Like everything these days, the world of medicine is advancing at a phenomenal rate. Every day more and more specialized treatments and procedures are discovered that will hopefully change the world as we know it and allow people the chance to live a happy, healthy, normal life. Technology is now being used so much more in healthcare which makes the diagnosing of problems and the customization of treatment much easier for doctors.
If we go back just ten years, no one had a smartphone, and the wireless web was only in its very early stages, and wearable technology was simply unheard of. Now, these things are all around us in many aspects of our lives. In terms of healthcare, smartphones can now be enabled to check a user’s heart rate, count how many steps they take throughout the day, and monitor them during their sleeping hours. You can also get add-ons for smartphones that range from an otoscope that can diagnose ear infections and a stethoscope that can detect unusual heart rhythms.
Dr. Eric Topol is a cardiologist and director at the Scripps Translational Science Institute, and he says, “All these new tools give you the ability to basically quantify and digitize the medical essence of a human being. And since patients are generating most of this data themselves, because their smartphones are medicalized, then they take center stage instead of the doctor.” He believes that smartphones will continue to transform the healthcare industry as we once knew it and completely changed the role of the traditional doctor while doing so.Another area that’s relatively new in the world of healthcare is computational medicine. This is basically the practice of using computer models and special software to study the development of diseases. Dr. Raimond Winslow is director of the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Computational Medicine commented, “Looking at disease through the lens of traditional biology is like trying to assemble a very complex jigsaw puzzle with a huge number of pieces. The result can be an incomplete picture. Computational medicine can help you see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together to give a more realistic picture.”
Computational medicine also includes using deep-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to mine information and Dr. Gunnar Ratcsh and team have been using these techniques to unravel some of the mysteries of cancer over the past few years. As a result, they were able to discover connections between patients symptoms and treatments that otherwise may have been missed. Others have used machine learning algorithms to track the development of diseases which allowed them to predict where and when viruses are most likely to spread.
Gene editing has also been a breakthrough within the healthcare industry within the last ten years, particularly thanks to CRISPR-Cas9. This technique was developed back in 2012 and since then has been used by various professionals across the globe. Biologist and biohacker, Josiah Zayner explains, “With CRISPR, if I want to do a new CRISPR experiment, I could go online, go to one of these DNA synthesis companies, order six months down to, well – some of these companies ship overnight now – so not only can you do 100 times as much research, you can do it 100 times faster than before.”
CRISPR has been used successfully several times including to engineer certain crops that immune to some fungal diseases and completely eradicating the HIV-1 virus from an infected mouse cell. The Chinese are looking to carry out the first ever human trials using the CRISPR-Cas9 method to treat a cancer patient. They will take white blood cells from the sick patient, edit them so they can attack cancer, and then pop them back into the patient’s body.
Since 1981, stem cells have been an important part of medicine, but it has been a fairly slow ride. It wasn’t until nearly two decades later that scientists were able to isolate human embryonic stem cells and grow them in a laboratory. However, since then lots of breakthroughs have been made in the world of stem cells including being able to treat patients with spinal cord injuries as well as age-related macular degeneration. They are also being used for either treatment or research in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, hearing repair, learning disabilities, tooth regrowth and more.
Optogenetics is another field that has come a long way over the past few years with thanks to the massive advancement of technologies. It has allowed scientists to learn more about how networks of neurons actually function. Technology has enabled scientists to see thought and emotions within the brain like never before. Now, using optogenetics they can switch individual neurons on or off using light and is a technique that is welcomed by many neurosurgeons around the world.
The cloud is the technology that is responsible for pulling all of this medical data together and allowing easy access for all. Dr. Topol of the Scripps Translational Science Institute says, “The real revolution doesn’t come from having your own secure, in-depth medical data warehouse on your smartphone. It comes from the cloud, where we can combine all our individual data. Once all our relevant data are tracked and machine-processed to spot the complex trends and interactions that no one could detect alone, we’ll be able to pre-empt many illnesses.”While all of these medical advancements are fantastic, not everyone is embracing them in the same way. One reason for this is because some of the new technologies are taking away certain roles for doctors, and they are losing out as a result. For example, there are now apps that can detect ear infections rather than a doctor, so people will feel less inclined to book an appointment when they can now self-diagnose at home.
But, times are changing, and we all need to accept it. Over the next decade, we are likely to see medicine become more predictive in nature and with the help of technology doctors will be able to pre-empt certain illnesses and supply customized treatment plans to their patients. More apps will be released to aid people to self-diagnose at home, while a different relationship will be formed between that of patient and doctor and will move to more of collaboration with the doctor rather than simply taking orders.
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