Previously we covered medical advances that were a bit more familiar. Here are 7 more developments that veer on the more futuristic side, but that could personalise medicine, so that each patient receives the best care possible.

1. In silico clinical trials

Before a drug or device is released on the market, it undergoes extensive clinical tests for efficacy and safety, which may be time-consuming, costly, and have limitations in place which fail to account for side effects and risks in very particular situations.

According to the FDA, ‘in silico clinical trials use computer models and simulations to develop and assess devices and drugs… before being tested in live clinical trials”. Hence, potential risks are minimised, and fewer full-scale clinical trials may be held, thus increasing the speed and accuracy of clinical trials. An example would be the Organs-on-Chips technology, which uses stem cells to mimic various organs using translucent microchips.

Current level of technology and knowledge of biology is inadequate for such clinical trials to be more than an additional research tool, but given time, this could even completely replace animal testing.

2. Optogenetics

Researchers still know very little about the human brain because its complexity makes it difficult for neuroscientists to find out when and why certain parts of the brain behave a certain way. Optogenetics, which combines the use of light and genetics to control cells in living tissue that have been genetically modified to be light-sensitive, paves the way for research in this area as well as for new therapies.

For example, several people with vision problems due to a degenerative condition called retinitis pigmentosa have been recruited for a clinical trial that aims to use optogenetics to restore some form of vision. The results are not known yet, but if it is successful, it suggests that optogenetics can be used to treat conditions with an underlying neural reason, such as Parkinson’s.

3. Multi-functional radiology

Radiology allows for an understanding of the body’s condition in a non-invasive way, and aids greatly in diagnosis. However, conventional radiology methods vary in the kind of information they provide on the body’s condition, and often allow only one body part to be imaged. One multi-functional machine may change that, allowing for the detection of several medical issues, biomarkers, and symptoms at once.

4. Patient empowerment

In the future, healthcare could be patient-led as patients have access to medical knowledge and treatment options, allowing them to have a more active say in their healthcare. Even now, we see laymen preparing themselves for emergencies by learning CPR and other basic first aid measures. This will contribute to a more patient-oriented healthcare approach.

5. Wearable health monitoring devices

The future lies in health sensors that can be implanted in the body or worn on the skin – such as temporary tattoos to monitor blood alcohol levels and thus prevent drunk driving. More invasive health monitoring devices, such as ‘neural dust’ can also be employed to record nerve and muscle activity in the body.

Radio Frequency Identification chips implanted under the skin can be useful for identification, particularly in the case of locating missing mentally-impaired individuals. With more advanced developments, health information could be sent to the hospital in real-time, and ambulances employed the moment abnormal physiological activity is detected, potentially saving lives.

6. Holographic data input

Holographic and virtual keyboards mean that we can do away with hardware that may be clunky and less portable. Only small projectors will be required, and data may be stored not in hard drives but in clouds, making them more convenient to access and record for healthcare personnel, which may discourage the bypassing of checks and prevent medication errors.

7. Medical treatment focused on genomics

Most conventional medical treatments tend to have a ‘one-size fits all’ approach, so that the degree of success varies among patients. The Human Genome Project was conceived to completely map and understand the function of all human genes, in order to facilitate personalised medical diagnosis and treatment in which patients are tested for genetic risk towards particular conditions, and receive customised dosages and treatment plans based on their DNA results, such as the use of herceptin in the treatment of breast cancer for patients with overactive HER2 receptors. New gene tests for risk of heart disease, for instance, allow family members of patients with the gene to avoid lifelong monitoring. MIMS

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