A look towards the future of medicine and health care

Medicine and health are part of of the new frontiers of micro-nano technology. Many scientists hope this century will be marked by improved and affordable global health care through innovations in bio-nanotechnology, even given the context of ever-increasing health cost and a growing population. "Universal health care for all" is a dream for our modern civilization. Significant technological advances in the last century, particularly in the micro-nano area, offer the potential realization of this dream.

A new term-nanomedicine-is in vogue. The vision of nanomedicine includes targeted drug delivery, implantable devices for health monitoring and maintenance, single-cell scale manipulation, and exploration of new biology using nanotechnology.

This century has inherited three powerful knowledge bases at a system level:

  • the concept of the gene and its code which gave rise to the human genome project;
  • advances in sensor nanotechnology; and
  • enormous computational (terascale to soon petascale for 1000 trillion floating point operations per second) and communication power.

The current global health care system is primarily "on-demand": a patient visits a doctor in response to a physical compliant, followed by diagnosis and intervention. Diagnosis and treatment are expensive (and often not successful when the disease is advanced). These high costs have made health care under this model available only to the privileged. Hence, there is a demand for a fundamental paradigm shift in the way health care is delivered that exploits technological and fundamental biological advances.

"Point of Care" health care is being considered in many advanced countries. The essential idea is to deliver care where needed. For example, a patient could be continually monitored by a device that measures relevant parameters, such as blood sugar and pressure and transmits the data to a health care provider. Depending on the patient's condition, a physician can choose to take an interventional measure. Also under consideration are advanced devices that also may offer diagnosis and remotely report to the physician. This system-level approach, although still interventional, is challenged by large volume data management and communication issues.