Stayin’ alive with technology

The DOTmed conference heard about some of the futuristic, and not so futuristic, advances coming down the line in medical technology

Imagine being able to deliver vaccines through the internet or print new organs, making transplant waiting lists a thing of the past?

How about a team of nanorobots living in your bloodstream that can release oxygen if you have a heart attack and keep you alive until the emergency services arrive? Or what if the nanobots could detect cancer biomarkers in your blood and tell you that you may be developing a disease before the onset of symptoms?

Too futuristic? All these medical innovations and more took centre stage at DOTmed, an eclectic festival of the future of medicine, sponsored by Abbvie at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin last week.

Organised by consultant rheumatologist
Dr Ronan Kavanagh and GP and Irish Times columnist Dr Muiris Houston, DOTmed was a medical conference with a difference, which even managed to incorporate a spot of live banjo.


Exciting potential
Medical futurist, geneticist and self-confessed "real geek" Dr Bertalan Mesko, from Hungary, facilitates medical students, doctors, healthcare professionals and patients harness technology's potential to change the future of healthcare.

His passionate optimism on the endless possibilities of technology to transform medical practice and how patients interact with their doctors was infectious. He introduced the audience to a range of inventions, some of which would not seem out of place in Star Trek.

However, many are already a reality. They include a small hand-held device with which you can measure your vital signs, including blood pressure, temperature, ECG (electrical heart rate) and pulse. Developed by US company Scanadu, the information can be easily read on your smartphone.

This data can also be made available to your GP at medical appointments.

Mesko also introduced the exoskeleton, which has the potential to allow people with devastating spinal injuries to walk again, and the idea of using medical technology to develop “recreational cyborgs” or “super humans”.

Another medical futurist, Lucien Engelen, director of Radboud reshape and innovation centre at the Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands, joined the conference via Facetalk, an online video conferencing system.

He introduced the audience to Google Glass and a new augmented reality app, called CPRGlass, which he has developed with US cardiologist Dr Christian Assad. With CPRGlass, a person with Google Glass can literally save a life.

Dials emergency services
Where someone has collapsed with a suspected heart attack, for example, CPR Glass analyses the pulse, locates the nearest emergency department, dials the emergency services and the Google Glass visor displays the information needed to perform CPR on.

It also plays Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees, which, as Engelen explained, has 100 beats per minute, the exact number of beats to which you should be compressing the patient's chest.

While the explosion of new technology has the potential to transform medical practice, Dr Kavanagh said the patient-doctor relationship remained key.

But he added: “In a curious way, a lot of the new technologies, blogging and social media can enhance the relationship with patients and humanise us and allow us to communicate better with them.”