The feats that can be achieved by medical technology in the modern age never cease to amaze. Dissolving stitches, ultrasounds, artificial skin for burns, vaccines… we’ve definitely come a long way from the days of blood-letting and leeches!
With smarter, faster, and more effective methods used across the globe, where can we go to from here? The science world is far from stagnant with teams of academics and professionals working hard to develop even more amazing medical breakthroughs that can make a huge difference to detection, treatment, surgery and recovery.
Read on to find out about four new technologies that are changing the face of medicine, including some that were developed with the help of some Aussie scientists!
What do you do when there’s something wrong with your guts? Finding the cause of problems with your gastro-intestinal tract can be a big hassle but thanks to the SmartPill, it’s as easy as swallowing a tiny camera in the form of pill and waiting for the test results. The procedure is known as a capsule endoscopy. As the pill moves through your body, it takes a number of images per second and wirelessly transmits the data to a wearable recording device so that it can be analysed by your doctor.
Not only is the SmartPill a lot less invasive, the big difference is its ability to record data along the entire length of your intestines including most of your small intestine, which other types of endoscopy can’t reach.
3D Visualisation and Augmented Reality for surgeons
Being a surgeon is hard work, and we’re not just talking about the years of study and training it takes to become one. More advanced surgical procedures can last for hours and can place a great deal of strain on the surgeon, particularly where they need to hunch over and use their own eyes instead of a microscope ocular and camera system (pictured above). When it comes such delicate procedures, the last thing you want is a surgeon who’s struggling to see and suffering back or neck strain!
Two complex fields of surgery – neurosurgery (brain) and retinal microsurgery (eyes) – have been experimenting with a new stereoscopic camera system that incorporates elements of augmented reality into what the surgeon is seeing. For example, they might overlay a visual template for a task to execute during the surgery. This allows surgeons to operate with less strain, more visibility and more information, which is good for the surgeon, the patient and even medical students who can watch and learn on a connected TV screen.
MeTro elastic super glue
Did you know that the kind of super glue you can find at the shops was originally developed during an attempt to make clear plastic gun sights for the war effort in 1942? Super glue is also very effective at sticking fingers together, so you may already be aware of its brief use in surgery during the Vietnam War. However, due to being mildly toxic and very stiff once it dries, super glue doesn’t have a place in modern medicine.
Enter MeTro, an elastic hydrogel that takes the concept of surgical super glue to the next level. Developed by Nasim Annabi in collaboration with scientists at the University of Sydney and Harvard Medical School, the gel can be applied directly to a wound and then activated with light to seal in 60 seconds. The gel is incredibly elastic – enough so that it can be safely used to seal wounds on lungs. You won’t find that at Bunnings! Watch this video to find out more.
3D printed spine implant
When you think of 3D printing in the field of medicine, you may recall news about the technology’s success in printing cost-effective prosthetic limbs for amputees. However, when it comes to putting objects inside a body, there’s a lot to consider to make sure the 3D-printed structure is effective and safe. Researchers at Australia’s RMIT University have collaborated with a medical device company and a neurosurgeon to develop Australia’s first 3D printed spine implant.
The patient who received the implant had unusually shaped bones in her spine which meant that a standard, off-the-shelf implant wouldn’t have provided much relief for her chronic back pain. Thanks to the ability of 3D printing to customise the shape of an implant unique to the patient, she resumed normal activities without significant pain in just three months! As the technology becomes more widely used, off-the-shelf implants may become a thing of the past.
Have you heard of any other great stuff happening in the field of medicine? Share your discoveries with us in the comments.