by Cheryl Tan Kay Yin
Since 2020, the world has seen a wealth of innovation in terms of healthcare, particularly in response to COVID-19, from telehealth to MRNA, and even air injections.
This has given rise to an acceleration of innovation, collaboration, and discovery, catalysing a future of health and medicine that can help us reimagine and bring us a healthier, smarter, and more equitable post-COVID world.
a. Genetic Vaccines
Although gene-based vaccines were discovered 30 years ago, early mRNA vaccines were hard to store and didn’t produce the right type of immunity. DNA vaccines were more stable but weren’t efficient at getting into the cell’s nucleus, so they failed to produce sufficient immunity.
However, in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, collaborative research and pooled international funding enabled the production of mRNA vaccines with an overall 94% efficacy to be put to a real-world test.
DNA and mRNA vaccines offer huge advantages over traditional types of vaccines, since they use only genetic code from a pathogen rather than the entire virus or bacteria. Traditional vaccines take months, if not years, to develop. In contrast, once scientists get the genetic sequence of a new pathogen, they can design a DNA or mRNA vaccine in days, identify a lead candidate for clinical trials within weeks, and have millions of doses manufactured within months.
b. ‘Needle-free’ COVID-19 Vaccine Skin Patches
A skin patch for administering COVID-19 vaccines have recently been produced and manufactured by Vaxxas. These skin patches can be stored at room temperature and be self-administered, making it suitable for use in places that lack cold storage facilities and medical staff. This would radically transform the current supply chain for vaccines and improve accessibility to the vaccine particularly in remote areas of the world where delivery networks are lacking.
Internet of medical things (IoMT)
The convergence of healthcare and technology enabled cross-fertilisation of ideas and techniques, giving rise to fields in computational biology, digiceuticals, telemedicine, and AI-enabled radiolog.
Coughalytics, for instance, is the AI detection of a corona-cough. The use of a smartphone as a measurement and computer device to mathematically analyse coughs and respiratory sounds has now become a novel diagnostic tool that processes the sound of a person’s cough to instantly identify respiratory diseases such as asthma, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The medicalised smartphone and wearable tech
There’s a proliferation of smartwatches, smart rings, and other wearable health and wellness technology. These devices can measure a person’s temperature, heart rate, level of activity, and other biometrics. With this information, researchers have been able to track and detect COVID-19 infections even before people notice they have any symptoms.
One such group, DETECT Australia study, will determine if changes to an individual’s heart rate, physical activity or sleep tracked through wearable devices could provide an early indication of influenza-like illness, including COVID-19.
Diagnostic ART (Antigen Rapid Test) kits
The age of self-testing and home use tests have now become widespread. These tests look in our blood to see if our body has started fighting a SARS-CoV-2 infection, rather than detecting the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus. They do this by seeing if our blood contains specific antibodies that attach to parts of the virus. It takes time for our bodies to make antibodies, so people can already have the SARS-CoV-2 virus and be spreading the infection to other people before we can detect their antibodies.
The adoption of telehealth through video conferencing to provide health care programmes for people who are hospitalised or in quarantine has largely reduced the risk of exposure to others and employees, completely transforming the role of bedside healthcare in preventing, diagnosing, treating, and controlling diseases during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Although this pandemic has brought about much uncertainty and fear among us at the start of 2020, it has also made industries and countries work together for a common good. Here’s to 2022 and the many more medical tech innovations that will continue to transform the way we tackle future healthcare and medical research work.