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Biotechnology Prospects: The Emerging Field of Bioelectronic Medicine

Doctors meeting about the new technology they will implement. / Photo by: Wavebreak Media Ltd via 123RF

 

Technological advancements are often viewed as the most optimal and most realistic means of solving any and all problems in healthcare, which can be said of most other industries as well. There are so many theoretical ways in which healthcare can benefit that studies are being conducted all the time by academic institutions and the private sector alike to discern and illustrate new ways to implement or execute procedures of medical practice (e.g. diagnostics, surgery assistance, etc.), administer tertiary healthcare services (e.g. make health records, family medical histories, notable health risks and insurance data more accessible) and a myriad of other services more efficient.

At present in the UK, for example, there’s already a steady expansion of technological advancement and application continuing to push boundaries. Invest in Great Britain recently reported that almost 3,700 private companies are already operating in the MedTech space, and this sector represents some £7.6 billion in total market worth, generating a £21-billion turnover. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the country and the industry are seeing rapid advancement across the board as a result in ways that would have been deemed inconceivable in the previous decade. For instance, artificial intelligence is quickly becoming the projected cornerstone of patient engagement for the future.

 

PwC research reports some 39 percent of patients are willing to permit A.I. and even robots assist in their healthcare needs to varying degrees. Men proved more willing than women in PwC’s latest study on the subject, and Millennials — the only Millennials surveyed being between the ages of 18 and 24 — were found to be the most willing to engage robotic, AI-driven technology for medical care. Those over the age of 55 unsurprisingly proved to be the least willing. This is significant now, though, because many European countries plus the US, Israel, South Korea and others are seeing an increased implementation of robotics in surgical procedures. In America, in fact, it has reached such a zenith that med students are learning less of the traditional methods of surgery and becoming reportedly too dependent on robotic technology and AI-assistance for the job.

An arguably more common application for AI in healthcare the world over now (chiefly for the fastest advancing healthcare tech markets) is for diagnoses. PwC’s latest research addressed this as well and found that newly established uses of A.I. in healthcare sand to save a prospective 90 billion Euros in childhood obesity prevention. It also found that these uses could theoretically translate to potential savings of some 74 billion Euros for the breast cancer diagnoses and early treatment practices. These are annual figures with no sacrifice to the accuracy of diagnoses and treatment choices. They even found another 8 billion Euros in potential savings for dementia diagnoses, and all of these scenarios project 90 percent accuracy in the process.

A male scientist testing the new medicine. / Photo by: stockbakery via 123RF

 

There are all kinds of studies, press releases and news articles being published about the role that mobile technology is likely to play in the very near future, too. For the most part, this has to do with so-called wearables and smartphone technology. The World Health Organization recently reported that over 350 million people in the world are suffering from depression, and one of the targets for smartphone technology is mental health. The Ginger.io app is a prime example of this, using its AI to provide personalized therapy, emotional support, psychiatry and coaching at any hour through one’s smartphone.

A female scientist making new medicines. / Photo by: kasto via 123RF

 

Bioelectronic medicine is now one more of the many ways that technology appears to be wholesale reshaping the medical spaces of countries all over the world. It’s described as the amalgamation of neuroscience, molecular medicine, and bioengineering, and its aim is to create cures that don’t involve any pharmaceuticals or, at the very least, rely far less on drugs. June of this year, in fact, marked the latest of two so-far biennial symposiums on bioelectronic medicine in Saltsjöbaden, Sweden. The symposiums are organized and presented by the Journal of Internal Medicine, the Karolinska Institutet and the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. It’s a relatively new field of biotech in which the goal is to interface technology with nerves to target specific biological processes that yield disease in one way or another.

 

“With the discoveries that have been announced, and the research collaborations that are spanning the globe, the pace of bioelectronic medicine is accelerating,” according to the Feinstein Institute’s CEO and Editor in Chief of Bioelectronic Medicine, Kevin J. Tracey. “As the global scientific home of bioelectronic medicine, it is important that the Feinstein Institute host a forum to discuss new findings and drive new discovery. We achieved that goal with this latest symposium.” All sorts of biotech leaders were represented at the symposium, too, which bolsters Tracey’s claims. These were representatives of GlaxoSmithKline, General Electric, SetPoint Medical, Medtronic, Galvani Bioelectronics and a plethora of others. Mind you, this year featured a proof-of-concept study successfully treating Crohn’s disease with bioelectrnonic medicine, as well as rheumatoid arthritis. It’s all the use of “electrons to cure patients with [conditions] ranging from inflammation to paralysis,” according to Chad Bouton, co-chair of the symposium and co-director of the Center for Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institute.

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