Practitioners, orthopedic surgeons, and professionals in the sports medicine field are well aware of the emerging technologies available to improve their professional practice.
What many of these professionals might not realize is the potential power that exponential technologies have, and the ways in which they can transform the field of sports medicine.
Currently, exponential technologies have been implemented in many areas of healthcare, including general surgery, in organic tissue generation
and growth, and in strategic surgery and planning, among others.
But, as exponential technologies continue to evolve, what does it all mean for the future of sports medicine?
In order to answer this question, this article will do the following:
- Describe exponential technologies in simple terms
- Provide examples of exponential technology applications being used in contemporary medicine
- Suggest ways that exponential technologies can affect sports medicine
What are Exponential Technologies?
In general, exponential technologies are technologies that are experiencing rapidly accelerated growth in development and in everyday uses and applications. Exponential technologies (ET) affects most major industries and are currently affecting our lives on a daily basis.
Common examples of ET are artificial intelligence (AI), augmented or virtual reality (AR or VR), data science, digital biology, Digitech, medicine, nanotech and digital fabrication, networks and computing systems, robotics, and autonomous vehicles.
The concept of ET came about because technology is moving (and improving) so rapidly. In 2005, Ray Kurtzweil suggested that based on a historical analysis of the rate of technological change, the acceleration of that change is exponential.
In Kurtzweil’s eye, our technologies progress on an evolutionary basis, in which the evolution applies positive feedback that helps to create the next stage. He stated that “...we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century - it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” In other words, the rate increases exponentially over time. This is called the Law of Accelerating Returns and is based on Moore’s Law.
Current Applications of Exponential Technologies in Health Sectors
While ET is expanded across almost every sector, the health industry has been impacted by the development of five major forms of ET:
- 3D printing
- AI and robotics
- Synthetic biology
3D printing is largely the most popularized form of ET that is sweeping the health sector. Stories of 3D printed hearts, kidneys, and other artificial organs suggest that they can be artificially printed and provide support, and possible remedy, to the long list of candidates on donor waiting lists.
AI and robotics
It is estimated that surgical robotics, such as the da Vinci Surgical System, will double sales to $6.4 billion in 2020. Surgical robotics typically show a large drop in hospital-acquired infection rates. Robots are not just limited to surgery; they can also carry more medication and do more heavy lifting that is required in hospitals. And recently, IBM Watson and Google’s Deepmind have started research into the ways that AI can further support robotic and human surgical procedures.
While the first “draft” of the human genetic sequence was created in 1999 (for $300 million), human genome sequences only cost $1,000 and are estimated to cost even less in the near future. Genomics changes the way that humans understand our internal make-up; by accessing indicators on the human genome sequence, doctors have more insight into unique genetic conditions.
Pluripotent stem cells are being used to develop and cultivate tissue cells in Petri dishes. Researchers at the Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Würzburg first create mesodermal progenitor cells from the pluripotent stem cells in order to “coax” tissues to produce blood vessels, immune cells, and connective tissues. They grow into organoids and can be mixed with brain stem cells and cancer cells.
Ways that Exponential Technologies Can Change Sports Medicine
ET practices in 3D printing, AI and robotics, genomics, and synthetic biology are all currently affecting the field of sports medicine. With access to these technologies, surgeons can provide a more robust injury intervention protocol, more personalized treatment, and can minimize downtime associated with muscular-skeletal injury.
ETs will most significantly impact orthopedic surgery. By using technologies such as the intelligent surgical knife, surgeons gain access to a faster, more efficient, and safer way to perform a surgery.
In addition to these benefits, the intelligent surgical knife also known as the iKnife can provide real-time diagnostics. A mass spectrometer integrated into the technology analyzes the vaporized smoke from the incision to detect chemicals of the biological sample. While this technology is largely implemented into cancer detection treatment, orthopedic surgeons who employ it can be informed of a number of potentially dangerous underlying conditions while surgery is being performed.
The sports medicine field also benefits from artificial organ printing. 3D printing and other artificially grown organs can support the reattachment of ligaments commonly torn in the knee joint, essentially providing those in need with a “brand new knee” that is made out of organic tissue.
The Future of Sports Medicine With Integrated Exponential Technologies
So what can the sports medicine field expect with growing ETs? Here is what experts suggest so far:
- ET collaboration could accelerate change
- Stakeholders should be prepared for an evolving profession
- Prepare for a new model for performance health management for athletes
- Personalized health care
- Expect more integrations using AI (algorithm) technology, genetic-based testing, and data
- Education may be driven by AR/VR to teach a more “hands-on” approach
ETs are expected to impact care and prevention for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, depression, and general primary care.
A research webcast also suggested this impact will be greater due to collaborative efforts, such as the integration of AI into robotics technologies.
With collaborative research efforts and a field poised for adapting to these research integrations, sports medicine professionals can expect a more personalized approach to prevention, care, treatment, and therapeutics.