The Medical field is no stranger to new technologies and pioneering experiments, now more than ever we are seeing technology revolutionising the world of Healthcare. 

Only 60 years ago was the first successful open heart surgery. An operation, which was revolutionary at the time, now trumped by the minimally invasive surgical methods of the 21st century with the assistance of robots! It’s just incredible how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.

It’s not only Scientists and Doctors who are pioneering this new exciting technology, which we see today. Apple and Google (Google X) are finding their place within the Medical world. Outdated methods are being championed by new technologies allowing fresh ways to collect patient data for research and for storing medical records.

I'm going to talk you through 7 different technological developments, which are revolutionising the way we treat and diagnose. 

1 – 3D Printing – Not only for use in Japan for printing doll size replicas of yourself, 3D printing has countless, invaluable medical uses. With constant leaps forward in technology, its no surprise that 3D printing is readily available for more advanced uses.  3D printing organs is not just an idea anymore; it’s fast becoming a reality and bioprinting is enabling the creation of replacement organs by using human cells. We are already at the stage of being able to print body parts; heart valves, artificial bones, joints, ears and skin grafts, and these exciting advancements in Bioprinting show no signs of slowing down.

2 – ResearchKit – This is how Apple are making their mark in Medicine. Focusing on Medical Data, ResearchKit turns the iPhone into a diagnostic tool able to harness large amounts of patient medical data ready for study into different medical conditions. 5 apps have already been developed to assist people suffering from Asthma, Parkinson’s, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and post-treatment Breast Cancer patients. This way of capturing data, has never been done before and enables medical researches to have a much broader and diverse set of results to analyse.

3 – Brain Computer Interface – As computers evolve, as does our understanding of the human brain. Brain Computer Interface (BCI) is a technological breakthrough and has amazing sci-fi possibilities. BCI technology paves the way for exciting developments for blind and deaf people. It’s now almost possible to transmit signals directly into someone’s brain allowing them to see, hear or feel sensory inputs. Another exciting area of BCI research is the development of devices, which can be controlled by thoughts, enabling artificial limbs to be operated only by the signals coming from implanted electrodes in the brain.

4 – Robotics – Think more the robots used to build cars and less C-3PO in medical scrubs. These medical robots are used in surgeries and take up a decent sized room. The benefits of using these robots are that their ‘hands’ are super small, high precision instruments. The robots don’t carry out the surgery; they are simply instruments for surgeons to use as they offer a greater level of precision. The future for medical robots looks impressive with the next generation of surgical robots being developed to seek and destroy cancers and the ability to set bones. 

5 – Exoskeletons – An exciting development that may help paralyzed patients walk. Movement is controlled by the brain, which sends a signal down the spinal cord and the surrounding nerves. However, in Paralyzed patients, the spinal nerve structures are damaged and therefore the signals can’t reach the legs or arms, thus leaving the patient unable to walk or move certain body parts. A Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) Exoskeleton, can pick up these weakened signals through sensors attached to a persons skin, and can set motors, (located in the pelvic and knee joints) in motion allowing the person to move.  The patient always remains in control of the suit as it is controlled directly by neurological instructions.

6 – Scanadu – This Company could completely change how we look at our health, and how we respond to our symptoms when we do get ill.  The Scanadu scout is an ‘Indiegogo’ funded campaign which allows you to check all of your vital signs on your smartphone by holding the device to your forehead for ten seconds. Scanadu can identify illness and the device also has camera scanning to identify rashes and skin conditions, the app then suggests the best course of action, including if any treatments should be used and at what dose. The Scanadu is competing in the ‘Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize’ competition. The £6m ($10m) competition to develop a real life ‘Tricorder’ (as used in Star-Trek) launched in 2013 challenges anyone to develop a wireless device, which is capable of detecting a wide range of diseases. The finalists have been announced and the teams will be judged later this year with the awards ceremony in January 2016. 

7 –Bionics – Prosthetics are nothing new, but Bionic limbs are a game changer. We saw Dr. Hugh Herr at South by Southwest (SXSW) this year with two bionic limbs attached to his body using smart skin. The double amputee is living proof of the advances in bionics. His revolutionary work in Bionics is paving the way for enabling disabled persons new freedom of movement and ease of life. Implanted prosthetics is a different kind of prosthesis, and is one, where the prosthetic is actually connected to the bone, muscle and nerves, which moves us even closer to touch sensation bionics. Bionics don’t just stop with limbs, scientists at Newcastle University are working on a microchip implant for the brain, which receives signals from a camera in a bionic eye. They hope to be able to restore sight to people who have lost their vision.

These are just some of the ways that tech is revolutionising healthcare. Now more than ever we are seeing the development of products enabling us to take our health into our own hands, and understand our own bodies. With the developments underway with the Tricorder X prize, the hope is that one day we will be our own first call for diagnosis, without needing to see a Doctor straight away. 

Written by

Katherine Thomson