I follow practically all of the latest advances and developments related to medical technology. I wake up every day to news that make me feel like living in a science fiction movie. Naturally, when sharing my analyses, I strive to be objective, as my job is to prepare every stakeholder of healthcare for the technological waves of change. But as a sci-fi fanatic, these announcements make me optimistic about the future. As many followers have asked me about my favorite technologies, I compiled a list of the most exciting technological advances.
Growing organs in labs
There are new technologies that might be able to restore the function of human organs or replace them entirely. Nanofilters that act as an artificial kidney and might soon replace dialysis are a good example. Ultimately, I believe growing organs from a patient’s stem cells will be the solution for transplantation waiting lists. Scientists have recently demonstrated beating human hearts can be grown from stem cells. Growing organs in Petri dishes still sounds surreal.
An arsenal of diagnostics at home
For hundreds of years, certain technologies have only been accessible at the doctor’s office. When traditional technologies like ECG devices and portable ultrasound become available for the general public, they will bring healthcare to our homes. Doing ECGs on patients when I was a medical student and doing the same now at home are entirely different experiences, and both have their advantages. Analysing my heart’s physiology with smart algorithms from the comfort of my home, or doing a quick ECG on a plane if someone has symptoms that suggest heart attack are just our first steps towards this future, but already help us prevent significant health issues.
People with a medical condition can live a normal life
When I saw a paralyzed patient stand up from her wheelchair by using an exoskeleton, I got emotional and excited at the same time. It was the proof that medical technology can literally change lives. Affordable exoskeletons will enable people who were born without a limb or those who lost one in an accident to finally live a normal life. Diabetes patients can also look forward to an artificial pancreas, which maintains their blood glucose levels seamlessly.
Sensors that teach us about our own body and health
I’ve been taking care of my body all my life, but until now, success was mostly random without instant feedback and data. Today, sensors can measure my health parameters, granting me insight into my exercise habits, sleep quality, stress levels or my brain activity during meditation. I can draw conclusions like never before. As the size of health sensors shrinks further with advances like digital tattoos and nanorobots in our bloodstream, we will understand our bodies and health in fine grained detail like never before.
Robots have dialogues with us
Narrow artificial intelligence already powers chat-bot algorithms that can help you shop or run errands. But what truly excites is the possibility of a robot at home that has a body, can help you with physical tasks. In time as its artificial intelligence increases, it may also discuss abstract concepts like the meaning of life. The Petman from Boston Dynamics is very close to this idea, and I was surprised to hear Google wants to sell the company.
Risky medical procedures made simple
I was terrified the first time my professor told me to take a blood sample from a patient as a medical student – just like the patient who, I assume, saw the feeling on my face. I did well in the end, but would have loved to see the veins through her skin. Now VeinViewer makes this possible. Robots, unaffected by bad mood or sleepless nights, have also performed the procedure without mistakes. DaVinci surgical robots now make much riskier procedures possible by allowing surgeons to work with greater precision than before.
Turning aging into a chronic condition
Aubrey de Grey, Human Longevity Inc. and Google Calico all work for the same goal: to make aging a chronic condition we can treat. Our children might represent the first generation that will be able to decide when they die, this way removing aging from the list of top causes of death. Imagine taking certain personalized medications that will make us centenarians in good physical shape. Imagine how much more we can experience and achieve if our lives and careers span not just a couple, but dozens of decades.
Virtual reality lets astronauts stay on Earth
I have always dreamt of being an astronaut and I do believe the long term future of humanity is inter-galactic. But due to the fragility of human health, we might not be able to travel long distances in space anytime soon due to the limitations of our own biology. Robots equipped with virtual reality devices could travel on extended space flights, allowing astronauts to discover new places while controlling them from Earth.
Editing the genome
I lived through the start of genomics’ golden age with the Human and then the Personal Genome Projects. Now the Precision Medicine initiative can direct all these efforts in the right direction. But a new gene editing technique, CRISPR now seems to be re-imagining everything in genomics. It could cut non-desired elements out of our DNA, add new features to the DNA of animals, plants and even humans, and cure previously incurable diseases such as Huntington’s disease.
The universal translator
Douglas Adams wrote about the Babel fish in his book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. His main character, Arthur Dent put the fish into his ear to understand every language in the Galaxy. Skype is reportedly working on such a translator that can already translate from Arabic to English live. Language is often a barrier in healthcare, and will need to be overcome if telemedicine is to provide remote access to medical experts from anywhere on the globe. A universal translator would eventually enable a healthcare system without borders.
Many of these technologies will upset society as we know it, and must be handled with care by regulators, decision makers, as well as clinicians and patients. But when I dive into the news every day, I cannot wait to come across the next big milestone that tickles my geek side, and promises a better future for humanity.