The history of medicine is full of unexpected twists and turns. From Röntgen’s X-Rays to Fleming’s accidental discovery of Penicillin, medicine has seen sudden and often unpredictable advancements. However, it seems that as we have moved closer to the present day these leaps appear less significant and occur less frequently. But is this really so?
Brain-Computer Interface, the link between regenerative medicine and implantable devices------------------------- Ars Electronica / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND
Recently we have seen many indications of the future of medicine. Here are seven future medical trends that will give you a better idea of coming innovations.
Regenerative Medicine and Beyond
The Lin28 gene is something to keep an eye on. Apparently switching it on in mice deceives their cells into functioning as if they were younger. This was a serendipitous discovery by Harvard Medical School’s George Daley. Steve Goldman, Neurology professor at University of Rochester Medical Center, sees this as a big step towards limb regeneration. Although the team has managed to bypass the use of controversial stem cells, the process will take years to refine, but once mastered, it will expand to other specialized cells.
When damage is particularly serious, other measures must be taken. Brain-Computer Interfaces and Neuroprosthetics will improve the lifestyles of patients with paralysis or limb loss. The foundation for it is already present but current technology is cumbersome and limiting due to power solutions. Implementing wireless technologies both for data transfer and charging, and reducing the size and cost of such devices, will render them much more attractive.
3D printing is not new but is currently undergoing rapid developments. Future medical trends and innovations include printing in a gel environment that allows corrections to be made and a pen that uses live stem cells to “draw” onto bone or damaged tissue. Such precise procedures will expedite recovery times for patients and improve the success rates of delicate medical interventions.
Diagnostic procedures are about to change radically with recent advancements in imaging technologies. Areas such as molecular imaging are seeing great progress. Markers will target diseased tissue, malfunctioning proteins or mutated genes. This process will give such precise information that it will empower doctors to diagnose patients even before symptoms start appearing.
- Muffet / Flickr / CC BY
Imaging technologies are developing at such a rate that it is now possible to take a full 3D portrait that is so detailed that pores and stubble are captured flawlessly. It’s a matter of time before these techniques are used as a backup method for bone reconstructions.
- Best In Plastics / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND
Although optical and imaging technologies often go hand in hand, there are some differences worth pointing out. Such is the case with laser-provoked micro-explosions for cutting bone. This procedure results in a cut many times finer than one made with a modern saw. Another benefit is the shape of the cut, which is fully controllable by the surgeon – a much needed feature for heart surgeons performing thorax operations. If this is not enough, such laser cuts do away with one of the biggest disadvantages of conventional saws – the mechanical destruction of bone cells and the heat that's dangerous to surrounding tissue.
Cardiovascular diseases and age-related degenerative illnesses will be fought with greater efficiency. Nanotechnology might just be the tool for this. Germany has been аn ardent supporter throughout the years, funding numerous nanotechnology projects. Magnetic nano particles are currently being tested to fight cancer. Quantum dots will improve the accuracy of diagnostics as they become more widely available. Microscopic implantable sensors – reasonably priced and plentiful – as well as computers, will allow for continuous health monitoring and treatment in the earliest stages of diseases.
Healthcare and The Cloud
The IT industry has changed healthcare a lot but we have yet to see its full effects. Soon we will leave behind paper ECG, MRI, CT, etc. results. All of these will be just a click away, safely stored in The Cloud. This will complement future electronic medical records and allow patients to better understand their diagnoses. This process will affect physicians, practitioners, and medical billers who don’t occupy the same office, making records accessible and most importantly – providing up to date information on the condition of patients.
Office Visits and The Empowered Patient
- Christiana Care / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA
Growing demand for healthcare will result in fast adoption of alternative patient consultations and even diagnostics. Tomorrow's physicians will be empowered by smartphones, tablets and handheld computers as they already grew up with similar technology. Currently, 66% of medical students turn to digital references when seeking information and 52% even use mobile references. Future physicians will also be more comfortable with recommending health apps. With the help of these apps, greater access to electronic medical records and readily available information online, patients will be considerably more knowledgeable about their diagnoses. The result will be patients who are able to make more informed decisions.