The improvements to healthcare and medical research in the past few decades are clear to see for everyone. Life expectancy is at its highest, people are surviving diseases that once would be a death sentence, and cutting-edge technologies are becoming more affordable. The big question is, what have we got in store for the future? Behind the scenes, there are research labs and healthcare technology companies working on some incredible ideas, and today, we’re going to take a look at some of the most innovative and – potentially – life-saving advances. Let’s get started right away.
Patient access might not appear to be the most exciting topic to cover, but advances in this area could change an awful lot of outcomes. While there have been considerable improvements in medical research over the years, the way that healthcare communicates is comparatively stuck in the dark ages.
The reality is that over 90 percent of all hospitals are able to communicate digitally, and the entire industry is reliant on paper records. While it doesn’t sound like much of a problem, it certainly is if you are on the front line – or need to schedule an appointment. As an example, when doctors use faxes to refer patients to other health organizations, little more than half of those meetings actually result in a patient turning up. Naturally, without appointments, patients can’t be treated, and if that involves a severe illness, the consequences could end up being fatal.
So, what’s the solution? Managing patient records and doctor-patient communication is a vast field right now, and some amazing developments could start making a difference. Many companies – such as ReferralMD – are creating integrated programs that work the standard EMR systems, and are beginning to take effect. In fact, reports suggest that plugging the communications gap could end up saving health care hundreds of millions of dollars – money that could end up being used in or essential areas.
If medical records are at the duller end of healthcare progress, cloning is probably the extreme opposite. Research into cloning technology has been progressing enormously in the past couple of decades, and we’re now well beyond the point where we can just clone animals.
In fact, several high profile researchers have started claiming they can clone body parts and organs – which could save a serious amount of lives – and there are some who have the technology to clone humans.
There is an element of worry about all this, of course – it’s just like a science fiction movie. The reality for most people is that cloning sounds exceptionally strange, and is a lot like humans playing God. It’s hard to say where the field can go ethically, but as attitudes change, you can almost be sure that cloning companies will eventually be in a position to take advantage.
While some people are uncomfortable with cloning, the picture is a little different for xenografting. The term describes a process where organs, cells and tissues are grown on an animal, to be used on another species.
Again, this sounds very much like a sci-fi book or film, but the reality is that xenografting is happening already, and could be a sector of research that improves the lives of many different people.
According to the contract research info of many xenografting companies, the process can work for a variety of medical problems. It could provide humans with livers, help with neurotoxicity problems, find a cure for cancer, and even help with improving the immune system.
Human head transplants
Another highly controversial piece of medical innovation – perhaps the most controversial – is the human head transplant. It’s an idea that has been floating around for over a century, and poses a vast array of ethical questions – but it’s possibly closer to reality than you might think.
In fact, earlier this year, it was reported that the first human head transplant had been carried out – albeit on a corpse. Italian professor Sergio Canavero claimed that a team from China had spent over 18 hours connecting the spine, nerves, and blood vessels of two different people. The team then performed a series of electrical stimulations to prove that the operations were a success.
The experimental surgery has not been welcomed in all corners, however, with many medical experts around the world accusing Canavero of ‘egotistical pseudoscience.’ And despite the team’s rather gruesome claim that they would be trying out the operation on live subjects, the Chinese government appear to disagree. That said, don’t expect to pop down to your local medical center and get a new body anytime soon. The ethical issues surrounding this kind of surgical procedure are off the scale – and it’s unlikely to be commonplace in any way, shape or form.
According to research, there were well over 1.5 million new cases in 2016 alone. That’s an astonishing figure, and when you bear in mind that some of those cancers – such as refractive acute lymphoblastic leukemia – are incredibly hard to treat and often result in death within months, it’s clear that cancer is still winning the battle.
But there is good news in the form of brand new research. According to medical scientists at the Juno Therapeutics, the solution might just lie in T-cell therapy. T-cells are a type of lymphocyte ( a form of white blood cell) that help the body’s immune function. The researchers think that using T-cells can re-engage the immune system so that it recognizes – and destroys cancerous cells.
It’s a massive step toward the right direction, and while a cure for cancer is some way off, it’s work like this that is likely to be part of the answer. Not only can it help patients fight their disease, but it could also help them avoid many of the long-term problems associated with other, more aggressive cancer treatments.
3D printing is slowly becoming a significant player in all kinds of different industries, and healthcare is no different. In the future, instead of having to go the doctor and get a prescription, you might be able to ‘print’ off your medication from the comfort of your own home.
When you consider that 3D printers have created all kinds of things – from a house to a boat – it’s not too much of a surprise that it can handle the relatively small task of creating a little tablet.
Medical research is already well underway, and the very first 3D drug was printed by a company called Aprecia Pharmaceuticals. Will it take off? While home printing is a notion of fantasy at the moment, there’s no doubt that drug stores are likely to lap up the possibilities.
Not only does the tech mean that medicine will be available for a fraction of the price, but it also means that doctors and pharmacists will be able to print highly specialized medicine, ensuring that patients get the perfect dose. Part of the issue with drugs is that the vast majority are created as a standard – 3D printing means that everything could end up being laser-focused.
A fix for heart disease
Heart disease is the most prominent killer in the United States of America – bigger even than cancer. Well over 600,000 people die of a heart problem every single year, and the prognosis for anyone entering a hospital for heart failure is not very good at all. In fact, one in every four cases of heart failure results in death within a year.
There is good news, however, and eventually, researchers are hoping that heart disease sufferers will be able to enjoy a higher chance of survival. The answer could lie in a new drug called Serelaxin, which is a synthetic version of an important hormone called relaxin. It’s a hormone that is produced by women when pregnant and helps them to ease the stresses and strains on the heart that arise when you are carrying around an unborn child.
Trials for the drug have given mixed results, however. The FDA did not approve the drug due to issues present in the test, and despite Univesity of California noting the medicine could raise the chances of heart failure by as much as 37 percent, for now, the drug is in development. Watch this space to see what happens next!
Finally, when we discuss the rise of the robots, we often think about giant, human-shaped assistants who will help us clean up around the house. But robots also include the tiniest little technology you can possibly imagine – and can’t even see with the naked eye.
Nanotechnology has been around for many years, and the possibilities for progress in healthcare are impressive. Researchers believe that nanotechnology will be the answer for all kinds of medical issues, from healing internal injuries through to fighting against cancerous cells.
How Do You View Medical Research?
What are your hopes for medical research and healthcare of the future? And are you worried about the ethical implications that they might bring? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?