Oscar Wilde might not have been thinking of medicine when he famously wrote that “life imitates art,” but if he were alive to witness some of the medical gadgets arriving on the market today he would feel vindicated. Sci-fi fans of all kinds can now marvel at the realization of their favorite stories, as many of these devices could have come straight from an episode of Star Trek or from the pages of a William Gibson novel.
Those who are planning a career in the healthcare industry will be especially interested in the following gadgets, since several of them are expected to influence all levels of training, from medical assistant programs to university departments of nursing and surgery. Staying informed about these developments and others can help candidates prepare better for their future careers.
Drug Reaction Avatars
Virtual reality has a long way to go before it can reach the level of detail displayed in films like The Matrix, but anyone who has spent time online has probably used an avatar to represent themselves at some point. While these make great immersion tools for game and chat room designers, avatars have also been found to be helpful in visualizing important clinical data.
Nhumi Technologies has recently designed an avatar that draws upon data collected by the FDA to help users gain a better understanding of the potential side effects of various drugs. The avatar uses color coding to display which parts of the body are most affected by the drug and also includes filters that enable users to shape the avatar in a way that best represents their medical profile.
The field of bionics has not yet created a six million dollar man, but a $55,000 artificial hand that can do almost anything is a good start. Last year, Formula One fan Matthew James wrote a letter to the head of the Mercedes team offering to advertise their logo if they paid for an artificial replacement for his missing left hand. Moved by his request, the Mercedes Company teamed up with prosthetic limb developer Touch Bionics to create a custom version of the i-LIMB Pulse, a fully-articulated prosthetic hand that enables users to perform a range of tasks from writing to playing catch.
The Fantastic Voyage showcased the vast potential of nanotechnology decades ago with a molecule-sized submarine designed to perform delicate surgical procedures without harming surrounding tissue. Although engineers have not yet figured out a way to shrink humans to pilot such tiny devices, they are currently working on nanomachines that could deliver drugs, diagnose illnesses and perform surgeries at the microscopic level.
Figuring out how to power these nanomachines has been a problem until very recently, when electrical engineer Ada Poon designed a tiny device that could be controlled and powered via radio transmitter. While Poon is not the first to come up with the idea, she has managed to get around the mathematical roadblock that has discouraged other engineers from thinking that radio waves could penetrate deeply into human tissue.
Portable Medical Scanners
Many patients wish for the day when they no longer have to go through the tedious and often uncomfortable process of an annual medical checkup, which is why the mobile, noninvasive “tricorder” medical scanner from Star Trek is so appealing. While no single portable medical probe can match the utility of Dr. Bones’ scanning device, they become more sophisticated every year.
One such device known as “Venus” uses light to measure oxygen levels in the blood, enabling EMTs and combat surgeons to quickly detect hidden trauma that could lead to fatal blood loss. In addition, smart phone technology is becoming a popular way to record vital signs, as there are now apps that can measure body temperature and heart rate.
Breast Cancer “Death Ray”
In 1950s science fiction B movies, alien invaders would often use a terrifying “death” ray to vaporize buildings and fry a hapless human in less than a second. While the military continues to research ways to weaponize laser beams and lightning bolts, medical doctors have been using these for benevolent purposes.
Because cancer kills so many people, a great deal of time and money is spent finding safer and more effective ways to combat this deadly disease. Recently, scientists have discovered a new treatment for breast cancer involving electricity that promises to be much less invasive than traditional surgical procedures. Like an alien death ray, the electrical current “cooks” tumors inside the breast, killing cancer cells in about the same time it takes to boil an egg.
These are only a few of the many exciting advancements that appear in medical news sources each year. Although science fiction writers continue to dream up fantastic medical gadgets that have yet to appear in medical labs, it’s only a matter of time until they become a regular feature of medical assistant training and surgical schools.
Image Credit: TouchBionics.com
Brandi Tolleson is an avid science fiction and technology writer interested in the latest gadgets and tech developments. Some of Brandi’s most recent articles have been focused on medical assistant programs and other medical education training programs.