When technology and innovation meld with creative thinking, stunning results can occur. One field where this is happening is medicine, where unconventional applications can be used to create practical medical techniques. Here are five forward-thinking medical innovations that have the potential to revolutionize modern medicine.
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Artificial skin from spider silk
More often than not, great ideas come from directly observing nature. Because we are biological creatures, we can use naturally occurring, biocompatible substances to improve medical techniques. A real-life example involves using the silk from Golden silk orb-weaver spiders to create artificial skin. The mechanical strength and biocompatibility of orb-weaver silk makes it an exceptional scaffold. When researchers placed human skin cells atop spider silk mesh in a livable environment, the cells flourished and grew across the mesh. Later studies demonstrated growth in multiple skin layers. Although harvesting silk from these creatures isn’t practical, researchers successfully incorporated the spiders’ gene responsible for producing silk into goats. As a result, the goats release the silk protein in their milk in much larger volumes, a promising development towards fully realizing this innovation.
Non-invasive glucose monitors
For those with diabetes, monitoring blood glucose levels is a tedious and uncomfortable necessity. It’s uncomfortable because current meters require direct access to the user’s blood. Drawing a blood supply involves what is commonly referred to as a lancing device, which creates a small incision in the user’s fingertip. Consequently, diabetics often suffer from sore fingers. However, the innovative minds at Integrity Applications have developed a small earlobe-attachable device that uses spectroscopy (light-sensing technology) to read blood glucose levels. They selected the ear because blood moves slowly through ear tissue and earlobes contain a high volume of capillaries.
Reverting mature cells to stem cells
Johns Hopkins scientists have developed a technique to revert adult red blood cells back to primitive stem cells. These primitive stem cells can be used to create virtually any tissue in the body. The implications of this research are quite incredible. Not only will this help researchers figure out ways to combat cancer, converting mature cells to 6-day embryonic cells offers new understanding to the mechanisms behind cell aging. Similar research could also open a door to non-invasive tissue repair for internal organ or tissue damages—think heart or spinal cord repair.
Nanotechnology in medicine
Another area of research that sounds like it’s straight out of a science fiction thriller is the study of nanotechnology. Nanotechnologies can be used in diverse applications, but, with respect to medical treatments, the potential benefits are mind-bending. For instance, scientists are working to develop nanotech that can deliver medications, vaccines and drugs. The devices would be engineered to strategically release whatever they carry. More astonishingly, it is projected that someday nano-surgical instruments and nanobots (miniature robots) could be injected into the body where they would subsequently perform “microsurgeries”. In theory, this would be much more precise and cause less damage than common day techniques.
Even the way we track patient information is evolving. Companies like NueMD are rapidly developing medical software that can better aid individuals in managing their health and preventive care. These companies are looking to cloud computing to improve the healthcare industry. For instance, small practice physicians and community hospitals are turning to cloud-based EHRs (Electronic Health Records). Advantages of cloud-based EHRs include: simplified implementation (software operates via the web instead of a computer), practices and hospitals save money, fewer IT personnel are required, and patient records become more readily accessible.