Health

Innovative Treatments the Medical World Needs Right Now

Medical technology has come a long way in recent years, from drugs that prevent HIV transmission and more effective cancer immunotherapies to the revolutionary use of… Aisha Abdullah - December 13, 2022

Medical technology has come a long way in recent years, from drugs that prevent HIV transmission and more effective cancer immunotherapies to the revolutionary use of mRNA technology to create life-saving vaccines in record time. But there are still new frontiers of medical science still waiting to be explored as we move towards an unprecedented integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning models with medicine.

Researchers are using innovative technology to find new drug targets that will save countless lives, building models to detect diseases that haven’t even been discovered, and developing treatments that will benefit the entire global population. Here, in no particular order, are 27 important health and medicine innovations that don’t exist… yet.

Source: Pexels

Broader, permanent adoption of telemedicine

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how medicine had been practiced for centuries. Instead of traveling to doctors’ offices and clinics patients were suddenly able to meet with healthcare professionals from the comfort of their homes. The shift to telehealth has made healthcare considerably more accessible to people with disabilities and chronic conditions that make travel difficult, to people without reliable means of transportation or unforgiving work schedules, for parents and caregivers who might be unable to find or afford childcare to go to a doctors appointment, and for people in rural and remote areas who no longer need to make a one-hour drive to see their doctor.

Source: Interesting Engineering

Nanotech-based drugs with precision delivery

Nanotechnology, or nanotech, uses the tiniest of tiny particles—smaller than even microscopic particles—to create devices. Nanomedicine that is guided by nanotech could be hyper-targeted, designed to recognize and deliver drugs to precise locations in the body and release on command, limiting the risk of drug side effects. For example, one of the biggest hurdles in cancer medicine is the devastating side effects of treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Nanomedicine could change that by creating a cancer drug that activates only when it’s inside a tumor, allowing it to kill cancer cells with minimal impact on healthy cells.

Source: Pexels

Pain management with a lower risk of addiction

Treatment plans for severe pain are often a delicate balancing act of providing relief without risking dependency on the drug. Opioid medications like oxycodone and fentanyl are highly effective at relieving pain from surgery, broken bones, and cancer but carry a serious risk of addiction when prescribed or used improperly. Because of this, some of the best tools for pain management are heavily restricted to avoid abuse, making it more difficult for patients with pain to get them. The development of non-opioid drugs or the alteration of existing drugs to make them less addictive would revolutionize how we treat all types of pain while making pain medications more accessible to the people who need them most.

Source: Unsplash

Wearable and smart implants that detect disease

Early diagnosis is almost always associated with better health outcomes. But most people avoid going to the doctor until they are really sick, increasing the chance that health conditions will be diagnosed later and that treatments may not be as effective. Sensor devices that can be worn or implanted that detect disease before you or even your doctor would save countless lives and they may not be as far off as you would think. Wearable devices that measure vitals like heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure already exist as do implants like pacemakers, which send electrical signals to the heart to keep it from beating too slowly. It’s only a matter of time before someone develops a device that can detect diabetes, anxiety, or cancer.

Source: National Cancer Institute

Personalized cancer vaccines

People often talk about finding a cure for cancer, but the truth is that there is unlikely ever to be a one-size-fits-all cancer cure because cancers have hundreds of different causes. But we are getting closer to personalized vaccines that fight cancer better than current therapies. Cancer vaccines using the same mRNA technology used to develop COVID-19 vaccines can be trained to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells. In a small study of patients with head and neck cancer, mRNA cancer vaccines were able to shrink tumor size and, in some cases, eliminate all signs of cancer. Only time will tell if the treatments will be long-lasting and effective against other types of cancer.

Source: Pexels

Safe, effective HIV vaccine

An HIV vaccine is one of the most sought-after innovations in modern medicine. Less than three years after the virus was discovered in 1983, the first HIV vaccine clinical trial was launched. Four decades later and we still don’t have a vaccine against the virus that has killed over 40 million people, including 600,000 in 2021. Although therapies that prevent HIV from spreading or developing into AIDS have made the disease manageable in wealthy nations, HIV/AIDS remains deadly in poor communities around the world. Several promising HIV vaccines are currently being studied. Here’s hoping at least one is finally successful.

Source: Pexels

Vaccines for common and costly diseases

While they might not be as deadly as cancer or HIV/AIDS, common viral diseases like colds, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and mononucleosis (sometimes called simply mono) can be quite serious, especially in children. In the case of the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mono, the infection can trigger a host of long-term health effects and increase the risk of developing certain cancers and autoimmune diseases later in life. Vaccines against even one of these diseases would save thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year in treatments, hospital stays, and missed days of work.

Source: Pexels

Nanoparticles that glow in water containing deadly germs

Waterborne illnesses, particularly diseases that cause diarrhea, are among the deadliest in the world, killing millions each year. Around a quarter of the world’s population lacks consistent access to clean water, putting them at constant risk of exposure to disease-causing waterborne viruses and bacteria. Some researchers are working to develop nanoparticles that light up or change color when they come in contact with dangerous viruses in drinking water. The particles could be used to coat almost anything, even the inside of a cup, to prevent people from unwittingly drinking contaminated water.

Source: Pixabay

Lasers that target and kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Infections are one of the most common complications that occur after surgeries, affecting between 2 to 4 percent of patients in the U.S. and killing thousands each year. Currently, hospitals sterilize equipment using disinfectants, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and high heat, all of which are too dangerous to be used on patients. Lasers that can target and kill bacteria without exposing a patient to harmful chemicals or radiation could prevent thousands of infections each year. Plus, these bacteria-killing lasers could be the key to fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing health crisis that kills millions of people annually.

Source: Pixabay

Artificial intelligence to diagnose mental illness

By now, most people understand that mental health is just as important as physical health. But, currently, there are no objective ways to quickly and accurately diagnose mental illness. While many physical health conditions can be detected using blood tests and x-rays, mental health conditions are diagnosed through interviews and the completion of self-reported questionnaires. These tests, while effective, are imperfect and not always reliable. Artificial intelligence could be used to assess patients, produce more accurate and timely diagnoses, and reduce misdiagnoses and delayed treatments.

Source: Pexels

Video games to treat mental illness

Video games can be a great stress release but some researchers believe they could have an even more important role in treating mental health. Imagine if you could play a video game to ease symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression. It’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. In fact, video games have already been incorporated by some forward-thinking mental health professionals. Similar to cognitive-behavioral therapy, video games could be used to guide patients through recognizing harmful behaviors and thinking patterns and helping them develop coping skills.

Source: Pixabay

Synthetic neurons to replace lost or damaged ones

The human brain makes millions of neurons before birth and throughout infancy and childhood, peaking during adolescence. After that point, the brain does not produce any more neurons. So, when neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease kill neurons, it’s impossible for the brain to just grow them back. Synthetic neurons — tiny silicon chips that behave like real nerve cells— could change that. The ability to replace brain cells that have died or been damaged beyond repair could potentially slow or reverse the effects of neurodegenerative diseases.

Source: Pexels

Fully integrated prosthetics that respond to brain signals

Prosthetic limbs have advanced tremendously in the last few decades. They are lighter, more comfortable, and more efficient than ever. But what’s missing is the ability to link prosthetics to the nervous system so they can be manipulated like natural limbs. For many, the ultimate goal of prosthetics technology is permanent, fully integrated prosthetics that function as if they grew from the patient’s body. Recent innovations in prosthetic material and structure and advances in the ability to integrate prosthetics into bones and muscles suggest that goal is well within reach.

Source: Pixabay

Use of big data analytics to better understand disease

As the name implies, “big data” refers to large amounts of data that are too diverse and complex to be analyzed by traditional means. In healthcare, big data analytics uses large datasets related to patient records, such as genetic data and demographic data, to make the entire healthcare system more efficient and effective for patients and healthcare workers. For example, biological samples and medical imaging banks have been used to train artificial intelligence models to accurately detect diseases that could be missed by a human. Analysis of big data can enable the detection of disease trends, reduce treatment costs, and improve the quality of care.

Source: Pexels

More accurate diagnoses of endometriosis

Endometriosis is a health condition in which tissue that should grow inside of the uterus, grows outside, causing severe and even debilitating pain and, in many cases, infertility. Although the disease affects around 10 percent of women, it is poorly understood and lacks reliable methods to diagnose it. Because endometriosis symptoms can mimic other reproductive health issues like uterine fibroids, many women suffer for years or decades without a diagnosis. Currently, the only way to confirm endometriosis is with laparoscopy, an invasive surgery performed under general anesthesia. An accurate diagnosis method is desperately needed for a condition that impacts so many women.

Source: Pexels

Precision treatments for autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune disorders are incurable diseases that affect around 8 percent of the population and include type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. In patients with autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s cells rather than foreign invaders like viruses. Most autoimmune diseases target specific cells or organs but are treated with steroids and immunosuppressants, powerful drugs that affect the whole body, cause serious side effects, carry risks with long-term use, and are not effective in a large portion of patients. Precision therapies assess patients’ clinical and genetic data to predict which treatments will be most effective.

Source: Unsplash

Bionic eyes that are as good as (or better than) human eyes

For the 40 to 45 million people around the globe who are blind, bionic eyes could potentially restore sight. Bionic eyes are linked to the visual cortex, the part of the brain that takes in visual information from our eyes and creates the images that we recognize as sight. This happens so quickly that we are not even aware of it. Technology is not quite advanced enough to perfectly reproduce the seamless communication between the eye and brain but it might in the near future. Eye implants that allow patients to visualize shapes and colors and a brain microchip that creates artificial vision using a small camera already exist.

Source: Pexels

Patient-specific, lab-grown organs and blood

The need for donated blood and organs typically greatly exceeds availability, forcing patients to wait on long waiting lists, often as their health is deteriorating. Even after organ transplants are performed, there is a significant risk of the body rejecting the new organ, requiring recipients to spend the rest of their lives on drugs to keep their immune systems from attacking the donor organ. If organs, tissue, and blood that perfectly are matched to patients could be grown in a lab from the patient’s own cells, transplants could happen faster and more efficiently with less risk of organ rejection.

Source: Pixabay

Wearable or implantable health records

When you go to the new doctor or to the emergency room, healthcare providers typically have to rely on you to remember what medications you’re taking and when you had your appendix out. But if you could carry a digital record of your medical history with you wherever you go, doctors would be able to treat you with complete confidence and with a much lower risk of dangerous drug interactions or allergic reactions. Wearable health devices are increasingly popular but the ability to sync that technology with health databases on a national or even global scale would be game-changing.

Source: Unsplash

Bones that are 3D-printed inside the body

While functional bones printed in a lab may sound like science fiction, a group of researchers has developed a cutting-edge approach to 3D-print synthetic bones. The mimic bones are made of ceramic-based ink mixed with living cells and the compound calcium phosphate, which is frequently used to help regenerate bone. Because these synthetic bones can be printed at room temperature, the researchers who developed them believe that they can safely be constructed inside the body. The technique has shown promise in the lab but has not yet been tested in humans.

Source: Unsplash

3D-printed skin to heal burns and other scars

3D printing technology is likely to play a critical role in the future of regenerative medicine, a field focused on replacing tissues that have been damaged by disease or injury. The treatment of burns and other scar tissue is particularly well suited to the technology as they are notoriously difficult to repair. Several research teams are working to develop a 3D-printing tool that can deposit layers of healthy, living skin, including some with blood vessels already incorporated, to speed up the healing of burns and wounds. So far none of the tools have made it to a clinical setting, but the outlook is bright.

Source: Pixabay

Brain implants to map and treat neurological disorders

Our brains are incredible machines capable of extraordinary actions. But sometimes the brain doesn’t work exactly as it should. Nerves that should fire don’t or fire at the wrong time. Deep brain stimulation, which uses electrodes to direct electrical signals to a specific part of the brain in the brain, is used to treat some neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. Newer therapies for depression, anxiety, and addiction would use these electrodes to create a map of electrical activity in the brain that is specific to each patient, allowing researchers to pinpoint what brain activity corresponds with symptoms and target that activity for the treatment.

Source: Unsplash

Drugs that are prevention for severe allergies

For many people, allergies are a mild inconvenience but for people with anaphylaxis, they can be deadly. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction most often triggered by foods like nuts and shellfish, insect stings, and medicines like penicillin. Vaccines and immunotherapy that can block that extreme immune response would save many lives. In one recent study of children with peanut allergies, targeted immunotherapy, combined with a probiotic, all but eliminated allergic reactions in three-quarters of the study’s participants. Another study used nanoparticles to send egg proteins to a population of liver cells that block immune response, preventing an allergic reaction from ever occurring. These studies are small but the results indicate similar treatments may be effective at blocking severe allergies.

Source: Unsplash

Medicines that are perfectly matched to your DNA

How do you uncover the mysteries of your individual health, your risk factors for certain diseases, or how you may respond to specific treatments? The answer may very well be written into your genetic code. Scientists have worked for decades to unravel everything that our DNA has to tell us and determine how it can be used to improve treatments. Drugs that are designed to perfectly match patients’ unique genetic profiles will enable a level of precision in treatments that has never been possible before. These genetically matched drugs could mean yield more effective therapies with far fewer side effects.

Source: Pixabay

Gene editing to treat and prevent diseases

CRISPR gene editing allows researchers to change DNA, including repairing mistakes. Although it’s a relatively new technology, it has already had a substantial impact on medicine and earned Nobel Prize in Chemistry its inventors. The technology has been tested as a treatment for rare blood disorders, cancers, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, with many more on the horizon. But CRISPR’s potential isn’t limited to its ability to treat diseases; it may also be able to prevent them from ever developing. It may also be used to prevent inherited diseases as well as certain cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, or immune disorders that are caused to single gene mutation.

Source: Pexels

Virtual reality that diagnoses and treats disease

From video games and augmented reality apps to career training and socializing, virtual reality has caught on in a big way. Unsurprisingly, the tech has also made an impact in the healthcare field with exciting tools like virtual reality surgical studios that let surgeons visualize every aspect of a procedure before the patient is even in front of them. One of the next frontiers of virtual reality is likely to be the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. Studies are already underway that explore virtual reality as a tool to detect post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety.

Source: Pixabay

Machine learning models that predict disease risk

Imagine getting a personalized, artificial-intelligence-driven prediction of diseases that you are most at risk of developing. You could be empowered to make lifestyle changes or begin preventative care to decrease your risks. Augmented artificial intelligence models are a type of machine learning designed to pull data from multiple sources to assist in humans making more accurate decisions. A model that uses input from a dozen electrocardiograms (ECGs) — tests that measure electrical activity in the heart— to predict heart issues and an artificial neural network (a simplified model of the human brain) that can accurately predict chronic illnesses are two recent examples of ambitious uses of machine learning to determine disease risk.

Where Do We Find this Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

17 Major Healthcare Technology Trends of 2023

Future Of Health: Top Five Digital Health Innovations For 2023

Health Technology Trends Outlook 2023

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