Technology often gets a bad rap in our modern world. But when it comes to health care, there are some exciting new technical innovations on the horizon that may help us live healthier and longer lives.
Here are some examples of some breakthrough technology that could have exciting applications in the near future.
Imagine being able to call on an army of tiny robots to help you heal. Scientists are working on using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to do exactly that — steer miniscule robots to deliver drugs or act as interventional tools within the human body.
Traditionally, MRI is used as a noninvasive diagnostic tool. But this new application reimagines the technology as a way to offer noninvasive or minimally invasive treatment, which in turn could help address both complications and slow healing time that can result from invasive surgical techniques.
Right now, MRI technology provides enough magnetic force to steer mini robots through blood vessels, but not enough power to allow them to penetrate tumors or other tissue. In the future, tiny robots may be able to target a single lesion, delivering chemotherapy or other types of treatment.
The Da Vinci Robot has been aiding surgeons operate on patients since 2000. Used in thoracic, cardiac, urologic and spine surgery, the robots’ fours arms can hold a multitude of instruments to make incisions, remove organs, close incision points—all at the direction of the surgeon. Surgeons at Keck Medicine of USC perform more robotic surgeries than at any other hospital in the metro Los Angeles area.
“The advantage of the robotic procedure is that there is a much smaller incision with very little disruption of the soft tissue and minimal blood loss,” explained Patrick C. Hsieh, MD, associate professor of neurological surgery in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
The Xenex robot is a machine used to disinfect hospital rooms. After medical providers leave the room, the Xenex wheels into an infected area and emits an ultraviolet light. The light damages bacteria by penetrating the cell wall, destroying DNA and preventing germs from spreading. The UV-C light can kill pathogens such as Ebola, measles, VRE, c. difficile, MRSA and mold.
New immunotherapy treatments and cancer vaccines have proven very successful in addressing certain types of cancer. These vaccines try to train the body’s own immune system to destroy cancer cells without damaging healthy ones.
Scientists currently are working on pairing new and old vaccines, including giving a tetanus booster to patients prior to receiving a newer cancer vaccine to treat a type of brain cancer, compared with only giving the brain cancer vaccine. This study showed that those who received this dual vaccine lived three to seven years longer after treatment than those who received the vaccine without the tetanus portion. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a U.S. clinical trial of a lung cancer vaccine developed in Cuba. This vaccine (CimaVax) was developed for non–small cell lung cancer and has been available in Cuba since 2011.
Stereotactic radiosurgery is a form of radiation therapy that focuses high-power energy on a small area of the body. Keck Medicine of USC doctors use several of these advanced tools, including the Gamma Knife®, CyberKnife®, and TrueBeam™ Stx. All procedures are conducted without an incision or general anesthesia, and patients are usually home the same day.
People with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma may soon get some extra help in managing their conditions from wearable “smart technology,” which could help patients control and monitor their conditions with more accuracy.
These devices range from stick-on sensors to wristbands and special clothing, and they can be used to monitor respiratory and heart rates, including EKG readings, as well as body temperature and glucose level. Research also is underway to develop sensors that read stress levels and inflammation readings.
The dangers of exposure to powerful new superbugs in hospitals and nursing homes have been well documented in recent years. The term “superbug” refers to bacteria that are able to survive exposure to antibiotics, which makes them harder to treat.
Scientists are looking at ways to decode the DNA of these superbugs, which could aid in developing new protocols and treatments to slow or stop the spread of the drug-resistant infections, as well as lead to easier, faster ways of identifying these bugs which can protect patients against the spread of treatment-resistant bacteria such as MRSA, C-diff and streptococcus pneumonia.
2017 may be the year that consumers can use scanners built into their phones to find out more information about the food they’re eating. Companies such as Scio, Tellspec and Target already have developed prototypes that can deliver nutritional information at the touch of a button.
This means in the near future, we can scan an apple or a fish and find out what nutrients it contains, how fresh it is and where it was produced. The introduction of these scanners will have a clear benefit for anyone who wants to follow a healthier diet or avoid certain food that trigger dangerous allergies.
By Ramin Zahed
Primary care physicians at Keck Medicine of USC use the latest medical advancements available to treat you. If you are local to Southern California and in search of a primary care physician, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.