2020 vision: five technologies rapidly changing healthcare

From smart robotics to groundbreaking treatments, innovative healthcare technologies are evolving at breakneck speed. Here are five technologies set to revolutionise healthcare by 2020.

Liquid biopsies

A game-changer in genetic testing, liquid biopsies are enabling researchers to track how a patient’s cancer is changing and responding to treatment through a simple blood sample. Because tumour cells release DNA, which circulate in the bloodstream, scientists are able to get a better snapshot of blood biomarkers through this less invasive procedure. Researchers are already using liquid biopsies to wage a more informed attack on lung cancer, while researchers predict they will soon be able to detect breast cancer in the blood.

Immunotherapies

Through harnessing the power of the immune system to fight cancer, immunotherapies are showcasing incredible potential to transform cancer therapy and dramatically boost patient survival. First trialled more than a century ago, the next frontier of immunotherapy is focused on drugs, such as monoclonal antibodies, which can attack cancer cell antigens, and vaccines that can train the immune system to recognise antigens on cancer cells. Scientists are also trialling viruses to attack cancer. In the US, researchers embarked on a three-pronged approach, combining oncolytic viruses with a cancer drug and immunotherapy to tackle a deadly form of brain cancer.

CRISPR-Cas9

A precise gene editing technique, CRISPR-Cas9 is a new technology that has unprecedented potential to rewrite DNA to fight diseases and improve our health. Already being used to create genetically modified plants and animals, and trialled in non-viable human embryos, scientists hope the CRISPR-Cas9 system will surgically edit genes in a bid to eradicate those genes that cause disease and disorders. Researchers have used the exciting technology to repair a mutation that causes cystic fibrosis and to delete and replace a gene sequence in mosquitos, rendering them resistant to the parasite that causes malaria.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Intelligent machines, from robotics to healthcare tools, are using algorithms, big data and software to improve patient outcomes. Whether it’s a computer diagnosing cancer, novel surgical robots
performing complex surgeries or a virtual nurse who monitors chronic disease patients, ongoing advancements in AI are driving a new era in healthcare transformation.

3D bioprinting

While 3D printing has changed the face of customising medical devices, 3D bioprinting can manufacture living human tissue, bone, blood vessels and, potentially, organs for medical procedures and testing. Researchers are now working to replace missing teeth and bone and printing functional blood vessels, while scientists have also developed a prototype 3D printer to create human skin. Although 3D bioprinting remains in its infancy, researchers are working to print human organs and have already achieved success by creating a small, functioning liver.

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