Massive DNA database to expedite disease research

Harvard University medical professor George Church is planning to create a database of DNA sequences for 100,000 people in an effort to identify new drugs for common diseases, Bloomberg News reports. Supported by $1 billion from Google and OrbiMed Advisors, the effort is slated to be the largest gene sequencing project worldwide. Specifically, Church will match genetic data with each participant’s health history to link DNA variations and diseases for scientists and drug makers—the first step in discovering treatments that can block mutations or alter how they work in the body, according to Bloomberg. In addition, Church plans to use the database to explore other human traits and behaviors in relation to their DNA. Church already has partially sequenced genomes of 10 people, and a Harvard ethics panel is reviewing his plan to include 100,000 participants. Church notes that he would like to continue expanding the project beyond 100,000, noting that, if the project gains approval, he would like to include a million genomes. Most participants will be asked to provide $1,000 each to defray the costs and subsidize some nonpaying participants (Lauerman, Bloomberg News, 2/29/08).

Michigan physician like e-prescribing, survey finds

A survey of providers participating in the three-year Southeastern Michigan ePrescribing Initiative (SMEI) suggests that many feel e-prescribing boosts patient safety and care quality, Healthcare IT News reports. Based on input from roughly 500 physicians, the survey found that more than 80 percent of respondents’ prescriptions were written electronically, while 40 percent of respondents said they now write only e-prescriptions. In rating e-prescribing’s value, 75 percent of providers said they strongly believe that the technology improves patient safety and nearly 70 percent said it improves care quality. Additionally, respondents lauded the safety alerts that warn of potentially harmful prescription drug interactions, and 65 percent of physicians reporting changing a prescription after receiving an alert. In addition, 90 percent of respondents indicated that e-prescribing had “met or exceeded” their expectations. Roughly 70 percent also reported a reduction in communications with pharmacies about prescription questions, and more than 50 percent said the technology saved clinicians time and helped improve productivity. According to Healthcare IT News, the SMEI plans to extend the initiative and continue to enroll physicians through June 30 largely due to the survey findings (Merrill, Healthcare IT News, 2/27/08).

Intel announces “Atom” processing chip line

Intel Corp. on Sunday announced that its new family of low-power chips will be called "Atom," the San Jose Business Journal reports. Though Intel did not release prices for Atom chips, the product line will target mobile Internet devices and super low-cost and small notebook and desktop personal computers with expected selling prices under $300. According to the company, the chips, previously named Silverthorne and Diamondville, are less than 25 square millimeters and will likely release midyear (San Jose Business Journal, 3/3/08).

Google unveils more details on PHR service, announces partners

In Google’s first detailed public comments about it’s Web-based personal health record (PHR) system, the company’s CEO last week said that the Internet health service would be password protected but offer third party-built services such as immunization reminders, the Associated Press reports. Speaking at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society annual conference, CEO Eric Schmidt noted that Google will not sell ad space on the PHR system. Instead, he said that “Google is counting on increased Web traffic to make the site profitable without ads,” according to the Associated Press. In the latest announcement, Google officials said the company has forged deals with several hospital and corporate partners, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, health insurer Aetna, medical testing company Quest Diagnostics, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and Duane Reade, as well as the previously announced pilot planned with the Cleveland Clinic. Google’s interface, which has yet to be released publicly, is said to include sections for health notices, drug interactions, medications, allergies, health conditions, immunization records, procedures, and test results. Another feature, meanwhile, will allow consumers to store imaging files. The system also will connect users with online research about health conditions and notify them about potential drug interactions or other safety risks. The Wall Street Journal notes that while PHR systems have been slow to gain steam largely because of consumer privacy concerns and medical practices’ slow uptake of EMR technology, Google’s efforts could help “boost the nation’s fledgling efforts to adopt electronic medical records.” Google officials did not announce a target date for the service’s public launch, but said it would likely be several months before a nationwide rollout (AP/New York Times, 2/28 [registration required]; Lawton and Worthen, Wall Street Journal, 2/28 [subscription required]; Liston, Reuters, 2/28).

IBM developing high-speed network technology

IBM on Friday announced it is developing high-speed networking technology that could enable consumers to download a high-definition movie off the Web in less than a second, InformationWeek reports. IBM said it is developing the technology, called "green optical link," as part of a networking research project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the U.S. Department of Defense. Specifically, the technology uses photons of light—instead of electrons—to transmit information. According to the company, that change promises to yield networks that can transfer 8 trillion bits of information in a second using roughly 1 percent of the power that's needed by today's standard electrical interconnects—power equivalent to that required by a single, 100-watt bulb. To ready green optical link technology for commercialization, IBM is building compatible circuit boards, which it has dubbed “Optocards.” InformationWeek reports that “the boards employ an array of low-loss polymer optical waveguides to conduct light between transmitters and receivers.” The company adds that a complete databus built from Optocards would not only involve many high-speed channels, it would also package them to create an infrastructure of unparalleled bandwidth density (McDougall, InformationWeek, 2/29/08).

Microsoft expands Web services to more businesses

Microsoft Corp. is expanding its Web-based business software offerings, Puget Sound Business Journal reports. The new services include e-mail, calendars, contact lists, Web-conferencing and videoconferencing—all online versions of features in Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint software. Originally launched in September for businesses with more than 5,000 users, the services will soon be available for all companies. Microsoft on Monday is starting with a limited test run and plans a broader rollout for the second half of 2008. Customers, which thus far include Blockbuster Inc. and Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., will pay a subscription fee for the web software. According to the Journal, Microsoft is shifting some of its software offerings to the Web in response to pressure from companies like Google and that are making software programs available online (Puget Sound Business Journal, 3/3/08).

New tool helps companies manage information security risk

Digital Defense Inc. (DDI) has unveiled a new tool to help companies organize, assess and manage their information security risks, the San Antonio Business Journal reports. The company released the tool as part of its Information Security Risk Assessment (ISRA) service portfolio, which helps management improve compliance with regulatory guidelines by managing risk-assessment data and using tools that automatically notify management and create reports for the company. The new management tool has been certified as compliant with the OCTAVE Allegro methodology, which is a technology standard developed by Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute for the information security risk-assessment tools. Alabama-based MAX Credit Union is one of the trial users of DDI’s new product (Tuttle, San Antonio Business Journal, 3/3/08)

Iowa medical center taps eICU to boost patient outcomes, cost efficiency

Mercy Medical Center in January launched the first Iowa-based electronic intensive care unit (eICU) in an effort to reduce patients' stays and health costs, the Des Moines Register reports. Through its remote monitoring center, physicians, nurses and specialists—called intensivists—track patients remotely 24 hours per day all week long. The center features a number of computer monitors that enable staff to view vital statistics, electrocardiograms, ventilators, and X-ray and lab data. In addition, a two-way video conference system enables off-site care providers to view the actual patients when necessary.According to the Register, the Mercy eICU currently tracks roughly 80 patients in five ICUs (Sagario, Des Moines Register, 2/27/08).

U.S. scientists make detailed brainstem images

According to a study published in the journal Science, Princeton University researchers have developed a technique that can, for the first time, produce three-dimensional, high-resolution images of the human brainstem, United Press International reports. The brainstem controls biological functions including breathing and experiences of reward or pleasure and is one site that produces neurotransmitters, which (in surplus or absence) relate to disorders such as schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease. For the study, researchers obtained brainstem images by applying specialized techniques to functional magnetic resonance imaging. According to UPI, “the three-dimensional images allow scientists to observe the brain processes that accompany human movement and mental activities with unprecedented precision.” The researchers note that they plan to use the new technique to neuroscience research (UPI, 2/28/08).

Men learn about prostate cancer online

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that men who view online presentations about prostate cancer are more likely to understand the disease than those visiting health Web sites, United Press International reports. For the study, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles assigned 611 healthy men ages 50 to visit public prostate-cancer Web sites or view online presentations designed to help them make decisions. They found that men who watched the online presentations scored higher on tests about prostate knowledge than those who visited the public Web sites. At the beginning of the study, 96 percent of participants expressed interest in a prostate-specific antigen PSA test. After the study, 9 percent of the men were less likely to want to undergo a PSA test, while those who only visited Web sites were roughly 3 percent less likely to undergo the test. The lead study author notes that some physicians support routinely administering the PSA test to healthy men, while others question its value. He adds that there exists no evidence that "screening for prostate cancer in men without symptoms would help them live longer" (UPI, 2/29/08).

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