Happy New (Medical) Year

2023 promises invention and discovery

| 29 Dec 2022 | 10:33

Track the history of medicine from leeches to MRNA vaccines, and you will find yourself on a steadily inventive path that continues to this very day. As the pandemic slowly recedes into the rear-view mirror, astute online observers ranging from Forbes.com to Austria’s data science company StartUs Insights are lining up to look ahead. Here’s some of what they think the future has in store.

What you may soon be wearing. You’ve seen the guitarist Austin James’ TV commercials touting stick-on no-stick blood monitors for people with diabetes, plus others touting oxygen cannisters small enough to fit in a backpack and smart wristwatches now considered forerunners of smart eyeglasses. Right now, the biggie on the horizon is the possibility of a wearable that can pinpoint changes in activity, sleep, and heartbeat habits that may predict the risk of depression. Betcha Sigmund F. would want to talk about it.

Calling it in. Although telemedicine has been around for years, COVID turned it from an occasional dial-up into everyday normal for zillions of patients who now Zoom into their doctors’ offices for all manner of routine matters. Even better, it makes care available for people who either cannot travel or who live where smaller hospitals and clinics may have closed and doctors have moved on to greener pastures.

Scary smart computers. As computers become even more adept at recognizing patterns that enable them to make decisions once left to humans, experts suggest they may soon be able to identify recipes for new drugs, predict how a clinical trial will end, and zip their way through such mundane tasks as the boring clerical work and record-keeping that pays the bills and pays the Piper, i.e. your trusted PCP.

Mechanical medicine. Like the robot that vacuums your floor, medical robots keep things neat and tidy, particularly in the operating room where they cut smaller and neater than a scalpel, reduce tissue damage and hasten patient recovery. On the doctor side, what surgeon wouldn’t love the ability to direct a robot remotely from miles and miles and more miles away. As for dentistry, don’t toss the floss yet but in India, one medical device maker has come up with teensy magnetic particles that zero in to treat tooth and gum sensitivity.

Medical storefronts. Getting your annual flu shot can really run up the bill at your doctor’s office, but step into the local pharmacy and the shot is free. Smart cookies such as CVS, Duane Reade and Rite Aid have seized the moment to open up “Minute Clinics” where you can get basic tests and check-ups. And that Urgent Care center on the corner, no appointment needed, has multiple doctors and equipment on site for easier access to primary care. All covered by your insurance. Yippee.

Targeted treatments. The MRNA technique used to create COVID vaccines knocks the virus for a loop by latching onto a specific “spike” protein on the microbe’s surface. Now Big Pharma is aiming similar vaccines at cancer cells. In one clinical trial run by MRNA pioneer Moderna, melanoma patients given such a vaccine along with standard anti-cancer drugs were nearly 44% less likely to suffer a recurrence or die than patients who got only the med. Even more exciting is the idea that eventually your doctor may be able to deliver a drug or treatment tailored specifically to you based on basics such as your age, your gender, your genes and your very own risk factors. How soon will we see this? Keep checking back, but while you’re waiting, stick to your healthy diet, keep walking and get a good night’s sleep. Couldn’t hurt.