Ganging Up on Disease
By Joe Maglitta
Bugs and viruses do it all the time: Gang up and attack in force. Might copying this simple but effective tactic offer our best hope for defeating the deadliest diseases — and the killer healthcare costs that inevitably follow? More and more medical experts think so.
Of course, scientists and doctors have long labored together to soften the disease scourges, from pox to polio to cancer and heart disease. But this long tradition has lately gotten a powerful boost, thanks to new forms of Web-based collaboration, new hardware such as tablets and specialized open-source software.
Web-based medical teamwork got a boost this week with the announcement that IBM would donate new software enabling real-time Web collaboration to the Dojo Foundation’s Open Cooperative Web Framework (OpenCoweb). Developed in the IBM labs, Project Blue Spruce allows people to simultaneously interact and update content in real-time via a web browser on computers and the Apple iPad and includes video chat.
Two new initiatives signal the potential power of Web-based collaboration against viruses, rogue genes, problem behaviors and other causes of disease.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) use the Blue Spruce Code to help analyze health records and spot trends among of patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
A new service called iTelepsych.com lets patients virtually meet and communicate with mental health providers via HIPPA-compliant video conferencing, making possible real-time medical treatment from any location with an internet connection.
“iTelepsych.com helps doctors easily establish a practice with patients who are not able to leave their homes or attend typical in-office appointments,” explained said Eric Greenman, MD, founder and chief executive officer, iTel. “With IBM Project Blue Spruce, people can access the mental healthcare they need even if they cannot come to a doctor’s office.”
Of course, there’s still room for old-fashioned, conventional collaboration as well. IBM and Novartis this week announced a global competition for students at top universities to invent new ways to combat heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and diabetes and other widespread diseases.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly two-thirds of all deaths occur due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) — 80 percent in developing countries. Over the coming decade, some 388 million people worldwide will die of one or more chronic illnesses. However, with concerted action, research and new innovations, at least 36 million premature deaths could be averted by 2015.
Teams will compete to create new ways to use technology to combat NCDs, and promote more efficient ways to provide care. The teams are supported by IBM and Novartis with mentors and subject matter coaching to provide industry expertise that will complement their knowledge and research.