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Friday, June 22, 2012

Medicine of the Future

If you are my age, and reading this blog, you may remember the original Star Trek series (I watched it in reruns).  And in it you recall that away teams always carried powerful communication devices that could support communication around the planet.  Just flip it open and talk.  Or tap a device, speak the address of your connection and talk.  We have these now in cell phones and blue-tooth headsets.  Granted, Kirk's devices didn't require a complex cell-tower infrastructure to support them, but we still have the same capability in many populated places in the world.

McCoy had some pretty complex devices as well which supported remote monitoring of the patient built right into the beds of his sick bay.  And he had a hand-sized diagnostic scanning device which could tell him what was wrong with a patient relatively quickly (It was originally supposed to be a salt shaker).  We aren't there yet, but we are starting to see technology like this be developed. Today, in various cell-phone sized devices, we can perform ultrasounds, evaluate EKG results, record temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respiration rate, and O2 Saturation, even take and send images for evaluation.  There's even a prize for putting them all together into a single device with advance clinical decision support capabilities.

McCoy also had a hypospray which he used to inject drugs.  MIT has developed one of those.

Star Trek spent a lot of time looking at the DNA of patients.  Have you sent your DNA out to be looked at?

What I find interesting about this is that all of this technology was envisioned by science fiction writers in the mid- to late-60's, almost 50 years ago.  The speed of adoption seems to be increasing though.  

We've  seen the beginnings of bionic limbs, hearing and vision popularized by Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers in the mid- to late-70's.

And IBM's Watson is being heralded as the one of the greatest advances in AI today, especially in medicine.  But it's not yet ready to pass the Turing test. Even so, could we be on the verge of Star Trek Voyager's Holographic Doctor from the mid- to late-90s?  The entertainment industry has already started experimenting with holographic technology.

And for all you Doctor Who fans out there, you might wonder, what his sonic screwdriver has to do with medicine?  Check out what these Scottish Scientists think about the idea.

What advances from Science Fiction do you see on the horizon?