The future of health and wellbeing: what's trending?

Updated: Jul 25

Today we're looking at samples of work and trends happening in healthcare and wellbeing with an eye on future learning. Everything that we are seeing is usually focused around one or both of two mains goals

1. Extending and enhancing human life.

2. Preventing and treating illness and injury.


With that in mind, let's take a look at some of what's happening in the future of health and wellbeing. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully provides an idea of what's out there, along with food for thought in your work with young people.

A new generation of drugs is being designed to wipe out old cells that may contribute to ageing. Although in an initial pilot phase, this is a good example of the type of research that's being done to slow or prevent ageing. Most anti-ageing drug trial research is still in the early stages, but we can expect to see more results being published and possibly drugs and treatments that actually work from the mid-2020s.

Graphene has been the wonder material in search of a purpose for several years now. It has massive potential, and some possible applications are looking positive, but healthcare may just be the field that the breakthrough in application is made. A new form of graphene has been developed that is "... biodegradable, mimics bone, attracts stem cells, and ultimately improves how animals can repair damage to their skeletons." This means that it may one day be used to treat broken bones far more effectively than current methods, and this technology appears to be well advanced. Watch this space.

With the decrease in size and increase in the power of sensors, we're starting to gather data in ways previously unimaginable. Example? Shoes that alert you if you're getting fat. Developed by no less that Google's parent company Alphabet's health division, these shoes have sensors that measure how much the user weighs and monitors their movements. Big money is being spent developing this technology, and more wearable technology items such as these likely to become commonplace during this decade.

Cool technology alert! The stethoscope has been around for a couple of hundred years, and is an essential part of any doctor's toolkit. The problem? Background noise and a slightly misplaced stethoscope can result in uncertainty about a patients condition and increases the potential for misdiagnosis. The solution? A smart stethoscope that removes background noise and assists the doctor in making a diagnosis. It's a cool piece of technology that's been designed for the right reasons - to be used by doctors in rural areas in developing countries. Excellent.

The anti-vaccine movement may soon have a new foe to contend with: self-propelling pills that deliver vaccines without the need for injections. Orally delivered vaccines are often not as effective as those given by needles, as it can get broken down by stomach acids. These pills are propelled directly into a person's intestines, where absorption and immune response is more effective than delivery by needle.

Operations and surgery with doctors using Virtual Reality (VR) to control and operate robots in an operating room that's located in a different state or country may soon be commonplace. Medical robots are big business, and the combination of reliable Internet access, advanced VR technology and robotics is allowing this technology to advance rapidly. At the moment, only about 0.3% of all operations are performed by human-controlled robots, but given the amount of investment that's happening, we can expect this to increase massively.

A robotic prosthesis hand that provides tactile sensations - not science fiction, but now a reality. The sensory feedback is limited, but the patient can use her nerves to control the movement of the hand, and it is designed to be actively used in daily life. It's an important step in support for amputees, and again this technology will likely advance rapidly over the coming decade.

The world's 3D printed heart has been created, and it's made from human tissue. It's only the size of a rabbit's heart, and the muscles don't know how to 'work' yet, but this is promising technology that could eventually eliminate the need to organ donation and long waiting lists. Watch this space.

Continuing with our human/machine integration/interface theme, human babies may be born using an artificial womb within a decade (be careful when clicking on this link, as there are images of lamb foetuses that you may find unpleasant). The idea is that human babies may eventually be grown in bio-bags, especially if the mother is at-risk during pregnancy. The technology itself raises all sorts of ethical concerns, but the scientists themselves appear to be enthusiastic. Thought provoking.

Robotic eye lenses that can be controlled by simply looking around or blinking? Yes the technology exists, is amazing and again may soon be commonplace. It's part of a wider project to develop prosthetic eyes, and you can see how the technology works in detail in the research paper.

Some data suggests that dietary adjustments alone can prevent 30 to 40% of cancers, but which foods are the most effective? Thanks to machine learning, analysis is being done of bio-active, cancer-beating molecules found in foods to identify the most effective. In this example, 7962 molecules were fed into the model, and 110 were identified as being potentially 'cancer-beating'. This now means that food maps and eating plans can be created to prevent and fight cancers. Incredible.

On the subject of food, it's becoming clear that nutritious, medically-tailored meal plans save lives, and the economic benefits of doing so are clear. Discussion is now happening around whether insurance companies should cover the cost of these plans, and not just prescription drugs. It looks like insurers are getting on board, and is part of a growing trend towards preventative healthcare that's likely to continue.

To finish, we're stepping sideways a little bit to examine how house plants and rabbit genes have been combined for healthier home living. The protein from the rabbit that's placed in the plant turns it into a 'green liver', which removes the cancer-causing pollutants chloroform and benzene from homes. Chloroform enters the home through chlorinated water, and benzene from sources such as cars parked inside attached garages. This technology has been proven to work in the lab, and is now being developed for use in the home.

What all of this means for future learning and education is that we all need to be aware that it's very likely that humans are going to live ever-longer lives, and there are huge opportunities in the healthcare and wellbeing sectors over the coming ten years. Billions are being spent on research, new businesses are starting, more researchers, scientists and engineers are needed, and we're all going to have to figure out how to live longer lives. Let's discuss this in our homes and classes, and identify challenges and opportunities together.


This article from The Guardian provides a nice perspective on enjoying a longer life, and perhaps provides a few lessons for life in general. While focused on those entering their twilight years, it's a nice read with 12 suggested steps, and I like the way it acknowledges and indeed embraces the inevitability of death. Basically, it suggests that we become better human beings, and doing so will allow us to enjoy life more. Maybe we need to be discussing that with our young people as well.


Thank you for joining us this week. We welcome any and all feedback and comments, and please contact me with any questions or suggestions you have.


Sean

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