It is no surprise that COVID-19 and the well being of the Singapore population dominated the Ministry of Health Committee of Supply debate last week, but another very prominent topic during the debate was the importance of technology in the health sector and how it had helped Singapore Healthcare System during the COVID-19 outbreak.
In a speech by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Health, at the Ministry of Health Committee of Supply Debate 2021, on Friday 5 March 2021, he commended the workers on the frontline, and all key health workers and made a special mention of the Health Technology workers who he said ‘had also played an important role. They rapidly developed systems to support new operational demands, including ongoing vaccination operations.‘
Growing the HealthTech workforce in Singapore
He acknowledged that these are important capabilities that are needed with the Singapore health system and added that:
“to grow our HealthTech workforce, we have worked closely with the Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS) to redesign jobs and actively recruit people into new roles, including software engineers, systems analysts and cybersecurity professionals.”
To facilitate mid-career switches into HealthTech, IHiS and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and SkillsFuture have curated specific training programmes.
Many citizens joining IMDA’s Tech Immersion and Placement Programme, which is part of the Techskills Accelerator have been able to change roles and work for IHiS on IT projects supporting the fight against COVID-19.
The government hopes that more people will see opportunities in this HealthTech space, and embrace the possibility that with some training they can join the healthcare system, not necessarily as a clinician, but contributing to the success of the public healthcare ecosystem.
Singapore’s early, comprehensive and persistent contact tracing and quarantine efforts have played a key role in the COVID-19 response. But beides the healthcare workforce, digital tools such as SafeEntry and TraceTogether continue to be central to the speed and efficiency of Singapore’s successful contact tracing system.
The National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) has also been a key enabler in facilitating this provision of care during the pandemic. Healthcare professionals can access NEHR for their patients’ COVID-19 test results and existing medical conditions before their vaccination. The NEHR has also been enhanced this year to meet the requirements for COVID-19 vaccination, displaying alerts and reporting prompts.
Dr Janil Puthucheary added “Beyond COVID-19, we must continue to be ready to respond to future public health crises by having the right systems and capabilities. Firstly, we will enhance our surveillance and response capabilities through the use of new technologies, to enable us to more effectively consolidate, analyse and generate insights from large amounts of data.”
How Technology eases pressure on the Singapore Healthcare system during the pandemic
Since the Circuit Breaker period, polyclinics, SOCs, and community nursing teams have used teleconsultation to reach their patients at home, allowing continued consultation and advice for these patients during the Circuit Breaker period.
“We should tap on technology to deliver care more effectively while optimising our limited manpower resource” said Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Health at the Committee of Supply Debate.
Further, when ready, the National Central Fill Pharmacy will consolidate medications across multiple providers in a central location, enabling delivery of medications directly to patients’ homes, secured post boxes or other convenient locations. This will improve the access to pharmacy services, including for seniors with mobility needs and support new care models such as telemedicine.
The Minister also said that the government has also improved scheduling services and offer telehealth follow-ups for suitable patients, helping to reduce the need for multiple hospital visits. He went on to mention innovative care models that have been introduced to improve the right-siting of care in the community.
Examples include the Urgent Care Centre (UCC) pilot concept and the GPFirst Pilot Programme which support patients with non-emergency conditions, helping them avoid unnecessary Emergency Department visits. He added that the Ministry of Health will review the performance of such technology-enabled services and innovative care models, and explore how they can scale up promising ones.
Researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), in collaboration with Cornell University, have developed a novel targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) that uses a specially-designed nano-carrier to deliver the Chinese medicine compound gambogic acid (GA).
The invention enhances the anti-cancer effect of GA and reduces its damage to off-target organs. The invention has the potential to become a more effective therapeutic option for TNBC.
GA as a breast cancer treatment and its limitations
TNBC accounts for 10-24% of all breast cancer cases and it also grows and spreads faster than other types of breast cancer. There are limited treatment options for TNBC and it has a high risk of recurrence and metastasis. In the advanced stage of the disease, the five-year relative survival rate is only about 12%.
GA is a herbal compound isolated from a dry, brownish resin called gamboge, which is derived from Garcinia hanburyi, a plant with a long history of medicinal use in Southeast Asia. Previous studies have shown that GA can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
However, its clinical application is limited by the fact that it is rapidly eliminated from the circulation system and has poor water solubility, which makes it difficult for GA to reach the cancer cells. Furthermore, high dosages of GA can cause damage to off-target organs due to its toxicity.
Nano-carrier increases treatment efficacy of GA
In the search for a more effective treatment protocol for TNBC when compared to existing options the research team designed a novel nano-carrier to enhance GA’s efficacy as a TNBC treatment and reduce its off-target toxicity.
The researchers made a bio-degradable nano-carrier out of polyester urea urethane (PEUU), and they decorated it with folate (also known as vitamin B9) and arginine (an amino acid). Folate receptors are highly expressed in TNBC cells, and they can serve as a target for therapy. Arginine is a positively charged amino acid, and it can attract the nano-carrier to the negatively charged tumour surface. These features enable the nano-carrier to target and deliver GA effectively to TNBC cells.
Treatment efficacy tested in mice
The research team tested the efficacy of the GA-loaded nano-carrier as a TNBC treatment in a series of mouse experiments. Two groups of mice with TNBC were treated with the same dosage of GA, one in the form of the GA-loaded nano-carrier, and the other in the form of free GA. After 17 days of treatment, the average reduction in tumour weight of the GA-loaded nano-carrier group was 67.6% higher than the free GA group. The results showed that the GA-loaded nano-carrier is more effective at shrinking the tumours than the free GA.
In addition, the group treated with the GA-loaded nano-carrier had 0.23 μg/mL of GA in their tumours two hours after injection, and the tumour GA concentration of the GA-loaded nano-carrier group was three times of the free GA group, showing that GA is being delivered to TNBC cells more effectively with the nano-carrier.
Also, the concentration of GA in the plasma of the GA-loaded nano-carrier group two hour after injection was nearly three times of the free GA group, showing that the GA carried by the nano-carrier stays in the circulation system for longer.
Reduced off-target damage to other organs
Furthermore, when compared with free GA, the GA delivered by the nano-carrier caused less damage to the off-target organs of the mice including their hearts, livers and lungs. It also caused minimal damage to their kidneys and spleens as relatively low levels of GA were detected in these two organs.
As demonstrated in the study, the novel nano-carrier for GA offers many benefits when it comes to treating TNBC, according to the Assistant Professor of the Teaching and Research Division of SCM.
It was noted that the application of nanotechnology in this study modernises the delivery of Chinese medicine, thereby enhancing its therapeutic efficacy. The team believes their nano-carriers have great clinical potential to treat TNBC and other types of cancer.
According to recent research, the global nanotechnology market is estimated to attain US$2.23 billion by 2025 at 10.5% CAGR.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras (IIT-Madras) have developed ‘BlockTrack’, a blockchain-based secure medical data and information exchange system for a mobile phone-based application. The application, which is the first of its kind, is currently being field-tested at the institute’s hospital.
BlockTrack aims to securely digitise healthcare information systems while ensuring the protection of sensitive personal information and medical records. It does this by decentralising the control and ownership of patient data, through a blockchain-based innovation. The BlockTrack innovation is now protected through a provisional IP filed with the Indian Patent Office, according to a news report.
The Android version has been developed separately for patients and doctors. It opens up universal and transferable healthcare information management and emphasises data privacy and tracking the spread of infectious diseases across geographies.
The report added that it allows the interoperability of systems from multiple hospitals, institutes, and healthcare organisations. The patient can choose to visit any healthcare facility on BlockTrack’s blockchain network without any concerns about duplication of records or re-registrations.
BlockTrack is developed by a team led by Prabhu Rajagopal, the Lead Faculty for Remote Diagnostics at the Centre for Nondestructive Evaluation (CNDE), under the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras. This is one of the first implementations of blockchain technology for securing healthcare data management systems. The approach is expected to make an impact in securely digitising and maintaining unique patient records across the country and eventually across the world.
K Vijay Raghavan, the government’s Principal Scientific Adviser, said that the objectives of the National Digital Health Mission launched last year was the secure processing of individual data and easy accessibility of digitalised personal and medical records by individuals and health service providers. The effective implementation of these objectives will require leveraging emerging technologies, and BlockTrack is a step in the right direction.
Recently, Raghavan launched the Mental Health and Normalcy Augmentation System (MANAS) mobile application to promote health and wellbeing in the country. MANAS was endorsed as a national programme by the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC).
As OpenGov Asia reported, MANAS is a comprehensive, scalable, and national digital wellbeing platform designed to augment the mental well-being of Indian citizens. The app integrates the health and wellness efforts of various government ministries. Also, scientifically validated indigenous tools with gamified interfaces were developed and researched by several national bodies and research institutions. Though the app is still to undergo field trials and is not available for public use as yet, it will be a platform catering to the overall wellness of people of all age groups and genders.
The application supports teleconsultation, especially for mental health-related problems. It is capable of health tracking and data records will be maintained, which will help users for future consultations. According to the scientist that conceptualised and led the execution of the mission, MANAS intends to build a healthier, happier, and more self-reliant community. MANAS is based on augmenting life skills and core psychological processes and is universally accessible. It delivers age-appropriate methods and promotes positive attitudes that focus on wellness. The initial version of MANAS targets promoting positive mental health in citizens aged 15-35 years.
As the pandemic propels restaurants and other businesses to keep their distance from customers, a Shanghai-based robotics firm looks to bring its automated helpers to Singapore and other markets across the globe. The robotic servers wait by the kitchen for meals to come out. Staffers load them up and tell them which tables to go to via touchscreen. Then they roll off, deftly avoiding obstacles in their way.
The AI company focuses on indoor intelligent service robot, in the field of indoor autonomous d and providing intelligent unmanned delivery solutions. They have developed a variety of commercial service robots to meet different customers requirement. Their products are mainly applied in fields such as catering, medical care, hotels, entertainment, retail, venues, government affairs, offices, real estate, communities, banking, posts, finance, insurance, airports, stations, etc.
The robots’ features are the following:
- Touch sensor. The robot can return quickly with a single tap
- UI that makes the human-robot interaction more friendly
- Smart voice recognition receives users ‘orders accurately and gives response quickly
- An infrared perception system that detects the status of goods in the pallet, the robot returns automatically as quickly as humans and help customers take away the empty disks
The robots are also equipped with an autonomous localisation and navigation feature. The multi-sensor fusion technology, based on LIDAR, machine vision, depth senor, etc., that can locate and navigate precisely. It can run smoothly and stably indoors even in a complex environment. The tech also has a vivid expression show that is based on an AI interactive engine, several bionic and vivid expression packages can be customised. The human-like emotions as happy, angry, sorrow etc., making communication more interesting.
Lastly, it has a multi robots collaboration programme. With a planning system, multiple robots can cooperate smoothly in the same working environment, elevating efficiency,
The tech company shared that they are responsible for roughly 85% of food-serving robots ever sold in China. The country has been a pioneer in service robots, thanks partly to relatively relaxed regulation that benefits budding businesses, and it already uses robots commercially in such fields as food delivery and security.
Production capacity was roughly doubled in 2020 to prepare for overseas expansion. The tech company stated that their factories all have extra space, and they plan to increase capacity to up to 200,000 units.
The tech has also gotten a big boost from the push to minimise the person-to-person spread of COVID-19. Its unit sales likely more than tripled to over 10,000 in 2020. Sales of service robots were to increase 34% to USD 2.94 billion in China in 2020, roughly twice as fast as for the world, according to one industry forecast.
The tech company and developer aim to have local units set up in at least 10 countries by the end of 2021. It opened a Japan arm in March with just under 10 staffers and is looking at South Korea and Singapore, as well as markets in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.
However, challenges are still at hand. While the developer is a relatively well-known company at home, it has little name recognition abroad. Clients appear more concerned about features than the price at this point. Many foreign markets also tend to focus heavily on the quality of customer service, meaning that robots and other automated solutions might not gain much traction among consumers seeking a more conventional experience.
An international tech company is testing out video analytics technology in the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) to detect and reduce incidents like crowding and incorrect wearing of facemasks in real-time, as per news reports.
With a strong commitment towards creating digital railways of the future, the tech developer is working with one of Singapore’s public transport companies to employ new digital technologies to deliver a safer and more comfortable passenger journey for Singapore’s MRT commuters.
The Passenger Density Technology will provide real-time insights on passenger density which was co-conceptualised with the public transport company. The tech uses algorithms to detect and analyse silhouettes on video footage from CCTV cameras. It can trigger alerts or even count these silhouettes to accurately calculate crowding onboard trains and stations. The tech also automatically sends alerts to the station manager whenever it detects overcrowding.
The developer said that they have been continuously doing trials with local operators in the east and downtown lines. One consideration for the tech developer is how they can utilise current infrastructure such as the existing CCTV cameras to keep the costs down. Leveraging existing CCTV networks and live ticketing data, this new solution is ready to provide real-time information on passenger density at station platforms and on-board trains; eliminating the need for train weighing which is currently being used to measure density. With this solution, which can detect crowdedness and alert staff to the situation, station managers have heightened situational awareness to make informed decisions to ease congestion more efficiently and enhance comfort and the travel experience for commuters.
To get the solution to market quicker, the team is comprised of software engineers, data scientists and user experience designers. The team continues to explore new uses for the solution in safety and security, for instance by detecting unattended items, acts of violence and illegal behaviour such as vandalism in stations or on trains. Soon, it could even spot commuters who are not wearing masks during this pandemic.
Speaking of safe travels, as reported by OpenGov Asia, high-tech robot guards at the MRT stations were implemented as an addition to Singapore’s use of technology as part of boosting its security efforts. OB1FORC3 and the K3NOBI models of robots are two new robots, which have been deployed at Ang Mo Kio MRT station, equipped with intelligent surveillance cameras, sensors and video analytics capabilities. These robots were developed by a local tech security company.
The robots were deployed as part of Exercise Station Guard – an emergency preparedness exercise. The exercises were conducted by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and SMRT as part of their efforts for enabling operational readiness and strengthening security in public places. The robots were tasked to observe and identify suspicious-looking people and stray items. Security officers were able to survey the area remotely by viewing the surroundings through the robots’ cameras and video analytics capabilities.
Senior Minister of State for Transport, Janil Puthucheary, observed this exercise. Commuters at Ang Mo Kio MRT station were also involved in the exercise, taking part in security screenings where they had to walk through a metal detector and their items to be scanned by X-ray machines.
The security industry is starting to find ways of reducing manpower needs and investing more in the use of technology. This in efforts for reducing the dependence on manpower to carry out tasks. Such a system is ideal for combining the use of manpower and technology to achieve the most efficient outcomes.
National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) is collaborating with the U.S.- based Artificial Intelligence (AI) solution provider to develop the first-ever AI-powered tumour auto-contouring solution. To treat brain cancer, doctors must first precisely map out where the tumours are in the brain, in a process called contouring.
Using traditional manual contouring takes several hours, while the AI device can shorten the process to just a few minutes. It ensures precision mapping of brain tumours with closer cuts and the ability to identify additional lesions that may be missed by the human eye.
NTUH has been used the AI device for the past 18 months as part of clinical trials and helped doctors treat more than 100 patients with brain tumours, including a terminally ill woman whose lung cancer metastasised to her brain.
A doctor and researcher from NTUH said that he had successfully identified nine tumours in the female patient based on her imaging testing, but the AI device later detected two more. As a result, the patient received radiation therapy targeting the 11 tumours, saving her both time and money spent on a second treatment in the event the two tumours were not initially identified.
An oncologist and researcher from NTUH said that 10% of tiny brain tumours, mostly malicious brain metastases, can be missed with manual contouring. He also estimated that using the AI device cuts the time spent on tumour contouring by 50%, which enables patients to receive the treatment they need as soon as possible.
The director of the NTUH Department of Oncology said with the AI device, even tiny tumours can be treated precisely thereby ensuring patients experience fewer side effects. In addition, it also means doctors have time to help additional patients or engage in more discussions with existing patients
According to a page, The AI device has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is the first time the FDA has cleared an AI device for tumour auto-contouring in radiation therapy. Devices to receive FDA clearance before are specific to normal organ auto-contouring.
The research on this AI device has been published in the world’s leading medical journal. The researchers conducted a randomised, cross-modal, multi-reader, multi-speciality, multi-case study to evaluate the impact of AI device on brain tumour (Stereotactic Radiosurgery) SRS.
A state-of-the-art auto-contouring algorithm, built on multi-modality imaging and ensemble neural networks, was integrated into the clinical workflow. Nine medical professionals contoured the same case series in two reader modes (assisted or unassisted) with a memory washout period of 6 weeks between each section.
The case series consisted of ten algorithm-unseen cases, including five cases of brain metastases, three of meningiomas and two of acoustic neuromas. Among the nine readers, three experienced experts determined the ground truths of tumour contours.
The clinical findings indicated clinicians assisted by VBrain demonstrated 12.2% higher sensitivity for lesion detection, and less experienced clinicians improved contouring accuracy with the added help. The efficiency in AI device also decreased treatment planning time at a median of 30.8%.
Less-experienced clinicians gained prominent improvement on contouring accuracy but less benefit in reduction of working hours. By contrast, SRS specialists had a relatively minor advantage in DSC, but greater timesaving with the aid of AI.
CEO of the U.S. AI solution provider said that he was thrilled to bring the AI device to their partners across the U.S. and Taiwan. Receiving unique FDA clearance for this solution allows the company to further its commitment to transforming radiotherapy workflows through developing full-body auto-contouring solutions. The future of AI is near, bringing a second set of eyes and hands to assist clinicians in analysing and segmenting medical scans and further improving patient cancer care.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that can detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus in chest X-rays. The AI tool, ATMAN AI, was developed by DRDO’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR), with support from 5C Network & HCG Academics.
Triaging using X-ray in COVID-19 diagnosis is a method for the rapid identification and assessment of the lungs, according to a statement issued by HCG Academics. The tool will be used by 5C Network, the country’s largest digital network of radiologists, with the support of HCG Academics. Triaging potential patients using X-ray is fast, cost-effective, and efficient.
The statement claimed that ATMAN is a useful tool especially in smaller towns in the country, owing to a lack of access to CT scans. The technology will also reduce the existing burden on radiologists and free up CT machines for other diseases and illnesses. The statement said that the feature Believable AI, along with existing ResNet models, has improved the accuracy of the software, and being a machine learning tool, the degree of accuracy will improve continually. The algorithm showed an accuracy of 96.73%.
The chest X-rays of RT-PCR positive patients were retrospectively analysed in various stages of disease involvement using AI models (deep learning and convolutional neural network) from an application developed by CAIR-DRDO to screen COVID-19 using digital chest X-rays. The development of ATMAN as an AI-based diagnostic tool for the virus is part of DRDO’s effort to help clinicians and partners on the frontline to have the tools they need to rapidly diagnose and effectively treat COVID-19 patients.
Given the limited testing facilities for the virus, there is a rush to develop AI tools for quick analysis using X-rays. The tool would help in automatically detecting radiological findings indicative of COVID-19 in seconds, enabling physicians and radiologists to triage the cases more effectively, especially in an emergency.
The CEO of 5C network, Kalyan Sivasailam, noted that utilising the algorithms for chest X-ray is an effective triaging tool, which can be “accessible to the common man in remotest districts of this country.” Dr Vishal Rao, Dean Academics, Centre of Academic Research, HCG Cancer Hospital said the new tool would improve efficacy in hospitals “without increasing the financial burden for patients and healthcare systems.” He added that similar methods would also become useful in assessing predominant respiratory diseases.
It is expected to have a significant impact on timely care and appropriate treatment. With the ongoing second wave of infections, this application can help with a more directed and focused approach, the statement said. 5C Network, which is connected to over 1,000 hospitals across the country, will make ATMAN available to state-run and private hospitals.
Last month, DRDO announced it would set up 500 medical oxygen plants in the country under the Prime Minister CARES fund programme. Medical oxygen plant (MOP) technology was developed to supply oxygen onboard the light combat aircraft (LCA) by the Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL).
The MOP is designed for a capacity of 1,000 litres per minute (LPM). The system can cater to 190 patients at a flow rate of 5 LPM and charge 195 cylinders per day. As OpenGov Asia had reported, the technology can generate oxygen with around 93% concentration and can be directly supplied to hospital beds or used to fill medical oxygen cylinders.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced the launch of the 6th edition of the Global FinTech Hackcelerator, with the theme “Harnessing Technology to Power Green Finance”.
The competition aims to unlock the potential of FinTech in accelerating the development of green finance in Singapore and the region. FinTech firms and solution providers around the world are invited to submit innovative solutions to address over 50 problem statements that have been collected from financial institutions and green finance industry players.
These problem statements focus on three key challenges: Mobilising Capital, Monitoring Commitment and Measuring Impact.
Mr Sopnendu Mohanty, Chief FinTech Officer of MAS said, “Green FinTech can be an important enabler to accelerate Asia’s transition to a low carbon future. It can provide much needed innovative solutions, and develop the crucial technology stack, which can help promote green financial services, catalyse efficient allocation of green capital, and facilitate trust in the green data value chain. I encourage all innovators to make use of this platform and showcase their Green FinTech solutions to the world.”
Up to 15 finalists will be shortlisted for a virtual programme where they will be paired with a Corporate Champion (Corporate Champions are teams from Singapore-based financial institutions or organisations that mentor finalists during the Hackcelerator, working with them to refine and contextualise the solution) to develop customised prototypes on the API Exchange (APIX).
APIX is a product of the ASEAN Financial Innovation Network and is a not-for-profit entity formed by the MAS, the International Finance Corporation and the ASEAN Bankers Association, with the objective of supporting financial innovation and inclusion around the world
Each finalist will also receive a S$20,000 cash stipend and be eligible for a fast-tracked application for the MAS Financial Sector Technology and Innovation Scheme Proof-of-Concept Grant of up to S$200,000. Finalists will pitch their solutions at the Demo Day held at this year’s Singapore FinTech Festival.
The Singapore FinTech Festival is the world’s largest FinTech festival and a global platform for the FinTech community comprising FinTech players, technopreneurs, policymakers, financial industry leaders, investors including private equity players and venture capitalists and academics.
It will be held on 8 to 12 November 2021. Up to three winners will be selected, with each receiving S$50,000 in prize money. All FinTech firms and solution providers should submit their applications for the MAS Global FinTech Hackcelerator by 11 June 2021.