Now just as a starting point, I love all things sci-fi, from the classics of Blade Runner and Back to the Future to more recent stories like Westworld. Basically, I am wanting to live 100 years in the future.
And it’s not just the love of these alternative worlds or dystopian realities that excites me, it’s the incredible technological advancements they usually portray. Science fiction has always explored the possibilities of technology and often its consequences if exploited. Many cult classics delved into what the future of medicine would be like, including extraordinary medical technology that today is coming into fruition.
I am going to explore which blockbusters have shown true foresight.
Minority Report – Retinal Scanning
In Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, retina scanners are used throughout the film as a way for formal identification but also as a form of advertisement. For example, Tom Cruises’ character Captain John Anderton walks into a GAP store and is immediately welcomed by a pop-up hologram greeting banner displaying his name and beginning to ask about his previous purchase.
Now we might not be at the point of using biometric data from retinal scanning to develop personalised ads just yet (that’s if anyone wants that), but retina scanners are becoming more common practice in the medical field to detect eye diseases.
For example, the National Eye Institute has funded a project with Duke University to broaden access to retinal scanning. This project has yielded a fully automated optical coherence tomography (OCT) device. It includes a robotic arm with an active-tracking scan head that automatically aligns itself with the patient’s pupil to begin scanning. Due to the automation aspect of the technology, primary care physicians can conduct structural eye exams without passing patients onto a specialist setting, helping to detect abnormalities earlier and make tests quicker and more accessible.
Darkman – 3D Printed Skin & Organs
Sam Raimi’s sci-fi crime melodrama Darkman is a superhero movie ahead of its time in more ways than one; with the use of medical technology being centric to the film’s plot. The main character, Dr. Peyton Westlake, discovers a way to produce synthetic skin, allowing him to reconstruct his face after suffering severe facial burns. Just 30 years after the film’s release, 3D printing of organs is a real possibility in modern medicine.
3D printing has been a major goal in the healthcare industry to help mitigate the shortage of organ donors. At the moment, 3D printing is used in dental implants, prosthetics, and models for surgeons to practice on as part of their training, but the goal in which researchers are working towards is printing with cells that can form living human tissue.
There are already multiple trials and research projects running around the world to make organ printing a reality to become readily accessible to the thousands on donor waiting lists. For example, Dr Christophe Marquette, Director of Research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), is working on bioprinting to develop skin for burn victims. In this method, they place a few cells from the patient in a bioink to grow the cells into the desired format. Then, a robotic arm moves across the patient’s body, administering the gel directly onto the skin and essentially making the patient act as an incubator.
Gattaca – Genome Editing
Gattaca depicts a future society that is purely driven by genetics; the production of genetically enhanced human beings and the class or opportunity available to characters is predestined by their genetics. It represents the dark future of genomics.
Gattaca delivers a true extreme of this revolutionary technology, where various aspects of the embryo’s genome is edited to specific requirements to create ‘enhanced’ individuals designed to have a higher level of intelligence or superior athletic capability. Whereas in reality today, genetic editing first became more common in practices outside of the healthcare industry, with the likes of crop editing to deliver the highest possible yield.
Scientists that are pioneering genetic editing in healthcare applications are in the early stages of trials but could deliver incredible advancements for the future of healthcare. CRISPR-Cas9 is a genome editing tool that is propelling gene editing into a more widespread possibility, due to its speed and accuracy. In a US study, this tool has successfully fixed mutations within the genome to help eradicate genetic diseases, but the method still remains at an experimental stage.
Prometheus – Autonomous Surgical Robot
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus follows a group of explorers to the darkest parts of the universe. In the plot, one of the central characters, Dr. Shaw, is injured and enters a MED-POD for emergency surgery, where a procedure is selected on the outside and conducted by an autonomous robot on the inside.
Robots are always a regular fixture in any sci-fi film, but they will probably be one of the most disruptive technologies to hit the healthcare industry. Surgical robots have the ability to deliver unparalleled accuracy but also, they are faceless assets that can be quite daunting in a care setting.
The MedTech industry has yet to commercialise the autonomous aspect, but surgical robots are very much prevalent in the industry. Laparoscopic advancements and robot-assisted surgeries deliver less invasive surgeries, with greater visibility. The da Vinci robotic surgery system, developed by Intuitive Surgical Inc., has already been involved in over 10 million surgeries in its 20 years of development. Their patent is soon coming to an end which could lead to an exponential increase in robotic technology entering the market.
The MedTech industry is fast-paced, innovative and will soon be reaching limits we could only have dreamed of. Our latest paper speaks to experts working within MedTech and the healthcare sector to discuss the current state of the market and their predictions for what is to come. Sign up for early access here.