Great innovators do not think in incremental advances but rather in paradigm shifts that force us to think in radically different ways. While incremental advances occur by thinking conventionally, these paradigm shifts occur by thinking differently, which ultimately leads to new developments, strategies and technologies. The following five TED Talks present innovative medical advances that could potentially revolutionize medical laboratory science.
George Whitesides – A Lab the Size of a Postage Stamp
In a health care system where cost is everything, can you provide diagnostics for close to nothing? George Whitesides says that you can. For example, imagine a lab made of paper about the size of a thumb. Such developments have been made before, such as with diabetics testing glucose in urine, as well as detecting the hormone HGG in urine for a pregnancy test. Yet, what about more expensive, complicated tests? Whitesides believes that the answer here is simply colored paper the size of a postage stamp. During this talk, Whitesides tests his theory, placing a drop of urine on a small paper prototype, which then absorbs the liquid to create up to 16 color bars, each bar of which provides significant health information that can be captured by a cell phone camera and transmitted to a lab for analysis. Whitesides believes such a simple, cheap process can be particularly helpful within third world countries where it can analyze and ultimately treat what is commonly known as “fever of undiagnosed origin.”
Jack Choi – On the Virtual Dissection Table
Cadaver dissection is the traditional way of learning human anatomy, yet it can be difficult and expensive to provide. Because of this, the majority of anatomic classes do not have a cadaver dissection lab. To solve this problem, Jack Choi, along with Dr. Brown at Stanford, developed a virtual dissection table called the Anatomage Table, which is a touch-interactive table with a life size virtual cadaver. With the Anatomage Table, medical students or professionals create virtual cuts to expose internal structures, such as tendons, bones and organs. Users can further slice into structures, as well as zoom in, out, or look at it from any angle. There is also the capability to undo cuts or extractions, as well as saving the dissection into a computer drive. Additionally, Choi highlights how one can also reverse dissect to build organisms, ranging from organs to a whole body. The Anatomage Table is certainly worth checking out for any current or future medical laboratory scientists.
Paula Hammond – A New Superweapon in the Fight Against Cancer
Cancer is often able to be treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, some cancers prove unresponsive to these methods, resulting in tumors that can withstand even the harshest of treatments. In these cases, with developing technologies, the gene responsible may be able to be turned off with siRNA. As Hammond notes in this presentation, the strategy is to first dose the cancer cell with siRNA, silence survival genes, then attack it with a chemo drug. Hammond states that this technique is preferred for its personalization capabilities, which allow health providers to identify and address various mutations with multiple sheets of siRNA. She also notes that further study in this area will allow for a more expanded understanding of which patients can directly make use of this progressive fight against cancer.
Siddhartha Mukherjee – Soon We’ll Cure Diseases with a Cell, Not a Pill
In the recent history of medicine, we think of illness and treatment in what Mukherjee describes as an extremely elementary system of if a patient has an issue, they should take a pill, typically an antibiotic. This system has worked incredibly well, yet Mukherjee notes that it isn’t supremely effective. In fact, only 0.025 percent of all chemical reactions in the body are actually targetable by this method. Breast cancer is a great example, for conventional treatment consists of killing cells using a variety of targeted therapies, yet the medical community has now began to consider using the immune system to change the hormonal environment of patients with breast cancer. Mukherjee believes that the ultimate goal is to not kill something, but grow it through personalized cellular therapies. If cellular therapies prove consistent, then Mukherjee envisions personalized organismal therapies, and ultimately personalized immersion therapies for the environment.
Craig Venter – Watch Me Unveil “Synthetic Life”
In this TED Talk, Craig Venter announced the production of what he calls the “first synthetic cell,” which he describes as a cell that originates in a computer via digital code. From there, chemicals are used to develop the chromosome, which is then placed in yeast so that, as Venter notes, it can be transplanted “into a recipient bacterial cell and transforming that cell into a new bacterial species.” In achieving this, Venter and his peers developed several new methods for making error-free DNA. Applications that are being developed with new tools include vaccine production for the flu (in hours, not weeks to months), the common cold and for HIV whose virus rapidly evolves.
Although remarkable, these TED Talks highlight only five of the developing technologies that could change the future of healthcare. Can you imagine the subject matter of what future TED Talks will be 10 years from today? Perhaps you may even be the one providing the presentation. For future medical laboratory scientists seeking to advance the health industry, the first step is gaining the basic knowledge and developing the skills necessary to become a professional medical laboratory scientist, then expanding this foundation with experiences within this dynamic field.