We have created some of the Star Trek technology in the last twenty-five-years. In other places we still have to a ways to go. Now TNG showed us the dream. What has been done to make the vision real?
What’s happened with the hypospray? That was a medical device to inject liquids into the body. It used compressed air to deposit the injectant into the subdermal layer below the skin of the body, or artery, without the use of a needle. It turns out that this wasn’t 24th century technology, even when TNG was in production. High pressure air injectors have been used by the military as a common initial entry vaccination method since at least the mid 1980’s. There are several models on the market today, principally used by the U.S. military. These devices used compressed air or co2 gas.
The latest entrant into the field is a device from MIT. This device uses a Lorentz-force actuator – a small, powerful magnet surrounded by a coil of wire that’s attached to a piston inside the drug ampule. No compressed air required.
However these devices do not inject into an artery and are not as safe as first thought. The jet injector breaks the barrier of the skin, so potential biological material can be transferred from one user to the next. One study tested the fluid remaining in the injector for blood after an injection, and found enough to pass on a virus. Blowback from the injection is still a problem. The World Health Organization no longer recommends jet injectors for vaccination due to risks of disease transmission. That’s why you haven’t seen a hypospray in your doctor’s office.
What happened to the medical tricorder? There’s actually an X-prize for creating one. The ten finalists have been chosen, and they must demonstrate their devices on humans in 2015 with three winners to be announced in 2016. Top prize is seven million dollars (U.S.). Part of the problem is definition. The medical tricorder of TNG acted could X-ray bones, scan organs like an MRI, test blood and analyze pathogens. That’s a lot in a hand-held device.
Specialized devices such as blood sugar monitors have made great strides in the last twenty years. Ask any diabetic. Another specialized testing device uses an app, a smart phone and the smartphone’s camera to deliver screening without the need for laboratories and highly trained staff.
For much of the world even this technology is out of reach. Cost is a consideration. Recently, in an attempt to do a mass test for cervical cancer, India resorted to less expensive solution. The test involves swabbing the cervix with vinegar, which turns the precancerous tumors white. The results can be seen in minutes. Using this test and some liquid nitrogen reduced cancer deaths by 31 percent in the testing area. This could save over 72,000 lives if used worldwide. It’s not sexy technology but it gets the job done.
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