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Posted on Feb 5, 2014 in News | 0 comments

Placebo sleep polishes performance


In the current day in age, it is an all too common an occurrence to feel a constant lack of good quality sleep. While it is common to hear people talk about how tired they are or how little sleep they are getting, new research shows that getting “placebo sleep” can actually increase performance as well.

So what is “placebo sleep”? The researchers suggest that an individuals mindset about the quality of their sleep could effect their performance. To test this hypothesis, they devised a great experiment. Participants were asked on a scale of 1 to 10 to rate the quality of the sleep, after which they were assigned to one of two random groups. They were given background information on sleep quality and specifically told that normal people tend to spend between 20-25% of their sleep time in REM sleep, with those spending more than 25% achieving higher results in learning tests.

The groups were attached to monitoring equipment and told that the researchers were calculating their REM sleep percentage to assess the quality of their sleep. The researchers were not calculating this at all, but rather assigning a score of either 16.2% REM sleep or 28.7% REM sleep based on their randomisation. After receiving the score, the participants were tasked with completing tests that assessed tasks commonly affected by sleep deprivation. A second control group experiment was conducted to reduce experimental bias.

The results showed that the placebo effect existed even for the effects of sleep! Participants who were assigned higher scores tended to perform better on the tests, while those assigned lower scores did worse. So next time you feel tired and sleepy, getting a colleague to mention how fresh & awake you look may just be more effective than coffee.


By Dr Raffy Halim

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Posted on Jan 23, 2014 in News | 4 comments

Time for Uber Healthcare?

What do taxi’s and healthcare have in common? Until just recently, not much at all. This changed earlier in the week when one of the core members, Oscar Salazar, of the personal transport service Uber, announced his intention to tackle the healthcare puzzle.

While details about the venture are currently scarce, investigations by several sources and anonymous tip offs have started to give this rumour some substance. An unnamed source was quoted saying, “It will work like Uber, but with doctors coming to you. I mean, it will start out for the 1%, clearly.” Further details seem to suggest that the startup maybe called “Housecall” and be based in New York. The anonymous source also suggested that as many as 40 doctors are already onboard with the venture.

Given the design of Uber’s excellent app, it is not hard to imagine a network of mobile doctors that could be summoned straight to your door via one tap on an app. Future healthcare is looking more mobile indeed.


by Dr Raffy Halim

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Posted on Jan 21, 2014 in News | 0 comments

Google has its eye on measuring glucose

Google, the company responsible for finding most of what anyone looks for on the internet, has set it’s eyes on a new target: diabetes. The company has just announced it’s newest project, a smart contact lens, which can analyse the biochemistry of your tears to measure blood glucose levels. By ameliorating the inconvenience and pain of using finger prick testing, Google hopes to bolster regular checks and aid strict blood glucose control.

The project founders, Brian Otis & Babak Parvis, have taken to the official Google blog to say “although some people wear glucose monitors with a glucose sensor embedded under their skin, all people with diabetes must still prick their finger and test drops of blood throughout the day. It’s disruptive, and it’s painful. And, as a result, many people with diabetes check their blood glucose less often than they should.”

The device works by sandwiching a miniature glucose sensor and wireless chip between 2 layers of soft contact lens material and can take a measurement every second. It is hoped that tiny LED lights in the circuitry can be used to alert the wearer when their blood glucose starts to deviate from the “safe” range for them.

Given Google’s recent interest in wearable technology, especially in the form of Google Glass, a smart contact lens shouldn’t come too much as a surprise. If the project succeeds, the next time you see a glint in a patients eye, you may start to worry about their glucose control.

Source: Official Google blog.

by Dr Raffy Halim

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Posted on Jan 6, 2014 in News | 2 comments

Survey Questions Functionality of mHealth Apps

Despite the progress that has been made in the field of mHealth, a
recent survey of the health related apps that are currently on offer
in the iTunes store has suggested that many of them provide only
limited functionality, and that even then they generally serve only
very limited patient populations. Fulfilling the optimism about the
future of mHealth may depend on overcoming these limitations by
increasing both the functionality of mHealth apps and the range of
patients and conditions that are covered.

Assessing mHealth Apps

Despite the growing interest in using mobile healthcare apps among
both clinicians and patients, little research has been done to assess
the value of the mHealth tools that are currently available. In order
to address this lack of clinically oriented evidence, the IMS
Institute for Healthcare Informatics has conducted a survey of the
approximately 43,000 mHealth apps currently listed in the iTunes
store. The results were released at the end of November 2013 in the
report Patient Apps for Improved Healthcare: From Novelty to
Mainstream. The aim of the project was to evaluate the clinical
functionality of the apps and to assess the range of conditions and
patient populations that were covered.

Limited Functionality

The survey assessed the clinical functionality of all the mHealth apps
available from the iTunes app store against a set of 25 criteria, each
of which could earn the app up to four points, for a maximum of 100.
Only 10 percent of the apps surveyed scored more than 40 points,
indicating that the great majority of apps provided only limited
clinical use. Another issue uncovered by the survey was that many of
the apps failed to make full use of the technology. More than 10,000
of the apps were able to provide information to users, but only about
half of these apps also offered instructions, and only about 20
percent were able to record data about their users.

Limited Applications

The IMS Institute survey found that just 16,275 of the 43,000 apps
were designed to help patients who had specific health conditions or
who were undergoing particular types of treatment. Most of the apps
examined during the survey focused on overall health and wellness
rather than on helping patients with specific illnesses or targeting
the patient populations in greatest need of help. The most common
types of mHealth apps were tools that were intended to assist with
dieting and weight loss.

The populations most in need of healthcare were the least likely to be
targeted by mHealth app developers. The growing number of smartphone
owners in the developing world, whose frequent difficulties accessing
medical care would seem to make them the ideal targets for these kinds
of applications, but few mHealth tools are designed for them. Older
people, over the age of 65, are also in particular need of healthcare,
but they were another neglected population that was unlikely to be
targeted by the developers of mHealth apps, and they were also
unsurprisingly among the least likely to download these types of apps.
This was not entirely a result of the limited availability of apps
targeted toward this population. The over 65s were also less familiar
with the technology, with only 18 percent of them owning their own
smartphone. If they are to be reached, it is likely to be via their
younger caregivers. More than half of the 45 to 54 year olds who might
need to care for elderly relatives are smartphone users. Convincing
consumers, particularly in the over 65 age group, to rely on apps and
easily damaged or lost mobile devices for their healthcare, could be

Limited Uptake

The survey revealed that just five of the apps available on iTunes
accounted for 15 percent of all mHealth downloads from the service,
and over half of the apps had been downloaded fewer than 500 times.
The researchers suggested that the lack of information on the utility
of the available apps might be a factor in reducing the uptake of
mHealth tools, while the reluctance of clinicians to make
recommendations in the absence of any formal guidelines or clinical
evidence could also be limiting. While the physicians who were
contacted by the survey team were aware that mHealth could potentially
be very useful to their patients, they did not feel comfortable about
directing patients to use particular health apps. The evidence on
clinical functionality provided by this survey might be the first step
to providing physicians with the evidence they need to feel confident
about recommending mHealth applications.

News article by Evelyn Dunne

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Posted on Dec 26, 2013 in News | 0 comments

As Americans Adopt Mobile Health Tools, Professionals Must Evaluate the Consequences

Mobile devices have become ubiquitous in modern American society. Although some psychologists worry that too much screen time can be bad for health, mobile devices can actually be a force used for good in the realm of healthy living.

Popular Self-monitoring Tools

According to a survey of U.S. consumers by Royal Philips Electronics, one in 10 Americans believe that Web-based health information has prevented them from dying or becoming severely incapacitated. For example, the WebMD app for Android has been downloaded more than 5 million times, suggesting that consumers rely on mobile devices to provide important health information. Similarly, patients with back pain may visit sites such as on their smartphones to read about the latest research on spine problems to identify potential treatments. From simply visiting a mobile site to downloading apps, health is showing up on mobile phones.

An increasingly popular sector of mobile health tools are self-monitoring programs. A 2012 report by Pew Research indicates that 60 percent of U.S. adults track their dietary habits, exercise routines or weight. Furthermore, 33 percent track health indicators such as headaches, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, or sleep patterns. Although much of this tracking is done informally, use of apps or self-tracking monitors is increasingly common.

Benefits of Mobile Health Tools

Fostering a sense of efficacy. One of the key benefits of mobile health tools is fostering a sense of patient efficacy. Research has demonstrated that improving self-efficacy translates into changes in behavior and improved treatment outcomes, according to For example, a patient who monitors his blood pressure each day may notice spikes that coincide with major work deadlines. As a result, he may feel empowered to advocate for a more balanced workload or use other strategies to manage his stress during these times.

Increasing accuracy. Patient self-report is notoriously unreliable, making it a contributing factor to medical errors or misjudgments. For example, MedCoach is a popular app used to remind patients to take their medications. Improving medication compliance decreases risk of adverse outcomes and increases patient well-being.

Providing increased information to medical professionals. For medical professionals, more data is useful when helping a patient make informed health care decisions. Using devices that monitor vitals, track changes in mood or weight, or check other symptoms provides physicians with a wealth of clinically useful information. For example, use of a symptom checking device may help a psychiatrist notice that after beginning a new antidepressant medication, a patient experienced significant weight gain and an uptick in anxiety symptoms. Rather than relying on a patient’s retrospective report or “hunch” about a medication, the physician can make an informed decision about adjusting the dosage or medication class.

Drawbacks of Relying on Mobile Devices for Health

Although consumers are increasingly willing to try mobile devices to monitor health symptoms, these products have some drawbacks. One of the key areas of concern is that patients may become over-reliant on medical devices and avoid seeking treatment. By consulting symptom checker apps or other online medical advice, patients may overlook key patterns or symptoms that are indicators of serious health problems. The Philips survey suggested that 25 percent of respondents trust devices as much as a doctor, while 27 percent use home tools in lieu of consulting a physician.

To fully take advantage of the benefits of mobile health tools, health care professionals may advocate for the use of tracking devices in conjunction with appropriate visits to a medical facility. This combines the advantage of patient self-monitoring data with a physician’s expert knowledge, promoting the most advantageous health outcomes.


Web-based health information – –
Pew Research –

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Posted on Dec 17, 2013 in News | 1 comment

Distributed computing: allowing you to save the world while you sleep

Computer time has long been considered an essential resource in
conducting in silico simulations, either replacing or complementing
traditional experiments. So what’s a researcher to do when
supercomputer time costs millions of dollars and the supercomputers
themselves cost billions? Sadly, not everybody has a spare computing behemoth
lying around in their back yard to loan out to starving researchers.

In recent years, thanks to the power of the Internet, the idea of
harvesting unused CPU cycles from volunteer computers has become not
just a possibility, but a practicality. Most computers, whether at
home or at work, are not utilized to their full capacity. Web browsing
and reading email hardly count as taxing duties for today’s state of
the art computers with processor power several orders of magnitude
greater than what was available 30 years ago.

Distributed computing has been around since 1997, when an early
attempt harnessed volunteer computers to crack an encryption key
similar to trying every concievable combination on a number lock,
by by trying every possible combination. Ordinarily, this would be impossible for a single computer to attempt within a human lifetime, but with the huge amount of
processing time available, the search was hastened by several orders of magnitude, making it a feasible prospect.

Today, this approach has been applied to many diverse problems in
different scientific fields, ranging from mathematics, astronomy,
physics, and of course, life sciences. Two examples include the IBM
World Community Grid, involved in numerous projects including research
into a potential cure for cancer and anti-AIDS drugs, and the
Rosetta@Home project, analyzing protein structures.

These projects are managed by front-end software called BOINC, the
Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing. Problems too big
for a single computer to tackle, such as searching vast amounts of
data for cancer markers or biologically active molecules, are divided
up into manageable pieces and automatically sent out to the clients
participating in the project. Results, once processed, are
automatically sent back to the server for aggregation. To give one an
idea of how much processor time is available, the World Community Grid
tracks a statistic called Run Time Per Calendar Day. This is
equivalent to the number of days of running a single computer,
achieved in 24 hours of real time. One project is averaging an incredible 63 years
worth of computer time contributed to the project – every 24 hours!

Today’s Tablet – How it Stacks Up
Simultaneously, since 1997, the mobile phone has evolved from a
straightforward voice communication device, to a powerful handheld
computer in its own right. Mobile CPUs have grown from primitive
integrated circuits to full blown multi-core CPUs, such as the NVidia
Tegra 3-30L found in the Google Nexus 7 (2012) Android tablet. In
2012, BOINC also started including support for Android-based mobile
clients, in addition to its traditional usage of desktop and laptop
CPUs, as mobile clients finally gained enough processor power, storage
and RAM to tackle compute-intensive tasks.

While cross-platform comparisons are often difficult, due to a myriad
of factors such as different architectures, programming languages,
operating systems and so on, MIPS (Millions of Instructions Per
Second) serves as a very rough benchmark to provide a relative
comparison between platforms and generations.

Relative performance

NVidia Tegra 3-30L CPU in a Nexus 7 2012 tablet, 5W power consumption
Approximately 10500 MIPS

MacBook Air 2013
Intel core i5-4250U, 15W power consumption (CPU alone)
~47000 MIPS

Desktop with quad-core Intel i5-4770K, 84W power consumption
125000 MIPS

A rough estimate is that a Nexus 7 (2012 edition) Android tablet would
provide nearly a quarter of the CPU power available to a contemporary
MacBook Air (2013) user. For a portable, handheld device consuming a
mere 5 watts, capable of running all day on a much smaller battery,
this is quite an achievement. While still remarkably power efficient
(indeed it achieves higher MIPS per watt), the Macbook needs to
consume at least 3 times the power to deliver the amount of computing
power it does.

Comparisons with a desktop CPU make the Android appear even more
efficient. While the Intel i5-4770K quad-core CPU is nearly 11 times
more powerful, it also consumes 17 times more power in order to
provide this performance, and certainly is not designed for

Consider this, in 1999 an Intel Pentium III (600Mhz) produced
approximately 2K MIPS. Even at that time, it was suitable, indeed
highly regarded for early distributed computing efforts.

No Free Lunch

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Running
CPU-intensive applications generates heat and drains power, which is a
concern especially for portable users. To this end, the BOINC client
has been intelilgently engineered to start running only when the
Android device is charged >90%, and only communicates with its servers
on WiFi. While this seems to limit the use of the client, a tradeoff
is made between inconveniencing the volunteer user donating their CPU
time, and the time available for processing.

As it is, this combination of events happens when you leave your
tablet or phone overnight to recharge. Simply install the BOINC client
from the Google Play store, select a project you’d like to participate
in, adjust the parameters (if necessary) and leave your mobile device
overnight to charge. Once fully charged, it will start processing, and
stop when you take it off the charger the next day.

Unfortunately, no client for IOS devices is available today, but
hopefully there may be some day in the future.

Saving the world while you sleep? Yup, it’s possible. Every computer
counts. Try it today.

Further Reading

If you would like to read more, please see the BOINC Android FAQ.

The client can also be downloaded from the Google Play store here:

News Article by Kevin Lam

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