From smart tattoos through to heart cell regeneration, this is our October healthcare update, taking a quick look at some of the innovations that have caught our eye over the last few weeks.
The world of healthcare is constantly evolving. Doctors, researchers, engineers and innovators around the world are always finding new ways to improve life and bring down costs for patients and practitioners alike.
In what could be a game-changer in heart health, researchers from the University of North Carolina have learned more about how to reverse scarring in heart tissue.
Just like any other muscle in the body, hearts form scar tissue when they heal from damage caused by events such as heart disease and attacks. This tissue is heavier than normal tissue and therefore can begin to weigh down and weaken the heart, leading to further risks. However, by using viruses to deliver gene therapies to the scarred cells, the damage can effectively be reversed. Not only will this help restore heart health in patients, the process could also facilitate the repair and ‘reprogramming’ of other cells in the body once the procedure is better understood – potentially facilitating a huge step forward in personalized medicine.
In a global first, surgeons from different sides of the world have jointly operated on a patient using Virtual Reality. Using Hololens headsets, three surgeons from London and Mumbai were able to appear in the same operating theatre, at the same time in a bowel cancer removal procedure.
Appearing in real-time as graphic avatars, they were able to see and speak to each other whilst they discussed the best course of action, with patient data ‘hovering’ in the room for all to see and consult. This is just one way that VR can enhance the field of medicine, bringing together experts from around the world to discuss and act on cases, no matter the distance.
For hopeful parents around the world, IVF treatment is a lifeline to start a family, but often comes at a price which can be out of reach for some. However, a new kind of IVF treatment is being offered in the UK for the first time which brings down costs and increases accessibility.
Nicknamed ‘The Shoebox’ because of its smaller scale, the new technology has the potential to reduce the cost of IVF treatment by 50% or more. Thanks to the compact container, eggs can be fertilised and embryos developer without the need for expensive laboratories, which incur larger costs. So far, around 90 babies around the world have been conceived using this technique, but when compared to traditional IVF (which has produced more than 6 million babies), the new approach is very much in its infancy.
Amongst a plethora of other functions, the spine is the connection between our brains and breathing – meaning that if it is heavily damaged or severed, a person will require a ventilator or other mechanical assistance to breathe. However, following new research from doctors at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, USA, it may be possible to restore breathing functions using drug and light therapy.
Using their technique they were able to discover an alternative nerve pathway, meaning that even if the spine itself is severely damaged, it may still be possible to breathe without assistance. Although testing is in the early stages, it could be the key to understanding more about how spinal cords function, and how to reverse the effect of life-changing injuries.
Although thermotherapy has already been used as treatment for cancer, it does come with the risk of damaging healthy cells at the same time. This may one day be a thing of the past thanks to scientists from the University of Surrey, UK who have developed ‘intelligent’ nanoparticles which are able to self-regulate and reduce their temperatures before healthy cells are damaged.
Working with colleagues from China, the scientists have created nanoparticles which have the ability to induce temperatures up to 45°C, which then stop self-heating. This development is significant as many cancer treatments often damage healthy cells at the same time, paving the way for more ‘smart’ particles to increase life expectancy.
Usually a form of body art, tattoos may one day be used for more than self-expression. Scientists at MIT and Harvard have created a special ink that can be programmed to respond to biomarkers by transitioning colours to show changes in the body.
Although in early stages and subject for further development, the ink is able to detect different levels of glucose and sodium in the body which can be used to monitor conditions such as diabetes and dehydration. This means that unlike other body-monitoring devices and methods, the ink has the benefit of being ‘always on’ and doesn’t need to be activated or switched off.
Innovation Matters delivers news, opinions and features about healthcare, and is focused on the professionals who work within the industry, as well as Philips as a cutting-edge health technology organization.