‘Rational medicine’ originated less than a hundred years later with the Hippocratic Oath. Leonardo Da Vinci sketched out the principles of contact lenses in 1508 although (as with some of his other ideas) they weren’t developed into working versions until centuries later.
As with innovation in most sectors, the pace of development seems to be accelerating, and the pipeline of medical innovations is both exciting and potentially life-changing for so many. Medical devices are just one of the areas to benefit significantly from advances within 3D printing, and the ability to create multiple iterations of the same product in days rather than weeks has helped to accelerate the product development process in an almost game-changing way.
Surgery has been becoming less invasive for decades, with sophisticated scanning equipment and keyhole surgery leading the charge. One of the latest tools at a surgeon’s disposal is the Canady Hybrid Plasma Scalpel. Developed recently, this is the first multifunctional electrosurgical scalpel that allows surgeons to simultaneously cut and coagulate biological tissue. Benefits to the patient are reduced blood loss during surgery, shorter operation times and hospital stays. Therefore there is also less chance of hospital induced infection.
Some devices are reducing the need for surgery at all by contributing to better pre-operative diagnosis. The Melafind is a hand held optical scanner that can help a doctor decide whether to order a biopsy on possible cases of Melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer. The machine is packing some serious R&D with technology initially designed for missile navigation but now scanning suspicious lesions at ten electromagnetic wavelengths. These are then processed using heavy-duty algorithms and compared to a library of 10,000 Melanoma and skin disease images. The benefit of the technology will be to reduce the need for unnecessary biopsy – thus cutting down on patients left with scars and saving money on the procedures no longer undertaken.
Embolization is the use of a device inserted surgically to shut down the flow of blood in vessels. It may be used, for instance, to stop blood feeding a tumour. Over 220,000 operations are performed annually but current devices are expensive, difficult to implant and can even move away from their intended location. Embo Medical are developing a suite of products known as Caterpillar to counter all these shortcomings. Their cutting edge work has been recognised by the Irish Times in their InterTradeIreland Innovation Awards where Embo have been made finalists in the Bioscience category.
Something that has been particularly invasive is dental surgery – it has a reputation for putting the fear of God into unfortunate souls. You may be forgiven for thinking that adding lasers into the mix is not going to make things any better. But laser surgical devices like the Styla MicroLaser are designed to help. It is dentistry’s first micro-laser. It causes less bleeding, less pain and faster healing than traditional methods. And it requires less anaesthetic too. Will that convince you to book a trip to the dentist?
Something that gives a trip to the dentist a run for its money in the discomfort stakes is going to the doctor for an injection. But could that be about to change? No lasers here. Comfortably Numb is a metal based cylinder containing two sealed containers – one with water, one with ammonium nitrate. A simple twist infuses the two liquids and the ensuing chemical reaction rapidly cools down the metal plate base which numbs skin it is pressed against. Then the injection!
One group of people subjected to more than their fair share of skin pricks are self-treating diabetes sufferers. They have to prick their skin every day to administer a blood test. So they may be particularly pleased to hear of an innovation in recent years that could spell the end of this painful routine. The innovation is a patch that sticks to the skin and painlessly abrades the top layer. This brings its sensors close enough to blood vessels to carry out the monitoring which is then transmitted to a remote monitoring session.
Getting smart with phones
Every week we hear of new smartphone apps changing people’s lives. Sometimes they offer convenience, sometimes they are frivolous but they are rarely profound. Well here are some that claim to help in the fight against cancer, Parkinson’s and heart disease.
MiHeart is an Adaptive Care Communications Platform which enables a patient suffering from Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) to have their symptoms, vital statistics and medication monitored remotely. The system provides an interface between patient and clinician, providing realtime feedback and pharmaceutical treatments can be generated from realtime medical data. CEO Kevin Mashford founded the business after many years of successive treatment for Congenitally Corrected Transposition of the Greater Arteries, before eventually receiving a heart transplant at The Freeman Hospital Newcastle in May 2013.
Skin cancer diagnosis apps have been around for a while and work in different ways. Mole Detective uses dermatologist methodology known as ABCDE (asymmetry, border, colour, diameter and evolution) to analyse a picture of a mole and gives a calculation of skin cancer risk. SkinVision claims to help with the early detection of Melanoma. It works differently utilising a mathematical theory known as ‘Fractal Geometry’ to assess pictures of moles and skin lesions. Studies have cast doubt over the accuracy of these apps and suggested that they should not be relied upon. Indeed Mole Detective was fined by the Federal Trade Commission for breaching marketing rules. But they certainly highlight the potential in this area. And it is noted that at the very least they encourage engagement between patient and doctor.
MyHealthPal is another company making big waves in the medical app space. Tailored towards those with long term medical conditions, the project is driven by the increased availability of wearables. The iOS app and mobile analytics platform enables those with long term health conditions to better manage their condition. Initially development has focused towards Parkinson’s Disease, and the team are already speaking to a number of organisations about using the app to aid people living with other conditions.
“the ability to collate meaningful health data longitudinally will result in better treatment regimens, as well as research and thus, better health outcomes.”
Mike Barlow, CEO MyHealthPal
Developed by Mike Barlow, CEO who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 41, the app measures the effectiveness of medication, tracks symptoms, diet and a variety of other metrics. The data can then be accessed by healthcare practitioners during consultations, providing live data on the users condition and treatment. The real ingenuity lies within the back-end of the platform, and the research value of the data generated for pharmaceutical research, healthcare systems, clinicians and patients families. Users donate their anonymised data to a number of scientific research organisations and charities. The MyHealthPal dataDonate programme, ensures that a share of the revenues made by selling the user’s data are donated to a charity or research institution of the users’ choice MyHealthPal has so far raised over £500k, and are currently seeking further investment, live trials with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York are already well underway.
Fighting breast cancer
Breast cancer is among the most high-profile cancers to affect women – sadly it can often be deadly. However if detected early there is hope. It may though involve a lumpectomy followed by weeks of gruelling radiation therapy to lower the chance of the cancer returning. A new technique being developed replaces the ongoing radiation with a single dose at the time of surgery. It is known as Intra-operative radiation therapy and tests show it is just as effective as whole breast radiation.
Robotics and medicine
Robotics offers huge potential to improve the lives of people suffering from a wide range of conditions.
A stripped down exoskeleton
The Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory is experimenting with producing a low-cost human exoskeleton to aid people with mobility disorders. The project observes that it is completely unacceptable in our times that people are confined to wheelchairs, crutches or expensive exoskeleton devices. They are experimenting with off-the-shelf parts to produce a deliberately stripped down device. They hope to transform people’s lives by facilitating them carrying out simple manoeuvres such as standing, walking forward, stopping and sitting. As well as giving users a newfound sense of freedom, such devices could slow down the commencement of follow-on disabilities that often develop during long-term wheelchair use.
In safe robotic hands
Surgery is another area where robotics is having an impact. The first surgery to be undertaken entirely with robotic devices happened as far back as 2010. It was for prostrate removal. Specialists at the McGill University Health Centre at Montreal General Hospital enlisted an anaesthesia robot called McSleepy, and the DaVinci surgical robot to carry out the operation.
The use of robotics in surgery allows a level of precision that even the finest surgeon can’t deliver. The integrated computer system also monitors the patient constantly – brainwave patterns, blood pressure, muscle contractions etc. – and can then administer drugs accordingly.
Touch Bionics develops prosthetic technologies. Their iLIMB – invented in 2007 – was lauded as the world’s first artificial hand to boast five separately powered fingers. Popular Science magazine named it one of best innovations. It gives wearers a much wider range of function than traditional prosthetic limbs: writing, typing, using utensils for cooking and eating, even manipulating small objects. Its natural look can help users find their confidence if they have become self-conscious of their disability, thus repairing internal damage as well as the external.
Open Bionics is also making significant headway in the prosthetics space, developing a range of low cost, 3D printed prosthetic hands. The Bristol-based startup, which was spun out of The Bristol Robotics Laboratory was recently named in the Robotics Business Review, 50 Companies to watch amongst ABB, Google, Amazon, Boeing and Dyson as companies making significant waves in robotics. The video of the prototype model in action below shows quadruple amputee Taylor Morris trialling an early prototype:
Finding keys to help with locked in syndromes
Locked in syndrome is, of course, a terrible condition. Trapping patients in their own bodies with eye movement the only means of communication. Inspired by a renowned LA graffiti artist struck down with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), EyeWriter is a project aimed at boosting communication for sufferers. The focus is on producing a low-cost, open source eye tracking system that will allow ALS patients to draw through eye movement, thus giving them a vital outlet and source of stimulation.
A completely different approach to boosting quality of life to people trapped in their own bodies comes from a surprising source: drones. But drone application is already being experimented with to allow heavily disabled people to experience more of the outside world via drones hooked up with camera equipment. As with EyeWriter commands can be given through eye movement and other interfaces for control are being developed such as brainwave.
Are you working on an innovative medical device?
The medical sector is obviously a hotbed of innovation, and one that naturally lends itself to significant research and development expenditure. It is such a positive sector to work in too, knowing that your project could be the solution to a problem that has caused pain and suffering to humans throughout history. If you’re developing new products, processes or services in the medical space then the work you’re undertaking may well qualify for R&D tax credits. Speak to an expert today to determine how much they could be worth to you.