The last 200 years witnessed the emergence of numerous scientific advances that offered us opportunities to achieve better understanding of the universe and improve our lives. More importantly, these advances have allowed us to extend our lifespan and become healthier. In the medical sciences, several key advances have resulted in the development of technologies that not only improve health but also save lives. Here are a few examples:
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Before Richard Lewisohn, there was no effective process used for preserving blood for later use to perform a blood transfusion. Before his discovery, transfusion could only be performed using live donors. The German-born American surgeon developed the procedures that would make blood transfusions safe and effective, thus allowing blood banks to collect, store and preserve donated blood. Lewisohn’s discovery has helped save 1.09 billion lives.
Before the discovery of the main blood groups in 1900 by Karl Landsteiner, blood transfusions were hit-and-miss affairs. In some cases, patients died while in others, the patients survived. Landsteiner discovered the differences in the blood groups when examining blood from two individuals. The Austrian biologist and Nobel Prize winner named the groups A, B & O. This discovery allowed doctors to perform blood transfusions based on patients’ blood types, hence preventing the risk of fatal incompatibility.
Jet Injector Gun
The jet injector gun (sometimes called the hypospray), has saved over 130 billion lives, simply by improving upon the function of the syringe injection. The device, invented by Aaron Ismach, delivers liquid medication and vaccines using air at high pressure to puncture the skin. It not only minimizes the pain associated with syringe injections, it also offers a means to deliver medication quickly and safely into the body.
The very first successful vaccine was pioneered by English scientist Edward Jenner. It was a vaccine against the deadly smallpox virus, which Jenner developed and demonstrated in 1796. Widespread vaccination was performed and by the end of the 70s, the eradication of the virus was declared globally. By inducing immunity through inoculation, the vaccine has saved over 530 million lives and prevented epidemics in many countries around the world.
The implantable pacemaker, more popularly called the artificial heart, was invented by American engineer Wilson Greatbatch. Although earlier versions of the pacemaker were available, Greatbatch’s invention used power cells for energy (earlier models needed to be charged using an external induction coil). Greatbatch’s invention has helped save over 8 million lives. Today, people whose hearts have been replaced by pacemakers are able to perform normal day-to-day activities.
These technologies represent just a fraction of the advancements that have allowed us to live healthier lives.
Introducing Digital Medical Imaging
One of the greatest contributions made by medical science to healthcare is digital medical imaging. With this technology, patients have been able to avoid costly and painful invasive exploratory surgeries without risk to their health. From 2000, Medicare spending on this technology has more than doubled over the next five years – from $6.6 billion to $13.7 billion in 2005.
The field of digital medical imaging has produced a number of procedures used as critical components of diagnostics. Some of the most common procedures include:
Digital mammography uses the same technology that was developed for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It offers a better alternative to film mammography in that once produced, the image can be manipulated electronically. Because the image is digital, the technology eliminates the waiting period necessary for developing film, so results are immediately available. Furthermore, the radiation exposure of patients is reduced by 25% with this type of imaging.
PET-MRI Fusion Imaging Systems
PET-MRI fusion imaging systems offer a breakthrough in medical digital imaging technology. It is a combination of the morphological imaging function of standard MRIs and the highly sensitive imaging technology used in PET scanners. The combination of these two technologies allows patients to undergo medical imaging procedures that reduce their exposure to radiation by as much as 50%.
Magnetic Particle Imaging
Magnetic particle imaging or MPI is the next exciting step in the field of medical imaging technology. It provides a three-dimensional image that allows doctors and researchers to work with a more detailed and effective view of the interior of the human body. This technology utilizes SPIONs or superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles to produce fast, high-resolution images with no distortions from background noise. The technology also does not require the use of iodine or radiation.
CT angiography or CTA is an imaging technique for digitally viewing venous and arterial vessels regardless of their location in the body. This digital imaging technology is generally used to examine pulmonary arteries to diagnose the possibility of pulmonary embolism in the lungs. It is used to visualize the flow of blood in the renal arteries of patients suffering from hypertension. It is also used to identify aneurysms in major blood vessels.
PET-CT for Cancer
PET-CT is a type of fusion imaging system that has revolutionized diagnosis in the medical field. It has allowed precise anatomic localization to be added to functional imaging, making it one of the most important tools in oncology for detecting and diagnosing cancer, and for surgical planning.
PET-CT offers a number of benefits. It provides a more detailed information regarding the anatomic structure and function of the body, and aids in the identification of changes at the cellular level. With these capabilities, it may become a critical tool for detecting diseases at the earliest stages, even before similar imaging tools such as MRI or CT can. It not only yields more precise details, it is also less expensive compared to exploratory surgery.
What the Future Holds
Medical imaging has changed the medical field dramatically. The new tools, techniques and technologies it offers have significantly changed the way medical professionals diagnose, measure, manage, treat and view medical diseases and conditions. Yet, what is available now may still be improved upon, considering that many advancements are still to come. Some of the key improvements we can expect include parametic imaging; phase contrast imaging; use of images as data, especially for gathering additional parameters; data mining and utilization of big data; and linking imaging phenotypes with genotypes in precision medicine.