3 Ways Technology is Reinventing Medicine

Temasek Digital

Getting well is often linked to having the best doctors and hospitals, but cutting-edge innovations outside the medical field is also pushing the frontiers of modern medicine.

At this year’s Ecosperity conference, a panel of field experts comprising American cognitive neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, China biotech entrepreneur Dr Samantha Du and pioneering surgeon Professor Ara Darzi discussed how science and technology is disrupting the way the medical profession treats disease. Here are three game-changers based on inputs from our experts:

From left: Dr Fidah Alsagoff, Senior Managing Director, Temasek International; Dr Adam Gazzaley, Director, Gazzaley Lab; Dr Samantha Du, Founder, Zai Lab; Professor Darzi, Director, Institute of Global Health Innovation

Video Games to Treat Your Brain

Where once virtual reality, augmented reality and motion capture were used only in the realm of media and entertainment (think Pokemon Go), today these tools are progressively being reinvented to improve brain function.
Dr Adam Gazaaley with a research participant (photo: Gazzaley Lab)

The Gazzaley Lab, for example, is not only using video games to alleviate various cognitive deficits such as dementia, but is also customising them for individual patients.

Here’s roughly how it works: As a patient plays the video game, real-time data on the subject’s brain activity is being recorded and analysed and appropriate new features are incorporated into the game, tailored to suit the individual patient’s needs. The idea is that video games are not only fun and immersive, but also have the depth of engagement required to actually “change” the brain.
Watch related video: An Era of Prescribable Computer Games

While still in the testing phase, these games are being validated by rigorous experimentation and will go through regulatory approvals before they are distributed to the public.

A similar company, Akili Interactive Labs, is in the clinical testing phase of its video game intervention for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and could receive regulatory clearance to bring the product to market as early as end-2017. When released to the masses, these games could effectively create a whole new category of “playable” medicine that doctors could prescribe to treat brain disorders, no different to the way we treat fever with paracetamol.

Mapping Your Way Out of Cancer

Chemo and radiation therapy, along with all the ugly side effects, may possibly be a thing of the past.

Years after the first draft of the human genome was developed, the biopharma industry has leveraged gene mapping to combat cancer to the point where it is treated no differently from a virus.

Certain immunotherapy treatments — using cells from your body’s own immune system to restore bodily function — show great promise: up to a 60 percent success rate in reducing various tumour types.

Biopharmaceutical company ZAI Lab is also developing a targeted treatment drug for liver cancer which lessens the risk of damage to healthy cells. These types of drugs represent a sea change from “blunt” to “specific” methods of cancer treatment by targeting individual cells.

Watch related video: Investing in the human genome

Data, a Surgeon’s New Best Friend

In the past few decades, surgery has seen some helpful developments like robotics and micro-robotics, which have greatly helped to improve precision surgery.

However, an overwhelming problem until fairly recently was “bad tissue removal”, where a lot of healthy tissue or even whole body parts needed to be removed along with the diseased or cancerous tissue, such as in the case of mastectomies.

Enter the intelligent knife, or iKnife, a surgical instrument which offers real-time analysis using data gathered during surgery to detect if the tissue being cut is, in fact, cancerous. One particular study showed, rather encouragingly, that the tissue type identified by the iKnife matched post-operative diagnosis based on traditional methods.

Data is also revolutionising post-operative care in hospitals by predicting which patients are more likely to develop complications after surgery, so that staff are able to prioritise them.

While it is evident that medicine has taken positive leaps into the future and that there is no shortage of medical innovation, our experts all agreed that Father Time remained the prevailing challenge — the sheer time needed to develop these innovations, get them approved and then disseminated to the greater population. More effort from policymakers, investors and the industry as a whole is needed to bring about actual change in the lives of people.

Ecosperity is a series of sustainability-focused conferences presented by Singapore-based investment company Temasek in Singapore. This year’s Ecosperity conference, which took place in Singapore on 16 September, brought together CEOs, innovators, policy makers and thought leaders from around the world to discuss the latest healthcare innovations that will help individuals lead healthier, more productive lives.

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