Tech Talk doctors

Left to Right: Esther Freeman, director of global health dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital; Dongkyun Kang, UA assistant professor; and Dr. Aggrey Semeere, scientists at Ugandan Infectious Diseases Institute.  

With a major research university right in our back yard, a strong military presence and innovative companies spread throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting developments:

Pocket-sized Cancer Screening. Working with Ugandan physicians, University of Arizona Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Dongkyun Kang is helping to save lives in rural Africa by developing a new mobile cancer-screening device. The device is a microscope that attaches to smartphones, and works as a mobile imager to diagnose Kaposi’s sarcoma and, soon, cervical cancer. The invention is especially useful in rural Africa, where women aren’t spotting cervical cancer in its early stages due to lack of access to adequate screening methods such as pap smears or cervical exams. In Uganda, the most common cervical cancer test is tissue staining, which has a high rate of false positives. This smartphone endoscope screens more accurately than staining, is cheaper and portable. The UA Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Optical Sciences and UA Cancer Center are using a $400,000 grant from the John E. Fogarty International Center to further develop the product.

Icagen and Roche partner up to treat neurological disorders. Icagen, an early drug discovery company, joined forces with multinational healthcare company Roche to develop “small molecule ion channel modulators” for the treatment of neurological disorders. Both companies have research facilities in Oro Valley. Icagen will handle preclinical activities, while Roche will be responsible for the program’s development and commercialization. 

“Roche has a great track record of partnering with biotech firms in addition to unique development expertise and a strong global commercial presence,” said Icagen CEO Richie Cunningham. “This collaboration is a great example of combining Icagen’s depth and expertise in ion channel drug discovery with the therapeutic area and developmental expertise of a company like Roche.” 

Reviews Over Ratings. When online shopping, users value user-generated reviews over numeric ratings, according to a new report by the Eller College of Management. Study author Anastasiya Pocheptsova Ghosh, assistant professor of marketing, found that consumers are more likely to choose products with lower ratings but more reviews instead of products with higher ratings but fewer reviews. Analyzing more than 2.4 million products, the study also indicated that the sheer number of reviews drives sales volume. The study implies that simply increasing the number of reviews for a product benefits retailers.

Valley fever “clinical practice” guide developed. Valley fever, a fungal disease most commonly found in Arizona, is often misdiagnosed as the flu due to similar early symptoms. Due to this, it is often initially treated with antibiotics instead of antifungals, extending the patient’s suffering. A new partnership between the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence and Banner Health hopes to solve these misdiagnoses by developing a Valley fever “clinical practice” guide. 

“Because of the merger, it provides a way for the center to help implement all best clinical practices it knows about for patients with Valley fever and actually employ them more broadly,” said Dr. John N. Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence. 

The clinical practice guide is made especially for the outpatient care practices throughout the Phoenix, Casa Grande and Tucson metropolitan areas, where Valley fever is endemic. 

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