If you thought the medical tricorder Dr. McCoy uses to sense and cure disease was nothing more than sci-fi fantasy, then you may be surprised how much of an approaching reality it really is. Medicine is undergoing a pivotal shift; from the assumption that drugs and diseases work the same in all human beings, to medical issues being diagnosed and treated specific to DNA profiles. What the future holds, according to a growing number of scientists and researchers, is a new age of medical therapy governed not by cell, tissue and organ replacements but by early diagnosis and individualized drug treatments. Here are some cool medical tech advancements vastly changing the world of medicine as we know it.
Computer engineers at Washington University in St. Louis received a $100,000 grant from Microsoft and used it to merge a USB-based ultrasound probe with new Smartphone technology. The result is a hand-sized ultrasound machine that allows doctors in remote locations to image a person’s kidneys, liver, bladder, eyes, veins and arteries in order to detect any problems. This could be a significant breakthrough for developing nations, where over 70 percent of people have no access to needed medical equipment such as MRI scans or CT scanners.
According to William D. Richard, Ph.D., WUSTL associate professor of computer science, and David Zar, research associate in computer science and engineering, this technology could become the essential computer of the developing world. They believe 21st century medicine is defined by medical imaging, and integrating their probe-Smartphone for medical applications in developing countries could drastically change medicine and global computer-use on a grand scale.
Nanocomposite Contact Lenses for treating diabetes
Replacing the need for diabetics to draw blood in order to test their blood/sugar levels, this technology developed by Chemical and Biochemical Engineering professor at the University of Western Ontario, Jin Zhang, embeds nanoparticles into hydrogel lenses, which react with glucose molecules found in tears and cause a chemical reaction that change one’s eye colour. These specially made contact lenses for diabetics would continuously alert them to variations in their glucose levels simply by looking in a mirror.
Though they have been around since the late eighties, medical robots are increasingly being used to assist in surgeries, reducing the danger of human error and giving way to more precise processes for performing intricate tasks. The robotic model behaves similar to a person’s arm, enabling repetitive, controlled actions, appointed by the surgeon from a computer. Medical robots have been utilized in cardiothoracic surgery, cardiology and electrophysiology, gastrointestinal surgery, gynecology, neurosurgery, orthopedics, pediatrics, radiosurgery to treat tumors, and urology to remove cancerous prostate glands, repair obstructed kidneys, repair bladder abnormalities and remove diseased kidneys.
Neuroprosthetic Chips to prevent seizures and control artificial limbs with mind
Researchers at the University of Florida are developing devices which can interpret signals in the brain and stimulate neurons to perform correctly. The initial aim of this technology was to correct conditions such as paralysis and epilepsy. The chip would be implanted directly into brain tissue, where it could gather data from signals, decode them, and stimulate the brain to function properly. One of the eventual goals of these advances is to one day make it possible for a paralyzed person to control a prosthetic limb just by thinking about it.
Multimodality Hybrid Imaging Technology to detect prostate cancer
Developed at Lawson Health Research Institute new hybrid imaging technology could detect prostate cancer in the most effective way yet. Whereas previous technologies had limited capacities for measuring prostate-specific-antigen (PSA), new hybrid imaging technology could measure the exact amount of PSA found in the blood stream. Researchers hope to use advanced imaging to form a GPS-like system of the prostate that will allow doctors to better target the cancer prior to treatment.
With eerie semblance to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World the artificial uterus (or womb), is a mechanism that is used to grow an embryo outside of the body of a female organism. Amniotic tanks are filled with amniotic fluid which is maintained at body temperature. The embryonic umbilical cords are attached to external pumps which regulate nutrient intake and waste outflow.
Medical check-ups from home
The monitoring and supervising of people’s state of health, particularly for the elderly or disabled, is a growing necessity. Consequently, the Instrumentation, Sensors and Interfaces Group of the UPC’s Department of Electronic Engineering in Castelldefels, Barcelona, is working on a system that will enable patients’ vital signs to be monitored in domestic environments. The Group has designed a system that simultaneously detects heart and respiratory rates that function with force sensors, equivalent to the ones used to measure weight in conventional electronic weight scales. Ultimately, they are trying to develop sensors that will not require contact with the person being supervised in order to have the least possible impact on their daily lives and activities. Advancements are already underway to implement a home medical check-up system through household items such as chairs. The check-up system would only take action when strictly necessary.
The Future of Medicine
According to Daniel Drell (U.S. Department of Energy) and Anne Adamson (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), in a not so distant future, “medical records will include your complete genome as well as a catalogue of single base-pair variations that can be used to accurately predict your responses to certain drugs and environmental substances.” Medical interventions will become more specific to the individual and eventually, medicine will be used to predict susceptibility to specific diseases allowing people to alter their lifestyles in order to reduce the likelihood of developing such diseases or be treated with preventive or disease-delaying medicine.