September 28, 2016

The march of technological progress

By Chelsea Follett
A new level of precision in eye surgeries

Surgeons at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital have successfully used a new device to perform the world’s first robot assisted eye surgery. The device, known as the Robotic Retinal Dissection Device, was developed by a Dutch medical robotics firm and allows surgeons to perform intraocular surgeries with precision up to 1/1000 of a millimeter.  Previously, doctors have been able to identify retinal diseases at the microscopic level using laser scanners and microscopes. However, the possibility of minute tremors in a surgeon’s hands has made operation on these conditions very dangerous. While still in its trial phase, this device has the potential to open up a new level of complexity in eye surgery.

A new tool to use against pancreatic cancer

A new drug, known as IMM-101, has shown potential at treating metastatic pancreatic cancer by triggering the immune system to fight off the disease on its own - without any side effects or toxicity. The drug, which is used in conjunction with a form of chemotherapy, works by stimulating the otherwise inactive T-cells in a patient’s body to identify and attack the cancerous tumors after chemotherapy creates openings in the cancer cell’s protective outer layer. Pancreatic cancer is especially deadly because it is often diagnosed after it has already spread to other parts of the body. That is part of the reason why the disease usually kills within a few months of being identified. While researchers point out that further study is necessary, the results of this small trial show promise that immunotherapy drugs will soon be more effective tools in the fight against pancreatic and other forms of cancer.

Letting technology get under your skin

As technology occupies an ever greater space in our lives, an increasing number of people are taking the next step by actually having certain technology implanted beneath their skin itself.  RFID chips, or Radio Frequency Identification chips, are very small devices which can be easily implanted into the fatty tissue of person’s skin, where they then can be programmed to perform various tasks when read by an RFID scanner. Retailers estimate there to be between 30,000 to 50,000 people who currently have these chips implanted under their skin, which can be used for countless things from gaining access to buildings to acting as a digital business card. RFID chips are increasingly being proposed for use in medical applications as well. Medical personnel could scan these chips to obtain a vast amount of potentially lifesaving medical information by simply scanning a chip beneath the patient’s skin. While there are some ethical and security concerns pertaining to the use of such chips, it appears that younger generations are beginning to embrace the technology more and more.  

Tech giant tackles health

In a unique union between biology and computer science, the technology giant Microsoft has taken on a new, and rather monumental, task: solving cancer within a decade by reprogramming cells. After opening its first “wet” lab this summer, Microsoft has gathered a team of biologists, programmers, and engineers who will begin to test large maps of internal cell networks created by computer scientists. One of their goals is to create a molecular sized computer made up of DNA which could recognize cancerous cells and destroy them. Vital to the success of this project is software known as the Bio Model Analyzer, which is able to copy the behavior of a healthy cell and compare it to that of a diseased cell in order to identify where the problem occurred and how it can be corrected. By viewing cancer as a “computational problem”, Microsoft is hopeful that it can create a way to regulate cancer and effectively solve a disease that kills so many people every year.