Look across all the research and innovation taking place in biology and medicine now, and you can only imagine what health care could be like in 20 years. From implantable sensors to bionic exoskeletons, gene sequencing and precision drugs, we’re in for some big (and mostly positive) changes—potentially.
In a new report, trend-scanning shop Sparks & Honey gives us a health care tour d’horizon. It’s a useful summary, and we picked out a few ideas below.
The Mobile Clinic
In the near future, we’ll be able to do a lot of basic health care for ourselves. We’ll have apps and devices like Fitbit for our general wellness; household equipment like smart thermometers, digital stethoscopes, and the like, for tracking our vital signs; and even diagnostic kits for serious disease, like this EU-funded SniffPhone that diagnoses cancer.
“[Some of these technologies] are to the point that you don’t you don’t need a full diagnostic centre anymore,” says Nick Ayala, cultural strategist at Sparks & Honey. “You can have that right on your phone with the attachments.”
Remote monitoring should mean fewer visits to clinics and better conversations with doctors (as they can also access information you’ve been gathering). The question for formal health care is how to manage data from patients (ensuring it’s accurate, understanding its context, and applying it effectively).
We entering an age of human augmentation. Prosthetic limbs are becoming cheaper, more sophisticated, and better integrated with the human body. Amputees can now control limbs with their thoughts, as Johns Hopkins University showed recently.
Bionic exoskeletal suits are in development that allow people to walk again, and could be adopted by able-bodied people as well. At the same time, we’re developing the ability to grow or print skin, bone, and organs, so one day we could supplement ourselves with new parts.
Hacking The Code
As we sequence individual genomes, map the brain and understand our microbiomes, we’re deepening what we know about the “minutiae of the human body” such that we can start “to manipulate and control our health at the most minute levels,” the report says.
That could mean everything from new probiotic foods to designing babies without genetic flaws.
Precision And Nano Medicine
With more person-specific data available, treatment will become more individual and less “one size fits all.” Doctors will prescribe drug cocktails to fit microbial and genetic profiles, have a better understanding of drug effectiveness over time, and more predictive power so that treatments aren’t conducted unnecessarily.
Meanwhile, also on the horizon are nano-drugs and medical devices, such as Google’s futuristic pills to detect cancer and other micro-machines that locate disease and drop drug payloads where needed. Other potential big developments include “organs on chips” that reduce the need for animal testing and the length of human clinical trials, Sparks & Honey says.
“There are a ton of things happening in health right now. It’s incredibly exciting. It’s where sci-fi becomes real life,” says Ayala.