A few years ago Brad Paisley released “Welcome to the Future”, a song about all the changes he has seen in his lifetime and how some of the capabilities we have at our fingertips now, in terms of information technology, was merely a dream not that long ago.
Paisley’s song has always struck a chord with me, pardon the pun, because our world is so fast-paced we don’t often pause long enough to think about the progress we have made.
The same could be said for the medical device industry. A lot of devices that are in doctors’ hands today, or are coming down the pipeline, not long ago seemed like science fiction.
I almost dread to list examples, knowing that as soon as I do I’ll get a hundred emails from companies whose “sci-fi” like technology wasn’t mentioned. But I’m going to do it anyway. Just note that this is in no way a comprehensive list, but a few examples of how far this industry has come.
The first that comes to mind is robotic surgical equipment. We have robots capable of doing some of the necessary but tedious steps of a procedure, such as sutures, freeing up the surgeon to apply his or her expert skills on more complex tasks. The da Vinci system from Intuitive Surgical (Sunnyvale, California) is perhaps the best known of its kind, but the field of robot-assisted surgery is growing and Intuitive is certainly not alone in the space.
Last year I saw firsthand a robotic system in development at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in the heart of downtown Toronto. The KidsArm system is designed for pediatric surgery and is a joint development by SickKids and MDA Robotics (Brampton, Ontario), the company that built the Canadarm space arm for the Space Shuttle.
The KidsArm is being developed to stitch patients up at a much faster pace than a human could and is expected to weigh somewhere between two and 200 pounds, compared to the much larger da Vinci, which weighs about 1,200 pounds. But the KidsArm is more than just a scaled-down version of the da Vinci.
The KidsArm is being dubbed as a “smart” robot, because the control system is actually done electronically and the only information that the robot has is what’s coming from two pared video cameras that give it depth perception. So, if something moves, or changes, in mid-operation, the robot can adapt. The researchers have set a high goal for the system, wanting it to achieve ten stitches in ten seconds. The same job would take a surgeon about an hour to perform.
As Brad would say, welcome to the future.
Moving on to the ophthalmology space, a company called VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies (VOT; Saratoga, California) is implanting telescopes into patients’ eyes to improve visual acuity. The company launched the Implantable Miniature Telescope just this year, though it received premarket approval from the FDA in 2010. The telescope is indicated for patients 75 or older with stable, severe to profound vision impairment associated with end-stage age-related macular degeneration.
There are certainly more examples ranging from bionic eyes to artificial heart valves and other artificial body parts and organs. The point is, this industry has a lot to be proud of and having seen how far we’ve come in my thirty-some years, I am eager to see how far we advance in the next thirty years.
Welcome to the future!