Pardon my medtech ADD — it’s an occupational hazard

Now, to be clear, I have never actually been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t exhibit an awful lot of its traits, especially when it comes to advanced medical technologies, which I have witnessed evolve at a feverish pace that dares one to linger on one milestone too long.

Mankind has come up with some extraordinary technologies — the internal combustion engine, flight, splitting the atom, taking us to the moon and, seemingly just in my lifetime, accomplishing every manner of amazing feats in medicine, all of which only presage more and greater accomplishments in the near future.  Surgery has moved from the now seemingly almost barbaric approach of slicing the abdomen wide open to accomplishing complex surgery with access limited to one port, even if that “port” is a pre-existing natural orifice. Cell and tissue engineering technologies, only too recently limited to rudimentary replacement of skin and bone in trauma and disease, are now capable of generating complex orthopedic, cardiac and other tissues and are on the cusp of replacing whole organs.  The human genome has been mapped and the complex processes underlying its expression in normal and pathological development are being steadily clarified and understood, with the goal now much closer to when we might intervene in these processes   and “cure” genetic diseases, harness the body’s own recuperative potential and otherwise unleash a host of new options in medicine.

While in college some several decades ago, my genetics professor gave a lesson on a Tuesday that he was forced to replace and update by Thursday, since mid-week advances in molecular biology had suddenly expanded our understanding (thank you, Dr. Doe).  After college, I was inescapably drawn to a nascent biotech industry that saw vast commercial potential in the diagnostic and therapeutic products that might be spun out of advancements in biological science, only to see that there was a much bigger gap between scientific advance and feasible commercial application.

But between then and the end of the millennium, and twelve years hence, biotech, medical device, pharmaceutical and other practical scientific applications in medicine have proceeded at breakneck speed in setting, breaking and setting again new milestones.

I now stand at a point in examining medical technologies that considers the clinical endpoint for so many conditions to be one that might readily be reached from multiple widely different directions.

I see coronary artery disease that might be addressed by transcatheter coronary artery bypass surgery, angioplasty and drug-eluting stents, atherosclotic plaque-reducing drugs, myocardial tissue regeneration and others.

I see type 1 diabetes on the verge of being met by either stem (or other) cell transplant cure or by a self-contained, closed-loop, artificial pancreas employing biofeedback-based insulin delivery to regulate blood sugar.

I see drugs embedded in devices, devices that  stimulate cell migration and tissue growth before these devices are simply resorbed in the tissues.  I see a rapid convergence of information technology with biological science leading to a dramatically accelerated pace of discovery, advancement and application.

I also see a rapidly maturing biotech industry that has learned hard lessons in closing (or at least understanding) the gap between a scientific advance and its commercial application.

So, yes, I have a certain attention deficit, since It is hard to concentrate when new developments of significance arise at such a rapid rate. It is also for this reason that every new patent, every new technology entering the pipeline, and every new product gaining approval and entering the marketplace must be evaluated in the light of so many simultaneously advancing fronts.  The key is that no scientific or medical advance is absolute — each can only be measured by the extent to which it actually advances knowledge or application relative to other competing developments, of which there are many more than ever before.