Honglan Wang examines new developments in medical technology
As an experienced pharmaceutical research consultant, Honglan Wang keeps a close eye on new technological developments in the medical field.
Since modern medicine began in the 18th century around the same time as the Industrial Revolution, technology has played a role in some form. In fact, the two events are quite closely linked: as the industry took off, so did the economy and the opportunity to explore new medical techniques.
With that came the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases that are largely taken for granted today but were revolutionary at the time. But there are still many other conditions that doctors haven’t figured out how to eradicate yet, although technological advancements continue to be a major tool against them.
The Rise of 3D Printing in Medicine
Three-dimensional printing has been a thing for a number of years now; it’s now primed to make waves in the medical world. Instead of laying down ink on a substrate like traditional printing, 3D printing layers materials on top of each other to build an accurate model.
Doctors have already been embracing this technology as a way to create prosthetics that are accurately matched to the patient. However, this form of printing can also be used to create bone implants and even joints using natural tissue instead of metal and plastic.
This technology has also reached into the imagination of the future to create replacement organs through bioprinting that may reduce the need for transplants. Using this method, doctors can create tissue for skin grafts needed by burn patients, and there are a number of other possibilities on the horizon such as rebuilding blood vessels and even a pancreas.
One of the advantages of bioprinting organs is that there’s little or no chance of rejection of an organ from a donor, which is a common reason that kidney transplants fail.
Meanwhile, aside from printing new body parts, this technology could also be a way to print medications that are easier to swallow and release quicker, while even influencing the flavor. Honglan Wang notes that the FDA approved a bioprinted drug in 2016 to help prevent seizures in epilepsy patients.
Robots and Machines in Surgery
Machines are more commonly being used in modern medicine as surgery aids. For example, the heart-lung machine takes over the job of the heart during an operation, diverting blood away from the vital organ, as well as filtering carbon dioxide and oxygenating the blood.
But while a cyborg that performs an operation is not (yet) a thing, surgeons are now using robotics to help them perform difficult procedures. Armed with a camera and guided through a computer interface by the surgeon, the robot arm actually mimics the movements of the surgeon.
Honglan Wang explains that another benefit of this method is that it is also minimally invasive, with usually one or two small incisions required. It allows doctors to perform the work in places that are very difficult to reach by conventional methods.
Virtual Reality for Training and Treatment
Virtual reality is largely used for entertainment purposes, but it’s gaining ground quickly in the medical world. The virtual experience allows medical students to practice procedures without putting a patient at risk, for example.
Meanwhile, VR is also being used as a way to help patients recover from some condition – it could aid in rehabilitation for stroke patients. However, VR is also being used in another interesting way, namely helping patients with PTSD.
Known as Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy, it may be the key to helping many who have suffered trauma. While some people develop avoidance behaviors in response to trauma, the VR approach can help immerse them in experiences that frighten them to demonstrate they’re not as dangerous as previously thought.
This type of exposure therapy might also be a solution for people suffering phobias, such as a fear of spiders (which is one of the most common phobias in the U.S.)
Advanced Gene Editing
Imagine doctors being able to “remove” cancer and other diseases using technology that allows gene editing. It seems this may be a possibility with Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR).
The development was modeled after how bacteria create a “database” of DNA strands from viruses. When the same virus strikes again, the bacteria recognize it and target a snippet of the virus’s DNA, removing it.
While gene editing remains a controversial topic, it has other possible applications including wiping out virus-carrying mosquitoes, for example. However, some people worry about how far this technology will go – and whether it will allow scientists to engineer genetically superior babies, which has apparently already happened in China.
As an experienced pharmaceutical research consultant, Honglan Wang keeps a close eye on new technological developments in the medical field and is excited for the new technology that is coming to the industry.
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