Ever since the dawn of healthcare, physicians have been seeking more effective and efficient ways of curing ailments. Therefore, the use of emerging technologies in healthcare is both an expected and necessary way for healthcare providers to offer treatments that are safer for the patient.
This list of the top five technologies shaking up healthcare in 2020 is based on the current level of progress reached by these technologies in addition to residual impacts that will continue long past the year 2020.
Here are my top five emerging technologies that are shaking up healthcare in 2020, listed in no order of priority:
- Genome-based personalized medicine
- 3D printed organs
- AI and big data
1. Genome-based Personalized Medicine
Personalized medicine (also referred to as stratified or precision medicine) is a practice that dates back to Hippocrates when it was first established that each patient or individual presented a unique ailment. However, the rise of genomics in modern medicine has given researchers better insight into what a person’s genetics might do to their health, their ability to mitigate disease, and their relationship with medical treatment.
A genome-based personalized medicine will be able to deliver interventions, medical decisions, practices, and medical products based on their genomic stratification and their known responses to those practices. You can expect techniques such as antigen mapping, B- and T-cell receptor sequencing, multi-omics, and spatial analysis.
Experts in the area of precision medicine have already predicted that genomics and single-cell medical integration will change foundational knowledge of biology. The emergence of spatial genomics and its integration into the commercial realm will create multi-dimensional ways of understanding human biology.
2. 3D Printing Organs
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has emerged in industrial sectors and, in some cases, education as a way of creating a 3D version of something out of a range of materials, including ABS plastic, PLA, glass filled polyamide, polyamide (nylon), silver, titanium, steel, stereolithography materials (epoxy resins), wax, photopolymers, and polycarbonate.
In the case of human organ printing, 3D printing technology uses biocompatible plastic which is seeded with human cells from the patient receiving the printed organ. Once the organ is printed, it is then placed in an incubator so that the patient’s cells grow, thus improving the reception of the organ into the body.
Successful 3D printed organ transplants have already occurred. In 2019, researchers in Israel were able to print a rabbit-sized heart that contained a network of blood vessels that operated as if they were natural blood vessels with the correct anatomical structure. It presented a very real possibility for printing fully functioning organs.
The full development of this technology would mean widespread improvements for organ transplants, for developing pharmaceutical research, and for training physicians and surgeons.
CRISPR, which stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”, is a popularized technology that is changing the way that everyday people interact with science. CRISPR refers to a certain section of DNA sequences found in the body of prokaryotic genomes that have been previously infected. By taking this family sequence and then harnessing it, scientists can perform simple gene-editing modifications to correct a genetic defect or to treat or prevent disease in animals and plants.
CRISPR is simple enough that it can be prepared and used with a small amount of equipment; some have taken to preparing these materials and selling them online, so gene editing can be done in-home to modify crops to produce a healthier yield, or in animal breeding.
The method involves both in vitro (in a dish or test tube) and within live cells, using one or more single-guide RNAs. Since the discovery of its corrective measures in 2007, CRISPR has changed that way so that scientists can think about genetic conditions as well as rethinking ethics in genetic engineering.
Immunotherapy is a powerful cancer treatment that uses the white blood cells, or the immune system, of the patient with cancer in order to stop or slow the growth of the cancer cells. While a relatively new type of cancer treatment, it has shown promising effects for all types of cancer, even providing major breakthroughs for a number of cancers.
Since every cancer is unique with its own unique way of attacking the body, each form of immunotherapy is addressed in the same way. There are also different types of immunotherapy, include monoclonal antibodies and tumor-agnostic treatments, such as checkpoint inhibitors; oncolytic virus therapy; T-cell therapy; and cancer vaccines.
There is also non-specified immunotherapy, such as interferons (most commonly interferon alpha; Roferon-A [2a], Intron A [2b], Alferon [2a]) and interleukins (a protein; interleukin-2 IL-2 or aldesleukin or Proleukin).
5. AI and Big Data
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data have made big strides in the last few decades, and their use has impacted nearly every facet of human interaction. Its use in healthcare might seem something out of science fiction, however ethicists have already strongly considered the ways that AI and big data can propel healthcare, and professionals continue to research its effectiveness and utility.
As of now, radiological diagnostics already are using cognitive computer systems in order to generate repetitive processes and provide testing analyses. Google Brain and Stanford University’s Deep Learning Model “DeepMind” is another AI being used in machine learning in order to learn and predict the probable time of death for a seriously ill patient. This prediction could help in the treatment application and knowing when patients should be transferred to palliative care.
The use of AI and big data in healthcare face a load of privacy conflicts, including the use and misuse of sensitive patient data. Therefore, the evolution of these technologies in healthcare are more slow-moving than most.
What These Technologies Mean for Sports Medicine
The field of sports medicine currently benefits from these emerging technologies and will continue to do so in the future. We can see these benefits from three perspectives: past learning, future prediction, and current applications.
Many emerging technologies will rely on past use cases and patient assessments in order to provide accurate diagnostics or support. For AI to learn, for example, it needs to be routed up to a machine learning model and told what certain cases might lead to. This will lead to the digitization of patient files, new and old, in order to hone in these predictive models. From its learned behavior, the AI will be able to produce a wide range of data points that can be used in treatment recommendations and eventually be used in order to treat patients themselves (through robotics).
For future predictions, we might look to genetic modifications. With genome-based personalized medicine, for example, physicians would be able to take a genetic sample and provide preventative solutions based on their genetic analysis. If a patient presents sequence variants of the tenascin C (TNC), which has been hypothesized as a genetic contributor for weak tendons and ligaments, particularly in Achilles tendinopathies and tendon ruptures, then practicing physicians will be able to prevent a tendon injury before it occurs.
Other genetic modifications might be possible with CRISPR in the case that the CRISPR method can reduce the risk of a patient passing on the dangerous autoimmune disorder. However, it might also be a method used to remove an infection genetically rather than through antibiotics.
The field of sports medicine will see the biggest benefit from 3D printed organs as 3D printed organs provide orthopaedists a wider range of surgical procedure options. Instead of grafting tendons and ligaments from animals, a patient would be issued a lab-grown ligament that is infused with their own cells, allowing the body to more easily accept the ligament and limit the rejection of that implant.
Emerging Technologies for Healthcare
Every day, researchers seek to expand the exponential technological remedies that makeup human healthcare. With innovation and research evolving daily, it’s no surprise that 2020 has already seen breakthrough technologies that change the way our healthcare system works.
Be on the lookout for these and other emerging technologies as they will continue to shift the way that we, as physicians and surgeons, can provide treatment and patient support.