The realm of health tech is about far more than just apps and fitness trackers. All around the world, some of the brightest minds in science are working on innovations that will revolutionise how we stay healthy in the future.
Here are just a handful of the most exciting health tech developments happening right now, in Australia and overseas.
1. Building new body parts
Biofabrication – using 3D printers to create new body parts – is a massive area of interest for medical science, and Australia is at the forefront of the industry. The CSIRO has successfully printed new ribs for a man with cancer, and two Australian universities are now offering Masters programs to build an even stronger base of biofabrication experts for the future.
This technology can be used to repair bones, cartilage, muscles, nerves and skin which have been damaged by disease, trauma or cancer, and it is thought that within a few decades entire organs will be able to be printed
2. Keeping babies snug
A new collection of baby swaddles and blankets has been developed using fabric originally designed for NASA, which balances skin temperature to prevent overheating and cooling. The award-winning Little Lotus by Embrace Innovations provides products that keep little ones comfortable – and offers a welcome solution for babies who are born prematurely or underweight, and therefore struggle to regulate their own temperature. This has particularly great potential for babies in developing countries, where incubators often aren’t available.
3. A smarter bandage
Wound healing is set for a revolution with a much cleverer kind of bandage, developed at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The paint-on smart bandage reacts with oxygen to turn different colours to indicate how well the wound is healing – so you can check on its progress without disturbing the delicate tissue underneath.
4. Fighting inflammation
Many chronic diseases, including diabetes, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and arthritis, are linked to some form of inflammation. SetPoint Medical has created a tiny implant that can be inserted into the vagus nerve in the neck. When activated, the implant can reduce the body’s natural inflammatory reflex to provide relief. The anti-inflammatory power of the implant has been found to be comparable to leading drugs, and the technology is currently undergoing further testing in clinical trials across Europe.
5. A second chance at sight
Huge developments are being made in visual prosthetics – bionic eyes – which may potentially be able to restore some vision to blind patients. Second Sight has performed a successful implant of a visual cortical prosthesis in an animal study, and the first human clinical trials are expected to start by 2017.
6. Mental health treatment access
A new frontier in online counselling, iCouch uses videoconferencing to connect patients with qualified mental health professionals anywhere in the world. Because the whole process from booking to payment happens online, it takes away many of the obstacles that prevent some people from getting the treatment they need – such as people living in remote or rural areas, or those with mobility issues or other illnesses.