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Twelve Things We Can 3D Print in Medicine Now

Kaiba Gionfriddo was born prematurely in 2011. After 8 months his lung development caused concerns, although he was sent home with his parents as his breathing was normal. Six weeks later, Kaiba stopped breathing and turned blue. He was diagnosed with tracheobronchomalacia, a long Latin word that means his windpipe was so weak that it collapsed. He had a tracheostomy and was put on a ventilator––the conventional treatment. Still, Kaiba would stop breathing almost daily. His heart would stop, too. His caregivers 3D printed a bioresorbable device that instantly helped Kaiba breathe. This case is considered a prime example of how customized 3D printing is transforming healthcare as we know it.

Since then this area has been skyrocketing. The list of objects that have been successfully printed out in 3D demonstrates the potential this technology holds for the near future of medicine.

Tissues with blood vessels: Researchers at Harvard University were the first to use a custom–built 3D printer and a dissolving ink to create a swatch of tissue that contains skin cells interwoven with structural material interwoven that can potentially function as blood vessels.

Low–Cost Prosthetic Parts: Creating traditional prosthetics is very time–consuming and destructive, which means that any modifications would destroy the original molds. Researchers at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with Autodesk Research and CBM Canada, used 3D printing to quickly produce cheap and easily customizable prosthetic sockets for patients in the developing world. 1371558697309.cached

Drugs: Lee Cronin, a chemist at the University of Glasgow, wants to do for the discovery and distribution of prescription drugs what Apple did for music. In a TED talk he described a prototype 3D printer capable of assembling chemical compounds at the molecular level. Patients would go to an online drugstore with their digital prescription, buy the blueprint and the chemical ink needed, and then print the drug at home. In the future he said we might sell not drugs but rather blueprints or apps.

Tailor–made sensors: Researchers have used scans of animal hearts to create printed models, and then added stretchy electronics on top of those models. The material can be peeled off the printed model and wrapped around the real heart for a perfect fit. The next step is to enhance the electronics with multiple sensors.

Tumor Models: Researchers in China and the US have both printed models of cancerous tumors to aid discovery of new anti–cancer drugs and to better understand how tumors develop, grow, and spread.

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Bone: Professor Susmita Bose of Washington State University modified a 3D printer to bind chemicals to a ceramic powder creating intricate ceramic scaffolds that promote the growth of the bone in any shape.

Heart Valve: Jonathan Butcher of Cornell University has printed a heart valve that will soon be tested in sheep. He used a combination of cells and biomaterials to control the valve’s stiffness.

Ear cartilage: Lawrence Bonassar of Cornell University used 3D photos of human ears to create ear molds. The molds were then filled with a gel containing bovine cartilage cells suspended in collagen, which held the shape of the ear while cells grew their extracellular matrix.

Medical equipment: Already, 3D printing is occurring in underdeveloped areas. “Not Impossible Labs” based in Venice, California took 3D printers to Sudan where the chaos of war has left many people with amputated limbs. The organization’s founder, Mick Ebeling, trained locals how to operate the machinery, create patient–specific limbs, and fit these new, very inexpensive prosthetics.

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Cranium Replacement: Dutch surgeons replaced the entire top of a 22 year–old woman’s skull with a customized printed implant made from plastic.

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Synthetic skin: James Yoo at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in the US has developed a printer that can print skin straight onto the wounds of burn victims.

Organs: Organovo just announced that their bioprinted liver assays are able to function for more than 40 days. Organovo’s top executives and other industry experts suggest that within a decade we will be able to print solid organs such as liver, heart, and kidney. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are waiting for an organ donor. Imagine how such a technology could transform their lives.

Read more about the use of 3D printing in medicine in The Guide to the Future of Medicine!

The Guide to the Future of Medicine ebook cover

Pharmaphorum Writes About My Passion For Improving Healthcare

Here is my recent interview on pharmaphorum about being a medical futurist and the trends that will shape the future of medicine. One excerpt:

Plenty of trends and technologies are truly starting to shape medicine worldwide, from cognitive computers being used in medical decision making to devices measuring vital signs coming to our homes. In addition, 3D printers are used to print out biomaterials; thousands of people are getting their DNA sequenced; sensors are becoming tiny and comfortable such as digital tattoos; smartphones are gamifying our health and becoming home laboratories. The whole process and structure of healthcare are dramatically changing.

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10 Things How Artificial Intelligence Could Make Me a Better Doctor

I was watching the movie Her for the second time and I was fascinated again about the scene in which the main character played by Joaquin Phoenix got his new operating system with artificial intelligence (AI) and started working with that. I couldn’t stop thinking about the ways I could use such an AI system in my life and how it actually could make me a better doctor.

Don’t get me wrong, I think empathy and great communication with patients can make a doctor better primarily, but as the amount of medical information out there is exponentially growing; as the time for dealing with patients and information is getting less, it is becoming humanly impossible to keep up with that. If I could devote the time it takes now to deal with technology (inputting information, looking for papers, etc.) to patients, that would be a huge step towards becoming better.

Here are 10 things how AI could make me a better doctor and consequently live a better life.

1) Eradicate waiting time: Not only patients have to wait a lot for their doctors, but doctors lose a lot of time everyday waiting for something (a patient, a lab result, etc.). An AI system that makes my schedule as efficient as possible directing me to the next logical task would be a jackpot.

2) Prioritize my emails: I deal with about 200 e-mails every single day. I try to teach GMail how to mark an e-mail important or categorize them automatically into social media messages, newsletters and personal e-mails, it’s still a challenge. In Her, the AI system prioritized all the 3000 unread e-mails in a second. Imagine that!

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3) Find me the information I need: I think I have mastered the skill of searching for information online using dozens of Google search operators and different kinds of search engines for different tasks, but it still takes time. What if an AI OS could answer my questions immediately by looking up the answer online?

4) Keep me up-to-date: There are 23 million papers on Pubmed.com. If I could read 3-4 papers of my field of interest per week, I couldn’t finish in a lifetime and meanwhile millions of new studies would come out. I need an AI to show me what I should really read that day. Now my curated social media networks do this job, although I’m sure it would be much more accurate with AI.

5) Work when I don’t: I can fulfil my online tasks (e-mails, reading papers, searching for information) when I use my PC or laptop, and I can do most of these on my smartphone. When I don’t use any of these, I obviously cannot work. An AI system could work on these when I don’t have any device in hand.

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6) Help me make hard decisions rational: A doctor must face a series of hard decisions every day. The best we can do is to make those decisions as informed as possible. Some of them are still hard to make. I can ask people of whom I value the opinions and that’s it. Imagine discussing these with an AI system that is even more rational than you are.

7) Help patients with urgent matters reach me: A doctor has a lot of calls, in-person questions, e-mails and even messages from social media channels on a daily basis. In this noise of information, not every urgent matter can reach you. What if an AI OS could select the crucial ones out of the mess and direct your attention to it when it’s actually needed.

8) Help me improve over time: People, even those who work on becoming better at their job, make the same mistakes again and again. By discussing every challenging task or decision with an AI, I could improve my overall well-being and the quality of my job. We could do that with people as well, but let’s be honest, it’s practically impossible.

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9) Help me collaborate more: In Her, the AI collected the letters the main character wrote and compiled them into one manuscript which she sent to a publisher that she thought would be willing to publish it. Similarly an AI could find the most potential collaborators and invite them to work on a paper or study I otherwise work on. This way, opening up my networks even more.

10) Do administrative work: Quite an essential percentage of an average day of a doctor is spent with administrative stuff. An AI could learn how to do it properly and do it better than me by time. It could write down my thoughts and compile them anytime just as if I decided to sit down and write them down saving me an enormous amount of time.

Read more about the use of AI in medicine in The Guide to the Future of Medicine!

The Guide to the Future of Medicine ebook cover

Would you use AI in your work? Please do share! Until then, here is how supercomputers make physicians better:

We need to be better prepared for a technological future: My BMJ Commentary

It’s a pleasure to share that my commentary on how to prepare patients and medical professionals for the upcoming waves of technological change is available in the British Medical Journal. This issue finally puts patient centered care in the spotlight which is the biggest step forward a medical journal has ever made. See E-Patient Dave’s article as the example.

If the waves of change from disruptive technologies and a restructured medical ecosystem hit us unprepared, which is the situation we are in now, there is a risk that medicine will become even more of a technology based service. To prevent this, we should be consciously and purposefully redesigning health systems by preparing for the now.

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Exoskeletons let paralyzed people walk again! (VIDEO)

When I watched the movies Avatar, Elysium or Iron Man, I was thinking about how great it would be to have those so called exoskeletons in real life letting paralyzed people walk again. And then science fiction became reality.

On a sunny day in November, 2013 I attended the Europe Summit organized by the Singularity University in Budapest at the amazing venue of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. We listened to Amanda Boxtel, who got paralyzed from a spinal cord injury in a ski accident in Aspen, Colorado in 1992. She told us how she felt after getting the diagnosis of never being able to walk again and how she refused to stop dreaming. Since then, she has established adaptive ski programs, carried the Olympic torch, organized disabled rafting expeditions, and even conducted research in the Antarctica. She has also become one of the ambassadors of an innovative company called Ekso Bionics.

Their exoskeletons are used by individuals with various degrees of paralysis and stemming by a variety of causes. Ekso Bionics have helped individuals take more than a million steps that would not otherwise have been possible. Boxtel is one of ten Ekso Bionics test pilots who received a customized exoskeleton. According to Boxtel, the project “represents the triumph of human creativity and technology that converged to restore my authentic functionality in a stunningly beautiful, fashionable and organic design.”

See it in action:

Another story includes Hugh Herr, who directs the Biomechatronics research group at MIT’s Media Lab and gave an amazing TED talk in 2014. Herr lost both his legs in a climbing accident 30 years earlier. He spoke of his plan to make flexible, smart prosthetics cheaper and widely available for those who need them. His team is pioneering a new class of smart biohybrid prostheses and exoskeletons for people with physical disabilities. It builds prosthetic knees, legs, and ankles that fuse biomechanics with microprocessors in order to restore normal gait, balance, and speed. They may even enhance biological functions including strength or speed. At the end of his talk came a surprise. Ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet–Davis, who lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, performed on stage for us for the first time since her accident.

A San Francisco based company, Bespoke Innovations, went further in customization to make beautifully designed prosthetics based on the patient’s needs and personality. Scott Summit, the designer at Bespoke, explained that in single amputees, the remaining leg is scanned and mirrored to give the correct geometry.

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A recent study showed that flexible spinal cord implants will let paralyzed people walk again. These include “flexible electrodes, cracked gold electronic tracks and fluidic microchannels to deliver both electrical impulses and chemicals while mimicking the spine’s movements and avoiding friction”.

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There is a reason to be optimistic! The advances of 3D printing lead to better, more comfortable and cheaper prosthetics, as well as exoskeletons. Having a disability should soon mean no disadvantage to a patient. Moreover, it might lead to unexpected advantages. The first Olympic Games for people with robotic protheses or powered exoskeletons will take place in Zurich, Switzerland in 2016. It is going to be a milestone.

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The list of examples and real-life stories could go on forever and hopefully the group of powered exoskeletons is going to be the hottest example about how technology can truly improve people’s lives.

Read more about such stories, even neuroprosthetics and the ethical dilemmas we will soon have to face in in my book, The Guide to the Future of Medicine.

The Guide to the Future of Medicine ebook cover

How mobile is transforming healthcare: Report

The Economist came up with a report about How mobile is transforming healthcare including infographics and analyses. You can download the report here.

According to a new survey, mobile technology has the potential to profoundly reshape the healthcare industry, altering how care is delivered and received.

Executives in both the public and private sector predict that new mobile devices and services will allow people to be more proactive in attending to their health and well-being.

These technologies promise to improve outcomes and cut costs, and make care more accessible to communities that are currently underserved. Mobile health could also facilitate medical innovation by enabling scientists to harness the power of big data on a large scale.

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My Story and The Future of Medicine in the Get Social Health Podcast

I was glad to get invited to do a podcast on Get Social Health. I hope you will enjoy listening to it. Here is the summary:

Dr. Bertalan Meskó is a digital renaissance man for healthcare. He is an author, TEDx speaker, teacher, consultant, and medical futurist. We had a wide ranging conversation about the future of medicine and the need for all medical professionals to be digitally literate. In addition to his newly published book, “The Future of Medicine,” Dr. Meskó shared his personal story of how he became a medical doctor, a PhD in genomics but still felt he had to honor “the geek” inside and embrace a career he designed for himself as a medical futurist. Listen to the episode of catch the highlights of the podcast at the time stamps below.

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