The Future of Medicine – Technology & the Role of the Doctor in 2025 – a brief summary

The following is a brief summary of a joint Royal Society of Medicine/Institute of Engineering & Technology event held at the Academy of Medical Sciences on 6th May. The event was organised, extremely professionally, by the IET events team. The last ticket was sold half an hour before the start, so it was a genuine sell-out.

The speakers for the event were jointly chosen by this editor and by Prof Bill Nailon, who leads the Radiotherapy Physics, Image Analysis and Cancer Informatics Group at the Department of Oncology Physics, Edinburgh and is also a practising radiological consultant. As more of those invited by Prof Nailon were available than those invited by this editor, the day naturally ended up with a strong focus on advances in the many aspects of radiology as applied to imaging & treating cancer, as a surrogate for the wider examination of how medicine is changing.

The event began with a talk by Prof Ian Kunkler, Consultant Clinical Oncologist & Professor in Clinical Oncology at the Edinburgh Cancer research Centre. Prof Kunkler began by evidencing his statement that radiotherapy delivers a 50% reduction in breast cancer reappearance, compared with surgery alone. He stressed the importance of careful targeting of tumours with radiotherapy – not an easy task, especially if the patient is unavoidably moving (eg breathing) – Cyberknife enables much more precise targeting of tumours as it compensates for such movement. Apparently studies have shown that 55% of cancer patients will require radiotherapy at some point in their illness.

This was followed by Prof Joachim Gross, Chair of Systems Neuroscience, Acting Director of the Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging & Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator, University of Glasgow, talking about magnetoencephalopathy (MEG), which enables excellent spatial & temporal resolution of the brain. However it currently uses superconducting magnets that in turn require liquid helium, so is very expensive to run. He then showed an atomic magnetometer which apparently is developing fast and will be a much cheaper alternative to MEG – he expects people will be able to wear sensors embedded in a cap soon. He then went on to show truly excellent graphics on decoding brain signals with incredible precision; he explained that the 2025 challenge is understanding how the different brain areas interact. Finally he described neurostimulation, using an alternating magnetic field with the same frequency as brain waves to change behaviour; whence the emergence of neuromodulation as a new therapy. Both exciting, and just a little scary.

Dr David Clifton, Lecturer, Dept of Engineering Science & Computational Informatics Group, University of Oxford, followed with a talk on real-time patient monitoring. He began by explaining the challenges that clinicians face with this wall of patient data coming towards them: only “big data in healthcare” enables all the data generated by patients to be analysed to identify the early warning signals that are so important to minimise death and maximise recovery. (more…)

MIT’s ‘FingerReader’ to aid sight-impaired in reading

[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”150″ /]MIT Media Lab is developing a chunky plastic ring that in concept and early stage prototype, assists the sight-impaired in reading normal 12 pt. text in a book, magazine or on screen. The ring is worn on the hand (resembles a collar) and the reader points their finger along the line to be read. The camera embedded in the ring scans line by line and ‘speaks’ through speakers on a PC or tablet connected to the ring. If the finger strays too far from a line, there is a dial-tone like feedback sound. It is different than the conceptually similar Reading Pen as being more strongly in real time and reading faster–whole lines rather than word by word. While primarily for the blind and low vision, one of the MIT developers, Roy Shilkrot, a doctoral candidate, envisions simultaneous (machine) translation to another language. With a market of 285 million visually impaired worldwide–85 percent are over 50 (WHO)–there’s a ready-made market right there and for technologies like the Oxford ‘assisted vision’ project [TTA 11 July]. Mr. Shilkrot is shy on the commercialization subject, but given the positive media reception, he should perhaps think it over. TechCrunch (includes video demo), Mashable, MIT’s release and FAQ. Hat tip to reader Luca Sergio of Ethis Communications/Ethis Healthtech, New York

Assisted Vision: sight enhancement for the partially sighted

Dr Stephen Hicks is a Research Fellow in neuroscience and visual prosthetics at the University of Oxford. He and his team are working on a project to develop a pair of glasses to help partially [grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”150″ /]sighted people “see” what is in front of them.

BBC’s Johny Cassidy spoke to Hicks recently about the Oxford smart specs project for BBC’s In Touch programme. The project uses Augmented Reality (AR) to make objects in the field of vision sharper for partially sighted people. Hicks says the object is to “try to make a pair of glasses which look relatively normal to people in the environment and still provides a computer based object enhancement and object detection that would be able to be seen by people with very, very limited sight”.

The glasses use two cameras, a gyroscope, a compass and a GPS unit. The “lenses” are made of transparent OLED displays enabling the wearer to see through with any available sight and also allowing others to see the user’s eyes.

“The next step in terms of commercial development is to reduce the size of the glasses and the processing unit into something acceptable to people in day to day life”, says Hicks. The “take-home” versions are targeted to be built in autumn this year.

How much is it likely to cost? A stated goal of the project is to keep the costs down so that the maximum number of people as possible will have access to these glasses. So where possible off-the-shelf components are being used. Hicks says that a pair of glasses for less than £300 is possible compared to just under US$10,000 for the only other one that Johny Cassidy had been able to find. Google Glass, Epson Moverio and similar glasses are, of course, not functionally comparable.