Giant technological advances in healthcare and medicine are developing at a rapid rate. From growing organs in labs to stem cell treatment and 3D printing to surgical robots, these innovative changes are going to help minimize costs, improve the way medical staff work, and most importantly, save lives. As experts in healthcare recruitment, from travel nursing jobs to roles in therapy, we keep track of all the latest trends in the industry.
A lot of the technologies mentioned in our recent hospitals of the future project, here, may not be available for many years to come – some are still several decades away. However, medical developments are happening all the time, many of which people may not even be aware of. In the next five years, some breakthrough treatments may become available in the medical world that are sure to change the lives of millions.
One of the biggest vaccines of our century could be lurking just around the corner. Quantum Run predicted that the world’s first HIV vaccine would be commercially available this year. Although that prediction hasn’t come true just yet, the vaccine is now in the second phase of clinical trials at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine in Canada, five years after Chil-Yong Kang and his team successfully completed initial tests. The new trial will test 600 HIV-negative North American patients to test their ability to produce HIV antibodies.
This year there has also seen progress in the controversial quest for the first human head transplant, to be carried out by Italian surgeon, Dr. Sergio Canavero. He hopes to change medical history by becoming the first person to successfully complete the operation. Despite widespread skepticism, Canavero claims to have successfully reattached the severed spinal cords of several mice over the past few months, with many of them regaining near-full motor function.
The volunteer for the impending operation was supposed to be Valery Spiridonov, from Russia, who suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease. However, the operation will now take place later this year in China, in collaboration with Canavero’s colleague Xiaoping Ren on an as yet undecided Chinese national. Both surgeons claim they have new studies currently under review by Chinese authorities and once approved the findings will become public, so we should know just how possible this procedure is.
By 2018, the World Health Organization has estimated that it will have finally eradicated polio. Margaret Chan, World Health Organization Director-General said, “after spending the millennia battling polio, we have new knowledge about the polioviruses, new technologies, and new tactics to reach the most vulnerable communities. The extensive experience, infrastructure, and knowledge gained from ending polio can help us to reach all children and communities with essential health services”.
Another breakthrough this year sees an innovative type of male birth control soon to be commercially available. Currently, the only form of contraception for men is the use of condoms or a vasectomy, however, this is all about to change when Vaslegel becomes available. Vaslegel is a gel that a man can inject directly into the vas deferens (the duct which conveys sperm from the testicle to the urethra) and works by blocking sperm. The gel is hormone-free, and best of all, reversible.
In addition to this, another brand-new type of contraceptive is set to hit the market in 2018: a remote-controlled contraceptive implant. MicroCHIPS, a Massachusetts-based start-up, has developed an implantable contraceptive chip that can be wirelessly controlled and that can last for up to 16 years.
The chip dispenses 30 micrograms of levonorgestrel on a daily basis, a hormone which is already being used as a contraceptive in the US. This hormone is stored in an array of tiny reservoirs in the chip, which is then sealed with a platinum and titanium membrane before the chip is implanted under the skin. It can be placed in the upper arm, buttocks or abdomen.
When an electrical current from an internal battery is applied, the membrane seal melts temporarily and releases a dose of the birth control hormone. Since the device gives women the ability to turn it on and off with a remote, they will no longer need to go to a clinic for an outpatient procedure when they need to deactivate their birth control, saving them both money and time. It also means that when a woman decides she wants to stop birth control, she can do so with the simple click of a button.
The use of marijuana, whether medical or recreational, has been an ongoing, contested issue for quite some time now. It has been decriminalized in states such as Connecticut, Illinois, and Delaware, and then made legal in places such as California, Maine, and Colorado. And whilst the illegality of its use has certainly become slacker over the years, states such as Kansas, Missouri, and South Carolina still class its use as illegal. Yet, of all this could be about to change in 2019.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects an estimated 7.7 million people a year in the US, might soon involve a radical treatment from a non-traditional source – medicinal marijuana. Among some of the worst affected in the US are military service members who served in Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the Department of Veteran Affairs claims that about 11-20 percent of those who served in those locations suffer from PTSD.
Suzanne Sisley, a researcher from the University of Arizona, is one of the advocates for the revolutionary treatment. She strongly believes that there is a “mountain of anecdotal evidence” that the drug helps to treat post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. These include anxiety, difficulty sleeping, depression, and flashbacks. With the recent approval of previously stubborn government agencies against the idea, using medicinal marijuana in the treatment of PTSD might soon be a reality.
Another exciting development this year is the Ocumetics Bionic Eye Lens, which allows people to have three times better 20/20 vision. It was developed by Dr. Garth Webb, an optometrist from British Columbia, who was looking for a way to optimize eyesight, irrespective of a person’s age or health.
This extraordinary lens would eradicate the need for any kind of glasses or contacts, making them a thing of the past as the eye-care industry evolves. Further to this, people who have the lens surgically inserted will have no chance of developing cataracts in the future, as the lens replaces the part of their natural eye which would inevitably decay over time.
Cancer patients frequently wait months to start treatment once they have been diagnosed. Some then spend years trying different procedures and medications, all resulting in varying levels of success. However, with big data technology, scientists believe that by 2020 patients will be able to start a course of targeted treatment the same day as their initial diagnosis.
Big data will allow organizations to securely share medical information into what Oregon Health & Science University is calling a huge ‘Collaborative Cancer Cloud’, to store everything. This will enable doctors and other medical staff to share enormous amounts of patient information with other institutions, expanding the pool of data available.
The idea is for doctors to have access to relevant information that will help them analyze a patient quicker and better predict the progress of their disease, in order to start a course of personalized treatment in the same day. This prediction will be based on the end result that other patients have had with the same types of cancer, as well as similar environmental and physical factors. Ultimately, big data and smart medicine could lead to faster and more tailored treatment.
And, finally, for those of us who worry about getting older, and becoming less mobile, there may be a solution which becomes commercially available in 2020. Researchers from Aalborg University are involved in an international scheme to develop portable robot skeletons for the elderly, so they can remain active for longer.
By 2050, there will be more than two billion people over the age of 60, according to the World Health Organization – a record high. The older we get, the frailer our bodies become, regardless of how mentally fit we are. An exoskeleton, which is essentially a light-weight robot with small electrical motors, will give the body support, and provide extra strength and stamina as our bodies get older.
Robots are predicted to have an even greater impact on healthcare a year later. Spearheaded by companies like Intuitive Surgical, by 2021 it’s predicted that robots could be performing up to a third of surgeries in the U.S. A current robot named the da Vinci Surgical System is already available to assist surgeons, but it is rather pricey, with each machine costing north of $1 million. While this seems like a lot, the cost for basic training for a doctor is already over $200,000. With the cost predicted to drop by the next decade, robot surgeons may start to become a viable option for many hospitals.
There are up to 200,000 cases of breast cancer every year in America, making it one of the nation’s biggest killers. The risk of contracting cancer can be genetic, but also vary greatly by age, with women over 40 much more susceptible. Treatment options have been steadily improving over the past decade and there is even better news: it’s predicted that by 2021, 5-year survival rates will be near 100%, meaning a diagnosis will have great prospects. 10-year survival rates are expected to reach similar levels some time in the 2030s.
New techniques for tackling cancer are always being introduced, and while chemotherapy is one of the most common, there are revolutionary practices predicted to be at the clinical trial stage by 2021. CRISPR-Cas9 is one of those fascinating processes. First introduced in 2012, this technique remodels genes so that they can fight cancer more effectively. According to CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, “The gene-editing technology that is available today is already sufficient to cure the defect that causes sickle cell anemia in cells that are cultured in the laboratory.” The next five or six years should see this technology start to be utilized to tackle cancer before it even has a chance to grow.