This month’s WIRED Health 2017 event set the scene for the growing relationship between technology and healthcare. Medical specialists, tech experts and healthcare professionals the world over took the opportunity to showcase the sector’s revolutionary new ideas and practices – with UK firms leading the innovation charge.
WIRED magazine’s fourth annual healthcare event was an eye-opening experience. Not only were attendees able to marvel at the shaking up of the healthcare status quo, we also saw how the UK is playing an important role in healthcare technology, thanks to various speakers and exhibitors across the different stages.
The 100,000 Genomes Project
Bringing a level of prestige to the event, Dame Sally Davies – Chief Medical Officer for England – took to the Main Stage to discuss the 100,000 Genomes Project. The brainchild of Genomics England, the 100,000 Genomes Project aims to sequence the genomes of over 70,000 individuals – including those with cancer, rare diseases, and their families – using technology developed since the success of 2003’s Human Genome Project.
The overall objective of the 100,000 Genomes Project is to create a new genomic medicine service for the NHS – allowing for more effective treatments, better medical research and the kick-starting of a UK genomics industry.
The Limits of Human Augmentation
The idea of augmenting humans with robotics has long been popular in science fiction, but it now seems closer to fact than ever before. Using his time on WIRED’s Main Stage to wow audiences with six-fingered piano players and enhanced Cybathlon participants, associate professor of neurotechnology at Imperial College London, Aldo Faisal, highlighted the advancements his team have made.
For several years, Faisal and his team have been working on reverse engineering the brain using computational medicine in order to make cyber enhancements possible for everybody. By improving upon existing prosthetics and offering humans a way to improve dexterity and strength using robotics, there’s a possibility that the limits of human augmentation are about to be pushed further than ever before.
Inter-Operability & Medical Software
It wasn’t just established organisations and individuals on the Main Stage who got to introduce the world to fascinating new technologies at WIRED Health. Over on the Start-Up Stage, CEO and co-founder of drfocused, Kit Latham, demonstrated how technology could potentially save clinicians up to 90% of their time.
Tried and tested by a network of 700 volunteer doctors, drfocused aims to introduce a sense of inter-operability to doctors’ lives. Currently, when changing roles or hospitals, doctors are spending 30% of their time changing logins and getting used to different software. drfocused instead allows software packages to ‘talk’ to one another, streamlining paperwork requirements and freeing up doctors’ time.
Over the last few years, virtual reality has come into its own as a flexible and immersive technology with many potential applications. This is particularly true in healthcare, where experts have found a way to use immersion through VR technology to help educate and rehabilitate.
Firstly, virtual reality is being used to visualise the various mechanisms behind diseases, drugs and the body. Developed by London-based firm Random42, this application of VR allows pharmaceutical and medical clients to gain a much stronger understanding of biological processes, and could potentially find its way into training situations too.
Secondly is the use of VR to help patients navigate the challenges of rehabilitation. Immersive Rehab – a similarly London-based start-up – develops virtual reality games that improve the effectiveness of physical and neuro-rehabilitation in patients. The result is a fully immersive and motivational experience which engages individuals and provides enhanced recovery.
Quit Smoking with Gamification
The trend of gamification apps – applications which reward user engagement or activity – is nothing new, with the likes of Pokémon Go rewarding players for walking, or My Objectives helping businesses to better manage goals. In healthcare, the idea of gamification is being applied to the common challenge of giving up smoking.
Digital Therapeutics’ CEO Yusef Sherwani illustrated the smoking epidemic to crowds at WIRED Health. There are ten million smokers in the UK, with two-thirds anxious to quit. Unfortunately, success rates for quitting are as low as 3%. Sherwani’s brainchild, Quit Genius, uses gamification to keep individuals engaged and working towards a quit date, making for a much more sustainable attempt.
Overall, WIRED Health 2017 was a fascinating combination of existing technologies being used in refreshing ways and entirely new concepts tackling longstanding challenges. Despite the global feel of the event, the UK plays a major role in the technology and healthcare relationship. As we look forward to 2018’s event, we have an opportunity to see what the predominantly London-based med-tech start-up scene will think up next, whilst applying new solutions to existing problems within the NHS.
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