3 Main Medical Technology Breakthroughs of 2020
MIT Technology Review forecasts breakthroughs of the coming year every February. The selection always includes technology that changes how we live our lives. This year they listed unhackable internet, hyper-personalized medicine, digital money, anti-aging drugs, AI-discovered molecules, satellite mega-constellations, quantum supremacy, tiny AI, differential privacy, and climate change attribution.
This piece will look at the three in the realm of medical technologies: hyper-personalized medicine, anti-aging drugs, and AI discovered molecules.
Let’s start with AI discovered molecules. Researchers estimate that there are approximately 1600 molecules that can potentially be turned into life-saving drugs. The machine learning tools can try out chemical possibilities and synthesize several drug candidate molecules. AI makes it cheaper and faster for chemists to try out new drug synthesis. By instrumenting AI techniques such as deep learning and generating models, a team of researchers at Hong Kong-based Insilico Medicine and the University of Toronto identified some 30,000 novel molecules with desirable properties.
Second, as we all became familiar with, anti-aging drugs became subject to human testing as of 2020. Even though anti-aging medications, which are called senolytics, can not make you live longer, they can treat specific problems in your body and slow down the process of aging. The primary technique for anti-aging drugs is to fasten the process of cellular repair. For instance, California based company Alkahest found that injecting young people’s blood into Alzheimer patients slows down the functional decline and halts cognitive activities. The company also has drugs for Parkinson’s and dementia in human testing.
On the other hand, San Francisco based Unity Biotechnology started the clinical trial for patients with mild to severe osteoarthritis of the knee. The company is getting ready to develop similar anti-aging drugs for age-related diseases of the eyes and lungs.
And last February, European Pharmaceutical Review announced that the first AI-made medicine called “DSP-1181” to cure obsessive-compulsive disorder would begin human testing.
These private efforts reflect researchers’ and consumers’ interest in gaining more in-depth knowledge of illnesses associated with getting older and how to delay their onset. The most common anti-aging diseases include heart diseases, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, and dementia.
Last, hyper-personalized medicine serves a potential to cure one-off diseases that escape researchers’ attention by remaining a solitary exception. These “too rare to care” diseases are usually caused by DNA mistakes and become a hopeless case. However, recent studies show that healthcare can be tailored to fit each person’s unique genetic makeup with more accurate diagnoses. The possibilities and business models that hyper-personalized medicine is countless, and the developments will probably go hand-in-hand with wearables. The leading examples are in the area of diabetes control, such as Control IQ and Quin.
Besides all the attention from research institutions, the main barrier to hyper-personalized medicine is funding. Therefore, as wearable technologies gather more data of patient experience fractions, the budget and scientific interest in hyper-personalized medicine, “n-of-1” treatments, will drastically increase.
Every year’s technology scene is characterized by the breakthroughs that change how we understand life and risks. 2020 will be remembered as the year that AI discovered molecules, anti-aging drugs, and hyper-personalized medicine offered new possibilities for healthcare professionals – and the human race.