Why you should care
Because who doesn’t want to stay fit?
The author is The Medical Futurist, a health care speaker and author of The Guide to the Future of Medicine and My Health: Upgraded.
From virtual and augmented reality and smart algorithms analyzing our wearable data to robots, gadgets and sensors, medical technology affects our lives every day. But what will take humanity forward next? Here’s a look at what I expect to see at the crossroads of health and technology over the next 12 months.
After years of false hopes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the world’s first-ever artificial pancreas last year. It is the biggest step in years toward a new era in the disease’s management. The device monitors blood sugar and supplies insulin automatically, replicating what a healthy version of the organ does on its own. I believe this new form of diabetes management will spread in 2017, becoming a life-changing milestone for many patients.
But that’s not all for diabetics. Google has patented a digital contact lens that can measure blood glucose levels from tears. It launched a partnership with pharmaceutical giant Novartis, and while there is a lot of silence around the state of developments, rumor has it that it will become available for clinical trials this year.
Pharma will realize that they must use AI in drug research and clinical trials or watch startups rip the rug out from under them.
Driverless Vehicles + Health Sensors
We have to prepare for the rise of vehicles with more and more automated functions. In September, Uber started offering rides in self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. The company also teamed up with Volvo, whose trucks have already gone through Europe without drivers.
While striving to get autonomous cars on the road, companies are equipping cars with as many sensors as possible. As we begin spending more and more passive time in these vehicles, firms like Uber, Volvo and Tesla will start incorporating health sensors in the driver’s seat — making the car a futuristic point-of-care.
Nutrigenomics Will Set Your Diet
This is a brand-new cross-field combining genetics and nutritional science. The idea? That our genome reveals valuable information about our organism’s needs, which we should map out and utilize to live a long, healthy life. After having your DNA sequenced — perhaps even at home — a smart app will let you know which foods you should eat and which ones you should avoid. California-based startup Habit plans to use genetic markers to identify the ideal meal for each of its customers, and send that meal directly to their doors.
While players in the genetic testing market and the FDA are not the fastest of friends, I don’t think regulators can stop companies from offering genetic-based services to patients, especially given that DNA-based, nutrigenetic dieting is already knocking on our doors.
Genome Editing CRISPR to Hit Clinical Trials
Every decade or so, there are a few ideas that have the potential to revolutionize the whole landscape of health care and pharma. Cue CRISPR. Researchers have already used gene editing to create mosquitoes that are almost entirely resistant to the parasite that causes malaria. Last year, experiments also showed how scientists were able to treat mice with Duchenne muscular dystrophy through gene editing. Scientists also believe that we will have the chance to edit our cells in our immune systems with CRISPR to bolster them against cancer, helping them kill off malevolent entities before they can do real harm. This year, I believe we could see the first clinical trials to test the power of CRISPR.
Insurers Get in on the Act
This is the year when the behemoth system of health insurance will start to change with data provided by patients. Oscar Health, the hipster insurance company, has already taken the first steps in this direction. With its help, insured people can submit their Fitbit data and, if they reach their fitness goals, can earn $1 a day. It helps keep people healthy and motivated with a simple but quantifiable reward.
It is predicted that 245 million wearable devices will be sold in 2019. As more and more accurate data sets about our lifestyle through trackers and wearables become available, it’s inevitable that insurance companies will try to utilize them. I believe that in 2017, a large insurance company will launch a package containing wearable sensors and guidance about living a healthy life by measuring our data.
Surgical Robot vs. da Vinci
Surgical robots have the potential to change how surgeries will be carried out in the future. The industry is set to explode — by 2020, surgical robots are expected to nearly double to $6.4 billion.
One fine example is the da Vinci Surgical System. It features a magnified 3-D high-definition vision system and tiny-wristed instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human hand. Google recently announced that it has started working with pharma giant Johnson & Johnson to create a new surgical robot system. The tech expertise of Google with the health care experience of J&J could prove to be a jackpot combination: da Vinci might finally have a real competitor, which would definitely provide another boost to the surgical robot industry.
Pharma Employs AI in Clinical Trials, Research
Clinical trials take a decade and cost billions. This must change, and AI might be the key. Atomwise, for example, uses supercomputers that root out therapies from a database of molecular structures. Last year, the startup launched a virtual search for safe, existing medicines that could be redesigned to treat the Ebola virus. They found two drugs predicted by the company’s AI technology that may significantly reduce Ebola infections, an analysis that typically would’ve taken months or years but was completed in less than a day.
I think pharma will realize that they must use AI in drug research and clinical trials or watch startups rip the rug out from under them. When disruption kicks in through a few new technologies, even the giants will have to change their ways.
The 3-D-printed Cast Becomes a Reality
So you’ve broken your arm and need a cast. Say goodbye to the messy process of fitting plaster to your hurting body part, followed by frequent doctor visits to refit the cast as the inflammation subsides or muscles atrophy. With this, the doctor can just scan your arm, print out a waterproof, lightweight cast in seconds, and you’re free to go home. Scanning a limb is simple. Designing a customized cast? Not exactly rocket science. So it’s really just a matter of time.