Healthcare, medicine & pharmaceuticals

Wearing your heart on your sleeve

Back in 1988 sci-fi writer Rudy Rucker wrote a story that featured something called the 'heartshirt'. This was a t-shirt that monitored your heart rate and displayed the result on the outside of the shirt. Fast forward to 2004 and scientists at Singapore University's department of mechanical engineering have invented a shirt that calls for help if you fall over. The shirt monitors speed and tilt and sends information to whoever needs to know - be it friends, relatives or the local hospital. The shirt could be useful in the year 2029 when 20% of Singapore's population will be aged 65+. Spin-off ideas already include clothing that can monitor vital signs...such as your heartbeat.

Ref: (US)12 October 2004.

Fresh OTC idea

It's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate OTC products and private label alternatives are increasingly popular. So what can do you do to grab the consumer's attention and improve the brand experience? If you're Tylenol (the analgesic brand owned by McNeil Consumer & Speciality Pharmaceuticals) one thing you can do is bring out Tylenol Cool Caplets - mint flavoured headache relief. Cross-fertilising ideas from other consumer markets like confectionery is a great idea. Another clever idea is some technical innovation, which means the mint flavoured pill starts to taste like medicine after a short period, thereby ensuring that once in your mouth the OTC product won't actually be confused with confectionery.

Ref: New York Times (US), 23 August 2004.

Something to get your teeth into

The new(ish) Sonicare toothbrush developed by Philips and Procter & Gamble has some quite interesting features. First the toothpaste is held in a sachet inside the toothbrush and then delivered onto the brush head. The rapid bristle motion then converts the paste in to a liquid. A 2 minute timer tells you how long to brush and four 30 second alarms remind you when each "mouth quartile" is finished. But could the idea be taken even further? What if the brush actually shot a stream of water into your mouth - or worked on the opposite principle - sucking debris out. Indeed, what if you could blast your teeth in the same way that you use a high-pressure hose to clean your car? Dentists already use blasts of bicarbonate of soda to remove stains from teeth but what if you could use high-pressure water or sound waves to clean your own teeth at home? On a related note, scientists at Kings College London have found that streptococcus mutans (the bacteria that attacks teeth) rely on a specific protein to identify tooth enamel. If the protein is blocked the bacteria can't find the teeth. This discovery could lead to a new generation of toothpastes, mouthwashes and even chewing gum.

Ref: (NETH), The Times (UK). See

Give me the boy and I'll show you the man.

A growing body of research suggests that early childhood experiences shape how adults think and behave. The latest bit of research quoted in the Lancet says that 15% of high cholesterol and 15% of low fitness levels amongst young adults aged 18-24 are caused by watching too much TV as a child. Meanwhile, other research says that a child's IQ level at age 7 will influence how healthy the person is later in life. Whilst the overall theory rings true we think that both of these studies are rather suspect. IQ levels could be linked to household income (the more money you've got the more you spend on education), which could have more effect on health than IQ. Moreover, households with higher incomes tend to eat more healthily which would directly impact on future health. What is undoubtedly true is that most parents worry about their children's future but some of the highest risk factors are confused or hidden beneath the surface. For example, the risk of a child being abducted walking to school ('stranger danger') is far less than the chance of the child getting run over by the family SUV. Or, for example, what are the future social impacts of parents that are never at home?

Ref: The Lancet (UK), quoted in The Times (UK), 17 July 2004.

Medicines for children

The UK government has called on pharmaceutical companies to develop more drugs specially aimed at children. Currently most research and clinical trials are focussed on adult users. A new paediatric strategy has already been launched and there are plans for a new British National Formulary publication for children. Also on the subject of drug trials, GlaxoSmithKline has said that it will start posting the results of drug trials on the Internet. The results will include a database of information relating to about 65 drugs released since the year 2000. This move is in line with demands for greater transparency which is sweeping through most industries including healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

Ref: The Guardian (UK), 17 August 2004, New York Times (US), 1 September 2004.

A cure for loneliness.

This is a fantastic idea. About 20% of people live by themselves. In urban areas the figure can be closer to 25% and in the future there will be even more older people living on their own. So if you get ill (as older people tend to do) you have to go to hospital by yourself. This can result in high levels of stress and anxiety not to mention high blood pressure and heart rates. In San Leandro, California, Dr Stephen Ross has come up with a clever solution to this problem - volunteers that hold patient's hands during surgery. This is really inspired. The trend towards ageing in most populations is well documented and loneliness is set to become a major problem triggering all sorts of social ills and medical conditions. This is a low cost solution that taps into a resource that's been buried for too long - man's humanity to his fellow man.

Ref: Global Ideas Bank First quoted in the Wall Street Times and the National Enquirer (US) in 1992.

Inventions of the future

Some of the inventions we can expect to see over the next few years include artificial blood, brain food for babies, pills that remove the need for exercise, female Viagra, anti-alcoholism treatments, biodegradable scaffolding (to grow new organs such as breasts), memory pills, bionic eyes, human limb farms, routine brain function tests, anti-suicide pills, gene silencing and 'cluster bomb' treatments for cancer, artificial hearts and age retarding pills.


Game brain

Teenagers that watch sex on TV are much more likely to have sex themselves according to an American study. Meanwhile, a Japanese study claims that children who play computer games have lower levels of development in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This leads to lower levels of reasoning and creativity and higher levels of violence.

Ref: Paediatrics quoted in The Times (UK), 26 June 2004.

Stressed out by what?

A Canadian study comparing15,000 heart attacks in 52 countries with 15,000 healthy people found that stress was a factor in 20% of cases. This puts stress in third place as a risk factor behind smoking and high cholesterol. 90% of heart attacks are therefore, in theory, preventable through lifestyle and dietary changes. Researchers have known about the stress link for some time but the definition of 'stress' is somewhat vague. However, a number of trends are likely to contribute to even higher levels of stress in the future. These include longer work hours, job insecurity, increased relationship breakdowns, fear of crime and terrorism, loneliness and depression.

Ref: The Lancet (UK), quoted in Australian 4-5 September 2004.

The death of old age

According to James Vaupel from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic research in Germany, 50% of girls born in 2004 in rich post-industrial countries like Germany, Japan, the US, UK and Australia will live to be over 100 years old. Boys aren't far behind either probably living to the age of 95. Stick these predictions together and one in three children born in the developed world will live to be a centenarian. The consequences of this demographic trend are enormous. Increased healthcare and retirement costs could bankrupt some countries and will almost certainly result in significant change such as the end of compulsory retirement. Life expectancy has more than doubled over the past 200 years but in some countries it's still nasty, brutish and short. For example, in Japan a girl born today will probably live to be 84 years old. In China the figure is currently 70, in India 63 and in Mozambique just 39.

Ref: The Bulletin (AUS), 16 March 2004.