App Can Help Non-Doctors Determine Cause of Death


About 55 million people die each year. Of those deaths, 35 million won't have a cause of death recorded, according to the University of Melbourne. A group of scientists hopes to change that with a new app that will allow non-doctors to record mortality data.

Cause-of-death statistics and other mortality data are vitally important for governments and experts developing public health programs. “Without accurate cause of death information, we can’t monitor disease and injury trends, we can’t keep track of emerging health problems and we don’t have any markers to show us whether programs and policies are actually working," co-creator of the app Alan Lopez said in a press release.

“So if you live in a country where no-one is dying from malaria, then why are you pouring money into malaria-prevention programs? And conversely, if people are dying from lung cancer, why aren’t you investing in tobacco control?”

Unfortunately, the countries most in need of aggressive public health programs are often the same ones lacking good mortality data. Doctors are stretched thin in poor countries, and the deceased may be the least of their concerns.

So why not take that responsibility off their hands? The new cause of death app consists of a simple, 25-minute symptom questionnaire that can be completed without medical training. Village officials, nurses, and family members of the deceased can fill out the survey and upload their results. An algorithm will determine the cause of death and issue a death certificate while capturing pertinent mortality data. The app can also store questionnaire responses until an Internet connection becomes available, which is an important feature in remote villages.

“I just came from Myanmar where every month, rural midwives send pieces of paper on cause of death through the mail,” Lopez told New Scientist. “Now, the idea is that they’ll send that information through tablets instead.”

The app is the product of 10 years’ work by Lopez and his colleagues around the world. The first step was to collect existing mortality data from hospitals in India, the Philippines, Mexico, and Tanzania. They compiled information from 12,500 cases with known causes of death and identified the 34 most common causes of death for adults and the 21 most common for children. The researchers interviewed around 100 families for each cause of death to determine how family members would describe the deceased’s symptoms. Working backward, the scientists created a questionnaire and algorithm that would yield a cause of death. They then built that algorithm into an app and took it to China, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Bangladesh for field-testing. The app proved to be remarkably accurate—even more so than doctors reviewing the same cases.

Lopez and his colleagues hope to roll out the app in 20 countries by next year. They are hopeful that their questionnaire can help communities and governments enact real change.

[h/t New Scientist]

MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

More Studies See Links Between Alzheimer's and Herpes

Although it was discovered in 1906, Alzheimer’s disease didn’t receive significant research attention until the 1970s. In 1984, scientists identified the plaque-like buildup of amyloid beta proteins in brain tissue that causes nerve damage and can lead to symptoms like memory loss, personality changes, and physical debility.

Now, researchers are learning why amyloid beta tends to collect in brain tissue like barnacles on a ship. It might not be rallying expressly to cause damage, but to protect the brain from another invader: the herpes simplex virus.

As The Atlantic recently noted, a number of studies have strengthened the notion that amyloid beta activity is working in response to herpes, the virus that travels along nerve pathways and typically causes cold sores around the mouth (HSV-1) or genitals (HSV-2). In a study involving mice, those engineered to produce more amyloid beta were more resistant to the herpes virus than those who were not.

But when too much amyloid beta is produced to combat the virus, the proteins can affect the brain’s neurons. And while herpes tends to target specific pathways in the body that result in external sores, it’s possible that the virus might act differently in an older population that is susceptible to more widespread infection. Roughly half of adults under age 50 in the U.S. are infected with HSV-1 and 12 percent with HSV-2, which suggests that a large swath of the population could be vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease. Two other strains of the virus, HHV-6A and HHV-7, have also been found to be more common in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients than in the general population.

More research will be needed to further understand the possible relationship between the two. If more findings support the theory, then it’s possible that antiviral drugs or vaccines targeting herpes might also reduce the chances of amyloid beta buildup.

[h/t Atlantic]


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