In the past decade or two, technology has changed and shaped our lives in ways that no one could have predicted. So much of what we do has now progressed online, advancements in tech have grown exponentially and one area to really benefit from this is the health industry. Better technology enables us to detect and treat diseases that were once a life sentence, it’s allowed us to test and perfect new medicines and even to understand the human brain better. We currently have gadgets that we can monitor our health conditions with at home, and apps like télésanté which offer virtual health in the workplace, and lots of other health technology that we can utilise right now. But there are plenty of exciting new developments that are in the pipeline for the future, here are some examples.
Fitness wearables preventing serious health conditions
Fitness wearables such as the Fitbit and Apple watch have massively taken off in recent years, and they can already do so much. As well as tracking activity, heart rate, sleep and more, the advancing technology in these devices can detect seizures and heart conditions. Later on, the information gathered on them could be used to accurately estimate a person’s likelihood to develop certain health conditions. This is great, as wearables are completely non- invasive, there’s no scary hospital tests and as we wear them for most of the day they can easily pick up all of the information they need. With this being such new technology, people do have concerns. For example, false alarms could cause stress and worry- and cause people to seek help when they don’t need it. This could lead to strain on the health system, or unnecessary expensive tests. The issue of data protection and security has also come under scrutiny. However, it’s an exciting development and in time, is likely to reduce the strain on the health service. People are able to get a warning, to make changes to their life or seek help before something more serious occurs later down the line.
Hair growth technology
We recently spoke about advancements in hair growth medication giving hope for those with baldness. To recap, A biochemical agent called PTD-DMB as well as Valproic acid was used to stimulate the growth of hair- however the treatment has only currently been tested on mice. However, the results are very promising, and in the future we could have ways of preventing or even regrowing hair that has been lost in men due to hormonal changes that are natural with age. It might seem like a relatively minor issue, however hair loss can cause significant levels of stress in some men, it can lead to self esteem issues and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. A treatment that can prevent this is therefore always going to be a good thing.
Prosthetics are becoming increasingly smarter. There’s still a lot of work to be done in this area, and unfortunately the best prosthetics are extremely expensive. But as technology advances, it provides real hope to those living without limbs that one day devices will exist which operate much like a real arm, leg, hand or foot. As well as the movement and controllability, scientists have created a smart prosthetic skin. It’s stretchy and warm like real human skin, and is crammed with tiny sensors that can pick up a variety of environmental cues such as heat, pressure and moisture. It’s fair to say that one day in the future, these prosthetics will be even better than the real thing. One issue that lots of leg amputees have with prosthetics is that the socket exerts pressure on the soft tissue it touches. This can cause sores, blisters and chafing on the part of leg that’s left. On top of this, factors such as weight loss or gain make adjustments necessary, which of course creates additional expenses and inconvenience. MOIP is a “smart” artificial leg which is able to monitor gait and the condition of the artificial limb, it can even detect and warn the user about a possible infection risk thanks to a series of sensors embedded in its structure. It’s not compatible with conventional prostheses so at present it’s not something that’s available to everyone. But these advancements are all a sign of things to come for the future.
Serious disease treatment
Through research, vaccinations, antibiotics and other kinds of medicines, we have completely eradicated many illnesses and can successfully treat others. However, there are a few illnesses that are a serious issue for mankind. Cancer is one of them, and while cancer treatments are good these days, far too many people still die of the disease. There are many forms of cancer, each affecting the body in different ways and so different treatments (or combinations of treatments) are needed. At present, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, tumor surgery and in certain cancers, hormone therapy are used. But there are other up and coming treatments which are thought to be more effective and are likely to have less side effects. One of these is immunotherapy, this aims to reinforce our own bodies’ existing arsenal against foreign bodies and harmful cells- in essence, our immune system’s response to the spread of cancer tumors.Many types of cancers are so dangerous because they have ways of tricking the immune system into ignoring them, or even giving them a ‘helping hand’ in growing. This means that some types of aggressive cancer can spread easily in the body and are able to become resistant to chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Immunology is working to deactivate the cancer cells’ protective systems. This is just one of many treatments currently being worked on in regards to curing cancer. HIV and AIDS are another serious medical issue currently affecting humanity. But while HIV has moved from a guaranteed death sentence to a chronic condition that can be kept at bay, a permanent cure has so far eluded researchers. People are able to reach full life expectancy if they have access to the right drugs, but it’s still an incurable illness. Going forward, researchers are focusing on a treatment that involves combining approaches like ART with bone marrow transplantation. Another approach is to use gene therapy, where the person’s own stem cells are used and modified. While it’s unlikely that we’ll have reached a cure by the expected year of 2020, scientists claim that they have the tools to do so, and in time it’s something that we will be able to overcome.
There are many exciting and fascinating things going on in the world of health technology. In the next decade or so, it’s incredible to think of what we could have achieved as a species, and how many people’s lives will have been made better by the advancement of tech.
What cool up-and-coming health tech developments have you read about recently?