Welcome back, BMSA readers! We hope you enjoy the second entry of our What We’re Reading series. This year, we’ve almost doubled the number of featured articles in our compilations, so hopefully there will be more selections that suit your taste. Feel free to let us know what you think of this new length or anything else by sending an email to email@example.com. We’re always striving for perfection!
What the public hopes and fears about the use of AI in health care
Contributor Si-Cheng Dai
As the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) — especially of its role in the healthcare industry — seems to be encroaching upon our lives more and more, we need to start thinking about how people will receive this wave of innovation. That’s exactly what researchers at the Vector Institute were thinking when they conducted six focus groups in Ontario to amass the opinions of the general public. Individuals seemed to be disgruntled about the ideas of AI, perhaps influenced by popular films like The Terminator. However, when presented three realistic scenarios on the utilization of health data in AI (such as the use of machines to identify the root of cancer), the opinion of the people shifted. In general, they concurred that as long as health data was kept private and research was kept transparent, AI research should be supported. However, worry about job loss and machines running wild still appeared. In the coming years, it will be increasingly important to get the public involved in decisions about AI in healthcare, as those innovations will be directly affecting our daily lives.
A spit test may be the answer to diagnosing concussions
Contributor Sabrina Ke
Diagnosing concussions can be tricky because there are often no obvious visible signs, and symptoms can be confused with other causes. For example, headaches, which are a common symptom of concussions, are also common symptoms of stress or fatigue. And since bias and other underlying variables can also skew results, it is for this reason that concussions are often underreported, reported late or go completely undetected. However, a recent clinical trial introduces the possibility of using spit from an individual as an unbiased objective method of testing for concussions. Saliva contains micro ribonucleic acid (microRNA), which when analyzed, can help researchers to determine if the patient has a concussion. Evidence from prior research suggests that there may be relationships between microRNA levels, brain trauma, cell death, and the creation of new brain cells; therefore abnormal microRNA levels could indicate a possible concussion. Although further research and testing are needed, the study conducted by the researchers displayed promising results in identifying patients with concussions. With further research, this test could allow for more immediate and reliable detection of concussions, allowing for early treatment and bringing increased awareness to the effects of undetected concussions.
Whose COVID-19 vaccines are coming to Canada, and when? How well do they work? Everything you need to know
Contributor Claire Millard
Currently, there are two leading drug companies that have made great strides towards effective vaccinations against COVID-19. However, before anyone in Canada gets a shot in the arm, the vaccines first need to be approved by Health Canada, and then, they need to figure out how to get them to Canadians. With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, everyone is hoping to see vaccinations roll out as soon as possible: however, there are still many hurdles that need to be overcome before the vaccination process begins. With promising drugs produced from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna both showing significant efficacy and safety, Canada has been moving quickly to secure deals for these vaccine candidates. In fact, between the two sources, Canada has secured enough vaccines for every Canadian to have the required 2 doses for effective vaccination.
The emerging vaccine candidates rely on modern technologies for immunization, both being RNA vaccines. In essence, after administration, RNA vaccines use the bodies’ own mechanisms to produce viral proteins so an immune response can be built up against them. For approval in Canada, the vaccines must meet a set of safety standards outlined by Health Canada, a process by which is hoped to be sped up by the means of a rolling submission where new data is provided to approval agencies as it is produced. Even with this in place, there is no way to know the exact timeline for approval and subsequent wide-spread vaccination for COVID-19.
The last hurdle that will need to be overcome will be the distribution, once the vaccine is approved and obtained. Distribution will likely be initially for prioritized groups, butthe end goal is that the vaccination will be available to all Canadians free of cost. The only question then being how many will choose to not be vaccinated and how will this affect the immunity of Canada as a whole?
What Research in Antarctica Tells Us about the Science of Isolation
Contributor Ronnie Du
Isolation—it might be the only thing that spreads through an absence of close contact. In our socially-distanced society, it has also become something of a pandemic in itself. As innocuous it seems, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, prolonged isolation may actually trigger physiological changes in our brains. It was found that researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, who spent 14 months in the physical and social isolation of Antarctica, had lost volume in regions of their hippocampus—an area associated with learning, emotional processing, and spatial navigation. This correlated with decreased cognitive performance on their spatial processing and selective attention tests. Moreover, upon returning to society, Tim Heitland, the leader of the expedition, noted that everyday life had become overwhelming, from the people to the colors to the vegetation. The authors of the paper surmise that the mechanism behind this phenomenon is similar to that which causes post-traumatic stress disorder in inmates subjected to solitary confinement. And although further research has yet to be published, this work may be critical in understanding the health implications of our time spent in quarantine.
Can an Algorithm Prevent Suicide?
Contributor Saniyah Qureshi
Dr. Marianne Goodman, a psychiatrist at the Veterans Integrated Service Network claims that we shouldn’t always rely on medical experts to identify those who are at risk of suicide. Many veterans struggle when transitioning into civilian life while many are also diagnosed with substance abuse and PTSD resulting in a high rate of suicides. Traditionally, doctors identify those at risk through examining one’s past mental health diagnoses, experiences of substance abuse, and by ultimately using their instincts. However, this method of testing has not always been successful, making way for artificially intelligent programs to better detect those at risk. This algorithm accounts for several other factors and flags veterans whom it suspects require observation. The local clinic’s Reach Vet coordinator arranges an appointment, explains the warning sign, and confirms the veteran has a suicide safety plan. On the other hand, deploying AI may also increase the chances of detecting false positives leading to many being watched closely even if they are not at risk. To some, it may feel like an invasion of privacy or an unwanted check-in and so, is the invasion of privacy a cost worth incurring to prevent veteran suicides?