Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Should You Get Cancer Screenings?

by MELINDA BECK, online.wsj.com

Does the risk of overdiagnosis mean people should stop getting cancer screenings?

Doctors on both sides of the debate increasingly say patients should weigh all the pros and cons—including their health, age, family history and tolerance for uncertainty—and decide for themselves.

That may sound obvious, but the concept of "shared decision-making" is still relatively new in cancer care. Some hospitals have started programs to implement it.

Proponents say shared decision-making requires doctors to be more candid about the upsides, downsides and unknowns of both screening and treating early-stage cancers.

"We in our health-care conversations have not adequately explained both sides," says Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. For example, he says, mammograms do save lives, but not as many as most people think. For women in their 60s, regular screenings reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer by about 30%. "But 70% of women who were going to die of breast cancer will still die of it," Dr. Brawley says.

Patients often overestimate the lifetime risk of dying of cancer, he says. For prostate cancer and for breast cancer, it's about 2.7%. Put another way, for every 10,000 women in their 60s screened annually for 10 years, between five and 49 breast-cancer deaths will be averted; about 90 women will die of breast cancer anyway and 64 to 194 will be treated unnecessarily, according to a recent analysis in JAMA. An additional 940 will have biopsies that find no cancer.

For some patients, lowering even a small risk of dying of cancer is worth undergoing frequent screening and aggressively treating even low-risk cancers. Many cancer survivors say they are glad their cancer was found early, and don't second-guess if it needed to be caught at all. Some say they'd rather know they have even a low-risk cancer than stop looking and be left to wonder.

"Knowledge is empowering—you don't have to act on it, but you should keep an eye on it," says Gary Bloom of Olney, Md., who was treated for an aggressive papillary thyroid cancer 19 years ago.

Official screening guidelines, meanwhile, are moving away from one-size-fits-all recommendations and are telling patients to consult their doctors.

That takes more time, but doctors say it's the best way to manage uncertain risks and myriad human emotions.

Says dermatologist Brett Coldiron : "The era of paternalistic medicine is over."

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A new possible treatment for Glacoma




Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Secret To Creativity, Intelligence, And Scientific Thinking


Research shows that creativity and intelligence are linked with the physical connections in our brains. Here's how to connect the dots.

There’s a key difference between knowledge and experience and it’s best described like this:

The image is from cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, who came up with such a brilliant way to express a concept that’s often not that easy to grasp.

The image makes a clear point—that knowledge alone is not useful unless we can make connections between what we know. Whether you use the terms “knowledge” and “experience” to explain the difference or not, the concept itself is sound.

Lots of great writers, artists and scientists have talked about the importance of collecting ideas and bits of knowledge from the world around us, and making connections between those dots to fuel creative thinking and new ideas.

This is a really fun, inspiring topic to read about, so I collected some quotes and advice from my favorite creative thinkers about the importance of making connections in your brain. I’ve added emphasis to the important parts, but if you have time I’d recommend reading the whole post and even digging into the sources I’ve linked to.

To start with though, I want to look at some research that shows intelligence is closely linked with the physical connections in our brains.

Intelligence and connections: why your brain needs to communicate well with itself

Research from the California Institute of Technology showed that intelligence is something found all across the brain, rather than in one specific region:

The researchers found that, rather than residing in a single structure, general intelligence is determined by a network of regions across both sides of the brain.

One of the researchers explained that the study showed the brain working as a distributed system:

“Several brain regions, and the connections between them, were what was most important to general intelligence,” explains Gläscher.

The study also supported an existing theory about intelligence that says general intelligence is based on the brain’s ability to pull together and integrate various kinds of processing, such as working memory.

At Washington University, a research study found that connectivity with a particular area of the prefrontal cortex has a correlation with a person’s general intelligence.

This study showed that intelligence relied partly on high functioning brain areas, and partly on their ability to communicate with other areas in the brain.

Aside from physical connectivity in the brain, being able to make connections between ideas and knowledgewe hold in our memories can help us to think more creatively and produce higher quality work.

Connections fuel creativity: nothing is original

Steve Jobs is an obvious person to reference whenever you’re talking about creativity or innovation, so I wasn’t surprised to find that he has spoken about making connections before. This great quote is from aWired interview in 1996:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.

Jobs went on to explain that experience (as we saw in the image at the top of this post) is the secret to being able to make connections so readily:

That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Maria Popova is arguably one of the best examples (and proponents) of what she calls “combinatorial creativity.” That is, connecting things to create new ideas:

… in order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new castles.

She’s given a talk on this at a Creative Mornings event before, and made some great points. Being able to read about a wide range of topics is often one of of the most important elements. I really liked how she pointed out the way our egos affect our willingness to build on what others have done before:

… something we all understand on a deep intuitive level, but our creative egos sort of don’t really want to accept: And that is the idea that creativity is combinatorial, that nothing is entirely original, that everything builds on what came before…

My favorite part of this talk is Popova’s Lego analogy, where she likens the dots of knowledge we have to Lego building blocks:

The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles will become.

Author Austin Kleon is someone who immediately comes to mind whenever the topic of connections and remixing art comes up. Kleon is the author of Steal Like An Artist, a book about using the work of others to inspire and inform your own.

It starts off like this:

Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The honest artist answers, “I steal them.”

Kleon is inspiring because he’s so upfront about how the work of other people has become part of his own work. He’s also keen on the phrase I quoted from Maria Popova above, that “nothing is original”:

Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.

If you’re looking for advice on creating more connections between the knowledge you have (and collecting even more knowledge), Kleon’s book is a great place to start. He offers suggests like:

How scientific thinking is all about making connections

When it comes to the field of science, making connections between those dots of knowledge seems to be just as important. In The Art of Scientific Investigation, Cambridge University professor W. I. B. Beveridge wrote that successful scientists “have often been people with wide interests,” which led to their originality:

Originality often consists in linking up ideas whose connection was not previously suspected.

He also suggested that scientists should expand their reading outside of their own field, in order to add to their knowledge (so they would have more dots when it came time to connect them, later):

Most scientists consider that it is a more serious handicap to investigate a problem in ignorance of what is already known about it.

Lastly, science writer Dorian Sagan agrees that science is about connections:

Nature no more obeys the territorial divisions of scientific academic disciplines than do continents appear from space to be colored to reflect the national divisions of their human inhabitants. For me, the great scientific satoris, epiphanies, eurekas, and aha! moments are characterized by their ability to connect.

Start making connections and getting creative

I’ll leave you with some suggestions for improving your own ability to make connections.

1. Add to your knowledge--the power of brand new experiences

After all, the more knowledge you have, the more connections you can make. Start by reading more, reading more widely, and exploring new opportunities for gathering knowledge (for instance, try some new experiences—travel, go to meetups or take up a new hobby).

As researcher Dr.Duezel explained when it comes to experiencing new things:

“Only completely new things cause strong activity in the midbrain area.”

So trying something new and forcing a gentle brain overload can make a dramatic improvement for your brain activity.

2. Keep track of everything – especially in the shower

As Austin Kleon suggests, take a notebook (or your phone) with you everywhere and take notes. Don’t expect your brain to remember everything--give it a hand by noting down important concepts or ideas you come across. As you do this, you may remember previous notes that relate (hey, you’re making connections already!)--make a note of those as well.

You can do this even when you’re in the shower with something like Acqua Notes. The shower is especially a place that has proven to make us more creative.

3. Review your notes daily--the Benjamin Franklin method

Going over your notes often can help you to more easily recall them when you need to. Read through what you’ve made notes of before, and you might find that in the time that’s passed, you’ve added more knowledge to your repertoire that you can now connect to your old notes!

In fact, this used to be one of Benjamin Franklin’s best kept secrets. Every morning and every evening he would review his day answering 1 simple question:

“What good have I done today?”

Here is his original daily routine from way back:

No doubt you have some great ideas of your own--let us know in the comments what works for you.

This article originally appeared on Buffer and is reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bacterial Robotics building “bactobots” engineered to destroy skull-based tumors

August 12, 2014 at 5:55 am

Written by Meghana Keshavan

Cincinnati-based Bacterial Robotics is engineering a legion of so-called "bactobots" to do our bidding – in the fields of health care, industrial waste management and a litany of others.

It just received National Science Foundation funding to further develop its bacteria that can be used as a surgical tool. It is developing an organism that recognizes a certain type of skull-based tumor called a cholesteatoma that often leads to meningitis, brain abscess and death.

"Our goal is to inject the bactobot into the tumor, and have it recognize the tumor as a feedstock – and then destroy the tumor," CEO Jason Barkeloo said.

Code-named the Auribot, the engineered bacterium is being developed to augment current skull-based surgical practices, he said. It gives surgeons a consumable product that uses lysis to destroy residual cholesteatoma cells after the primary skull-based surgery is complete, he said.

The synthetic biology company is focused on taking natural genes – the genes that allow organisms to complete any given task in a natural setting – and move them into an "industrially robust bacteria," Barkeloo said.

"These little bacterial robots can do anything – produce biofuels, work as surgical devices, clean water – anything you can imagine a bacterium to do," Barkeloo said. "We’re working on one that strips paint off a wall."

The small company sold its first subsidiary, Pilus Energy, last year to San Diego-based Tauriga Sciences for $2.5 million. The bactobot it delivered cleans industrial customer waste.

The company’s business model involves developing these bactobots but then handing over further research and commercialization efforts to market experts.

"We’re able to launch a lot more bactobots then," Barkeloo said. "We’re not a cradle-to-grave company – maybe more of a cradle-to-diapers one."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

​This is some very amazing discoveries that you will find most interesting.​

Top 10 Israeli medical advances to watch in 2014 | ISRAEL21c

ISRAEL21c compiles a list of the 10 most extraordinary medical devices and pharmaceuticals that promise to revolutionize global healthcare.

Prof. Hossam Haick with the Na-Nose prototype.

We promised a top 10 list of the most exciting Israeli medical-device and pharmaceutical developments just around the corner. This list was very difficult to narrow down, because Israeli breakthroughs in this field are a near-daily occurrence. Our top 10 is just the tip of the iceberg....

1. Na-Nose http://israel21c.org/health/the-nose-that-can-smell-cancer-goes-commercial can detect lung cancer from exhaled breath and will be commercialized in a joint venture with Boston-based Alpha Szenszor – after a few more years of development and testing by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Invented by Technion Prof. Hossam Haick, Na-Nose (the “na” is for “nanotechnology”) has been proven in numerous international clinical trials to differentiate between different types and classifications of cancer with up to 95 percent accuracy.

2. Hervana http://israel21c.org/health/israeli-birth-control-product-wins-gates-grant/ non-hormonal, long-acting contraceptive suppository won a $1 million development grant last year from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is banking on the product’s potential to provide a more accessible, cheaper and socially acceptable family planning option in developing countries, though it would be marketed in the United States and Europe

3. Vecoy Nanomedicines http://israel21c.org/health/new-israeli-tactic-makes-deadly-viruses-commit-suicide nano-scale virus-traps (“vecoys”) capture and destroy viruses before they can infect cells, offering a huge advance over antiviral medications and even vaccines. Through the MassChallenge startup accelerator program last November, Vecoy’s platform was chosen to be tested in zero-gravity conditions on an upcoming NASA space mission.

4. CartiHeal http://israel21c.org/health/good-news-for-knees Agili-C cartilage regeneration solution for knees can regenerate true hyaline cartilage (the most abundant type of cartilage in the human body) after six months, according to clinical results so far. Based on research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the implant has earned the European Union’s CE Mark of approval. Further clinical studies could lead to FDA approval in the coming years.

5. Oramed Pharmaceuticalshttp://israel21c.org/headlines/groundbreaking-insulin-pill-nearing-market seeks to change Type 2 diabetes treatment from a daily injection to a daily pill. Its oral insulin capsule recently received patent approval in the EU, and is in Phase 2 clinical trials under an Investigational New Drug application with the FDA. Jerusalem-based Oramed is also moving forward with clinical trials of a capsule to treat Type

6. Premia Spine http://israel21c.org/health/new-implant-is-alternative-to-spinal-fusion developed the TOPS (Total Posterior Solution) System, aiming to revolutionize the spinal implant market with an artificial joint in the same way that total hip and total knee replacement systems made hip and knee fusions a thing of the past. TOPS is available already in Austria, Germany, the UK, Turkey and Israel. An FDA study is now in the follow-up

7. Mapi Pharma http://israel21c.org/headlines/mapi-pharma-patents-new-ms-pain-relief-drugs recently won US patents for two promising slow-release platforms for drugs to treat multiple sclerosis symptoms and pain. “We believe in two to three years they could be in the final stage of development, and about three years to market,” says Mapi Pharma president and CEO Ehud Marom. Another slow-release platform for a schizophrenia drug is next in the pipeline.

8. Discover Medical introduced the SomnuSeal mask http://israel21c.org/health/new-device-for-sleep-apnea-is-easier-on-the-heart/for CPAP machines – used widely by sufferers of Sleep-Apnea – in Europe. If sales are successful, the US market will be next. Because SomnuSeal is more comfortable than the current masks used with the machine, compliance could be much greater. Plus, the device does not put strain on the heart as the current mask does.

9. Real Imaging is in the midst of European clinical trials of RUTHhttp://israel21c.org/health/a-game-changer-in-breast-cancer-detection, its radiation-free, contact-free, inexpensive and advanced imaging system for early detection of breast cancer. The system, which has won patent approvals in several countries, analyzes 3D and infra-red signals emitted from cancerous and benign tissue, generating an objective report that needs no interpretation. Founder and CTO Boaz Arnon presented RUTH at the most recent conference of the Radiological Society of North America. Initial release of the product will likely be in Europe sometime in 2015.

RUTH, a hands-off breast cancer detection alternative.

10. NeuroQuest http://israel21c.org/health/blood-test-for-alzheimers has started clinical testing in the United States, under the auspices of Harvard Clinical Research Institute, for its ground-breaking blood test to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Initial trials in Israel showed NeuroQuest’s test – based on research by Prof. Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute of Science – to be 87 % accurate with an 85% specificity rate in detecting Alzheimer’s and ALS, two common neurodegenerative diseases.

Related Articles

About Abigail Klein Leichman
Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has free-lanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals


Bill Temple
19 Linkside Ct.
Isle of Palms, SC 29451

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

6 reasons why the market for biosensor wearables is changing

6:30 am by | 0 Comments

A new report from Rock Health looking at the future of the biosensor wearables market shows a market in transition. The next generation of wearables is more targeted towards patient populations, particularly chronic conditions. In a Google hangout about the report, Malay Gandhi, a co-author of the report, talked about some of the qualities that are making these wearables more appealing to consumers and the b2b market and features that will give them staying power.

Athletic trackers aimed at the mass market have lost ground Nike’s exit from the wearables market shows there are far more fitness tracking devices than the market can support. There’s also a certain amount of consumer fatigue because the accuracy of fitness bands can vary. It’s difficult to keep most consumers interested in using them after six months. That prompted The New York Times article comparing these wristbands to "digital snake oil." Another problem is the marketing. Companies have pursued an aspirational market. Rather than focusing on specific-use cases, they have taken a generic, mass market approach with the expectation that consumers will get it and see their inherent value. The successful companies will the ones that can diversify and show how their wearables applies to specific needs. Commoditization has forced companies to develop more sophisticated tools.

The impact of smartphones, ACA Smartphones have catalyzed the market for biosensor wearables. Wearables can offload the display through software apps, computing and Internet connectivity to a smartphone. Bluetooth has made the transfer of data between devices and smartphones energy efficient. The Affordable Care Act has spurred the pursuit of value-based care. Insurers and employer wellness plans see in these wearables the potential for an objective source of truth to reward incentives for reaching wellness objectives, or how the member is falling short.

The report also highlights three specific areas in which biosensor wearables need to evolve. Companies will need to focus on clinical endpoints and will have to be more committed to their technology passing clinical muster if their products are to be taken seriously by the medical and scientific community.
Big players could mean less fragmentation The reluctance by wearable companies to align themselves with one network has led to more fragmentation. But with the entrance of Samsung and Apple into the wearables market as well as Google’s contact lens for non-invasive glucose monitoring in January this year show that this could change in the near future.

Functionality This is what determines the wearable’s potential usefulness to users. Gandhi’s example of Lumoback — a posture improvement tool — gives feedback on posture and instructs users on what they need to do to improve it. That’s something that a heart rate tracker cannot do as effectively.

Reliability The need for valid data for clinical decisions requires the ability to consistently generate accurate data. FDA clearance is critical to building b2b customers across physician practices and hospitals that many biosensing wearable companies are chasing. A good example of a biosensor wearable company that’s meeting this demand is the maker of the swallowable pill tracker Helius by Proteus.

Convenience goes hand in hand with engagement. Without convenience, companies lose engagement, or as Gandhi put it, "it falls right off a cliff." It’s also one of the toughest things to get right. Packaging and insights on the user experience are critical to making it work. Gandhi pointed to Spire, a tool that tracks respiration. It can be used for COPD or asthma and other respiratory illnesses. It can be worn in several different places and supports wireless charging.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Artificial Intelligence Raises New Hope for Cancer Patients


June 7, 2014, 6:28 AM PDT

By James Temple

James Temple

An oncology nurse connects the port implanted in the retired university professor’s chest to a portable IV pump. The device will deliver a continuous supply of an experimental therapy over the next four days, as he carries it around in a small shoulder bag.

Doctors diagnosed Michaels, 70, with bladder cancer in the late summer of 2011 (we’ve changed his last name for medical privacy reasons). Despite several rounds of surgery and chemotherapy, the cancer continued to metastasize. His doctors were running out of treatment options.

Which is what brings Michaels to that barcalounger. Weill Cornell is one of several facilities participating in a clinical trial for the promising cancer drug, known as BPM 31510.

The study itself is largely indistinguishable from the hundreds of cancer trials under way at any given time in the United States — but the drug development process was unorthodox. It wasn’t a scientist who spotted the potential of BPM 31510. It was an artificial intelligence program, running on the servers of a Framingham, Mass., startup named Berg Pharma.

It’s among a growing number of companies and researchers applying smart algorithms and massive amounts of data to sift through gigantic stacks of medical research or the biology of the body itself for clues that could save the lives of cancer patients.

The techniques in question cross the fuzzy boundaries of AI, machine learning, computational medicine, quantitative pharmacology and plain old big data (and any practitioner will happily argue at length about which is what and why their approach is superior). But institutions as big as IBM, Merck, Memorial Sloan Kettering, UC Berkeley and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are eager to explore the potential — and in most cases are investing millions to do so.

"My real hope, the deep hope, is that this is a home run."

Bob Michaels, cancer patient participating in the Berg Pharma clinical trial

The research efforts roughly break down into two tracks: Those using these computational tools to improve personalized medicine, pinpointing the most effective existing drugs against an individual’s specific cancerous mutations — and those, like Berg, attempting to develop brand new treatments.

Therapies such as BPM 31510 will ultimately have to pass the same hurdles as any drug candidate. But the company hopes the approach vastly accelerates drug discovery and dramatically reduces the cost. The average price of developing a successful treatment easily surpasses $1 billion — but can exceed $4 billion when failed drug candidates are taken into account, as Forbes has noted.

"We think we’ll cut the drug development time at least in half and cut costs at least by 50 percent or more," said Niven Narain, chief technology officer at Berg. "Our goals are to really make a tremendous impact on changing the American health care system."

Michaels’ goal is more immediate and personal.

"My real hope, the deep hope, is that this is a home run," he said. "That it wipes out the metastatic cancer and I live another thirty years like a healthy person."

Grist For The Mill

There are plenty of reasons to keep expectations in check for any single drug candidate — or the computational approach in general. More than 95 percent of drug candidates fail in clinical trials and there’s a long history of premature claims in medicine, particularly when it comes to cancer.


"This is certainly promising, but it doesn’t mean we’ll be successful," said David Patterson, a professor of computer science at UC Berkeley developing machine learning tools for cancer research. "Many people have gotten excited about new technologies many times in cancer."

But he and other observers strongly suspect that digitizing biology will ultimately represent a fundamental step forward. A convergence of forces may have finally put medicine onto the trajectory of Moore’s Law, promising accelerating advances in understanding and treatments, including: the plummeting cost of DNA sequencing, the accelerating power of computational tools, improving understanding of the genomic basis of cancers and growing mounds of medical data.

In a strong signal of the perceived promise of these approaches, the FDA last month announced funding for the UCSF-Stanford Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation, a joint effort designed to leverage diverse data sets and computational tools to accelerate drug development.

"We’re seeing this ‘big data’ trend in everything, but at least in this area it’s very exciting," said Michael Keiser, an instructor at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine and founder of SeaChange Pharmaceuticals. "The traditional problem was just not having the grist for the mill."

My Dear Watson

Glioblastoma multiforme is an aggressive brain cancer that, by some estimates, kills more than 13,000 people in the United States each year (including, in 2008, my father).

The existing standard of care is a combination of "debulking" surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. It can add months to a patient’s life, but typically the cancer makes a swift return.

In March, IBM announced a clinical study in partnership with the New York Genome Center aimed at improving the odds by using the tech giant’s Watson artificial intelligence system to hit upon more personalized treatment plans.

"You’re really trying to find the needle in the haystack."

Steve Harvey, global technology and analytics leader at IBM

Cancers are often classified into location types – lung, breast, cervical — that suggest they’re homogenous. But tumors are unpredictable bundles of mutations, as many as a million among the three billion nucleotide base pairs in the human genome. And different mutations respond in different ways to different treatments.

For the approximately 25 patients in the study, the genome center will conduct whole DNA sequencing of normal cells and tumor cells to ascertain the precise mutations at work.

What typically happens at this point is technicians will tediously scan for known mutations and match them to drugs with demonstrated success in treating them. But the vast number of possible mutations and endless cancer studies add up to a big data problem that’s outstripping the capacities of human minds.

"You’re really trying to find the needle in the haystack," said Steve Harvey, global technology and analytics leader at IBM.

Enter Watson, which can gobble up entire databases of medical literature and easily handle terabytes of genomic data, drawing lines between mutations and treatments that might have been missed before. The system can literally cut down the process from weeks to minutes, while covering a broader swath of the scientific literature.

Glioblastoma patients are in a race against time. Most will die within 15 months and many will pass away much sooner — so cutting down the amount of time it takes to identify treatments is critical in itself.

Many drug candidates are abandoned if they didn’t directly attack the principal target of a particular study, even if they were shown to be effective against some other mutations. But any drug candidate that made it through a Stage 1 clinical trial could potentially be used for patients in the current study.

IBM and the New York Genome Center are in the early stages of developing the study, which will begin later this year. Separately, oncologists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center are collaborating with IBM to develop a Watson application that could help doctors identify treatments for patients with lung cancer.

A New Frontier

But others say that identifying the best known treatments isn’t the real problem – it’s finding novel ones.

"It’s not that the answer is in the literature," UC Berkeley’s Patterson said. "We need to do new experiments to find things that haven’t been tried before."

His team is collaborating with Dr. Brian Druker at Oregon Health and Science University on a study of acute myeloid leukemia, a deadly form of blood cancer.

A growing number of scientists believe the most effective treatments against certain cancers will not be a single silver bullet — but a cocktail of treatments, much as with HIV.

For Druker’s study, which is just getting under way, the researchers will sequence numerous patient blood samples. Then they’ll feed that information plus clinical data about various compounds into the machine learning algorithms at UC Berkeley, hoping to spot a handful of drugs likely to help.

In turn, they plan to rapidly test different combinations in varying proportions against the blood samples in Druker’s laboratory.

That data will flow back into the software. It promises to create a positive feedback loop that makes the algorithms increasingly smarter, more adept at finding the customized combination that will be most effective for any given person.

In a sense, the study straddles the two major approaches mentioned at the start: Taking known treatments but applying them in a novel way.

"We’re going from a biologically-intensive field to a more computer science-intensive field," Patterson said. "There’s been a million-fold improvement in the cost of sequencing. It’s turning that information into bits — and that’s why we can step in."

"Computer scientists can deal with terabytes or petabytes of information," he said. "That’s in our wheelhouse."

A terrible case

Michaels felt rundown throughout the summer of 2011, uncomfortable in his own body. But he was determined to enjoy the season and put off the inevitable round of doctors visits until fall. Then before dawn one morning, he woke up and rushed to the bathroom.

"It came out like burgundy wine," he said.

After the initial biopsy, Michaels’ doctors decided to attack what they believed was a contained tumor with a six-week course of Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, a vaccine that stimulates the immune system. It was delivered through a urinary catheter, which was "no fun," he said.

Worse, it didn’t work. They next performed a radical cystectomy, the removal of the bladder, at which point his urologist discovered the cancer was more widespread than originally thought.

Michaels underwent a round of chemotherapy — and another and another. The treatments alleviated symptoms, but the cancer continued to metastasize, most recently surfacing in the omentum, part of the lining of the abdominal cavity.

Dr. Scott Tagawa, Michaels’ oncologist at Weill Cornell, finally counseled him to consider the Berg Pharma clinical trial.

"He’s a very straight shooter, who was willing to say, ‘this is a really terrible case and (BPM 31510) looks pretty good,’" Michaels said. "I decided to go for it."

Deranged cells

Berg Pharma, cofounded in 2006 by Silicon Valley real estate magnate Carl Berg, is squarely in the camp of looking for new treatments.

For any given condition, the company begins by running a broad array of tests on a large number of healthy and diseased samples. They analyze tissue, blood, urine and more to identify the constituent DNA, proteins, lipids, metabolites and more.

Then the company creates artificial intelligence computer models that compare the two, ideally highlighting what has gone wrong in the diseased cells, what heightened level of proteins or missing lipids might be at work.

For cancer, Berg Pharma homed in on mitochondria, a structure within cells that influences a process known as apoptosis — or programmed cell death.

It’s the mechanism that usually causes old or damaged cells to self-destruct.

"But cancer cells unfortunately have subverted this normal metabolic process," said Peter Yu, the oncologist overseeing the Berg trial at the Palo Alto Medical Center in Silicon Valley.

This allows deranged cells to invade healthy tissue and often spread throughout the body, which is precisely why the disease is so deadly.

BPM 31510 appears to switch mitochondria back on, restoring apoptosis – at least in the lab and in animals. That’s especially intriguing because it would seem to work across cancer types — no matter the genetic mutation — by addressing the underlying mechanism itself.

Altogether, nearly 40 patients are enrolled in the study, which spans Weill Cornell, Palo Alto Medical Foundation and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

"We’re one of the first companies, if not the first, to bring artificial intelligence into medicine for the purpose of developing drugs," Berg’s Narain said.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter how novel the approach is, or whether it happens in academia or private industry. What matters is whether it leads to the identification or creation of treatments that save or extend lives.

At this point, Yu said that nothing can be said scientifically about the effectiveness of the drug in humans. The current trial phase will continue through 2015, and the drug would still have several stages to go before the FDA could approve it.

Michaels is only a case study of one and he’s on chemotherapy as well. But he personally feels like the drug is working. He says his abdominal pain has subsided, his energy has improved and he’s working out again for the first time in more than a year.

"It’s really extraordinary," he said. "I feel it’s like mentioning a no-hitter in the ninth inning, I don’t want to jinx it. But I’m hoping it’s going to do the job."