Breast pump hackathon wants to make the process “suck less”

The MIT Media Lab in Boston recently held a hackathon on improving the breast pump. Teams at the hackathon worked on their own ideas to improve the product, and three winners emerged.

The winners of the first prize — who get to pitch their pump to investors in Silicon Valley — created something called the “Mighty Mom Utility Belt.”

WBUR described it as “a fashionable, discreet, hands-free wearable pump that automatically logs and analyzes your personal [milk] data.”

Article continues after video (produced by the team who thought of the Mighty Mom utility belt)

Newsweek reports the breast pump design hasn’t changed much since the first mechanical pump was patented in the 1920s.

WBUR asks why breast pump makers in the United States aren’t already racing to improve the product, given so many women work and many mothers breastfeed.

One hackathon participant realized that improving the breast pump is a lot more complex than she realized.

Other participants told WBUR that the hackathon represents progress because it amplifies the voices of women who aren’t satisfied with the current state of pumping.

Teeth are part of our bodies

So why don’t we insure their health the way we do the rest of our bodies? The Atlantic tells the story of how dental insurance and care became completely separate businesses for medicine and insurance providers.

In a 2009 report The Pew Charitable Trusts called the lack of dental care for children in America the greatest unmet health need, citing 14 million children from low-income households who have no access to dental care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services points at disparities in access to dental care and calls out the links between periodontal disease and chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

The Minnesota Dental Foundation held a free clinic like the one profiled by The Atlantic in Mankato last summer. Here’s their video recap:

“Bionic eye” helps blind see

The Atlantic tells the story of a 66-year-old woman with a bionic eye. Fran Fulton was blind for 10 years, suffering from a degenerative eye disease that slowly causes light-sensitive cells in the retina to die off.

This summer she was fitted with a system called Argus II where camera-equipped glasses are hooked up to electrodes implanted in the eyeball. It’s designed to feed visual information to the brain.

Fulton told The Atlantic that it’s difficult to describe what she sees — it’s mostly light and dark. Even with the device, she and other patients must go to vision therapy to help train their brains to interpret the signals being fed through Argus II.

The Atlantic says the system doesn’t feed a full image to the brain. For example, users can’t read signs or recognize faces.

When Argus II first came out in 2013, The New York Times said it “marks a milestone in a new frontier in vision research.” The Times’ story included this video report of one woman’s experience with the device.

Using selfies to treat acne

There’s a new health app on the market designed to diagnose and treat acne. Wired says the app does a remarkable job making telemedicine feel normal.

The app, called Spruce, doesn’t have you communicate with a dermatologist in real time. Once you sign up, you take a few selfies, write down symptoms and answer questions about your skin. Once you send that in, a dermatologist looks at it and sends you a treatment plan — complete with prescriptions sent to your pharmacy. Wait times for new patients to see a dermatologist in the U.S. average 30 days.

Article continues after this video (produced by Spruce Health)

Venture Beat reports that by keeping overhead costs low, the app can offer a flat rate of $40 per consultation.

The vision for Spruce could go beyond acne treatment, but Wired asks if the approach could work with anything else, since acne is about the only thing you can diagnose with a selfie.

Dr. David Nash, founding dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, writes in Medpage Today that in the first half of 2014, health information technology companies seeking to take advantage of this new trend of telemedicine apps received $2.3 billion in funding.

Nash says the upside is that virtual medicine has a lot of potential to reach broader segments of the population with flexibility, at lower cost, and with more efficient capture of important data, but he doesn’t think an app could ever replace face-to-face communication between a doctor and a patient.

Gayathri Ramprasad on healing and depression

Gayathri Ramprasad

Gayathri Ramprasad

One in five women experience serious depression in the course of their lives, an incidence twice that among men, according to some estimates.

MinnPost interviews Gayathri Ramprasad, the author of “Shadows in the Sun: Healing from Depression and Finding the Light Within,” about finding a way to manage serious depression through exercise and meditation.

Growing up in a Brahmin culture in Bangalore, India, she tells reporter Andy Steiner, made it hard even to acknowledge what was happening to her. From the article:

“Even today there is not one word that means ‘depression’ in the many Indian languages,” Ramprasad said. “How do you explain what you are experiencing when you don’t have a vocabulary to understand your pain?” This lack of openness about mental illness frustrated Ramprasad, who, for more than 30 years, has lived in Portland, Oregon, with her family. “At first I was ashamed,” she said, “But as I learned more about mental illness, I knew I had to speak openly about my disease in order to heal.”

Ramprasad and author Jennifer Matesa with join writer and musician Dessa for an evening of conversation and celebration of women’s recovery from mental illness and addiction. The event, with emcee Jana Shortal, is October 9th at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. The evening is a co-presentation of Healthy States and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

6 things to know about Enterovirus

A poster warning of the spread of the flu is posted in an office building in 2009.  Mario Tama/Getty Images

A poster warning of the spread of the flu is posted in an office building in 2009. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Enterovirus D68 has been in the news recently as it started showing up in children across the Midwest. Now, the upper respiratory virus has been confirmed in 30 states, according to CNN.

This virus raises a lot of questions, especially because it starts out like the common cold, but ends up leading many children to the emergency room.

We’ve compiled a list of six things you need to know about the virus:

1. What are the symptoms?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mild symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, and body and muscle aches. Some children can have difficulty breathing and wheezing. Many of the children who had difficulty breathing had asthma or a history of wheezing.

2. How big is the outbreak?

From mid-August to September 24, a total of 220 cases were confirmed in 32 states, according to the CDC. All but one of those cases has been among children.

3. How worried should I be?

The Boston Globe says you should be alert, but not too worried. That’s because Enterovirus 68 is not a super bug and no one has died from the outbreak.

4. What are the treatments?

According to the CDC, there is no specific treatment for this virus. If it’s mild, use over-the-counter medications that treat pain and fever. If it becomes severe, hospitalization may be required. This is especially true if your child has a history of asthma.

5. How is it spread?

It can be spread through direct contact (think handshakes), but it can also be spread through the air by coughing and sneezing.

6. How can I avoid Enterovirus?

Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine, so basic hygiene practices that you would use to avoid getting a cold should work. Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Disinfect doorknobs and frequently touched surfaces if someone is sick.

CDC projects Ebola could reach 1.4 million by January

A girl cries outside  the "Island Clinic", a new Ebola treatment centre that opened in Monrovia. ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images

A girl cries outside the “Island Clinic”, a new Ebola treatment centre that opened in Monrovia. ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made some ominous predictions about Ebola this week.

The New York Times reports the CDC gave worst and best-case estimates for Sierra Leone and Liberia based on computer modeling. The organization is predicting there can be 1.4 million cases by January 20, 2015 if the disease continues spreading as it has been and without drastic intervention.

On the other hand, the CDC says the epidemic could be nearly over by the same date. But for that to happen, certain things would need to take place in Sierra Leone and Liberia, including safe funerals where no one touches the bodies and 70 percent of patients being treated in settings that lower transmission risk. The New York Times reports that currently only 18 percent of Ebola patients in Liberia are being treated in such settings.

The New England Journal of Medicine is reporting that at the rate it is spreading, Ebola could become endemic in West Africa.

The Washington Post reports the reasons behind that rapid acceleration are daunting. According to researchers, every person who gets sick in Sierra Leone infects roughly two more people.

All of these projections don’t take into account additional aid and resources from governments or relief agencies, but The Washington Post reminds us the United States recently launched a $750 million effort to establish treatment facilities in Liberia. The United Nations Security Council also voted unanimously last week to create an emergency medical mission to respond to the outbreak.

For more information on what Ebola is and how it spreads, click here for a helpful primer from the Washington Post and here for the CDC website.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Traffic jams in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Traffic jams in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Stress is inevitable, but stress related illness doesn’t have to be. When stress is chronic, it can lead to heart disease, cancer and more.

And NPR reports that it’s the little things that can really push us over the edge. That means being chronically stressed out by everyday things, like traffic, can be worse than the stress caused by divorce, illness and job loss.

Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, told NPR a few ways chronic worriers can help themselves.

  1. Exercise: 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day is recommended to boost your mood.
  2. Meditate: “Because what you do is watch your mind spin out anxiously over trivia, and eventually it settles down and you begin to have more perspective.,” Waldinger said.
  3. Breathe: Breathing slowly from the abdomen helps slow your body’s stress response.
  4. Don’t overdo alcohol: Alcohol disturbs sleep and acts as a depressant.

Other methods, like reframing your challenges and cultivating compassion can also combat stress. These are part of Dr. Amit Sood’s five-point daily framework for minimizing anxiety and stress that can be found in “Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Stress-Free Living.” You can also listen to Sood speak about combating stress here.

One boy’s spirit shines despite Ebola

The Ebola virus is spreading exponentially. Some scientists, like Alessandro Vespignani at Northeastern University in Boston, project that there will be between 10,000 and 25,000 cases by mid-October. He told NPR that cases of Ebola are doubling every two to three weeks.

But there are small glimmers of hope like one 11-year-old boy in Liberia who wouldn’t let his Ebola diagnosis keep him down.

NPR reports Mamadee was in an isolation unit where roughly a third of patients don’t survive the Ebola virus. He was there for two weeks, and his sister died from the disease during that time.

Doctors Without Borders captured his spirit in a short video. Mamadee recovered and has been discharged.

The link between gut microbes and diet soda

 A man opens a bottle of Diet Coke. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A man opens a bottle of Diet Coke. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The journal Nature published a study this week finding that popular artificial sweeteners used in many food and drinks might trigger high blood-sugar levels in some people.

The Washington Post reports that although the exact reason is unknown, the findings have to do with the ecosystem of bacteria in our gut called the microbiota.

Researchers found that saccharine, sucralose and aspartame (commonly known as Sweet n’ Low, Splenda and Equal) caused glucose intolerance in mice — a condition that can lead to diabetes. They also monitored seven human participants by giving them regular doses of saccharine over the course of a week. Four of them developed glucose intolerance.

The Washington Post said these findings add to the long, contentious debate about the risks of artificial sweeteners found in things like diet soda. Some past studies have found no health risks associated with the sweeteners, while others have found they contribute to obesity and cancer.

Lisa Lefferts, a senior scientist at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Washington Post the biggest benefit of the study is the link it shows between artificial sweeteners and the microbiota.

The scientists who authored the study said the issue is far from being resolved and that people shouldn’t take this study as a recommendation for cutting out diet soda.

“We do not view that as our role,” Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel told the Washington Post. “Rather, as scientists, we simply point to the immense body of experiments that we carried out in both humans and in mice. . . . This study and these results should prompt additional debates and study into what is currently a massive use of artificial sweeteners.”

Physician Martin Blaser, who directs the Human Microbiome Program at New York University told NPR he found the study exciting because linking artificial sweeteners and gut microbes is a new idea to explore.

James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado is also calling for more research into the link.

“It’s much too early, on the basis of this one study, [to conclude that] artificial sweeteners have negative impacts on humans’ [risk for diabetes],” Hill told NPR.