Advances in medical technology are incredibly promising, and stand to benefit our children as they become the adults of the future. The possibilities include overcoming disabilities, managing diseases better, and even not having to wait on a life-saving organ donation. Here are five advances in healthcare to be excited about for ourselves and our children.
1. 3D Printing
The development of 3D printing has moved into the medical device world. Currently most hearing aids are 3D printed, and some companies are also relying on this technology to print teeth-straightening braces. The printing of prosthetics is also possible. Even more amazing is the possibility of the bioprinting of whole organs. In fact, one California research company has succeeded in printing liver tissue for the purpose of drug toxicity testing. Dr Sam Olof, Chief Technology Officer at OxSyBio, said: ‘There are many potential applications for bioprinting and we believe it will be possible to create personalised treatments by using cells sourced from patients to mimic or enhance natural tissue function. In the future, 3D bioprinted tissues maybe also be used for diagnostic applications—for example, for drug or toxin screening.”
2. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence began in 2011 on the game show Jeopardy when a computer was introduced that could compete with human contestants. In less than 10 years, computers and artificial intelligence have become so advanced that they are helping medical experts make diagnoses on patients. Computers are being loaded with information from medical textbooks, journal articles, and information from patients. The result is a diagnostic aid to train medical students and manage diseases. And as AI and medicine continue to overlap and advance, the possibilities for AI application in medical fields will only grow.
3. Brain-Computer Interfaces
The concept of brain-computer interfaces got its start when a Harvard researcher learned to control a rat’s tail with his mind. Successful experiments have recently proved that, using BCI, patients with paralyzed limbs are able to move them by means of neural interfaces. In a fascinating article, Bloomberg reports that “Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center connected touch sensors from a robot’s fingertips to a paralyzed man’s sensory cortex so he could feel what it was touching. At Case Western, scientists linked a paralyzed man’s motor cortex to a computer that electrically stimulated muscles in his arm, enabling him to bring a forkful of food from a dish to his mouth.” This technology had a slow start, but is rapidly advancing. Researchers hope to one day be able to restore full mobility to paraplegic patients, and to allow patients with prosthetic limbs to be able to control them by impulses sent from the brain—just like a natural limb.
4. Lasers In Medicine
Laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Excited atoms in the form of a laser can create beams that have extremely versatile applications in medicine. This cutting edge advancement is spreading across many medical disciplines and revolutionizing traditional techniques. The laser is used as a surgical tool and in biological applications such as microscopy and nanosurgery. Lasers can be powerful enough to slice through steel, yet also can be gentle enough to be applied directly to patients. For example, Birch Street Dentistry states that “clinical studies show that approximately 96% of all patients require no anesthesia when lasers are being used during dental treatments.”
Since their debut in 2002, robotic surgical systems have been performing thousands of surgical operations. Robots have also been serving as assistants to nurses, “monitor patient vital statistics and alert the nurses when there is a need for a human presence in the room, allowing nurses to monitor several patients at once.”. This trend is set to advance with the advent of nanobots (which can go into the bloodstream to perform tasks like scraping plaque from arteries) and exoskeletons (which are being designed to help paraplegics stand and walk). It is anticipated that in the future, robots will be used extensively in the healthcare sector for tasks like distributing medicine or even picking up dirty laundry. It is hoped that these robots will be able to complete a variety of tasks, such as maintenance of healthcare facilities or distributing medicine or precision operations.
These five scientific advances in medical technology will not only improve the quality of life for generations in the future, they will increase the life expectancy of those we hold so dear.