Computers will monitor chronic disease treatment

New Worlds: Horticulture Prof. Cary Mitchell, colleagues have developed methods that could grow sweet potatoes in space.

By
December 17, 2011 23:16
[illustrative photo]

Computer technology keyboard 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters/Catherine Benson)

The University of Haifa has launched an international, wide-range research project aimed at developing a computerized system that will ultimately minimize the need to go to an outpatient clinic or to the hospital for monitoring and follow-up therapy sessions.

The European Union has granted about 6 million pounds sterling (about USD 9.4 million) over the course of four years to fund the project, whose proposal prevailed over 60 other proposals that were submitted. The project’s main goal is to enable chronic and other patients who require close watching of their conditions to undergo real-time monitoring and receive decision-support in their home environment, delivered to their mobile phones or accessed via web browsers; and to give medical teams state-of-the-art clinical guidelines so they can give treatment via computerized systems.

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Prof. Mor Peleg, head of the University of Haifa’s information systems department and scientific coordinator for the project, explained: “Most of the technological components of the system already exist, but until now they have not been integrated and personalized for patient context and use. This project will be integrating and extending the systems and ensuring that the final product will indeed improve patients’ quality of life and lower the doctors’ workload. “ Collaborating in this international research project, dubbed “Mobiguide,” are partners from five different countries.

The Israeli partners working along with Prof. Peleg and Dr. Pnina Soffer of the University of Haifa are Prof. Eddy Karnieli of Rambam Medical Center, Prof. Yuval Shahar and his team from the Medical Informatics Research Center at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and innovation management company Beacon Tech. Collaborating with the Israeli team are medical, technological and academic experts from the Netherlands, Italy, Austria and Spain.

The project’s aim is to provide patients who require monitoring to lead their normal lives while receiving continuous monitoring and decision support relating to various aspects of their condition, such as sugar level, heart rate and blood pressure. In the first stage, the system will be implemented in Italy to monitor patients suffering from abnormal heart rate and in Spain to monitor patients suffering from pregnancy complications such as diabetes and elevated blood pressure. The decision-support recommendations will be communicated to the patients’ mobile phones or could be accessed over the Internet via the patients’ or doctors’ PCs. The medical data will be automatically collected via portable devices worn by the patients, using technology developed by research collaborators in the Netherlands. The computerized system will enable the patients and their doctors to make informed decisions on whether the individual patient can continue conducting routine daily activities or requires a hospital visit.

According to Peleg, the system will provide advice that is specific to more than just the patient’s medical data; the system will know the patients’ socioeconomic level, family status and even if they are abroad at the time of monitoring.

“The system aims to adapt treatment to the personal and not just clinical state of the patient. As such, for example, the system would provide different recommendations to a person living alone and to a person who has the help of family members.

In this system, the patient's data, integrated from the hospital’s medical records, the monitoring devices and the decision-support system, will belong to the patient and not to the medical institution that generated it. This way, the patient will be able to arrive at the closest hospital and grant the local physicians access to his/her medical data, which would be able be retrieved via the Internet,” Peleg concluded.

FRESH SWEET POTATOES IN SPACE?

The American holiday of Thanksgiving, fondly remembered by immigrants long after their move to Israel, has come and gone. But now researchers at Purdue University in Indiana say that astronauts who spend the holiday in space will some day not have to forgo one of the most traditional parts of the day’s feast – fresh sweet potatoes. Horticulture Prof. Cary Mitchell and colleagues have developed methods for growing sweet potatoes that reduce the required growing space without decreasing the amount of food that each plant produces. Their findings were published recently in the journal Advances in Space Research. Funding came from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Sweet potato plants have main vines with many shoots that branch out to the sides. Mitchell said it was common for one plant to cover the entire surface of a five-sq.m. greenhouse bench. “Sweet potato is like an invasive plant. It will take over everything,” said Mitchell. “That's not acceptable if you're going to grow it in space.” Knowing they needed to contain the plant’s horizontal spread, the team decided to force it to grow vertically.

Using cones or cylindrically shaped wire cages, they trained plants’ main vines to wrap around the structures while removing the space-consuming side shoots. “It turns out the vines are not really picky about what you do with them,” Massa said. “As long as you leave the main shoot tip alone, you can remove the side shoots and trim them away without any yield loss.”

The end of the largest vine, called the main shoot tip, is the only really sensitive part, as it sends hormones through the plant that stimulate root development.

This is important since it is the roots that become the sweet potatoes. The side shoots, if picked when still young, are tender and can be eaten in salads, improving the plant's usefulness, Mitchell said. On Earth, scientists might want to find ways to get crops to take up less area, focusing on only two dimensions. A tall, skinny corn stalk, for instance, takes up little space in a farm field. In space, however, that third dimension – height – is important because plants may need to be stacked to use all available space.

Using a cone or cylinder is what might make sweet potato a viable space crop.

Since the area inside the cages is empty, astronauts could put other plants inside and keep them alive with LED lighting.

Sweet potato doesn’t seem to care what season it is or what conditions it’s in, said Mitchell, noting what one sees in home vegetable bins – sweet potatoes spontaneously growing without any help.


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