How breakthroughs in MedTech are changing and extending our lives, one innovation at a time.
What does MedTech mean to you? A combination of the words “medical” and “technology”, MedTech refers to products or solutions that can be used for the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. Some may use the terms HealthTech and MedTech interchangeably, but generally, there is a distinction.
While HealthTech revolves around optimising personal and preventative care, MedTech focuses on therapeutic technologies and medical devices that treat existing medical issues, as well as diagnostic tools that detect or diagnose medical conditions such as in-hospital care. “In simple terms, we are applying medical-centric technology towards helping humans lead healthier lives,” explains Professor Lawrence Ho, Director of the National University Health System's Centre for Innovation in Healthcare (NUHS CIH).
Advancements in medical technologies have enabled more accurate and efficient diagnoses, helping patients to overcome diseases and enhancing their overall quality of life. Furthermore, the emergence of COVID-19 has jump-started MedTech’s ability to deliver more technologically-driven solutions to meet real-world medical challenges.
As Professor Ho puts it succinctly, “COVID-19 has served as a stark reminder to all of us about the value of life, and it has effectively accelerated the adoption curve of tested and trusted medical technologies.”
In response to the pandemic, medical organisations and healthcare agencies have been harnessing sophisticated technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics in a concerted effort to develop swiftly-deployable solutions. Take one of SingHealth’s recent innovations for example.
The Community Acquired Pneumonia and COVID-19 Artificial Intelligence Predictive Engine, or CAPE in short, has the ability to analyse regular chest x-ray images through AI and predict the severity of a patient’s pneumonia — one of the main reasons for COVID-19 patients’ health decline. Taking a mere four months to develop, CAPE is the brainchild of various teams of medical and IT professionals from Changi General Hospital and the Integrated Health Information System respectively.
Of course, MedTech’s immediate impact and benefits extend beyond the challenges posed by the pandemic. Teams from the Singapore Eye Research Institute and the Institute of High Performance Computing put their minds together to develop AI algorithms that assist with eye disease detection — a key function being its capability to identify papilledema (optic nerve swelling) with precision.
Accurate papilledema detection is a vital tool when evaluating patients suffering from headaches and other neurologic conditions. For instance, this deep learning system can alert doctors — who might not be experts in ophthalmology — to the possibility of a severe brain condition that may otherwise be missed.
In view of an increasing global life expectancy, how can we leverage MedTech’s influence not only to save lives, but potentially extend it? According to analysts, companies developing ways to prolong human life are among the biggest investment opportunities in the next ten years or so. It is a market expected to be worth around US$600 billion by 2025.
Not surprisingly, some of these innovations sound straight out of a science fiction novel. Physical augmentations like Cyberdyne’s Hybrid Assistive Limb — a powered exoskeleton suit — enhances the wearer’s strength and mobility. While such enhancements do not directly solve the root causes of mortality, they do play a role in extending one’s physical longevity and quality of life.
Advancements in rejuvenation treatments and gene therapy also suggest viable means towards longer and healthier lives. In relation to the former, there are encouraging outcomes in regenerating muscles, tissues and organs through stem-cell research which underpins cause for optimism. And where gene therapy is concerned, researchers can now alter DNA sequences and modify gene function with ease, thanks to a potent tool in the form of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology. With capabilities that include the rejuvenation of human cells, CRISPR gene editing too, may very well prove to be a boost in our constant pursuit of longevity.
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