nanotechnology

What’s Next in Health Technology

In the hi-tech world of apps, robotics and smart devices, what’s new happened yesterday and the future is closer than you know. Microchips are already monitoring thermostats and cars. Now they’re poised to revolutionize healthcare—and with it, aging.

Here’s a sampling of what’s coming up very soon and down the road.

Get Ready

These health tech devices are already here or in the pipeline.

TytoCare

You might not have to go to your doctor’s office any more when you have a cough or a fever—or when you’re worried about your heart. With a hand-held TytoHome device in your medicine cabinet and a tech savvy doctor on call, you’ll be doing physical exams on yourself and transmitting the relevant data, sounds and images to your doctor via your smartphone or tablet.

This digital stethoscope was cleared by the FDA in November 2016, and soon the telehealth device will be on store shelves for $299. That’s about the cost of six primary care doctor visits if you have medical insurance. TytoCare lets your doctor hear your heart sounds and see your heart rate, and listen to your lung, bowel and stomach sounds. A camera can take and send close-ups of a skin rash or your throat for medical diagnosis.

Of course your doctor has to be willing to receive your information and consult with you digitally. TytoCare has already teamed up with one telehealth company, American Well, so that members will be able to combine a DYI physical exam with a telehealth doctor visit.

Pillo

This home healthcare companion doesn’t need to take breaks or have weekends off. That’s because Pillo is a robot.

Using artificial intelligence together with voice and face recognition software, Pillo hears your requests, answers your health questions with up-to-date information, communicates with your other smart devices and can even call your doctor. It not only dispenses your medication at the right time; it also can reorder your meds and notify a family member or caregiver if you don’t take them—which may or may not fit with your idea of an autonomous life.

The more you use Pillo, the more it “learns” about you. Since the robot has a monitor screen, you can also use it to make telehealth video visits with your doctor.

Manufacturing is expected this summer. Pillo was funded by a crowdfunding process on Indigogo, and the device will be available first and at a discount to those who contributed to its development.

Flow

Air pollution becomes more of a health issue as we experience health issues that come with age. Bad air indoors or out can aggravate heart disease, diabetes and COPD, as well as being an issue for those with chemical sensitivities. And avoiding pollution when we’re working out is a good idea, however healthy we are.

Enter, Flow. This is the first personal air quality tracker that can measure particulate matter and dust, exhaust fumes, ozone and toxic chemicals, as well as tracking temperature and humidity. The air intake device can sit on your kitchen counter or be attached via its neat leather strap to a backpack, walker or bike handlebars.

Air quality info from Flow appears on your smartphone. You can also receive alerts tailored to your needs and a live map of the best places to breathe in clean air in your city.

Of course, cleaner cities would be ideal. Plume Labs, the French manufacturer of the device, says that they hope by raising air quality awareness, cities and companies will be encouraged to clean up their acts.

Flow will be available for preorder in the spring, and a complete roll out is expected late in 2017. The cost has not yet been determined.

Don’t Hold Your Breath…

They’re not here yet—but these research projects could change the face of medicine

Ingestible nanobots

A nanobot is a kind of micro-mini weaponized robot. Theoretically, when you swallow a nanobot,, it will ferret out cancer cells in your body and destroy them with precisely delivered chemotherapy. Research is underway to see if nanobots can also be programmed to support your immune system cells so that they are better able to destroy cancer cells.

Nanobots are part of an expanding area of research called “disruptive technology.” They may fuel themselves by putting your own stomach acid to work. University of California at San Diego researchers have created nonobots and inserted them in a mouse. The mouse’s stomach acid fired the nanobot into the lining of its stomach, where a chemical was released. If it works in humans, the technology could be used to deliver drugs directly to wherever they’re needed.

Heart building with stem cells

Stem cell research is hot. Since President Obama lifted the ban on federally funded stem cell research in 2009, at least 69 clinical trails have come under review by the FDA.

What makes stem cells such an active area of research is the potential these unspecialized cells have to develop into specialized ones that can function in any tissue or organ of the body. Using stem cells as building blocks to manufacture living replacement parts is no longer Frankenstein-like science fiction.

One of the most recent success stories is the work underway at Massachusetts General Hospital. The MGH research team used adult skin cells to regenerate human heart tissue. After creating biological scaffolding on which to layer stem cells from skin, the scientists used genetic techniques to reprogram those stem cells to form heart cells. It wasn’t exactly “Voila, a human heart!” but the researchers proved that the regenerated human heart cells did beat.

“Regenerating a whole heart is most certainly a long-term goal,” says Jacque Guyette, PhD. Of the MGH Center for Regenerative Medicine. For the nearer future, he says, “We are currently working on engineering a functional myocardial patch that could replace cardiac tissue damaged due to a heart attack or heart failure.”

Optogenetics

One of the challenges of neurological diseases is in repairing nerve cells that have gone awry without damaging others. Now, researchers are experimenting with light as the repair tool. They predict that it will be possible to use pulses of light to pinpoint nerve cells. The light tracks problem cells within the tens of billions of neurons in the brain’s circuitry and repairs them without damaging healthy ones.

Scientists consider the level of precision that’s possible with optogenetics to be a major breakthrough and believe this research will allow them to better understand what happens in the brain of a person with Parkinson’s disease, depression or narcolepsy and ultimately treat them.

In the future, optogenetic techniques may be used to treat cancer, as well as a range of brain and eye disorders. The first study in humans began recently.

Also In the Works…

Autofocus contact lenses  Google and Novartis are partnering on a smart contact lens for people with presbyopia that will focus itself . The lens was originally scheduled for a 2016 release but has been delayed. (Another Google-Novartis smart lens that would detect blood sugar levels and alert wearers via an app has run into trouble mid-development.) Read more

A “Star Trek” tricorder  Tech company Qualcomm has already announced finalists for its $10 million Tricorder XPRIZE, a global contest that will award development support for a device that’s capable of  accurately diagnosing 13 health conditions—among them atrial fibulation, COPD, diabetes and UTI—without help from a medical professional, simply by capturing health data from the user. The winner will be announced in 2017, and the FDA has already provided regulatory advice to competitors to speed development and approval.

3D-printed organs While medicine has already benefitted from 3D-printed body parts, printed organs are still some way ahead of us. Still, in late 2016 a California biology company presented the first preclinical data on  a3D bioprinted human liver tissue patch—the first step to a complete bioprinted human liver transplant.

 

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