The Best of Medgadget 2010
This article summarises the best technological advances as determined by the Medgadget team for the year 2010. Some of the technology applies particularly to cardiology, and has been posted on my blog as well.
With the year 2010 coming to a close, we’ve composed a list of the 10 best new medical technologies and devices of the past twelve months. As part of our job as Medgadget editors, we look at thousands of new products, news stories and press releases and from these we distill the most noteworthy for your reading pleasure. This year our efforts resulted in a total of approximately 1800 posts, so there was no lack of material to choose from for this best of list. Many new devices and technologies were creative, innovative, expected to make a long-lasting impact, and some others were plain silly. Here, in no particular order, are those that clearly stood out this year in a positive way:
GE V-scan Portable Ultrasound
In February, GE introduced its Vscan, a pocket-sized ultrasound device. It changed the definition of portable ultrasound, which previously referred to rather large laptop-sized devices. Despite its small dimensions, the Vscan includes features such as power-doppler, and the device is powerful enough for most applications, including emergency medicine, cardiac and obstetric ultrasounds. Although it is still far too expensive to give out to every doctor in those specialties, it is not hard to envision it becoming a tool as indispensable as the stethoscope one day.
The hype around the iPad has not gone unnoticed in the medical world. Previous (medical grade) tablets did not make a significant impact. However, the iPad has sparked a rich ecosystem of medical apps and even some add-on medical devices. We had over 50 posts referring to the iPad one way or another. Highlights include the introduction, the first clinical tests, the first appearance in an operating theater and several great apps including reference apps, radiology viewers and electronic health records. With the iPad 2 expected in 2011 we expect no end to to the stream of news about this wonderful device. Also tablets from competing manufacturers are starting to mature and might stiffen up the competition in the next year.
In May, the J. Craig Venter Institute announced it had for the first time replaced the DNA of a bacterium with a complete set of synthetic DNA. This was the result of 15 years of work, with the aim of creating a living, replicating cell. The process currently still means recreating an existing genome rather than designing one from scratch, and still needs existing cells to put the DNA into. Meanwhile, some living tissues were connected to chips in order to better study them. In June, a living and breathing lung on a chip was announced, with the researchers working on getting other organs connected as well. Other scientists managed to grow individual neurons on microchips and neurons within neural networks got pinned down for study.
In March, the company Retina Implant AG from Reutlingen, Germany reported the first results of human trials with the firm’s subretinal electronic chips in blind volunteers. Implantation was successful in 11 patients without any adverse events. In November actual results of the performance of the implant itself in the first three volunteers were published. The previously blind persons could locate bright objects on a dark table and one of them could name objects like a fork or knife and differentiate between various kinds of fruit. After the pacemaker and the cochlear implant, this may well be the next electronic device to be widely implanted in patients.
Hemolung Respiratory Dialysis
Mechanical ventilation is often a life-saving intervention in critically-ill patients. However, it has some serious drawbacks, including the need for sedation, the risk of ventilator associated pneumonia, and intubation or tracheostomy related complications. ALung Technologies’ Hemolung overcomes many of these drawbacks by using dialysis to perform respiratory gas exchange in a process similar to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. During therapy, the patient can stay awake, allowing him to eat and communicate. In February, the first patient was successfully treated with the device, and clinical trials are currently underway. If successful, this could revolutionize the practice of medicine in the ICU.
The best innovations are simple and effective, and these criteria both seem to apply to the Symplicity catheter system. In addition, it targets one of the most common chronic conditions affecting the western population: hypertension. By reducing or eliminating the sympathetic innervation of the renal arteries, it reduces both the pathologic central sympathetic drive to the kidney and the renal contribution to central sympathetic hyperactivity. In an initial clinical trial, the procedure reduced blood pressure by 30/10 mmHg without causing any serious complications. A one time catheter treatment versus lifetime-long treatment with antihypertensive drugs might be a realistic choice soon.
Telemedicine has been a promise for many years, slowly coming to fruition. This year some significant leaps were made. Airstrip technologies, which previously released a remote obstetric monitoring app, in August released remote critical care and cardiology monitoring solutions for the iPhone. Basically, it gives you a vital signs monitor for any connected ICU or cardiac patient right in your pocket. Meanwhile, Littmann keeps improving its teleauscultation offering, adding scope-to-scope teleauscultation. On the treatment front, we saw the first remote cardiac catheterization, transcontinental anesthesia and all-robotic surgery and anesthesia.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
MRI is one of the most advanced diagnostic techniques in clinical use. It is still undergoing rapid development giving rise to new applications, better image quality and shorter acquisition times. A few of the highlights this year were real-time MRI of moving organs, further digitalization of the hardware, combined PET/MRI devices and, as the most curious of all, a live birth within an MRI scanner.
Skin Bioprinting for Burn Wounds
Burn wounds are something that modern medicine has not yet found many effective treatments for yet. However, this year we saw a device that could print skin grafts to cover the burn wounds, accelerating recovery and minimizing scar tissue. The prototype device was tested on artificially created full-thickness skin wounds in nude mice, resulting in much faster wound recovery.
General Purpose Pathogen Detector
Identifying the causative organism of an infection often takes several days, while broad spectrum antibiotics are given in the meantime. The Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array might change all that. It promises to detect about 2,000 viruses and 900 bacteria within 24 hours. Current methods are limited to detecting any from about 50 organisms in one test. And the next-generation of the device is already in development, with 2.1 million probes, able to detect thousands of bacteria and viruses and in addition thousands of fungi and about 75 protozoa.
That’s it! If we missed anything, the comments section is open for your additions. With this list, we wrap up the year 2010. In 2011 we will be back with more news and some major improvements to our website. We wish you all a happy new year!