Rise of the Machines – Medical Technologies of the Future
The last 10 years have seen technological advances that seem to have jumped straight out of Sci-Fi novels! Whilst these developments have benefitted us culturally and socially, they have also helped to improve our overall health and wellbeing. From 3D printed organs to apps that help people to manage anxiety disorders, we take a look at some medical technologies that will help us to be healthier for years to come.
Most people log their daily routines on their smartphones without even realising it. However, these personal devices are now being utilised by medical professionals to help them monitor their patients better.
Imagine a future where wearable technologies such as smart watches or Fitbits regularly perform observations on us at pre-scheduled intervals, and then send this information to our GPs for analysis in real time! This kind of monitoring will be particularly useful for patients who have to stick to a regular schedule of medication, such as diabetics. A great example of this is the Insulog which when attached to an insulin pen, uses Bluetooth to keep track of injection frequencies and amounts in order to prevent overuse.
Think tweeting about how sick you are is a gross exercise in oversharing? Think again!
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Centre for Disease Control (CDC) have been using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to track the spread of viruses since 2013. By noting the frequency of the tweets relating to specific symptoms and tracking their progress across the country, the agencies can attempt to intervene before outbreaks can reach crisis level.
The Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (Itop) uses a combination of biodegradable plastic and water based gel to “print” the organ. Once transplanted, cells from the body begin to “graft” themselves to the transplant and take its shape. Although animal trials have successfully been completed, there are still a few questions remaining – such as how durable the new implants are. Nevertheless, this technology is set to give hope to those who are currently awaiting organ and tissue transplants.
A nanometre is one billionth of a metre. To help put this into perspective, that is smaller than the diameter of a human hair! Scientists have been working on developing nanomachines and nanotechnology for medical purposes for some time, but nanomedicine had been a long way from the clinical stage until very recently.
Some examples of how nanotechnology can be used medically are:
Using nanoshells made from gold, the machines can be targeted to bond to cancerous cells. When the area with the tumour is irradiated with an infrared laser, the gold in the nanomachine is heated enough to kill the cancer cells.
By injecting patients with nanoparticles of cadmium selenide which glow when exposed to ultraviolet light, surgeons can more accurately pinpoint tumour sites and remove malignant growths with more accuracy.
Through a process called “tissue engineering”, which uses stem cells to stimulate the growth and repair of damaged tissue sites, nanobots can then “build” scaffolds which will support the initial stages of healing.
As mentioned before, mobile devices are seen by many health professionals as an important tool in maintaining our health and wellbeing. Particularly when monitoring conditions like anxiety and depression, having a tool which is instantly available to help patients cope when they feel they will have an anxiety attack has been a huge breakthrough. As well as helping sufferers to feel more in control of their experiences, apps such as Pacifica, Headspace and Worry Watch have also helped to raise awareness and have been featured in the news and on adverts.