Hacks that hurt

We’re used to vulnerabilities in data systems leading to massive personal data breaches (cool visualization of those here.) But there’s an even darker side to hacking that can put peoples’ lives directly at risk. We’re talking medical device hacks. Two “white-hat” (good) hackers identified vulnerabilities in pacemakers and insulin pumps which “black-hat” (bad) hackers could use to injure patients. One scenario put forth is a pacemaker being manipulated to deliver too many or too few electric shocks, which obviously could lead to negative patient outcomes. The researchers shared their findings with the device manufacturer and relevant regulatory bodies, but they say these authorities are playing down the risks. They apparently considered bringing in a pig they could kill with an app to make their point, so we should probably take them seriously.


Ready for a dip in the pool? Might want to wait until November. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July is the peak month for sickness due to swimming in public places. Germs such as E. coli and cryptosporidium “…make people sick when they swallow water contaminated with poop,” the CDC inelegantly reported last week.  “Swimmers can be a source of fecal contamination if they have a fecal incident [a.k.a., “sh!##ing oneself”] in the water…” stated the researchers. Thanks, Captain Obvious. But fear not, if a “fecal incident” is suspected, Carl Spangler will take care of it. In the meantime, can we all just agree to not poop in the pool?

This lab in the hand is worth two in the clinic

Do you find yourself saying, “Gee, I sure wish I had a mass spectrometer here so I could run these diagnostic tests now instead of going to a lab to analyze these samples?” Lucky for you, there’s an app for that. Well, there’s a device that presumably comes with an app, and for the small price of $550 it’ll turn your smartphone’s camera into a portable mass spectrometer. The spectral transmission-reflectance-intensity (TRI)-analyzer can analyze blood, urine, and saliva samples as accurately as most clinic-based instruments, and can perform the three most common types of tests in medical diagnostics. This has really cool public health implications in terms of portability and cost. Great job, University of Illinois bioengineers!

We’re rebranding to InsightCountry

OK, not really, but a study released in the Schizophrenia Bulletin has us thinking that getting away from city life may be good for a while. The study reports that kids growing up in urban environments are more likely to be exposed to violent crime and adverse neighborhood social conditions—which increases their chances of experiencing psychosis. These unfortunate kids are 40 percent more likely to have a psychotic experience by age 18 as compared to their rural peers. Candice Odgers—one of the senior study authors—noted that psychosis treatments are usually focused on the affected individual, but perhaps we should also look at improving the communities around these individuals to prevent the symptoms from showing up in the first place. Related FastPoll™ question below!

A heartfelt thank you from arteries to legislators

Above pun intended, a recent Jama study shows that legislation to reduce trans-fats in foods has a direct and almost immediate beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. The study looked into a 2007 trans-fat ban that was enacted in nine New York counties, translating to trans-fat elimination in bakeries, restaurants, and other public food spots. Just three years after the ban took effect, New Yorkers living in these areas experienced a 6.2% reduction in heart attack and stroke hospitalization, compared to those in eight counties with no trans-fat restrictions in place. Great news for heart health! Here’s your trans-fat education, including a list of common foods to avoid. Your ticker will thank you.