As I mentioned in the first part of this series, the job of The Medical Futurist is to give a good summary of the ongoing projects and detect the ones with the biggest potential to be used in everyday medical practices and to determine the future of medicine. Here is the second part of the list of the 20 most futuristic medical technologies.
Here are the second 10 of the top 20 futuristic medical technologies.
11) In silico clinical trials
Switching from long and extremely expensive clinical trials to tiny microchips which can be used as models of human cells, organs or whole physiological systems provides clear advantages. Drugs or components could be tested on these without limitations which would make clinical trials faster and even more accurate (in each case the conditions and circumstances would be the same). The Organs-on-Chips technology is able to use stem cells to mimic organs of the body with a series of devices. Many experts believe that this technology could revolutionize clinical trials and replace animal testing completely. It could also improve cancer care.
For the first time in the history of medicine, on 14 April 2016 Shafi Ahmed cancer surgeon performed an operation using a virtual reality camera at the Royal London hospital. Everyone could participate in the operation in real time through the Medical Realities website and the VR in OR app. No matter whether a promising medical student from Cape Town, an interested journalist from Seattle or a worried relative, everyone could follow through two 360 degree cameras how the surgeon removed a cancerous tissue from the bowel of the patient. Such possibilities will revolutionize the way medicine is taught.
Medical students will study anatomy on virtual dissection tables and not on human cadavers. What we used to learn from huge textbooks will be transformed into virtual 3D solutions and models using augmented reality. We can observe, change and create anatomical models as fast as we want, as well as analyze structures in every detail. Examples include Anatomage anatomy visualization system enabling virtual dissection, ImageVis3D, a simple and interactive software for visualization and 4DAnatomy, a cloud based, interactive, dissection-simulation resource.
It is a biological technique, which involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue, typically neurons that have been genetically modified to express light-sensitive ion channels. It is widely speculated that optogenetics might provide new solutions in therapies. A recent study published in Science reported that scientists were able to create false memories in the hippocampus of mice. This is the first time the memory of fear was generated via artificial means. When we understand the placebo effect clearly; just imagine the outcomes we can reach when false memories of taking drugs can be generated in humans as well. The idea is a bit futuristic, but the basics of the method are almost available now.
14) Robot assistants
With the rapid development of the industry, robots gradually emerge from the sci-fi movies and enter the world of healthcare. With the growing number of elderly patients, introducing robot assistants to care homes and hospitals is inevitable. It could be a fair solution from moving patients to performing basic procedures.
The TUG robot is a robust device, able to carry around a multitude of racks, carts or bins up to 453 kilograms that contain medications, laboratory specimens or other sensitive materials. Riba or Robot for Interactive Body Assistance is somewhat similar to the TUG robot, however it is rather used at homes with care patients who need assistance. Its Japanese version, the Robear is shaped as a giant, gentle bear with a cartoonish head. They both can lift and move patients in and out of bed into a wheelchair, help patients to stand, and to turn them to prevent bed sores as many times as you want.
The robot in the picture below is the prototype made by a company based in California that aims at combining robotics and image-analysis technology so then it can find a good vein in your arm and also draw your blood. In the next step, it will also perform analysis on the blood from detecting biomarkers to obtaining genetic data.
15) Wearables and beyond
Now we wear a FitBit and other devices that measure easily quantifiable data, but the future belongs to digestible and wearable sensors that can work like a thin e-skin. Biometric tattoos such as VivaLNK’s eSkin Tattoo can transmit medical information discreetly. RFID or Radio Frequency Identification chips can be implanted under the skin and serve as an identification device.
These sensors will measure all important health parameters and vital signs from temperature, and blood biomarkers to neurological symptoms 24 hours a day transmitting data to the cloud and sending alerts to medical systems when a stroke is happening real time. It will call the ambulance itself and sends all the related data immediately.
16) Real-time data
It is not just about checking and monitoring vital signs but intervention is also the key to a better health. Imagine tooth-embedded sensors that can recognize jaw movements, coughing, speaking and even smoking so it records when you eat too much or smoke no matter what the doctor told you. It’s going to be extremely hard not to follow the doctor’s pieces of advice. Imagine the same wireless technology used in organs providing real-time data.
If wearing thin e-skins or having embedded sensors is not a viable option for us, then let’s make an old dream come true. The concept of the tricorder from Star Trek has been there for decades and we still don’t have it. The Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize challenge will hopefully lead to the development of a device that can diagnose any diseases and give individuals more choices in their own health.
Such devices as Scanadu, which is an early stage mobile medical device to empower patients, or Viatom Checkme, which not only measures your body temperature, but also traces ECG, measures pulse rate and rhythm, oxygen saturation, systolic blood pressure, physical activity and sleep, completely transform the notion of healthcare. Instead of constantly waiting for the verdict of medical professionals, patients will control their own health.
I’ve always been a fan of IBM Watson and seen its potentials as huge opportunities in medicine. Watson will assist physicians in everyday medical decision-making, although it will not substitute humans at all. While a physician can follow a few papers, maybe a few dozens of papers with digital solutions, Watson has the capacity to read 40 million documents in 15 seconds and to suggest the most fitting therapies. Atomwise aims to reduce the costs of medicine development by using supercomputers to predict, in advance, which potential medicines will work, and which won’t. Google Deepmind Health is used to mine the data of medical records in order to provide better and faster health services. The project is in its initial phase, and at present they found a partner in the British hospital Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to improve eye treatment.
Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, which aimed at the complete mapping and understanding of all the genes of human beings, we have been envisioning the era of personalized medicine in which everyone gets customized therapy with customized dosages. The truth is that there are hundreds of evidence-based applications for personal genomics, according to the Personalized Medicine Coalition. As we move along this path, we will have more and more opportunities for using DNA analysis at the patient’s bedside which should be a must have before actually prescribing drugs.
There are already signs pointing into this direction. With the method of rapid genetic sequencing, geneticist Stephen Kingsmore and his team saved the life of a small baby boy as early as 2013. I believe that genomics and genetics is an amazing medical tool to prevent and cure diseases, when it is used wisely and carefully.
I thought I would put the simplest and most predictable medical advance to the bottom of this list. In the near future, whether it is the right and reliable medical information, dynamic resources or medical records; everything will simply be available to everyone which might not sound that interesting, but this would purely be the most important development in the history of medicine. Patients will finally lead healthcare.
It would be great if you could share your insights about other technological advances in the comment section after the post. I hope you enjoyed these two journeys into the future of medicine.