Five Stunning Medical Innovations

March 9, 2012 | by

The world turns on innovation. The latest technological innovations in medicine and health care have produced startling achievements, such as xenotransplant organs and nano-medical diagnostic tools. Researchers with Huntingdon Life Sciences and medical trailblazers all across the world are collaborating with computer scientists and manufacturers to create the next generation of medical procedures and tools. Meanwhile, federal health agencies and the IT sector is scrambling to keep pace with these innovations and calibrate how they will be serviced, funded, and regulated.

In the last couple decades, half of the growth in federal spending on health care was the result of technological advance. Sometimes the clinical benefits of these advancements are counterbalanced by the costs of implementing them. This is where federal agencies must make difficult decisions about the subsidization of innovation. The following five technologies are examples of stunning innovations wrestling with the practicalities of health care costs:

Liver scanner

The days of awful biopsies may be about to come to an end, which should please a great many patients. EchoSens has a new product that scans the liver and determines its health by measuring its elasticity. Branded the “Fibroscanner,” this new diagnostic technique detects sound waves that pass through the liver, preventing the need to penetrate through the stomach wall with a needle. Not only will this new non-invasive technique reduce the pain of getting a biopsy, perhaps encouraging more people to get them, it will cut down on the waiting list. However, because the test uses radioactive material, government officials and agencies will have to decide on how to implement safeguards and insurances for medical practitioners and their patients.

Nanoscale adhesive

In a true example of science imitating nature, MIT researchers have mimicked the mechanism by which Gecko feet remain attached to surfaces and used it to create a nano-sized adhesive to treat ulcers. Similar to how the Fibroscanner will prevent patients from needing painful biopsies, the nanoscale adhesive will cut down on the sutures and staples often used to treat wounds and injuries. As an additional benefit, the adhesive is biodegradable in the body, cutting down on surgical costs. Nanotechnology is destined to be a major issue in the medical world in the coming years. It’s extreme potential for long term benefits is currently in limbo with the daunting costs of research and implementation.

Walking simulator

Combining the latest in computer technology with clinical medical care, virtual reality rehabilitation programs being researched at the University of Portsmouth in Britain deceive stroke victims’ brains into increasing their bodies’ treadmills speeds while sensing less pain. While it sounds odd, this technique helps stroke victims to recover their walking abilities while facilitating improved muscle coordination. Some have also speculated that walking simulators could be used for advanced physical fitness.

Autonomous wheelchair

Researchers at MIT have developed a technology that allows wheelchairs to respond to verbal commands and keep track of locations using WiFi. People whose disabilities require them to use a wheelchair will be able to simply instruct their devices to take them where they need to go. Future versions of this could include cameras, a computerized safety systems like collision-avoidance.

Asthma sensor

Asthma, the lung disease which affects nearly 19 million people in the U.S alone, claims the lives of thousands of people every year. While there are many medicines which can treat asthma once an attack as started, until now there have been few ways to get forewarnings of an attack. However, a new handheld device manufactured by Siemens which utilizes polymer-lined carbon nanotubes, detects nitric oxide in the lungs, therefore anticipating asthma attacks. This is another technology that would involve the use of nanotechnology. Given the incredible cost of asthma, both in terms of loss of life and the long-standing attention it has received from health care agencies, this seems like a technology medical practitioners would support.

Whether you are recovering from surgery or stroke, worried about your liver, wheelchair-ridden, or suffering from asthma you can benefit from the breakthroughs listed above. However, the costs of these treatments, both to manufacturers, medical facilities and health care providers, must be considered alongside the potential benefits. The progression of medical procedures through biotechnology and nanotechnology in the coming years is going to change the landscape of the health care. The response from government IT will likely be a trial and error process of cautious optimism in which the value of these new treatments is gauged alongside the costs.


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