time, round-the-clock health data.

“Instead of people just going to the hospital when things have deteriorated and they’re so short of breath that it becomes life-threatening, the information is coming in way ahead,” says Jeroen Tas, CEO of the Philips healthcare informatics solutions and services business group. “Unlike other wearable solutions recently introduced to the market, this prototype collects more than just wellness data from otherwise healthy people. We’re demonstrating the power of harnessing both clinical and personal health information to better manage chronic disease patients across the health continuum.”


This article is part of a thought-provoking series on living health, brought to you by the New Statesman in association with Philips, which looks at how technology, innovation and big data are helping to improve your health and our healthcare system.


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