THE HEALTH TECH REVOLUTION
The rising cost of healthcare is a seemingly endless worry for all of us in the UAE. Thankfully, there are new innovations that can potentially offer a solution to the problem. Simon Stirzaker, regional leader of health and benefits at insurer AlFuttaim Willis, gave us his list of five technological developments that are already changing the game in the UAE.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) An example is diabetic retinopathy, the world’s leading cause of blindness in adults of working age. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, six of the 10 countries with the highest rates of diabetes in the world are in the Middle East, and diabetic retinopathy affects 19 per cent of diabetics in the UAE. However, researchers at Google have used deep learning to teach computers to diagnose retinopathy from photographs of the retina. The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the diagnoses to be above 90 per cent accurate.
Biosensors Most of us are aware of wearable biosensors such as the Fitbit. Wearables use pressure and temperature to help track our daily movement, our steps and heart rate. There is even a contact lens that monitors glucose levels. Internal sensors are quickly becoming a reality too. These nanosensors can be swallowed like a pill or implanted under the skin to monitor the micro environment – chemicals and biomarkers – inside the body.
Telemedicine and virtual doctors
Unlike AI, virtual doctors are very much real doctors. What makes them different is that they can be accessed via the internet, using smartphones and laptops. Telemedicine is the most immediate.
3D printing Prosthetic limbs are already being printed, researchers have used it to recreate a patient’s airway, and the company Organovo is using 3D printing to produce living human tissue for skin grafts. Neurosurgeons can print a 3D version of a patient’s skull before operating and so improve outcomes; drugs can be printed to provide patients with the exact dosage they need.
Genomics Already we have over 1,500 genetic tests and targeted therapies in cancer, which have kick-started a new era of ‘personalised medicine’. One of the biggest hopes for personalised medicine comes in the form of a system known as CRISPR. This can be used to ‘edit’ small pieces of DNA in cells, similar to the way in which you change letters in a word processing document. It offers the potential to ‘switch off’ cancer genes or replace faulty ones.