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In the last few years, we have been witnessing a true high-tech revolution in the healthcare field. Not only are we improving the way we can treat many diseases that were untreatable only a few years ago. We are creating the basis for a future where we will prevent many diseases thanks to wearables. Humanoid robots could take care of the sick and the elders and we could potentially cure people by genetically modifying their cells. There is a chance that medical technology will allow us to get close to what we would consider as immortality. Let’s have a look at some of these groundbreaking technological advancements and how they are changing the world.
Telehealth & mHealth
Telehealth and telemedicine allow you to access and manage health care services remotely. This is possible through the use of digital information and communication technologies. When these services are accessed specifically through a mobile phone, we talk about mHealth. The advantages and goals of this new form of medical support are several:
- Give people who live in poorer communities a cheaper way to access health support and education.
- Develop a service that is available and convenient for people with limited mobility or that live in isolated areas.
- Provide online access to medical specialists, from everywhere.
- Improve communication between the members of a healthcare team and their patients.
- Provide support and education for self-management of health care.
- Help doctors share knowledge and therefore diagnose diseases better and faster.
Imagine something as simple as a patient portal. This allows you to communicate with nurses and doctors, obtain prescriptions, schedule appointments and check your exam results online. On top of this, some clinics offer virtual appointments, which can be useful in several circumstances, as we saw with online psychotherapy during the pandemic.
Sensors and wearables technology
Wearables have existed since the 13th century, when eyeglasses became available. Yet only in the last twenty years wearable technology has been developing and expanding. This was possible thanks to the bluetooth technology that made wireless interactions between our devices possible.
Currently, most wearables on the market are mostly used to monitor fitness levels, track location with GPS, and view text messages quickly. Yet these devices have an unrivaled potential, especially in the healthcare field. Wearables can track heart rate, sleep and movement. Using the data obtained, they can give health recommendations. Analyzing the user’s heart beat, they can detect irregular rhythms. They can recognize a heart attack and get in contact with emergency numbers, saving lives.
Wearables and other sensors are becoming more and more advanced. And the data they are collecting is becoming more reliable and complete. In the future, will we have sensors implanted in our body, collecting data from our vital signs 24/7? Will these devices become so refined that they will be able to even foresee diseases?
Augmented reality & virtual reality
Through our mobile devices and special wearables, such as smart glasses, we can experience augmented and virtual reality. Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that integrates digital information into the user’s real-world environment. It can add visual elements, sounds and sensory stimuli to the everyday world. Virtual reality (VR), on the contrary, recreates a virtual world that can be similar or completely different from the world we live in. Both technologies are probably about to completely revolutionize the healthcare industry.
Let’s look at some examples. In medicine, augmented reality can be used to see veins through the patient’s body. It can project images from X-rays or CT scans. It can even be used to guide doctors during surgeries. In June 2020, neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore performed for the first time an AR surgery. A doctor used it to help place six screws during a spinal surgery. Soon after, they used it to help remove a spinal tumor.
Virtual reality as well is transforming medical care. Starting from medical training. VR can in fact simulate any medical situation. Students can experience all procedures first-hand, without the need of an actual patient. Additionally, VR is appearing to be very successful in helping patients dealing with pain and anxiety. In fact, even if the reality shown is not “real”, our body perceives it and reacts to it as if it were. So, if while going through a chemotherapy cycle you find yourself on a tropical beach, your perception of pain and discomfort is actually lower.
The medical technologies mentioned above are quite straightforward. But let’s make an example of their hidden potential. Rafael Hostettler, one of the speakers at the Biostasis2021 Conference, leads a company called Devanthro. Their team is working on building a “roboy”, a humanoid robot that, through artificial muscles, can reproduce the way humans move. One of the possible applications of this robot is to become a caregiver device for elderly and sick people. In fact, nurses could be able to remotely lead these robots through wearables such as AR glasses and controllers. These nurses will not need to be physically present but they will be able to support several people remotely at the same time. The price of their service will be way lower compared to a full time caregiver. And the elderly and sick will afford to receive this service without having to leave their house and move to a nursing home.
This is just one example of the hidden potential of the latest technological advancements. It’s up to far-sighted people to pursue these potentials.
AI & machine learning
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are transforming healthcare. Yet, these fields are both extremely complex. To fully develop their joint potential, we need people able to combine AI and medical knowledge.
Let’s look at some possible applications. Since machine-learning algorithms can mimic human cognitions, they can be used in the analysis, presentation and comprehension of complex medical data. For example, these technologies can:
- Understand patients' symptoms through an analysis of their vital signs.
- Diagnose by comparing the symptoms with a big database.
- Detect diseases, such as cancer, earlier and with more accuracy.
- Use predictive analysis to prevent diseases before they happen.
- Obtain deeper insights on diseases and the way we could treat them through medical imaging analysis and data comparison.
- Develop more efficient and cheaper drugs - reducing or even eliminating the need for testing on alive organisms.
- Develop personalized drugs.
- Create personalized healthcare plans and digital assistants - enabling cheaper and more effective treatments.
- Automate healthcare repetitive tasks - allowing doctors and nurses to have more time for their patients.
Considering what was said above, AI can already completely revolutionize the healthcare system. Yet, we have to keep in mind that our understanding of its capabilities is still at the very beginning. It is very likely that the more we learn about artificial intelligence, the wider range of future possible applications we will discover.
Robotic surgery, or robotic-assisted surgery, is one of the incredible results of AI applied to medicine. It is important to emphasise that, nowadays, robotic operations are still carried out by human beings. Perhaps in the future, hyper-intelligent machines will take care of surgeries alone. But for now, there is still a person behind the machine.
Robotic surgery allows doctors to perform complex operations with more precision, flexibility and control than is possible with conventional techniques. They also enable less invasive methods that often result in a shorter recovery time. The most used clinical robotic surgical systems consist of two parts. One arm with a camera, connected to a 3D high-definition screen. Several arms with surgical instruments attached to them. The surgeon moves the arms with controllers.
Medical 3D printing
In the last few years, the 3D printing industry has exploded. Initially, it was used in fields such as construction, architecture, electronics and automotive. Lately, it has been showing even more applications. The aerospace, energy and medical industries are approaching 3D printing and the results are impressive.
Let’s have a look at the different uses of 3D printing in healthcare.
- First of all, patient-specific anatomical models can be 3D printed. These have proved incredibly useful in preparing doctors for surgeries, reducing time and improving accuracy.
- Medical tools as well can be 3D printed. Prototipes printed in-house are way faster and cheaper than asking a third-party to manufacture them.
- Prosthesis’ 3D printing has been constantly increasing. Instead of buying an expensive and standardized prosthesis, people in need can now decide to have their personalized and more affordable prosthesis 3D printed. This way, the user can even select the design they prefer.
- 3D printers can print customized insoles (removable soles) and orthosis (devices to support the limbs and help the movements).
- Finally, there is something called 3D bioprinting. Bioprinters utilize cells and biomaterials to print tissue-like structures. The development of 3D bioprinting may help us solve all problems related to organ transplants. We will in fact be able to simply print the personalized needed organ.
Where will research into the medical uses of 3D printing take us? Will we be able to print whole bodies in the future? Recreate lost limbs? Could we maybe even learn how to 3D print an organ as complex as a brain?
Nanomedicine is a branch of medicine that applies nanotechnology to the prevention and treatment of disease. As the name suggests, it does so from a nanoscale size - one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Nanomedicine uses biocompatible nanoparticles and nanorobots, to name a few, to detect diseases and act on them.
But how is nanomedicine used? For several years, nanotechnology has been more of a research field. The areas of interest are several: drug delivery, vaccine development, antibacterial, diagnosis and imaging tools, wearable devices, implants.
Let’s see some examples.
- In diagnostic, nanoparticles help with anatomical and functional imaging. They can in fact be designed to provide contrast at the zone of interest and report information after administration into the body. Diseased tissues can be separated from healthy ones directly inside the human body.
- In treating diseases, nanoparticles can be used as delivery vehicles for pharmaceutical agents. Research in the past years has been focused on treating cancer. Nanoparticles can be programmed in a way that allows them to retain the drug during the transport in blood compartments and release it once at the intracellular target.
- Researchers are also working on synthesizing nanomaterials for implantable systems. Potentially, these implants will be able to restore damaged tissues. If this specific technology develops, our cells will regenerate from the inside. Will nanomedicine find a way to “treat” cellular aging?
Medical technology is changing the healthcare industry in many ways. Not only will people be able to monitor themselves better, having digital assistants giving them real-time suggestions on how to be healthier. Prevention and diagnosis, thanks to the data, will probably be more accurate. Personalized devices such as prosthetics and orthosis, which can heavily improve people’s lives, will become cheaper. Several diseases incurable today will become treatable and save lives.
The technological advancements we see today are impressive and lots of their potential still remain undiscovered. At Tomorrow Biostasis, we are excited and optimistic about the future. If you would like to have a chance to benefit from these future treatments, join us!