Lasers, apps and VR: Cutting edge medical tech on display

A UCSF Samsung Digital Health Innovation lab demonstrator shows the back of a Samsung Simband, which uses PPG (Photoplethysmography) channels to check blood flow, during a Digital Health Summer Summit tour of UCSF Innovation Labs at the University of California San Francisco, in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, June 18, 2015. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

A UCSF Samsung Digital Health Innovation lab demonstrator shows the back of a Samsung Simband, which uses PPG (Photoplethysmography) channels to check blood flow, during a Digital Health Summer Summit tour of UCSF Innovation Labs at the University of California San Francisco, in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, June 18, 2015. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

It was Isaac Asimov meets Marcus Welby.

As 45 medical researchers, academics and VC executives in town this week for the Digital Health Summer Summit moved slowly through the UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, the resident trailblazers of digital medicine unveiled science fiction without the fiction.

An iPad app that combines big data with 3-D MRIs of the brains of MS patients. A Fitbit-like device with photosensors that track the pulse of blood. A virtual-reality headset that lets patients fly inside their own brains in a real-time magical mystery tour.

“We have people here on the front lines doing tremendously innovative things,” Dr. Aenor Sawyer, one of the center’s leaders in digital health innovation, told the group as they prepared for their demo-filled walk-through this week. “We hope to be part of the wave disrupting health care.”

Disruption was in full swing at every turn. As Sawyer pointed out, “Our team includes researchers, data scientists, physicians and informaticists,” dropping another term in a place that claims to have coined “hospitalist” for the uber-physician coordinating care and “netwalking,” which was precisely what the visitors were now doing. The medical center is clearly much more than a meetup of doctors, nurses and sick people. UCSF has carved out an international reputation as the gold standard for the mash-up of digital technology, cloud-supported big data and cutting-edge medical research. And all of it’s being done in a brand-spanking-new campus where the paint on the walls still seems wet.