Keeping up with medical technology – This week’s top newsworthy innovations

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Medical technology is currently one of the fastest growing industries. It is changing the face of healthcare by extending the length and improving the quality of our lives. Nowadays, wearable technology, which includes fitness trackers and smart watches, helps monitor everything from our pulse to our sleep patterns. This is often compared to how genomic and personalized medicine can offer tailored treatments rather than a “one size fits all” approach to healthcare.

The ways in which technological advances are able to diagnose, monitor, and treat medical conditions are baffling. This month, tech conferences were in full swing, bringing together some of the most prolific medical researchers, physicians, academics and tech enthusiasts, to discuss the newest and most cutting edge medical innovations from Toronto to Besançon, France. In honor of these events, here is a roundup of this week’s most reviewed medical tech inventions:

1) Colour-changing condoms

First and foremost, the story that everyone has been buzzing about. Daanyaal Ali, 14, Chirag Shah, 14, and Muaz Nawaz, 13, won the top prize in the U.K.’s TeenTech Awards this week for their clever idea: a condom that changes colour when it detects a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

While it is still at the concept stage, a condom manufacturer has reportedly approached the trio. The condom’s design involves a layer imbedded with antibodies that would react with the antigens found in STIs. In the presence of an antigen, the condom would undergo a colour change: green for chlamydia, purple for genital warts, blue for syphilis and yellow for herpes.

According to the students, the product dubbed S.T.EYE (get it?) would not only reduce the spread of bacterial or viral infections but also serve as a rapid and practical device for at-home testing.

The colour-coded condom, however, is not without its imperfections. Can the contraceptive detect diseases in both the partner and user? What happens if the user has multiple STIs? How do we ensure that the chemicals used aren’t harmful to the user or disrupt the condom’s primary function? What is the likelihood of having a false positive or false negative result? These are some of the issues that will need to be addressed before this concept can be ready for production.

2) Organs-on-chips

The name says it all. A team of scientists at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute won the Design of the Year award from the Design Museum in London for this impressive new technology. This is the first time an entry from the field of medicine has won the award.

The devices consist of microchips with microfluidic channels lined with human stem cells from different tissues. The material’s transparency allows researchers to study how the different organs work. For example, the lung-on-a-chip contracts and relaxes as air is passed over the cells to mimic lung function. So far, they have fifteen organs, including the heart, eyes, liver, and intestines.

Though researchers are still in the beginning stages of the development of this technology, they believe that it could become a valuable tool for biomedical research. According to the Wyss Institute, the chips could be used to test the safety of cosmetics and drugs without the use of animals.

3) Mind-controlled robot

Another innovative research project years in the making, reached a milestone this week that could have profound implications for physically disabled individuals.

Scientists have developed a robot that can be controlled remotely through brain signals. Nine disabled subjects and ten healthy subjects located in Italy, Germany and Switzerland participated in the pilot project. Each individual wore an electrode-studded hat that analyzed their brain signals and sent commands in real time via Internet to the robots located in the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne laboratory. The robots were essentially teleprescence avatars navigating autonomously, while simultaneously filming their surroundings and displaying the faces of the users via Skype.

The team of researchers, headed by professor José del R Milláin, hopes that the revolutionary machine will receive financial support from insurance companies in order to restore a sense of independence to people suffering from paralysis or limited mobility.

4) Glucose responsive patch

Researchers from the University of North Carolina and NC state have developed a smart patch that can monitor blood sugar levels in patients with type I and II diabetes. It contains hundreds of micro-array needles that mimic pancreatic beta cells involved in the storage and secretion of insulin to reduce blood glucose concentrations. The patch is capable of detecting the level of glucose and delivering the appropriate dose of insulin, thus eliminating the need for painful injections and multiple finger pricks. Though it has yet to be tested in humans, it has proven to be more effective than insulin injections in a mouse model with type I diabetes.

Researchers are optimistic that the patch will work in humans given that they are more sensitive to insulin than mice. Ultimately, they are hoping to develop a product that would only need to be changed once every few days.

While this represents only a fraction of the advances in medicine currently being developed, the scope of these emerging technologies is astounding. Even though technology is no panacea, there is no doubt that these revolutionary ideas will contribute immensely to healthcare efficiency should they come to fruition.

References

École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. (2015). Disabled people pilot a robot remotely with their thoughts. Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-06/epfd-dpp062315.php

Intel Free Press. (2013). Suitable Technologies Beam telepresence robot [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/intelfreepress/9447018340

Philbin, M. (2015). TeenTech Awards 2015: The Results. Retrieved from http://www.teentech.com/teentech-awards-2015-the-results/

Wyss Institute. (2014). Organs-on-Chips. Retrieved form http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewpage/461/

Yu, J. et al. (2015). Microneedle-array patches loaded with hypoxia-sensitive vesicles provide fast glucose responsive insulin delivery. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi:10.1073/pnas.1505405112

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Julie Boucher

Julie obtained her MSc in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the IJHS.

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