Developments in deep tech startups are shining a light on the future of what’s possible. Nowhere is this more evident than in the healthcare sector, where precision medicine is allowing us to develop highly personalised treatments for individuals, while also gathering more accurate health-related data.
The success of these emergent companies is transforming the healthcare sector and is testament to the collaborative effort put in from a variety of experts. As impressive as the technology is itself, these leaps forward in cutting-edge medical treatment require the cooperation of doctors, tech innovators, entrepreneurs and R&D professionals. They are proof of what we can truly achieve as a society of innovative and forward-thinking professionals when tech transfer takes place.
A whole-industry transformation
When we say that the whole industry is being transformed, that’s not an understatement. The wide variety of technologies and their applications cover everything from cancer treatment to enhanced AI diagnosis capabilities to everyday heart-monitoring tools. It’s a broad spectrum of benefits, all linked by innovative tools that fill in the gaps where human doctors and researchers need support.
Wearables and constant monitoring
In recent years, the rise of wearable technology has provided individuals with unprecedented access to data that can help them monitor their cardiovascular well-being. The most famous among them is the Apple Watch, which is still just beginning to scratch the surface of personal health technology.
It’s important to be clear – the Apple watch or similar devices are not substitutes for professional medical diagnosis, and there are areas where cardiologists have reservations about ‘the potential for false positives, or indications that something is wrong when it isn’t’. After all, it’s not just the data available, but the knowledge and expertise to properly interpret it that’s important.
Warnings aside, these wearable technologies do provide a whole host of benefits, and even have the cautious support and approval of cardiologists. As the article linked above says, ‘If you have an irregular heart beat, a history of heart disease or heart attack, or a pacemaker, the Apple Watch’s ECG could potentially provide helpful information for your doctor—especially if you’re having symptoms outside of the doctor’s office.’
It’s not uncommon for cardiologists to have one or two patients each year who discover their conditions due to abnormal readings given by the watches. Furthermore, the wearables can also help patients who ‘require continuous heart rate monitoring, which is currently performed with a device implanted under a patient’s skin’, offering a less invasive alternative.
Personal technology to assess individual well-being is an incredible asset. But it’s when we look into what’s happening in the medical sector itself that the true extent of deep tech in the healthcare sector becomes clear.
Imagine you’re having some issues with your vision. You go to your eye specialist and they use a machine to take a picture of your eye, which is then uploaded to a cloud server. Your eye is then analysed and you have one of two results: positive or negative for more than mild diabetic retinopathy – a disease that can cause blindness.
This is the current process in place in parts of the United States, and it owes its development to advances in Artificial Intelligence technology. It is the first state-approved AI diagnosis process, which means individuals, with only basic training, are capable of carrying out the tasks of more specialised medical professionals.
But the potential for AI diagnosis goes even further, as it is beginning to outperform even highly trained experts in the discovery and diagnosis of patients: ‘Diagnostics, with its emphasis on identifying subtle patterns that can be hard to detect with the human eye, makes for an ideal starting point. Already, the reliability of many new AI-driven diagnostic systems is striking’.
When asked about the potential for doctorless diagnosis in the future, Professor Jörg Goldhahn, deputy head of ETH Zurich’s Institute of Translational Medicine had an interesting response. He claimed the problems were merely technical because ‘these systems continually integrate new knowledge and perfect themselves with a speed that humans cannot match’.
Electronic health records for personalised treatment
The future of AI diagnosis is looking strong, yet one of the most impressive developments in terms of deep tech in the healthcare sector lies in precision medicine. In 2003, one of the most ambitious explorations of human fundamentals came to fruition with the Human Genome Project. This incredible R&D project provided us with the ‘ability to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being’.
But it’s thanks to recent advances in machine learning and AI that the power of this discovery is being unleashed. The most notable example is IBM’s Watson for Oncology, which is pushing the boundaries of cancer care. Using natural language processing, this solution can identify context with a patient’s case file – including their specific genetics – and provide experienced oncologists with the information they need to proceed with treatment that is personalised to that individual.
A look to the future
The use of technology like this is becoming more widespread. Tech start-up, Exheus, which recently took part in The Collider accelerator programme, uses similar AI capabilities to provide detailed reports on an individual’s genetic makeup. Using this information, they can provide tailored nutritional, training and health advice.