We’ve come a long way since the days of using heroin to suppress a chesty cough. Thanks to technological advances in the medical sector over the last 50 years, we’re now healthier and living longer than ever.
But the heartbeat of progress is showing no signs of slowing down. If anything, the discoveries are increasingly spellbinding and the breakthroughs are becoming more important with every passing day.
In this piece, I’m going to look at eight recent medical tech breakthroughs that you really ought to know about.
1. Bionic Eye
Bionic eyes might sound like something out of a 1990s B-side sci-fi movie, but they now comprise a real and growing field of medical technology. The goal is a simple one: restore the power of sight to people who have lost their vision.
The eyes aren’t perfect yet. They allow a user to distinguish large objects and differentiate between different shades of black and white, but they’re not good enough for someone to read a book or surf the web without accessibility tools.
The most commonly used system at the moment is Second Sight Medical Products’ Argus II. It works by transmitting the video signal from a pair of sunglasses directly to an implant in the retina of the user.
2. Artificial Pancreas
Approximately 415 million people in the world suffer from diabetes. There are two types of the disease: Type 1 in which the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin, and Type 2 in which the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin.
Whichever version a patient suffers from, the pancreas is to blame. That’s why news that artificial pancreases are in the final stages of testing has been met with such joy.
The device, which is worn externally on the body, can measure how much insulin the body needs and then deliver the dosage. The patient doesn’t need to do anything.
3. Anti-Aging Drugs
Living forever is either a dream or a nightmare, depending on your ethical and religious standpoint. Although we’re not quite there yet, scientists now firmly believe they at least have the technology to significantly reduce the aging process. Theoretically, it’ll allow people to live a healthy and active lifestyle well into their 120s and 130s.
A clinical trial called “Targeting Aging with Metformin” will go live in the United States in Winter 2016. If successful, it could see diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s consigned to history. More importantly, it could usher in a new period of “geroscience”, where doctors no longer try and cure issues like cancer and dementia, but instead fight the underlying mechanisms of aging.
4. Anti-Bacterial Lightbulbs
Hospitals are disease-ridden places — putting all of those people with all of those different ailments under one roof is a recipe for trouble. Superbugs like MRSA and C. diff are becoming increasingly common.
American company Indigo-Clean thinks it has found a solution thanks to a new technology which uses visible light to continuously disinfect an area. The 405nm light targets naturally-occurring molecules (called porphyrins) inside harmful micro-organisms. The porphyrins then produce “Reactive Oxygen Species” which inactivate the bacteria and prevent it from multiplying.
5. Tooth Regeneration
Here’s a frightening statistic: by the time you’re 74 years old, there is a one-in-four chance that you’ll have lost all your permanent teeth. But don’t worry, a visit to the dentist could soon be a thing of the past thanks to research conducted by a team at Harvard.
They used low-powered lasers to activate stem cells and stimulate the growth of teeth, with high levels of success.
(Note: This doesn’t mean you should start eating lots of candy and stop brushing your teeth!)
6. Brain Defibrillator
We’ve all heard of heart defibrillators, machines that try to get your heart beating again if you suffer from a cardiac arrest. But brain defibrillators? That’s a new one.
The idea is to try and help the 840,000 people who suffer from sudden and uncontrollable epileptic seizures. An implant with the ability to recognize the early warning signs of a seizure is inserted into your brain. It then uses electrical pulses to counteract your brain’s own signals, thus preventing a full epileptic fit.
In the first year of availability, the number of seizures dropped by 40%. The figure jumped to 53% in the second year.
7. Skin Cancer Finder
Around 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, but the number of invasive surgical biopsies is much higher. That’s because the majority of dangerous-looking moles are harmless, but it’s impossible to find instances of melanoma without cutting into a patient.
But a dermatologist’s job is about to get much easier thanks to a new handheld tool — MelaFind — that can do a multispectral analysis of tissue morphology. Currently, the device is not for definitive diagnosis, but it can greatly help a doctor when deciding whether to order a biopsy.
The benefits are two-fold: there will be fewer patients with unnecessary biopsy scars and hospitals will spend less time and money on unnecessary procedures.
8. Brain-to-Brain Communication
I’ll leave you with what sounds like the most far-fetched idea of all the breakthroughs on this list: mind-reading. Okay, it’s still in its experimental phases, but in 2015 scientists at the University of Washington successfully used direct brain-to-brain interfacing to allow two people to communicate directly through neural coding.
In the experiments, the “sender” had their neural signals extracted, digitized. They were then re-coded in the “receiver” brain using induced neural activity. Several pairs of people were able to successfully play question-and-answer games over a network using nothing more than brain signals.
Where Will It All End?
You’ll have presumably realized just how other-worldly some of these advances sound. Even a decade ago, it would have been hard to imagine just how far we might have come.
Most amazingly, the pace of innovation is getting faster, not slower. Experts already predict 2017 will be a breakout year for robotic doctors, DNA manipulation, and bionic limbs, among others.
We now live in an age where anything seems possible, medically speaking. There is very little we cannot fix, mend, or cure — and that list is shrinking all the time.
Where do you stand on these advancements? Is runaway medical technology always a good thing? Are we disregarding ethics in the pursuit of perfection? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Image Credits: Pavel Chagochkin/Shutterstock