30 June 2017

New medicine

Medicine of the future: what technologies will allow people to overcome old age, illness and death?

Vladimir Lutsenko, Forbes, 30.06.2017

Biotech and medicine are among the most fashionable, popular and interesting areas in high–tech business. Thousands of ambitious startups attract billions of investments and present products that belong more on the pages of science fiction novels. Surgeons who see through your body, sensors that are indistinguishable by the eye, analyzing information about your well-being, cybernetic limbs for the disabled, laser scalpels, gene therapy, robot nurses and much more. How does all this change the world of medicine and what awaits us in the near future?


The basis of treatment is the correct diagnosis, therefore, almost a third of modern biotech companies are somehow connected with monitoring the physical condition of a person. The most promising direction of development is the introduction of micro sensors into the body. These can be small tablets like those created by FitBit, or biometric tattoos such as VivaLNK, or RFID microchips implanted under the skin. Such sensors not only measure all important health parameters in real time, but also create a full-fledged medical record in the cloud, which can be used by the attending physician.

Projects like Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize or Viatom Check Me, measuring pulse, body temperature, oxygen saturation, systolic and arterial pressure, physical activity and sleep, open a new page in medical care. Instead of the current symptoms, the doctor sees the dynamics for months. Patients themselves get the opportunity to notice negative changes in their condition more quickly, and medical and insurance companies use more data to optimize treatment and insurance costs.

Replacement and modification of organs

Cross-technological projects provide breakthroughs in most medical areas. For example, the combination of 3D scanning, 3D printing, advanced software and new polymers has revolutionized the field of dentistry. If earlier people were forced to straighten their teeth and correct the bite through painful, long operations, such as prosthetics or braces, now the technology of "aligners" has appeared on the market, an individual program for using transparent fixators with a minimum of inconvenience. Five years ago, when I first founded StarSmile, only a few people in Russia knew about aligners, today this technology is firmly part of our reality, especially with the advent of more biocompatible materials. Specialized companies have already appeared in the world, such as the German Next Dent, focused only on the development of new materials. And their efforts are already bearing fruit: today, materials are available from which you can print plastic temporary crowns or whole removable dentures in several colors.

Medical 3D printing and the biotechnology industry are redesigning the entire world of pharmaceuticals and organ donation. 2016 was the year of successful 3D printing of the liver, artery and bone. The transplanted organs showed successful engraftment: since the new tissues are based on the genetic map of the patient himself, the risk of rejection with a successful transplant is minimal. Moreover, the new organs themselves developed a network of vessels and capillaries. This year, Harvard's Wyss Institute came close to creating an artificial kidney. And in the near future, doctors will be able to print a replacement for any organ in our body. The situation is similar in pharmaceuticals – 3D printers will prepare doses of medicines for patients, printed on the spot according to a model prepared individually by the attending physician.

In parallel with the printing of living organs, the cyborg creation industry is developing. Now automated prostheses have a substitute character: millions of patients wear implanted defibrillators or pacemakers, robotic limbs connected to the nervous network. But the development potential of this area is much higher than a simple substitution. Achievements in the field of future medical technology will be aimed not so much at repairing physical defects, but at creating organs more perfect than those designed by evolution. Vision in all areas of the spectrum, enhanced muscles, a heart that will never stop beating, lungs that allow you to breathe underwater or in suffocating smoke, etc. But while such directions remain purely theoretical, much simpler, but nevertheless effective projects like e-NABLING are working. This is a program for the free exchange of 3D models of available prostheses plus instructions for their printing and operation.


The next most important direction of biotech is the modernization of the R&D process. Two major areas are clearly visible in this area: the study of the human genome and the modeling of physical processes using specialized programs. A whole series of microchips are already being tested in the world, which can be used as models of human cells, organs or entire physiological systems. The advantages of such an innovation are undeniable: instead of long and dangerous research, companies can program a person's behavior and reaction to a particular stimulus in the context of biotech for drugs being developed. This technology will trigger a revolution in the field of clinical trials and completely replace animal and human testing.

The project of decoding the human genome began about 30 years ago, but the real breakthroughs were associated with the growth of computing performance of computers. Now this work is close to completion, most of the functions of genes in the human DNA chain have been determined. In practice, this means the beginning of the era of personalized medicine, when each patient will be able to receive individual therapy with customizable medications and dosages. There are already hundreds of evidence-based applications for personal genomics. The method of rapid genetic sequencing was first used by Stephen Kingsmore's team to save the life of a little boy in 2013. Then it was an incredible, extremely costly and unique case in its effectiveness. In the near future, this will become a routine medical practice.

Future Operations and new education

In medicine, the presence of living doctors will be necessary for a long time. But thanks to technology, they will have something more at their disposal than two ordinary eyes: augmented reality will come to the rescue. Even now, this seemingly entertaining technology is beginning to penetrate into the medical field. Google's digital contact lenses correct the course of diabetes treatment by measuring glucose levels in the tear ducts. The development of Microsoft Hololens (using AR during operations) is already being tested in Germany. The data obtained through the scan is projected onto the surgeon's glasses, so that the doctor can literally look through the patient's body, see the blood vessels before the incision, determine the density and structure of the tissue. As an additional improvement, you can use intelligent tools: for example, the iKnife surgical knife from Imperial College works like a Jedi lightsaber. The electric current allows making incisions with minimal blood loss, and the vaporized smoke is analyzed by a mass spectrometer in real time, giving the surgeon a complete picture of the composition of the body tissues.

Another area of application of AR is medical training programs. In 2016, Dr. Shafi Ahmed performed the first operation using virtual reality cameras at the Royal London Hospital. Everyone could watch her in real time through two cameras giving a 360-degree view. Technologies can completely change the formats of specialized education: young doctors will study anatomy on virtual dissection tables, not on human corpses, and hundreds of educational volumes will be transformed into virtual 3D solutions and models using augmented reality. It is in this direction that companies such as Anatomage, ImageVis3D and 4DAnatomy are currently working: interactive software built on augmented reality and resource modeling.

Patient Care and Medical supercomputer

Robots are gradually entering the world of patient care. The doctor's job is to make a diagnosis, prescribe treatment or perform an operation, and round–the-clock care can be shifted to the shoulders of reasonable automatons. Now several similar projects are developing on the market at once. A TUG robot is a mobile device capable of carrying several racks, trolleys or compartments containing drugs, laboratory samples or other sensitive materials. RIBA and Robear are used in working with patients who need help: both can lift and move patients in bed, help to transfer to a wheelchair, stand up or lift up to prevent bedsores, take a number of tests and hand them over to doctors.

In addition to mechanical assistants, machine learning techniques are actively used in medicine. Developed by IBM Watson, an artificial intelligence in the field of medicine, will help doctors in analyzing big data, monitoring both individual patients and entire social groups, and making important clinical and preventive decisions. Watson has the ability to read 40 million documents within 15 seconds and suggest the most appropriate treatment methods. Supercomputers are also involved in the development of medicines to simulate their effect on various diseases, reduce side effects and search for optimal chemical formulas. Another area is statistics and administration. Google Deepmind Health uses medical records data to provide the most in-demand, effective and fast healthcare services.

As a summary

It is impossible not to mention the risks that progressive technologies carry. For example, the development of video games provoked addiction syndrome and even post-traumatic disorders, virtual reality helmets cause addiction and problems with vision and coordination. A medical 3D printer will surely be able to print not only useful vitamins, but also heroin. And genome–based drugs in the hands of terrorists are a potential threat of the emergence of biological weapons. Like any aspect of progress, the development of medicine carries many threats, and it is impossible to predict which scale will eventually outweigh.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru  30.06.2017

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