Five new technologies that promise to transform medicine

Five startling technologies promise to transform medicine

Fat zapping to shed excess weight, miniature telescopes to restore vision, and smart nappies to detect common childhood infections: these are some of the new technologies that promise to transform medicine, according to this week's Christmas issue of the BMJ.

The forecasts are made by Professor Donald Combs of the Eastern Virginia Medical School and are based on existing technologies that are in varying stages of development and on extensions of those technologies.

His vision for the future includes airport x-ray style devices that "fry" excess fat with a laser. An overweight patient simply walks through the device and emerges several pounds lighter. No side effects are seen apart from the resizing of his wardrobe.

Patients with chronic diseases who need regular medication will benefit from a miniature implant that monitors and transmits data on heart and breathing rates, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. And further into the future are links smart pumps that, when signalled, instantly deliver the correct medication.

Another prediction is the use of miniature telescopes that restore vision for patients with degenerative eye disease. The telescopes are powered by sunlight passing through the pupils to microscopic solar battery panels attached to the retinas.

These scenarios illustrate potential clinical applications of technologies currently under development, says Professor Combs. For instance, devices that can sense and transmit heart and breathing rates already exist and implantable lenses are well-known.

Other emerging technologies include wave technology to isolate cancer cells, fabrication technology to manufacture customised body parts, and the use of miniature robots to track and destroy infections before they cause disease.

The individual and collective impact of these technologies is already present in some aspects of contemporary medicine and the rate of their impact is increasing, he concludes.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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