As mentioned in my last blog, there are four kinds of data that any health provider needs to manage: structured, unstructured, external (sensor-obtained) and, in the future, internal data (gathered within the body). I said that, in the next five to 10 years, external health data analytics will become a primary driver of diagnosis and treatment. But what’s next?
It sounds a little like something from Star Trek, but it’s real. Where, today, diagnosis and treatment rely on clinical knowledge and interpretation of external biometric data, the future focus is likely to move to insight drawn directly from data at the source of the illness, using nanotechnology. An example of this would be the difference between measuring blood pressure and cholesterol using external sensors, and measuring them from within the vein itself, when it comes to cardiac disease. Progress in nanotechnology in healthcare has even led the University of Oxford to offer an MSc in Nanotechnology for Medicine and Health Care.
So instead of relying on a combination of data from external sensors (blood pressure, electrical signals captured by ECG-electrodes), clinical knowledge and probabilistic diagnostic models, nanotechnology could, in future, diagnose problems in situ. Another application could be the deployment of nanotechnology in athletes, to evaluate which muscles enjoy better circulation, or lower lactic acid build up–and allow athletes to respond by changing the frequency or manner of training in order to fine tune their more effective muscles, while maximising the potential of their less effective ones.
There is plenty of opportunity for creative design of wearable devices (external wearables will get a lot smaller on the back of nanotechnology, too), but in the long terms it is internal sensor technologies that detect important changes in vital signs, or the status of cancer cells, or even the presence of pathogens in the body, that is truly exciting.
Insight derived from nanotechnology is likely to give clinicians far more direct access to important data on the causes of changes in vital signs, or of diseases, by virtue of the technology’s physical presence at the site of the problem. In combination with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence, nanomedicine could even be used to deliver treatments in ways that have yet to be imagined.
As noted in some recent research: “The application of nanotechnology in the medical sector is referred to as Nanomedicine. Nanoparticles have potential applications in the field of medical sciences including new diagnostic tools, imaging agents and methods, targeted drug delivery, pharmaceuticals, bio implants and tissue engineering. Drugs with high toxic potential like cancer chemotherapeutic drugs can be given with better safety profile with the utility of nanotechnology.”1
The EMR capabilities we start building today will ultimately form the foundation for a nanotechnology-driven healthcare revolution that emphasises preventative population health management, and quite possibly finds and flags pathogens and physical risks long before patients or doctors could have, by means of traditional examinations. Then nanotechnology will help us solve the problem with targeted delivery of therapy, reducing the risk of side effects and maximising therapeutic efficacy.
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1 (PDF) ROLE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY IN MEDICAL SCIENCES: A REVIEW. [accessed Nov 19 2018].