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The 2020 Disruptive Dozen

8 minute read
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Mapping spread of infectious diseases and reducing health disparities top the list

Mass General Brigham announced its selections for the sixth annual “Disruptive Dozen,” the 12 emerging clinical and artificial intelligence technologies with the greatest potential to impact health care in the next year. The Disruptive Dozen results from interviews of one hundred Mass General Brigham senior Harvard faculty followed by a rigorous selection process to identify the twelve mostly likely to have significant impact on health care by end of 2021.

The 2020 Mass General Brigham Disruptive Dozen are:

#1 Battling Covid-19 

Maps, technology, and AI — Mapping the spread of infectious diseases within communities is more important than ever as the novel coronavirus continues to sweep across the globe. Harnessing AI, technology, and advanced data analytics, health technology companies are testing wearable devices and AI-based imaging algorithms to determine if they can identify early signs of COVID-19. Such a solution would enable health officials to identify those infected with the virus and map the spread of disease.

#2 Harnessing technology to reduce health disparities 

Health is determined not just by genes, diet, and exercise, but also by the environments where people live, learn, work, and play. Technology startups are leveraging shared platforms to coordinate and track patients – especially those who are most vulnerable – to not only eliminate barriers that can prevent access to health care, but also minimize the health disparities that can arise from social and economic inequality.

#3 Digital management of chronic disease 

In 2016, the U.S. spent over a trillion dollars caring for patients with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic conditions. Now, armed with conversational AI and digital device technology, developers are looking to reinvent chronic disease care. Instead of face-to-face visits with patients, AI is enabling more remote clinical interactions – across the care spectrum – to better help them manage their medications, streamline care delivery, and improve the experience, all while reducing the overall burden on physicians and lowering the cost of health care.

#4 Solving the problem of infection in total joint replacements 

Total joint replacement is an increasingly common procedure with a typically uneventful recovery. Yet, roughly 2 percent of patients experience a much more complicated and painful journey due to infection in the artificial joint. A novel approach to antibiotic delivery could solve this problem. Drug-eluting joint implant technology can help eliminate acute infections by loading antibiotics onto the synthetic materials used to engineer the implants. This promises to reduce the need for multiple surgeries, thereby ushering in a new era of infection-free total joint replacement.

#5 New tools and treatments to help aging eyes and ears 

Retinal conditions like age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy are the leading causes of adult vision loss, particularly among seniors. Remote optical coherence tomography (OCT) can help limit in-person visits while still enabling clinicians to assess patients’ eye conditions and decide if treatment is needed. A recently approved home-based version of OCT uses built-in AI software that reports the eye changes clinicians must monitor to determine the need for therapy.

#6 Gene therapies transform treatment of rare, devastating diseases 

A wave of new gene therapies is cresting, bringing hope of potentially curative treatments for rare, life-threatening conditions. From cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy (a genetic condition primarily in boys that involves the progressive loss of the protective coverings around neurons in the brain) to hemophilia A (a chronic bleeding disorder that is expensive and often difficult to manage with existing treatments), transformative gene therapies promise to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the burden of rare and devastating disease.

#7 New therapeutic options for sickle cell disease 

Millions of people worldwide suffer from sickle cell disease, yet the two drugs historically prescribed to treat it don’t target the disease’s underlying causes and are, therefore, ineffective for a significant fraction of patients. That is about to change. Recently, two new drugs for sickle cell disease have been approved, and dozens more are in the development. This signals a massive shift in the management of a disease that has too often been overlooked.

#8 Keeping transplant organs fresher for longer 

Over 120,000 people in this country are now waiting for an organ transplant. What if it were possible to increase the time that organs can be safely stored outside the body prior to transplantation? Super cooling drops the organs to below freezing temperatures while preventing the formation of damaging ice crystals that could harm cells and tissue, allowing researchers to drive innovation and expand the pool of donor organs available for those who need them.

#9 First disease-modifying therapy for Alzheimer’s disease 

The world lacks a meaningful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive, debilitating neurodegenerative condition that affects millions across the globe. But that could change later this year, when the FDA is expected to weigh in on a novel drug that targets clumps of protein in the brain known as amyloid plaques. If approved, the drug would mark the first disease-modifying therapy for Alzheimer’s disease.

#10 Making cells larger to see them more clearly 

Visualizing cells at high-resolution is a cornerstone of modern biology and medicine. For more than a century, as scientists yearned to observe biological structures with greater power and clarity, they built more advanced microscopes. Yet today, even those sophisticated tools have limits. With expansion microscopy researchers can physically enlarge or expand cells and tissues of interest, revolutionizing the way they examine, characterize, and diagnose biological specimens.

#11 Video games for stroke patients 

Each year in the U.S., some 800,000 people suffer from a stroke. For those who survive, recovery often includes intensive physical and cognitive therapy to help regain functions that have been lost or impaired. But this can be a long, difficult journey that tests patients’ fortitude — and their wallets. Clinicians are turning to video games to help increase patient motivation and compliance as well as increase access to rehabilitation services.

#12 Reducing the burden of prior authorizations 

A widely used administrative tool in U.S. health care, which is meant to control costs while ensuring quality, is getting a major overhaul. The tool, known as prior authorization, requires physicians to first obtain approval from insurance companies for certain treatments in order for them to be covered by patients’ insurance plans. End-to-end automation could save clinicians time as well as some $450 million for the health care industry.

About the Disruptive Dozen

The “Disruptive Dozen” is an annual list of the 12 most disruptive technologies as selected through a rigorous process by Mass General Brigham thought leaders, clinicians and researchers. Interview results from nearly 100 experts are assembled into a field of nominated technologies. These are considered in a session involving a small committee of experts to the field. The output of the voting is a consensus on the 12 technologies that will have the greatest impact in the next year. The final list is announced in rank order at the World Medical Innovation Forum.

About the World Medical Innovation Forum

The World Medical Innovation Forum is a global gathering of senior health care leaders hosted by Mass General Brigham. It was established to respond to the intensifying transformation of health care and its impact on innovation. The Forum is rooted in the belief that no matter the magnitude of that change, the center of health care needs to be a shared, fundamental commitment to collaborative innovation and its ability to improve patient lives. This year’s event, held virtually on May 11, 2020, drew more than 11,000 thought leaders and influencers to discuss the future of medicine. For more information:

About Mass General Brigham

Mass General Brigham is an integrated health system founded by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. In addition to its two academic medical centers, the MGB system includes community and specialty hospitals, a managed care organization, community health centers, a physician network, home health and long-term care services, and other health-related entities. MGB is one of the nation’s leading biomedical research organizations and a principal teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Mass General Brigham is a non-profit organization.