Technology in all fields of human endeavor is still developing extremely quickly with advances in medical tech keeping up well with the boom in communications technology.
Many science fiction writers have suggested incredible technology that has now become reality, and the world of clinical research has developed at amazing speed as the knowledge infrastructure that informs it has grown.
Healthcare is presently a predominant issue in the US, understandably given the recent Affordable Care Act, and drugs companies and other medical researchers are constantly looking for new ways to help people with their short or long-term medical problems. In the years ahead technology will play an increasingly important part in the search for affordable treatment solutions.
So what are some of the current breakthroughs in medical tech, and what might come next?
Tumor cells are very difficult to deal with effectively as they can make a protective shield by wrapping themselves together. This then prevents the body’s immune system attacking and destroying them. Cancer immunology is a new treatment that uses drugs that stimulate the body’s immune system so they can fight tumor cells directly. Although research has been in a relatively small number of cases there have been some encouraging results. Specialist science writer Jennifer Couzin-Franklin, who writes for Science magazine, said: “Immunotherapy marks an entirely different way of treating cancer – by targeting the immune system, not the tumor itself.”
When Isaac Asimov invented the three laws of robotics in his fiction in the 1940s and 50s, there were many that read his stories and dismissed his predictions as being totally ridiculous. Yet today there are man-made devices that are being successfully implanted into the human body that are helping patients worldwide. Most people know about heart pacemakers, implanted to help the heart function normally by maintaining a regular beat. It is also now common practice to replace worn out hip and knee joints with metal parts. Eyesight can be improved with laser surgery and who is to say how long it will be before sight is being restored by the implanting of an electronic device?
There is much more for medical science to achieve and the technology continues to develop apace. Gene research is making great strides and it may well be possible to switch off certain genes at birth to prevent medical conditions appearing in later life.
Printing in 3D
A new body part being printed out? Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it. However, research is being conducted into 3D printing technology to do just that. When the technology was invented in the 1980s it had limited applications to begin with, but due to the demand for its processes it has developed rapidly and is used in a whole range of industries that include architecture and construction, as well as the medical and dental industries.
Recently an artificial ear was designed and printed out by medical researchers – not only does it look like the real thing but it works as well. 3D printing has also been used to print skin cells so that they go directly onto wounds to create blood vessels. As the technology moves on the prospect of many more medical uses are likely to be forthcoming.
Communication between patients and medical professionals all over the world is arguably one of the most important aspects of a doctor/patient relationship. The rise of social media such as Google+ and Facebook offers the medical profession the opportunity to transmit, share and store pieces of medical information in digital form. The rise of the e-patient and e-doctor is a trend that could be highly beneficial to both.
Rapid advances are being made in this area of medicine and it appears likely that research and development in radiology will push this specialty far and fast. Used to detect and treat a range of problems, it may be possible in the future to have a single multi-functional machine that will be able to reveal not only medical problems but also symptoms and biomarkers at the same time.
Long associated with the IT industry, microchips could have the potential to end long and very expensive clinical trials by being used as models of a variety of human organs or indeed a whole physiological system. This means that microchips could be used for testing drugs or components with no limitations, enabling clinical trials to be faster and more accurate.
There is little doubt that human ingenuity will continue to roll back the frontiers of medical science and technology as the understanding of the body and how to treat it is further researched.