15 Medical Breakthroughs Expected in the Next 10 Years

by Ryan Winter on May 28, 2009

The future is often weirder than fiction. Nowhere is this more the case than in medicine: Patients from the Victorian era would be dumbfounded – maybe downright scared – of going under a laser, being shoved into an MRI machine, or even just riding in an ambulance. Take a look at some of the things in medicine that could blow our minds (and fix our bodies) in the next ten years…

  1. Robots make surgery zipper scars a thing of the past
  2. snake_bot_carnegieBeings like Carnegie Mellon snake bot can poke through your abdomen, and cut, clamp or cauterize organs, making recovery from things like heart surgery a matter of a few days, with nothing but a tiny pockmark to show for it.
    http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science-Fiction-News.asp?NewsNum=1558

  3. Medication tailored to a person’s individual genome
  4. dna_tailored_medicineSince the sequencing of the human genome in the summer of 2000, hopes have been way up to bring to market medication that’s custom-designed for your unique genetics.Computer technology and growing familiarity with genomics will likely make this reality before 2019.

  5. Blasting brain tumours with particle accelerator light
  6. synchrotron_light_tumourImagine a device the size of a small sports stadium, focused on zapping cancer out of you. Sounds like a new way to die, but in reality, such devices – called synchrotrons – are already capable of focusing and dialling-down their intense light (like Cyclops from X-Men) to do good, in this case, pinpointing and eradicating tumours.

    http://www.lightsource.ca/education/pdf/posters/Cancer.pdf

  7. Medicine in Zero-G, on other worlds
  8. medicine_in_spaceIt’s bound to be the case that more and more people are going to need medical treatment in space: From routine care on low Earth orbit missions and vacations, to emergency surgery on the Moon and even Mars. We’ll also likely start learning a lot about how the human body heals in space as a result of these inevitable 911-moments in the final frontier.

  9. All-electronic medical records, everywhere
  10. electronic_medical_recordsDecades in the making, this is technically possible now and just about to reach critical mass in the developed world. Amazingly, one of the last facets of society that remains relatively uncomputerized, watch for this to change-over worldwide within the next decade.

    http://digg.com/search?s=digital+medical+records+by

  11. Electronic, networked test results
  12. networked_test_resultsMade instantly possible by worldwide digital medical records, test results beamed from the lab to a doctor or nurses PDA would save lives by bridging the gap between observation and treatment.

  13. Robots making up half to 75% of the nursing workforce
  14. robot_nurseRobots are already being deployed on a test basis as caregivers in hospitals across the globe. Could more advanced versions replace human tech or nursing staff in situations where the job is especially dull, dirty or dangerous?

    http://alicebot.blogspot.com/2007/10/robot-nurse.html

  15. Pre-programmed ailments and complex situations in robots to train medical staff
  16. pre_programmed_robotsThese already exist in test phases at universities. In a decade, such “smart dummies” could replace cadavers in med school and let interns make fewer mistakes on real people early in their careers.

    http://www.uwo.ca/fhs/nursing/UG/clinical_education_suite.html

  17. Self-serve diagnosis
  18. self_diagnosisMuch like self-serve check-outs in big-box stores, such computer kiosks could let people deliver detailed information beyond the waiting room clipboard that doctors can use to get a quicker sense of what’s bothering a patient, leading to shorter visits and speedier treatment.

  19. Systems biology saves the day
  20. systems_biologyThis science that combines empirical, mathematical and computational techniques to understand complex problems of biology will likely be a household – er, “labhold” – term in the medical community in the next decade, paving the way for medical breakthroughs we can scarcely imagine now.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090106083834.htm

  21. Telesurgery comes-of-age
  22. telesurgeryIt’s not science fiction to hear about an operation done with surgeons in one city and the patient in another but it isn’t yet commonplace and without added risk.

    Watch in the next decade for the world’s top surgeons to work their magic across the world from the comfort of their own hospital.

  23. Holographic autopsies
  24. holographic-autopsiesMinimally-invasive surgery is nice but in some cases, non-invasive autopsies are the only kind permitted.

    Combining the latest fMRI technology with force-feedback devices and holographic corpses will allow for just such an autopsy in cases where policy, religion, or other logistics would normally prevent one.

  25. Minority Report-style data manipulation
  26. minority_report_osAnother case where the technology already exists, the next ten years will likely see a clear winner emerge in the battle for a standard software (or two) to be used by medical professionals worldwide, as well as the needed common acceptance of such an operating system.

  27. Star Trek-style portable diagnostic tools
  28. star_trek_medical_tricorderThat salt shaker from the days of Doctor McCoy won’t always need an entire room to accommodate the technology in real-life.

    Watch for such tools to make their way into emergency rooms, operating rooms and even replace bulky MRI-type machines in some cases in the next 10 years.

    http://gizmodo.com/385840/real-star-trek-tricorder-invented

  29. Artificial intelligence for diagnosis
  30. artificial_intelligence_medicinePeople who complain about their doctor’s bedside manner will probably make up much of the early adopters of computer-built medical minds to mend their troubles. The question is, in the future, will computerized doctors be able to fill out a prescription legibly?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben 05.31.09 at 11:09 pm

I can’t see robots replacing the nursing workforce. How can a machine with artificial intelligence use critical thinking skills to maximize a patient’s outcome? Things like this, written by ignorant people, really make me sad to think that someone actually thinks that an RN is “replaceable.”

Ryan Winter 06.02.09 at 1:37 pm

Ben, I agree with you! While a robot can never replace the empathetic touch or clinical intuition of a nurse, it may be able to help with certain repetitive aspects of the job. I view the robots as ‘little helpers’ for basic tasks only — like delivering items for the nurse or lifting patients. I apologize for implying that robots could in any way replace nurses. That was never my intent.

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