A great many medical technologies are seizing opportunity in healthcare as a result of a wide range of advances. Â Here are a few we wish to highlight:
- RFID devices
Radiofrequency devices are in a growth phase as device manufacturers recognize the potential to monitor device location and performance. Â RFID potential includes tags enabling the secure tracking of instruments (and sponges) during surgery, patient tracking in healthcare facilities, glucose-sensing RFID implants for diabetes and many others.
Technologies to approach clinical challenges by harnessing and manipulating the patient’s own nervous system — for reduction of pain, control of incontinence, even spinal cord stimulation for treatment of congestive heart failure and others are opening up a whole new field of clinical intervention. Â Driven by companies like Medtronic and others, the field is poised for dramatic growth in clinical applications and device markets.
- Interventional (percutaneous)Â technologies
Catheters used to represent little more than tubes to drain fluids, but have evolved to remotely deliver and deploy a remarkable range of devices from stents, to heart valves to vena caval filters and many others. Â Taking advantage of the highly prevalent skillsets of interventional cardiologists, new interventional technologies are pushing the boundaries of procedures that can be performed without incision. Â And as clinicians’ skills increase, manufacturers are further developing interventional technologies that can access ever-smaller vasculature, such as via radial arteries instead of femoral.
- Natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES)
The relentless drive to make surgical procedures less traumatic has driven surgeons away from even the relatively inconsequential laparoscopic incision to a growing volume of surgical procedures that can be performed entirely endoscopically using the patient’s “natural orifice”. Â As a practical matter, NOTES is effectively a natural result of the continued development of endscopy, but the drive to eliminate external incisions and further reduce trauma, combined with great advances in endoscope and endoscopic instrumentation development, is accelerating the shift away from traditional surgery and toward truly least invasive surgery.
No longer are medical devices inert, structural implants, but they have become biocompatible, bioerodible/biodegradable and provide other functions including drug delivery, stimulation of cell migration and others. Â The science of engineering polymers and other unique materials is complementing advances in understanding and control of cell and tissue biology to produce a dramatic increase in the functional interface between device and disease.
Whether commercialized as nanocoatings or as nanoparticles to provide targeting or drug delivery or a host of other “very small” functions, nanotechnology applications in medicine are proliferating. Â The applications are too numerous to mention, revealing that there is in reality little in common between many different nanotechnologies, other than size.
- Adult and other non-embryonic stem cells
When the ethical challenge of embryonic stem cells caused federally funded research to be put on hold, the incentive was raised for research to ferret out the potential of adult stem cells, cord blood cells and other sources of stem cells, many of which may ultimately avoid both the ethical challenge and the tendency of embryonic cells to become cancerous. Nonetheless, the potential of embryonic remains (as does the ethical risk), but adult stem cells may prove more pragmatic in the long run.
Many more technologies are arising from advances in basic scientific research and from the highly innovative development by medical device and other technology companies than have been mentioned here, but this provides a sampling of the technologies that are seizing opportunity as a result of advances in scientific application that meets clinical demand.