Eliza Brockwell asks three experts to peer into their crystal balls to predict some of the major medical breakthroughs we’ll see in the next 50 years…
Robots and machine learning will overhaul surgeries
“More than 540 million years ago, there was a burst in evolution and simple organisms developed into more complex beings. No-one really understands the reasons why, but it was thought to be a change in the oxygen levels, a change in temperature and, most importantly, an evolution of vision. We’re seeing the same thing with robots; we believe vision in robotics is the key to unlocking their potential.
“Technology is constantly redefining how we learn and interact with the world around us and it will have massive impact on how we practise medicine. By building robots, we want to give surgeons very simple, affordable and smart machines that allow surgeons to perform safer and faster operations.
“Human acceptance of robots in healthcare is going to be a big barrier. You can’t replace human empathy, but robots have more potential than people realise. We want to build medical robots and devices that are easy to use and don’t require a lot of training, so they can be transported anywhere. When machine learning techniques are added to this, diagnoses will be available at the click of a button. It will also allow people in the developing world to access affordable, high-quality healthcare.”
Anjali Jaiprakash is a research fellow at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, and part of QUT’s Medical Healthcare Robotics Lab.
Dr Maria Tsoli
“I’m very excited about what this means for kids with hard-to-treat cancers, such as brain cancer.”
Personalised medicine will revolutionise cancer cures
“Brain cancer is one of the biggest causes of death in children with cancer. Research shows that every child and every cancer is different, and a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment doesn’t work.
“In the next 50 years, personalised medicine will help us find the best treatments for individual children with cancer. We’re already making progress. The Children’s Cancer Institute and Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, just opened a national clinical trial called Zero Childhood Cancer for around 400 children with the most aggressive cancers. We analyse the biology and genetics of patients’ tumours in incredible detail then test the cancers in the lab with anticancer drugs to see which work best for each child.
“This could revolutionise the way childhood cancer is treated in the future. I’m very excited about what this means for kids with hard-to-treat cancers, such as brain cancer.”
Dr Maria Tsoli is a senior research officer at The Children’s Cancer Institute and team leader of the Preclinical Core Testing Team at Zero Childhood Cancer, Randwick, NSW.
Wearable tech will be the future of health
“With sports and health tech, especially in the wearable or consumable space, 50 years is just too far in the future. I predict in 10 years, the landscape is going to be more akin to something from Blade Runner.
“Within a decade, whether it’s for health or fitness, we’ll be wearing disposable band-aid like patches, connected to the cloud via a smart device – I’m loathe to say a smartphone as I believe even those will be obsolete in 10 years’ time. These patches will measure everything from blood sugar and lactate levels to temperature and heart rate, to start with.
“Your doctor or coach will be able to monitor your health or training status remotely and in real-time, potentially even triggering other body-worn devices to remotely and automatically apply medication. Of course, this technology has implications for anti-doping technology and testing. It won’t be out of the question for elite athletes to have to wear patches for a prescribed number of hours a day to allow the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority or World Anti-Doping Authority to continuously monitor their blood make up, making it very difficult for athletes to take banned substances and evade detection.
“The challenge – and for me the space that is going to be interesting to watch – is how this data gets curated, managed and protected. In the future, we’ll all have digital bio-identities that we’ll carry with us as we change wearable brands, sports, doctors, etc. To do that there will need to be open standards to allow data mobility, but also new and stronger security, perhaps blockchain or quantum-inspired encryption, to ensure your personal data can’t be stolen, copied or manipulated. Wherever it takes us, it’s an exciting world ahead in sports science and medicine, and I would encourage STEM students to think about the sports sector for a career choice.”
Joseph Winter is the head of Innovation, Research and Development at the Australian Institute of Sport.
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.