Posts tagged with "Healthcare"

Ashton Kusher-backed Calm app is valued at $1B

February 7, 2019

Calm.com—the San Francisco-based startup that claims to have become the number-one app for sleep, meditation, and relaxation since it began doing business in 2017—has been valued at $1 billion in a funding round led by TPG Growth, the company announced on February 6.

According to Bloomberg, Calm raised $88 million in the round, which included existing investors Insight Venture Partners and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, as well as Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency.

The funding makes San Francisco-based Calm a major player in the wellness industry—or, as the company says, the World’s First Mental Health Unicorn. (It joins the ranks of 312 other U.S. startups that have been valued at $1 billion or more and are known as “unicorns.”)

The Calm website says that the app “helps users cope with some of the most important mental health issues of the modern age-including anxiety, stress, and insomnia.”  Among its popular features are:

  • The Daily Calm, a ten-minute meditation guided by the company’s Head of Mindfulness Tamara Levitt;
  • Sleep Stories, soothing bedtime tales for adults read by celebrities such as Matthew McConaughey, Stephen Fry, and Leona Lewis;
  • MasterClass: A series of audio classes taught by mindfulness experts; and
  • Music: Exclusive music to help users focus, relax, and sleep.

Companies such as mindfulness app Headspace and meditation wearable maker Muse have also raised money from VCs, although at lower valuations, Bloomberg reports.

“Our vision is to build one of the most valuable and meaningful brands of the 21st century,” co-founder and Co-Chief Executive Officer Michael Acton Smith said in a statement. His co-founder and co-CEO, Alex Tew, added that the company would prioritize spending on international growth and creating new content.

The app has been downloaded more than 40 million times, it said in a statement, and it has more than one million paying subscribers.

Research contact: @calm

Take a chill pill: You actually may not be allergic to penicillin

February 1, 2019

Penicillin was the original “wonder drug”—but, today, people are wondering why, for more than half a century, doctors have warned them it’s contraindicated for their care.

Discovered in 1928 and found to “miraculously” cure infections by 1942, penicillin was the first antibiotic that many Baby Boomers were prescribed as children. However, that first dose of penicillin also turned out to be the last for many youngsters—who broke out in bumps or rashes that were diagnosed as allergic reactions.

Now there is a different school of thought. In fact, according to a study posted by the Journal of the American Medical Association in January, fully 19 out of 20 people who have been told they are allergic to penicillin actually can tolerate it well.

Indeed, The New York Times reported on January 22, millions of Americans whose medical histories document their penicillin sensitivities are not actually allergic. But they are steered away from using some of the safest, most effective antibiotics—relying instead on substitutes that are often pricier, less effective, and more likely to cause complications such as antibiotic-resistant infections.

Experts in allergy and infectious disease, including the paper’s authors, are now urging patients to ask doctors to review their medical history and re-evaluate whether they truly have a penicillin allergy.

The evaluation—which may require allergy skin testing and ideally should be done while people are healthy— is especially important, The Times reports, for pregnant women, people with cancer and those in long-term care, and anyone anticipating surgery or being treated for a sexually transmitted infection.

“When you have a true infection that needs to be treated, the physician will see you have the allergy and not question it,” said  Dr. Erica S. Shenoy, an author of  the study, and an infectious diseases specialist who is s on the staff of Harvard Medical School of Massachusetts General Hospital.

The review was carried out with input from the boards of three professional medical organizations: the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; the Infectious Diseases Society of America; and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. All three groups endorsed the findings.

There is no question that some patients have potentially life-threatening allergic reactions to penicillin, but the label appears to have been applied far too broadly, experts say. About 10% of Americans report having a penicillin allergy, and the rate is even higher among older people and hospital patients—15% of whom have a documented penicillin allergy.

But studies that have gone back and conducted allergy skin testing on patients whose medical records list a penicillin allergy have found that the overwhelming majority test negative. A 2017 review of two dozen studies of hospitalized patients found that over all, 95 percent tested negative for penicillin-specific immunoglobulin E, or IgE, antibodies, a sign of true allergy.

 “We used to say nine out of 10 people who report a penicillin allergy are skin-test negative. Now it looks more like 19 out of 20,” Dr. David Lang, president-elect of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and chairman of allergy and immunology in the respiratory institute at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Times.

What’s more, the researchers say, many people who have avoided penicillin for a decade or more after a true, severe allergic reaction will not experience that reaction again.

“Even for those with true allergy, it can wane,” said Dr. Kimberly Blumenthal, the review’s senior author, who is an allergist and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “We don’t really understand this, but once you’ve proven you’re tolerant, you go back to having the same risk as someone who never had an allergy” to penicillin.

Finally, the researchers warn, don’t challenge yourself to penicillin on your own. Patients who have been told they’re allergic to penicillin should talk to their doctors, who should take a careful history and review the symptoms of the reaction.

If the past reaction to penicillin included symptoms like headache, nausea, vomiting and itching, or the diagnosis was made based on a family history of the allergy, the patient is considered low-risk and may be able to take a first dose of penicillin or a related antibiotic, such as amoxicillin, under medical observation.

If the past reaction included hives, a rash, swelling, or shortness of breath, patients should have penicillin skin test, followed by a second test that places the reagent under the skin if the first test is negative. If both tests are negative, the patient is unlikely to be allergic to penicillin, and an oral dose may be given under observation to confirm

Research contact:  @nytimes

Apple’s new watch will appeal to Baby Boomers

September 14, 2018

On September 12, Apple introduced a line of three new smartphones—the 5.8-inch   iPhone Xs and  the 6.5-inch iPhone Xs Max—both with Super Retina displays;  as well as a colorful, lower-cost model, the iPhone Xr. The company also launched a new version of the Apple Watch—geared for Baby Boomers who want not only a wicked-rad smartphone, but the advantages that, until now, only came with a range of devices on the market, including the Kardia handheld ECG, the Philips Lifeline fall detector, and the FitBit workout tracker.

If a Baby Boomer not only wants to be au courant—but also wants to feel safe and connected to assistance—this new Apple Watch Series 4 is the technology to try out.  It comes featuring a larger screen, fall detection, the ability to take an electrocardiogram, and a workout tracker—all in one , with the phone service, watch face and alarms that the buyer expects.

The watch still requires FDA approval. But when that’s accomplished, Apple says in its press release, the watch will enable “customers to take an ECG reading right from the wrist using the new ECG app, which takes advantage of the electrodes built into the Digital Crown and new electrical heart rate sensor in the back crystal.

“With the app, users touch the Digital Crown and after 30 seconds, receive a heart rhythm classification. It can classify if the heart is beating in a normal pattern or whether there are signs of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), a heart condition that could lead to major health complications. All recordings, their associated classifications, and any noted symptoms are stored in the Health app in a PDF that can be shared with physicians.”

What’s more, the Apple Watch intermittently analyzes heart rhythms in the background and sends a notification to the user, if an irregular heart rhythm such as AFib is detected. It can also alert the user if the heart rate exceeds or falls below a specified threshold.

Fall detection on the phone uses a next-generation accelerometer and gyroscope, which measures up to 32 g-forces, along with custom algorithms to identify when hard falls occur. By analyzing wrist trajectory and impact acceleration, Apple Watch sends the user an alert after a fall, which can be dismissed or used to initiate a call to emergency services. If Apple Watch senses immobility for 60 seconds after the notification, it will automatically call emergency services and send a message along with location to emergency contacts.

In addition to its other features, the new watch makes it easier to stay connected. Customers can reach their friends with just a tap of the wrist with WalkieTalkie, a watch-to-watch connection that is an entirely new way to communicate around the world over Wi-Fi or cellular.4

Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS) starts at $399 and Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular) starts at $499—both featuring the updated design and new health features. Series 3 will be available at the new starting price of $279, making it even more accessible to customers. A new collection of bands debuts this fall and all bands continue to work with any generation of Apple Watch.

Research contact: Lance_Line@apple.com

A new wrinkle in cardiac research

August 28, 2018

Nobody likes wrinkles—unless they are on a Pug dog or a Sphinx cat. And even those breeds give some people the willies. But now, researchers have given us another reason to dislike these inevitable signs of aging: If they appear in certain places, they may portend health problems.

First it was earlobe creases that predicted heart disease, according to a 1973 letter published by the New England Journal of Medicine—and proven several times over by researchers. Now it’s a wrinkled forehead, based on a study conducted by Toulouse University Hospital in France.

Indeed, the European Society of Cardiology released results on August 26 of a study by Toulouse University Hospital clinicians that show that . “people who have lots of deep forehead wrinkles—more than is typical for their age may have a higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease (CVD).”

And those risks are ten times higher than for people with smooth foreheads. The study has found that assessing brow wrinkles could be an easy, low-cost way [of identifying] people who are at high risk for a cardiac disease.

“You can’t see or feel risk factors like high cholesterol or hypertension,” says study author Yolande Esquirol, associate professor of Occupational Health at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Toulouse in France.  “We explored forehead wrinkles as a marker because it’s so simple and visual. Just looking at a person’s face could sound an alarm; then we could give advice to lower risk …. The challenge is in identifying high-risk patients early enough to make a difference.”

According to the study authors, previous research has analyzed different visible signs of ageing to see if they can presage cardiovascular disease. In prior studies, crow’s feet showed no relationship with cardiovascular risk but these tiny wrinkles near the eyes are a consequence not just of age but also of facial movement. A link has been detected between male-pattern baldness, earlobe creases, xanthelasma (pockets of cholesterol under the skin) and a higher risk of heart disease, but not with an increased risk of actually dying.

The authors of the current study investigated a different visible marker of age—horizontal forehead wrinkles—to see if they had any value in assessing cardiovascular risk in a group of 3,200 working adults.  Participants, who were all healthy and were aged 32, 42, 52 and 62 at the beginning of the study, were examined by physicians who assigned scores depending on the number and depth of wrinkles on their foreheads. A score of zero meant no wrinkles while a score of three meant “numerous deep wrinkles.”

The study participants were followed for 20 years, during which time 233 died of various causes.  Of these, 15.2% had score two and three wrinkles; 6.6% had score one wrinkles; and 2.1% had no wrinkles.

The authors found that people with wrinkle score of one had a slightly higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease than people with no wrinkles. Those who had wrinkle scores of two and three had almost 10 times the risk of dying compared with people who had wrinkle scores of zero, after adjustments for age, gender, education, smoking status, blood pressure, heart rate, diabetes and lipid levels,

“The higher your wrinkle score, the more your cardiovascular mortality risk increases,” explains Dr Esquirol.

Furrows in your brow are not a better method of evaluating cardiovascular risk than existing methods, such as blood pressure and lipid profiles, but they could raise a red flag earlier, at a simple glance.

The researchers don’t yet know the reason for the relationship, which persisted even when factors like job strain were taken into account, but theorize that it could have to do with atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries due to plaque build-up. Atherosclerosis is a major contributor to heart attacks and other cardiovascular events.

The study was presented on August 26 at the European Society of Cardiology Congress

Research contact: @cliniquepasteur

Voters don’t give Trump a pass on gun control, healthcare, or Dreamers

March 21, 2018

Americans are paying close attention to several policy areas—among them, immigration, healthcare, gun violence and North Korea—in which they think President Donald Trump has taken the wrong approach, based on findings of a George Washington University Battleground Poll released on March 12.

Specifically, the poll of 1,000 registered U.S. voters nationwide found that a majority are worried about the POTUS’s handling of immigration (42% approve, 56% disapprove), healthcare (38%/56%), gun violence (39%/55%) and North Korea (41%/53%). 

Chief among the areas of concern is gun control. When asked how closely they’ve been following a given topic, almost all respondents said they were “closely” (72%) or “somewhat closely” (22%) following the aftermath of the premeditated mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a month ago.

On the Russia investigation, a slightly large number of respondents now believe that “members of the Trump campaign committed crimes and actively assisted Russia’s efforts”—up  to 39% from 31% in the previous edition of the GW Battleground Poll in August 2017. However, voters were split over how much the issue will matter to them when they enter their polling places next November: 41% said it was” not at all important” in the context of their 2018 voting decisions. About the same amount said it was “extremely important” (27%) or “very important” (13%) important to them. More Independents said it was “extremely important” (28%) or “very important” (12%) than “not important at all” (36%).

“The composition of the poll’s respondent universe reminds us that, even as issues rise and fall swiftly in the news these days, the electorate remains heavily skewed toward middle-aged and older voters,” said Michael Cornfield, associate professor of Political Management and research director of the GW Center for Political Management. “Candidate positions on issues that matter greatly to young people, starting with the heavily followed Parkland shooting story that stars high school activists, could be significant in enlarging the traditionally small voter pool for the midterm elections.”

Moving to the economy—a marginally brighter spot in the public’s perception—opinions still were split. The poll found that about half (52%) of likely voters approved of the approach that the president has taken with respect to jobs, with 41% disapproving. The split was similar for his handling of the overall economy (51% approve, 45% disapprove).

Voters are conflicted about the state of the American dream. Almost three-quarters (72%) think that they will be financially better off in five years, but only one-third (37%) believe that the next generation will be better off economically.

Looking ahead to this year’s congressional elections, the GW Battleground Poll found a slight shift in voters’ attitudes toward the candidates. Presented with a generic ballot, 49% of voters chose a Democrat and 40% chose a Republican. In the previous edition of the GW Battleground Poll, those figures were 44% and 38%, respectively. Undecided voters decreased to 12% from 1%.

Democrats also appeared more enthusiastic than did Republicans ahead of the midterm elections. Among voters who say they are “extremely likely” to vote in the upcoming midterms, 51% prefer Democrats, while 39% prefer Republicans. Among voters who say they are “very likely” to vote, Democrats enjoy a 10-point advantage (48% to 38%).

The George Washington University Battleground Poll is a series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) serve as the university’s home for the partnership.

Research contact: jshevrin@gwu.edu