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Three Ways Medical Science is Catching up to Science Fiction

Three Ways Medical Science is Catching up to Science Fiction
July 28
20:06 2016

From cryogenics to cyborgs, medical science has always been a huge part of science fiction.

In Star Trek, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy uses a device called a “tricorder” to instantly detect any medical problem.

In Star Wars, after Luke Skywalker loses his hand during a lightsaber duel, he is outfitted with a cybernetic limb that functions far better than an organic one. Luke’s father Anakin is worse off, having lost all four limbs by the end of Revenge of the Sith. Robotic doctors are able to rebuild Anakin’s damaged body, and he emerges from the operation as the famous “Darth Vader.”

With today’s medical advancements, science fiction is viewed more as foreshadowing than fantasy. Here are three technologies that are shockingly close to catching up to their science fiction counterparts:

The Scout

1766492_origAs I mentioned above, Star Trek’s iconic “tricorder” (pictured at right) is a portable omni-tool capable of diagnosing disease and collecting data with a simple scan. In 2012, wireless chipmaker Qualcomm launched a $10 million challenge to produce the world’s first real tricorder.

The rules: create a handheld device capable of diagnosing 15 diseases and measuring basic health metrics including respiratory rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

The Scout, created by Silicon Valley company Scanadu, was unveiled later that year. With a 10-second scan, The Scout can measure:

  • Pulse transit time
  • Heart rate and variability
  • Electrical heart activity
  • Blood oxygenation

The Scout can also help the user (ideally a doctor) identify a range of disease from shingles to abdominal cramps. The device is powered by the same operating system used in the Mars Rover.

Prosthetic Limbs

Hands_Off_Images_starwars_V01Prosthetic limbs have made leaps and bounds (no pun intended) in recent years, evolving from crude, stiff plastics to fully functioning legs and hands.

The C-Leg (developed by Hanger) utilizes a powerful processor and numerous sensors to make instantaneous adjustments to the position of the knee and leg. The result is a cybernetic leg that allows patients to ride bicycles and run.

Even more impressive is the company’s prosthetic hand or “i-LIMB,” which utilizes electrical signals from the amputee’s other hand to control movement in the prosthetic hand. This process, known as “myoelectric technology,” allows amputees to move all five fingers. Patients can type on a computer and use a cell phone – tasks that were impossible just 10 years ago.

Curing Cancer

db19e426beae41ead9b612243ce92248The 2013 movie Elysium featured a medical pod (pictured at right) that could cure cancer in just 60 seconds. While we aren’t anywhere near creating this magical device yet, we have made dramatic improvements in cancer treatment with the help of advanced oncology machines.

The “CyberKnife Stereotactic Radiosurgery System” (created by Accuracy) is one such machine. The CyberKnife utilizes tiny lasers to send concentrated radiation into a patient’s body to kill cancerous growths.

Unlike chemotherapy, this process spares the patient’s healthy cells and requires no incision. Despite its name, CyberKnife is a minimally invasive, painless option for cancer patients with surgically complex tumors.

Another Accuracy product, the TomoTherapy system, uses 3-D CT imaging to find the exact location of a tumor before initiating radiation therapy. The TomoTherapy uses the size and shape of the tumor to appropriately calibrate the intensity of the radiation for minimal risk.

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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