Healthcare’s Most Disruptive: Next-Gen Genomics, Memory Implants

June 19, 2013
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future health technology

Originally published on MedCityNews.com.

future health technology

Originally published on MedCityNews.com.

If you’re visiting this site, you’re probably pretty aware of some of the technological advances that healthcare experts think will change the industry (here’s looking at you, 3D printing and sensors).

But there are a few technologies in particular that tech and business experts think everyone should know about, from general consumers to policymakers, to better understand how technology will shape society and the economy over the next decade. MIT Technology Review and McKinsey have (separately) put their picks forward this spring in the form of “most disruptive technologies” lists.

Both of these lists are broad and include technologies applied to other fields including manufacturing, energy, automotive, etc., but here we’re focusing on health. MIT Technology Review’s annual list of 10 breakthrough technologies this year includes prenatal DNA sequencing and memory implants.

As a point of reference, Technology Review’s list 10 years ago included injectable tissue engineering (still a work in progress), molecular imaging (yep) and glycomics (still considered an emerging field).

Citing Illumina’s acquisition of Verinata earlier this year, Technology Review called prenatal genetic screening “the next frontier of the genome revolution.” The companies that launched tests for genetic disorders like Down’s syndrome and Tay-Sachs disease have now figured out how to get a fetus’s entire genome from a mother’s blood sample, which they could use to spot other chromosomal abnormalities that could indicate disease. Although it’s still too costly to be mainstream, the idea of fetal genome screening has already given way to ethical debates.

The list also includes the work of a biomedical engineer and neuroscientist at USC – Los Angeles by named Theodore Berger, who has spent more than two decades creating silicon chips that mimic the signal processing of neurons in the hippocampus that are damaged in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, stroke or other brain injuries that impede long-term memory. These chips have never been tested in humans, but studies in rats and primates have suggested their potential in correcting long-term memory.

In an editorial, deputy editor Brian Bergstein referred to the similar report by the McKinsey Global Institute, which doesn’t get quite as granular, but highlights some big trends the consulting company thinks will be “disruptive” in the next decade.

McKinsey also chose next-generation genomics as a disruptive technology but stretched it a little further to include “fast, low-cost gene sequencing, advanced big data analytics and synthetic biology.” McKinsey posits that low-cost bench top sequencing machines will become part of use in routine diagnostics, and sequencing will also be used to match treatments to patients. “The next step is synthetic biology – the ability to precisely customize organisms by ‘writing’ DNA,” the report’s authors wrote.

Another disruptive technology that the firm chose which has applications in healthcare is advanced robotics, a field that its analysts think could have a potential economic impact of $800 billion in the healthcare industry by 2025, in the form of improving quality of life through robotic surgery and robotic prosthetics.

[Photo credit: dream designs]

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