Our natural-born bodies have a way of getting banged up by daily life, or having glitches that keep us from doing everything we want to. Medical science has been able to swoop in with amazing bionic fixes like knee replacements, Lasik and pacemakers. But things are about to go way sci-fi as the marriage of medicine and tech spawns some truly incredible inventions. From 3D-printed organs to retinal implants to tiny trackers swimming through your bloodstream to hearing that rivals that of a superhero, these futuristic advances are heading your way:
- Robotic Ear: Researchers at Princeton have 3D-printed a collagen ear with built-in electronic components for superhuman hearing. It can pick up sounds beyond our normal range, and this circuitry holds promise to be implantable down the road. This could eliminate the phrase, “Can you please speak up?” from our vocabulary.
- On-Demand Bone Repair: Dutch surgeons at Utrecht’s University Medical Center replaced the entire top portion of a woman’s skull with a customized printed implant made from plastic. It’s a much cheaper and less stressful procedure than grafting – win, win.
- Healing Skin: Wake Forest School of Medicine’s James Yoo has created a printer that can scan a wound and fabricate the exact number of cell layers needed to repair damage, especially useful for burn victims who suffer intense pain.
- Fantastic Voyage: Scientists have designed a “nano-scallop”—a tiny device that can move through our bodily fluids without a motor or engine, probing and measuring our nooks and crannies. The dream is that it will be able to relay biodata and perhaps perform medical procedures as it whooshes along.
- Virtual Medical Records: Forget needing a file sent to a specialist. Software company Chaotic Moon has developed a “tech tattoo” that gets embedded into a person’s arm and can track a person’s medical information and even alert you when you are getting sick.
- Mega-Memory Boost: While still in the very early stages, scientists at MIT were able to offset the plaque that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease by using special flickering LED lights, a technique called optogenetics. While still in its infancy, this discovery could one day mean the end of forgetting.
- Wired for sight. A new bit of medtech is promising to help the blind see. A special kind of eyeglasses allowed a woman in Australia to see again, hinting that a new era of bionic vision is about to dawn. In the US, the FDA has approved retinal implants as a means to restore sight. Some say that soon enough, those with typical vision will be able to see in the dark, thanks to these tech advances.
- Paralysis Unraveled: Ohio scientists were able to restore a quadriplegic man’s ability to use his hands. This complex effort, which involved a chipimplanted in the patient’s brain, holds huge promise for those with spinal-cord injuries.
While these amazing breakthroughs promise to enhance our health in the future, let’s also recognize those scientific discoveries that are doing that work right now – apps that enhance our bodies’ functioning for better quality of life. There’s Talkitt, an app that translates hard-to-decode speech of those with ALS, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy and more, so they can better communicate. And our own SonicCloud, which lets those with hearing issues, enjoy effortless phone conversations. In many ways, our better, tech-enabled future is already here.