Healthcare has never looked like this before. Researchers are trying to create new hearts, livers and lungs on demand. Tiny nanorobots might one day live within us, obliterating viruses or cancer cells as they emerge. Sooner than this, implanted devices will provide physicians with real-time diagnostics on what is happening inside the body. In the fast-approaching future, rather than just living longer, we will live better.
In 2022 the world is recovering from the economic and social trauma of the covid-19 pandemic. But while the legacy of the virus is keenly felt in energy crises, supply chain issues and stunted economic growth, it had an enhancing effect too. Specifically, in the healthcare sector and study of biomedical science. Consider that consulting firm McKinsey estimates that by 2040, new technologies could reduce the total burden of disease by 6 to 10 per cent.
The great scientific effort to improve health is progressing faster than ever. Next, we alight upon three innovations that are likely to revolutionize how we care for our bodies.
1. If another pandemic hits, nanotechnology helps us fight against it
The thought of autonomous microscopic devices amassing in your insides to cure or prevent diseases might feel like the stuff of sci-fi. But in recent years a massive amount of research hours has been spent looking at the applications of nanotechnology. However, nanotechnology isn’t about tiny robots as much as it is about materials, particles and taking a closer look at current healthcare technologies.
Professor Peter Dobson OBE, Emeritus Fellow at The Queen’s College, University of Oxford, spent part of his career examining the applications of nanotech in health. He mentions an important application that could truly prove its worth the next time humankind is hit with a global health crisis: better lateral flow tests. Yes, like the plastic test pads we’ve gotten familiar with during covid.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that nearly 15 million people died as a result of the pandemic. The damage wreaked by the virus could have been somewhat mitigated if accurate testing could have been rolled out more quickly. Professor Dobson’s research with UCL is about ensuring a faster, more accurate form of testing in future public health emergencies. The secret appears to be in the paper.
“The right combination of nanoparticles and paper strip used on the lateral flow tests can improve the speed and accuracy of testing,” says professor Dobson. “By changing the nanoparticles used on the paper from gold to nanodiamonds the team has improved the sensitivity of tests by 100,000 times over.”