AI Health

Friday Roundup

The AI Health Friday Roundup highlights the week’s news and publications related to artificial intelligence, data science, public health, and clinical research.

March 11, 2022

In today’s Duke AI Health Friday Roundup: why “AI” and “machine learning” can be loaded terms; lead exposure may have docked IQ points; DeepMind’s Ithaca parses, dates ancient Greek writing; pharma marketing explores the rest of the color wheel; effects of school masking policies; preprints need clarity on policies; Shackleton’s Endurance located on ocean floor; Surgeon General issues call for misinformation data and perspectives; NC to use Medicaid to tackle social determinants of health; IoT, medical devices at risk from security vulnerabilities; much more:

Deep Breaths

Photograph of the last throes of the Endurance, crushed in pack ice during Ernest Shackleton’s 1915 Antarctic expedition. Public Domain image by the Royal Geographic Society via Wikipedia.
Royal Geographic Society/Wikipedia
  • “The Endurance was meant to deliver Shackleton and his team to the southern coast of the Weddell Sea for the overland expedition. But the ship became trapped in heavy sea ice in October 1915, and the crew abandoned it and moved everything they could onto their camp on the ice floes.” Talk about forgetting where you parked: Scientific American’s Tom Metcalfe covers the discovery, announced this week, of the sunken wreck of Antarctic explorer Earnest Shackelton’s ship Endurance, beautifully preserved in the icy waters of the Weddell Sea.
  • “Born roughly twice as massive as the sun and lying about 1,300 light-years from Earth, V Hydrae is what’s known as an asymptotic giant branch star. It once fused hydrogen in its core, as the sun does. But now it is a cool, brilliant, puffed-up star that alternately burns hydrogen and helium in shells around a carbon-oxygen core. Such stars cast lots of material into space.” At Science News, Ken Croswell reports on astronomers at the ALMA telescope in Chile’s Atacama desert, who have caught a star in the process of puffing away its outer layers on its way to the end of its stellar life as a white dwarf star.


Photograph of a jumble of individual keys from a computer keyboard, with an open padlock sitting on top. Image credit: FLY:D/Unsplash
Image credit: FLY:D/Unsplash
  • “Researchers from the health care security firm CyberMDX, which was acquired last month by the IoT security firm Forescout, found the seven easily exploited vulnerabilities, collectively dubbed Access:7, in the IoT remote access tool PTC Axeda. The platform can be used with any embedded device, but it has proven particularly popular in medical equipment.” Wired’s Lily Hay Newman reports on a security bug (or collection of bugs) that has exposed thousands of devices – including medical equipment – to being exploited by hackers.
  • “The use of the Cambridge hybrid closed-loop algorithm is safe and leads to clinically meaningful improvements in glycaemic control in children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes compared with usual care over 6 months….Results from our study together with those from previous studies strongly support the adoption of closed-loop therapy in children and adolescents with suboptimal glycaemic control in clinical practice.” A research article by Ware and colleagues published recently in Lancet Digital Health reports results from a randomized trial that compared an insulin-delivery algorithm designed to run on a smartphone with usual care in children with type 1 diabetes mellitus.
  • “A deep-learning system can deliver real-time diabetic retinopathy detection capability similar to retina specialists in community-based screening settings. Socioenvironmental factors and workflows must be taken into consideration when implementing a deep-learning system within a large-scale screening programme in LMICs [lower/middle income countries].” Also in Lancet Digital Health: a research article by Ruamviboonsuk and colleagues presents findings from a cohort study of a deep learning approach to screening patients for diabetic retinopathy in Thailand.
  • “Our lack of self-consciousness in using, or consuming, language that takes machine intelligence for granted is not something that we have co-evolved in response to actual advances in computational sophistication…. Rather it is something to which we have been compelled in large part through the marketing campaigns, and market control, of tech companies selling computing products whose novelty lies not in any kind of scientific discovery, but in the application of turbocharged processing power to the massive datasets that a yawning governance vacuum has allowed corporations to generate and/or extract.” A post at Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology Medium page explains why the center is eschewing the use of terms such as “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning.”
  • “Testing revealed that Ithaca on its own is able to achieve 62 percent accuracy in the restoration of damaged text, compared to 25 percent accuracy for human historians. But the combination of man and machine boosts the overall accuracy to 72 percent, which Assael et al. believe demonstrates “the potential for human-machine cooperation” in the field.” Ars Technica’s Jennifer Oullette reports on a Google DeepMind AI application that can interpret fragmentary texts in ancient Greek with far higher accuracy than human experts – although the best results are achieved with human expertise plus AI assistance.


Samples of refined lead (electrolytically refined nodule clumps and a milled cube) Image credit: Alchemist-HP via Wikipedia
Image credit: Alchemist-HP/Wikipedia
  • “We estimate that over 170 million Americans alive today were exposed to high-lead levels in early childhood, several million of whom were exposed to five-plus times the current reference level….We estimate population-level effects on IQ loss and find that lead is responsible for the loss of 824,097,690 IQ points as of 2015.” A research article by MacFarland and colleagues published in PNAS reports that more than 170 million currently living Americans were exposed to lead toxicity sufficient to result in an estimated average loss of 2 IQ points over the interval examined in the study.
  • “We identified significant longitudinal effects when comparing the two groups, including: (i) greater reduction in grey matter thickness and tissue-contrast in the orbitofrontal cortex and parahippocampal gyrus, (ii) greater changes in markers of tissue damage in regions functionally-connected to the primary olfactory cortex, and (iii) greater reduction in global brain size.” An article published in Nature by Douaud and colleagues describes post-COVID changes in brain structure observed in a cohort of participants from the UK Biobank.
  • Two recent studies – one, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, that examined masking policies and COVID incidence in Arkansas schools; another, published in Pediatrics, that examined masking and COVID incidence in schools across 9 states – both found that masking policies appear to prevent the secondary spread of COVID in schools.
  • “Over three years, the work — a collaboration between researchers at Cedars-Sinai in L.A., Boston Children’s, and the University of Toronto — led to the discovery of two new groups of brain cells: boundary and event cells. The researchers theorized that these neurons are involved in cleaving experiences into distinct events that humans can better remember.” A story by STAT News’ Tino Delamerced unfolds a remarkable discovery that sheds new light on how the brain’s neuronal “filing system” works to index and retrieve memories.


Photograph of art installation featuring numerous brightly colored umbrellas suspended in air. Image credit: Christian Walker/Unsplash
Image credit: Christian Walker/Unsplash
  • “More recently though, a handful of pharma companies jumped on the “not-blue” bandwagon – like Sanofi’s rebrand with purple and GSK’s Haleon spinoff with green – so we decided to talk to color experts about pharma and healthcare brands. What do different colors mean in the industry and why does it matter?” Endpoint News’ Beth Snyder Bulik notices that pharma marketing materials are starting to shed a hitherto somewhat monochromatic look.
  • “Preprint servers should adopt clear and detailed policies for research integrity and scientific misconduct considering the relatively high number of recent retractions related to COVID-19 publications. Such policies should include clear and operational definitions of research integrity and different types of scientific misconduct as well as the specific actions to be taken to address any misconduct.” A paper recently published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology by Hamade and colleagues finds that preprint servers, which have proliferated recently (and especially during the COVID pandemic), are not all equal when it comes to making clear their policies on conflicts of interest, authorship credit, and research integrity.
  • “While there are good reasons to consider SW-CRT [stepped-wedge cluster randomized trial] design for PCTs, they are not always the best choice. All PCTs involve tradeoffs between scientific rigor and pragmatic generalizability as they all must deal with the complexity of collecting and analyzing data generated by health practitioners working in real-world settings.” An article by investigators from the NIH Pragmatic Trials Collaboratory published in Contemporary Clinical Trials examines the potential ethical issues raised by the use of pragmatic clinical trial design known as stepped-wedge randomization.
  • “During the pandemic, many of us have been exposed to health misinformation— information that is false, inaccurate, or misleading according to the best available evidence at the time. It can be really hard to know what is true amidst all this misinformation….Health misinformation has caused confusion and led people to decline COVID-19 vaccines, reject public health measures such as masking and physical distancing, and use unproven treatments. It has also led to harassment of and violence against public health workers, health care workers, airline staff, and other frontline workers.” US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy asks the public for input – including systematic research – on the topic of online health misinformation.


Man in shadow, standing with head bowed and back to camera in front of large glass doors or windows covered with sheets of water as if from a downpour of rain. Image credit: Samuel Austin/Unsplash
Image credit: Samuel Austin/Unsplash
  • “While epidemics flow downward into society’s cracks, medical interventions rise upward into its peaks. New cures, vaccines, and diagnostics first go to people with power, wealth, education, and connections, who then move on; this explains why health inequities so stubbornly persist across the decades even as health problems change.” A poignant article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic probes the causes behind the seeming fatalism with which the nearly 1 million COVID-related deaths in the United States have been greeted across large swathes of society.
  • “Perhaps it is in part because those already working in physics often do not recognize that they are contributing to the problem. I’ve found that many of my colleagues share the belief that if someone is sufficiently interested in and capable of doing physics, they will pursue it and persist. They do not realize that encouragement and support are crucial for marginalized groups.” A “career column” entry at Nature by Chandralekha Singh asserts that if the scientific enterprise is serious about promoting diversity, more and better support is needed.
  • “Starting March 15, Hunger and Health — along with more than 90 other organizations throughout 33 western and eastern North Carolina counties — will begin scaling up their work and getting reimbursed for parts of it when the state officially rolls out the Healthy Opportunities Pilot: a first-in-the-nation project which hypothesizes that if we use health care dollars to pay for non-medical health-related services, medical costs will fall and people’s overall health will rise.” At NC Health News, Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven reports on a new North Carolina program that will use Medicaid funding in an attempt to improve the social determinants of health.
  • “…two years later, sales of disposable, flavored e-cigarettes have soared. Some companies have moved just beyond the reach of the F.D.A. by swapping out one key ingredient. They have circumvented federal oversight of tobacco plant-derived nicotine by using an unregulated synthetic version.” The New York Times’ Christina Jewett reports on a legal loophole that has allowed synthetic nicotine to serve as a wedge to permit the return of flavored vaping products to the market.