10 Mind-blowing Medical Gadgets That Are Likely in Your Future

With all the medical knowledge we have, you would think the common cold would have fallen by the wayside long ago. Yet, we still can't cure it (probably because the cold is not simply one disease, it's caused by over 200 ever-mutating viruses). But while colds may be with us for a while, medical science has taken many amazing leaps forward in the last few years, with advances coming at an exponential rate. Just as technological wonders like smartphones, tablets, CGI movie effects, and the Internet have become commonplace, in the not-too-distant future medical advances will have us shaking our heads in wonder at how we ever survived without them. Some of this stuff is here already, and the future is calling. Here are 10 medical innovations that are bound to dazzle.

1. The iKnife

The iKnife, developed by Dr. Zoltan Takats of Imperial College London, uses heat to make incisions during surgery. The heat serves to seal the wound, resulting in much less blood loss. The iKnife actually analyzes chemicals in the smoke from the singed tissue and can tell the surgeon in real time if the tissue is malignant. This amazing new tool will potentially vastly reduce the amount of time surgeries take.

2. Mind-Controlled Contact Lenses

Google Glass, the smart glasses that wearers use to access the Internet, take photos and record video, may piss off lots of people. But the naysayers better get used to it, because by the time Glass becomes commonplace, contact lenses that are capable of the same feats will be available. More amazing, these lenses could be controlled not by gestures or head nods, but by the mind. This technology will no doubt spur its own furor, since, unlike Glass, people will have no idea if the person they're talking is wearing the augmented contacts and whether they are being recorded, photographed, or even heard.

3. 3D-Printed Prescription Drugs and Body Parts

In the not–too-distant future, 3D printers won’t just create cheap plastic doodads and hard-to-detect firearms; they will be capable of creating a whole new way to obtain prescription drugs. Dr. Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow has been working on a molecular level 3D printer that can assemble chemical molecules into medicines. "What Apple did for music, Cronin said at TedGlobal 2012, "I'd like to do for the discovery and distribution of prescription drugs." You would go online with your digital prescription, download the blueprint for the drug and print it out on your handy-dandy molecular 3D printer. Drugs could be customized to the needs of a particular patient. The 3D printer will also come in handy when you need a new ear, bone or other body part. Dr. Michael McAlpine of Princeton has already produced a bionic ear with the capability of picking up radio waves. Kidneys and other useful body parts aren’t far behind.

4. Smart Pills and Pill Bottles

Most of us have, at one time or another, forgotten to take a pill we were supposed to take, or worried that our parents or children forgot to take their medication. That won’t be a worry in the future. How about a pill bottle that glows blue when it's time to take your pill and red when you forget to take it? AdhereTech has already invented the smart pill bottle. While it sounds creepy, a sensor in the pill that transmits information to your family member or doctor when you take the pill is also on the way.

5. Robot Caretakers

As our population grows older and the need for homecare multiplies, it may not be long before our caretakers are not human. Already, prototype robots have been created that can find a vein, take your blood sample, and analyze it for you. Japan, with its aging demographic, is leading the way in robot technology. As the technology develops, we may see robots that can take care of all your medical needs in the comfort of your home (which, of course, would put low-paid home healthcare aides out of work).

6. Wearable Health Sensors

Any day now, market watchers tell us, we will see the introduction of the iWatch, Apple’s wearable computer that will have a health monitoring component. We already have similar devices on the market. All manner of wearable sensors, which will keep track of your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, blood markers, and more, are now being developed. They will also monitor your neurological functions, and even call an ambulance if you are having a stroke or other medical emergency.

7. The “Tricorder”

On “Star Trek," Bones McCoy used a device called the Tricorder, which with a simple wave over the patient, diagnosed illness and suggested choices for treatment. We don’t have it yet, but like electronic sliding doors and talking computers, some “Star Trek” fantasies do become realities. A race to create the first workable Tricorder is underway, with $10 million as the prize.

8. Watson

Remember IBM’s Watson, the supercomputer that beat all comers on the game show “Jeopardy”? Well, Watson hasn’t gone away, and its potential in medicine is huge. Watson can read 200 million pages in three seconds. With the exponentially increasing amount of medical knowledge being published every year, it will be necessary to have Watson and its fellow supercomputers keep track of all that knowledge so your physicians can have the most up-to-date information necessary for your medical treatment.

9. Electric Underwear

Bedsores, which are caused by lack of blood circulation and compressed skin, are a serious problem in hospitals. Patients unable to get out of bed or move often develop these sores, which are painful and sometimes deadly (60,000 people a year die from bedsore infections). The solution? Electronic pants, or Smart-E-Pants. The electric undergarment sends a small electric charge to the wearer every 10 minutes, stimulating muscles and increasing blood flow, thus preventing bedsores and potentially saving tens of thousands of lives.

10. Tongue-Zapping Brain Restorers

Serious brain injuries are long-lasting and difficult to treat. Currently our best bet is long-term rehabilitation. But what if we could just zap the brain back into shape? Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in collaboration with the U.S. Army, are working on a device that delivers targeted stimulation to the brain through the tongue (which has thousands of nerve connections to the brain). The stimulation helps repair damaged brain cells, and has shown brain improvement in as short as a week. In addition to blunt force brain injuries, the device could possibly aid in treatment of brain damage from stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and even alcoholism.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.