How Science Is Solving Health Issues at All Stages of Life
Health issues hit us in different ways at different ages. Here are some big ones science and tech are helping to solve.
Age 0 — 12
Roughly 8 percent of kids in the US suffer from food allergies—often from peanuts. Epicutaneous immunotherapy could help. It’s a skin patch with a layer of peanut protein that activates immune cells that travel to the lymph nodes (which help control allergic response) without entering the bloodstream. The patch is still in trials, but the hope is that it will promote tolerance without triggering a nutty reaction.
Studies show that interventions before age 4 result in significant gains in cognition, language, and adaptive behavior, but autism is difficult to predict early enough. Scientists have used artificial intelligence to create a method for analyzing brain connectivity in babies’ fMRIs; it was able to predict with greater than 96 percent accuracy whether a 6-month-old would develop autism by age 2.
By around 6 months old, a baby’s brain prunes itself to specialize in the language and sounds it has been hearing since birth. Deaf infants are at risk of missing this crucial turning point in development, even after receiving cochlear implants. Scientists have created a machine-learning algorithm that parses babies’ MRIs to predict language development and determine if they’ll need extra help.
Amblyopia, or lazy eye, is the most common visual impairment in US children. Early studies have shown virtual-reality games can be more effective than the traditional eye-patch treatment (yarrr!). VR systems beam different images to each eye to create the illusion of 3-D, so the game can be designed to deliver crucial information (flying asteroids, for example) in the image shown to the weaker eye. This trains the brain and both eyes to work together—and might give a head start to future e-athletes.