8 tech breakthroughs wowing the medical world

From fast-acting nasal sprays that lift depression to home DNA tests that help you lose weight, the future of healthcare has never looked so promising.

Remember when heroin was routinely prescribed to children as a remedy for chesty coughs?

Nope, it was outlawed in 1912, so neither we do – but according to researchers, one day we’ll probably also marvel that we ever allowed a dentist’s drill in our mouths or pricked our own fingers to test our blood.

With technology significantly changing the pace and scale of medical breakthroughs, here’s what we have to look forward to:

1. Cancer-detecting pen

Long, anxious waits could become a thing of the past with the invention of a handheld tool that can identify (with 96 per cent accuracy) cancerous tissue in 10 seconds.

Scientists at the University of Texas say the new “MasSpec Pen” speeds the testing process by as much as 150 times and could make the surgery to remove a tumour more accurate. 

2. Glucose-reading contact lenses

Diabetes management could change dramatically with the development of contact lenses that have inbuilt sensors to measure levels of blood sugar and uric acid within the body.

Oregon State University researchers believe more than 100 sensors could be integrated into the lenses so that as well as monitoring glucose levels, they may eventually also detect the earliest signs of cancer. The contact lenses are tipped to reach market within five years.

3. No-pain dentistry

Fancy a world where your teeth repair themselves, saving you the pain (and the cost) that can come with large cavities?

Scientists at Dental Institute at King’s College London have found a way to stimulate the growth of dental tissue by using an Alzheimer’s drug now in clinical trials.

In the trials, researchers found the drug tidesglusib – when placed in the tooth pump where stem cells reside – jump-started tooth regeneration so effectively it could eventually make dental fillings obsolete.

4. Fast-acting depression spray

A nasal spray that can lift treatment-resistant depression within a matter of hours?

This could soon be a possibility, say researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who have found that treatment-resistant depression can be lifted within hours thanks to the help of ketamine, an intravenous anaesthesia drug.

There’s hope a nasal spray version medication will be available in the next few years.

In search of… nutrigenomics and how our genes influence our diets

5. Pain-relief goggles

Could relief from pain or illness only be an uplifting video away?

Researchers at LA’s Cedars-Sinai Hospital think so, after discovering pain levels in patients watching such videos through virtual reality goggles dropped by 24 per cent. The goggles overwhelm the patient’s brain with positive images and “experiences”, distracting them from what they’re physically feeling.

The first virtual reality clinic in the United States is in the works, with hopes others will follow worldwide.

6. Regenerating body parts

Regenerative medicine – looking at ways to replace or regrow damaged organs and tissue – might seem the stuff of science fiction, but Ohio State University researchers have announced the development of new technology called Tissue Nanotransfection that appears to do exactly that.

They say TNT injects genetic code into skin cells, effectively turning those skin cells into other types of cells required for repairing injured tissue or restoring function of ageing tissue – including organs, nerve cells and blood vessels. Clinical trials in humans are due to begin this year. 

7. Home DNA test kits

Who are you and where did you come from?

The answers to these questions can now be readily answered in the privacy of your own bathroom, with the release of a range of home DNA kits.

Chemist Warehouse offers a MyDNA Weight Management Test Kits, which analyses genes associated with weight management, recommends which diet is best suited to your body type, and even outlines the effort you’ll need to put in to shift that weight. Swab, register the sample online and send it back to receive your detailed report.

8. Fall-alerting shoes

Wearable tech is huge – and its health benefits are just as big. Imagine footwear that notifies loved ones or medical services as soon as the person wearing them takes a fall?

It’s only about six months away, according to E-Vone, a French start-up manufacturing shoes embedded with a slew of sensors. Within the sole is a GPS, an accelerometer, gyroscope and a pressure system that activates the alarm every time the shoe is put on.

It could be just be the perfect present for elderly or frail family members, as well as solo travellers hiking in remote destinations.

Written by Dilvin Yasa