Healthcare in science fiction is fairly straightforward. Literary works depicting remote future, say, more than a couple of centuries from now, assure us of the inevitable personal immortality. And, since the eternal life is guaranteed by the writer’s imagination, there is no such thing as healthcare problems. Or, rather, a protagonist’s poor health is seldom employed as a part of the plot ‒ more like a character detail. In other words, Peter Weyland is old ans sick, and he acts accordingly. Nobody is making a movie about his ailment’s clinical progress. Nobody cares how he got this way.
Of course, the need for advanced tools (and a certain ‘Bones’ McCoy in an infirmary) is still there at least until immortality is accompanied by invincibility. However, such magical union is much more common in fantasy, rather than sci-fi where even the most immortal ones of the future are still vulnerable to injury, prone to accidents, and may even be susceptible to some cases of extraterrestrial diseases. Hence, the need for the proverbial ‘right tool for the job’.
- Practical DNA decoder
A strange intergalactic beast is harpooned by a lone space ranger and brought on deck of a space-faring cruiser. The first deed of the ship’s medic (still wearing the good old goggles, despite the centuries of progress) is to get the creature into the scanner. The machine hums to life and a neon-green laser-thin ray begins to map the omnipresent in every living thing code of life ‒ the DNA structure.
The dream of DNA sequencing is all too real now. The first decoding of the human DNA was done in 1990. It took the US government 13 years and billions of dollars to maintain the massive ‘sequencing factory’ but in 2014 the cost of a single sequencing dropped to a symbolic $1,000. The company behind that breakthrough, Illumina, strives for the process to costs less than $100 in the nearest future. This goal was made public during the last J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, and the device to break the record is called the NovaSeq platform.
- Handheld blood analyzers
Here is one of our favorite visuals in many vampire and sci-fi movies. It was in the last year’s ‘Incorporated’ as well as in the quaint’n’cute by the today’s production value standarts ‘Gattaca’ and many other films and TV series: a single drop of blood as a passkey into a highly secure area, a way to know virtually everything about a person. Red on Black, a drop of blood on a matte plate or pink skin. Beautiful.
Well, let’s get back to the world. Analyzing blood ceased being a big deal a long time ago but there’s one device that does it all in a small portable package. The HemoPalm handheld blood analyzer conceived by ChroMedX Corp can work with a single drop of blood drawn via a finger prick (arterial blood sampling is soooo 20th century) placed in a disposable cartridge and analyzed. HemoPalm is the only handheld blood analyzer that uses full CO-oximetry as well data on blood gases and electrolytes. Even though the today’s iteration of the HemoPalm analyzer (ChroMedX is on to the second gen device now!) is first of all a tool for the first responders and the EMTs, it’s not a huge stretch of imagination to assume that a few years from now the HemoPalm devices are going to be mounted on the White House’ front doors rendering the massively photogenic sunglasses-clad armed guards totally useless.
Here is a gadget that screams ‘future’ louder than the flying cars do. A smartphone-sized box, which can scan a person (not necessary a human) and come up with the diagnosis in seconds. No longer would you need to put up with the assistive cane-carrying bad-mannered TV-diagnosticians who despise their patients! Say goodbye to the long, exhausting searches for causes of strange ailments. A short scan ‒ that’s it.
The concept of a tricorder was brought to life by the screenwriters of the ‘Star Trek’ TV series. While the full functionality of the sci-fi device is yet to be achieved, the first attempts are already made and the jury on them is literally out. Exactly two of the tricoders have made it to the finals of the futuristic contest Qualcomm Tricorder X-PRIZE. For the win they need to prove their ability to detect no less than a dozen of medical conditions including HIV, hypertension and melanoma.
- Smart medical tools
As suspense builds up and AI is unable to find all the right answers, the medics of the future intervene and save the day. Rarely do they use their hands, though. By some inexplicable quirk of Hollywood reasoning, the movie-surgeries of the future are mostly performed using tools that look downright ridiculous to a today’s MD.
The fact is, we don’t know what the tools of the future will look like. There are two truths, however, worth pointing out. One, is that surgeon’s fingers are going to remain his or her most valuable appendages. Two, is that one of the branches of medicine complemented the most by elements of the AI in the future is going to be neurology. How do we know that? It’s happening already. Two companies ‒ MedyMatch Technology of Israel and Samsung NeuroLogica Corporation ‒ work together on a joint solution for the complex medical condition requiring extra quick and accurate response: detection of a stroke caused by a blood clot or hemorrhage. The specialized AI subsystem developed by MedyMatch will be built into the CT scanner and tasked with the fastest possible assessment of brain bleeding, which is critical for timely and minimally damaging treatment.
- Terahertz imaging
X-ray vision is one of the oldest tropes in science fiction. It has permeated the pocket books in the 40s-50s spreading into the ancient B-movies (the venerable ‘X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes’ comes to mind) engulfing the sci-fi culture in cheap expect-tionism. And yet, not only has this tech not lost its appeal today, the ability to ‘see through walls’ is making long and decisive strides through Hollywood as well as the medical research establishment throughout the world. The problem with it, however, is to allow the ‘magic ray’ to penetrate live objects without inflicting radiation sickness.
Enter terahertz imaging. It’s shielded by a combination of hi-tech liquids and metals, and utilizes a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum so it’s not as destructive as the X-rays. The prototypes are being developed at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the prognosis is rather bright: the portable see-through functionality is real, it’s coming, and it is going to be spectacular. Wow, the Japanese have done it again!