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Emerging Medical Technologies

By Sowmiya T | Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The human body was not designed, but rather it evolved. This can explains the existence of genetic diseases or a sudden blood transfusion rejection - the body does not always act predictably. In such cases, the beauty of medicine is that it embraces this unique characteristic of our species and thus allows for more developments everyday. Hence, as medicine is becoming more understood today, technology has given us a helping hand in studying the human body and treating patients. This is necessary in a world where co-morbidities, and healthcare inequality are some of the increasingly urgent issues we need to address. In today’s article under the Future of Medicine series, we will talk about some new gadgets, machines, and methods that have started to arise in the medical scene.

It seems that taking care of one’s personal health has now become the individual’s responsibility. Maintaining one’s weight, balancing one’s nutrition, and taking care of one’s mental health are all things we tend to do more independently with the help of a few services. The medical field has evolved to bring us many devices that allow us to manage our health ourselves - such as health wearables. You might have heard of them before - Apple watches and Fitbits are two popular examples. From counting steps to measuring sleep cycles, these tiny machines can help us monitor our vitals and reach our fitness goals. For example, the Huawei FIT watch comes with a stress monitor and built-in workout plans. You might be surprised to find that health wearables can help healthcare professionals with their job too! For patients who need to record symptoms or health measurements daily, these devices can provide support with their quick data exportability and relative accuracy. With this industry expected to grow exponentially in the next few years, there are many more possibilities for health wearables to serve us!

Regarding personal healthcare, we need to acknowledge the increasing relevance of precision medicine. According to the Precision Medicine initiative, it is defined as "an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person." This technology makes use of one’s personal data to help determine their diagnosis and develop an individualized treatment plan. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used in precision medicine by being able to use health data to accurately pinpoint relevant health information for the patient. Some systems are being trained to achieve these goals by analyzing genetic information such as genotypes (genetic constitution) and phenotypes (expressed traits of an individual). This differs from the typical symptom-based diagnosis methods currently used in medicine and can help professionals improve their effectiveness (Uddin et.al, 2019).

Another interesting development is 3D printing. 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) can be used to create physical replicas of anatomical structures and is more important than you might expect, especially regarding organ donation (Synopsys, n.d.). With a shortage of donors and the risks associated with transplanting organs themselves, 3D printing offers a good solution by making use of an individual’s stem cells (cells that can be used to generate cells with more specific functions) which can be used to create organ structures that will suit their body. Researchers are working towards better ways to use bio-ink (materials can be used to make living tissues while printing) to produce organs that are long-lasting and firm. 3D printing has the potential to save many lives in the long run, despite its high costs right now.

mRNA technology is also an important development, especially because it hits so close to home - many Covid-19 vaccines were made using genetically engineered mRNA! mRNA is a molecule used to instruct your cells to produce proteins that function in your body. It can be used to produce many important antibodies (proteins involved in protecting your body) to fight off diseases. Many whistle blowers have predicted that more pathogenic epidemics will hit us in the next 100 years, especially Disease X. A term coined by the World Health Organization in 2018, Disease X represents the knowledge that a hypothetical unknown disease could seriously endanger the human population. The pathogen (agent/organism that causes the disease) is unknown, easily spreadable, and potentially lethal. Currently, mRNA technology is being developed to possibly cure recent known pathogens. For example, Moderna has announced that it would work on neglected tropical diseases.

The last development featured for this article is neurotechnology, a technology that seeks to understand the brain, visualize its processes, and even control, repair, or improve its functions (Burke, 2022). It is mainly being explored as a method to treat brain disorders. An example of this would be Neuralink, a company that is currently working towards developing its expertise in treating disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia through the use of microchips that can be inserted into the brain.

Technology will make the future of medicine an interesting one. It has the potential to make our lives easier and more comfortable and could especially help vulnerable populations in less privileged countries. It can help us fight biological dangers that may negatively affect our bodies and economies. It can allow for innovations that will help us appreciate medicine in its truest form. Technology can be magical!

At Schoolhouse, learners can join sessions about medicine or related topics, such as chemistry and biology. Medicine sessions can be found in the Enrichment section of the Experimental category. You can also get certified in the Biology and Chemistry categories.

Thank you Sharon V for editing this article!

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