Years ago when dance-actor Sudha Chandran talked of her ‘Jaipur foot', it was nothing short of a medical marvel to Indians. It raised hope for millions of people afflicted by polio or amputees, who could now aspire to lead a normal life. More than 30 years later, India has come a long way and scientists have continued to develop products and apps to facilitate the world of medicine.
In recent times, we have seen the government promoting biotechnology by supporting research, education and entrepreneurship programmes in this field. Through the support of the government’s Department of Biotechnology, a large number of medical technology innovations have resulted in affordable products which are of societal and public health relevance. It has also led to quite a few young start-ups building their enterprises. The department has also established Healthcare Technology Innovation Centre at IIT-Madras.
Some of the technologies developed and shared by the department are: Eye-PAC, the comprehensive ophthalmic image computing platform; ARTSENS, the vascular screening technology; an improved design for a Neonatal Transport Unit; a highly efficient, practical and useful technique for performing accurate contouring of surgical plates used in reconstruction surgery; to evaluate feasibility and appropriateness of liquid-based cytology (LBC) in cervical cancer screening in thr resource-constrained settings of India; and wearable health status monitor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.
In a developing country like India, where millions live in rural areas, and a large number of people do not have access to healthcare, mere medical innovation is not enough. The innovations need to address the issues such as affordability, transportation, and outreach among others.
Taking these parameters into consideration, some of the medical innovations that could be useful to us are mentioned below:
O2Matic, that makes instant oxygen through a portable kit is cost-effective, easily transported, not electricity-dependent and can be used in emergency situations like calamities, ambulances and at patient's homes.
To make anesthetics available for surgeries in rural India, a team came up with a cost-effective plan to use surplus raw materials of fertilizer industries situated in particular areas. They found that one-third of rural women died because of lack of nitrous oxide supply that acts as an anesthetic.
Microbutor or micro-incubator, an innovative water-testing equipment that nurtures bacteria culture by using a thermal battery. It is a low-cost water contamination tester.
Artificial liver tissues are artificially grown liver cells that can help in transplant without waiting for live donors.
Every year 15,000 children are born with hearing impairments in India. Due to unreliable screening methods used in rural India, a majority of these children are rehabilitated as late as the age of five. This delay in screening leads to permanent disabilities, which could have been prevented if brought to notice early. Project Awaaz has come up with a simple, reliable and easy to use technology, which can enable professionals in conducting these screenings in the most remote corners of the country without any difficulty.
Niramai is using Artificial Intelligence to fight breast cancer, where the screening device can detect tumours much smaller than what is clinically detectable. Founded in 2016, Niramai is among the leading startups using tech to fight cancer.
Forus Health is fighting blindness with technology. With its portable innovative product 3nethra, screening of common eye problems which can lead to blindness can be diagnosed fast. They have been reported to have over a thousand installations across 26 countries; the Bengaluru-based startup has positively impacted over two million lives.
Some of the medical innovations outside the country would illustrate how technology has evolved over the years.
Remote Monitoring- Eko has come up with a device attached to stethoscope that creates digital displays and recordings. It has also developed a small monitor that can go home with the patient for remote monitoring.
Scientists have developed a patch to detect glucose levels. This information can be wirelessly sent to the remote unit.
A California company is waiting for approval of e-aspirin. A nerve stimulator is inserted into the mouth and when the patient gets a headache, with the help of a remote control he can get the stimulator to release electrical impulses to a set of nerves causing headaches. This has got good results.
CheckMe is a device that will monitor blood pressure, blood oxygenation, body temperature, pulse and act as a pedometer and serve as a sleep monitor.
Television has long been used for educational purposes. Through TeleHealth, Dr Tom Magnuson uses it to connect patients in far-off places with Omaha specialists. It allows patients to communicate with endocrinologists. Doctors run this telehealth programme where endocrinologists are in short supply and connect with rural Nebraska.
A prosthetic counterpart to our very own Jaipur Foot is 3D Prosthetics. Only, in this case, it is a 3D prosthetic hand that will be more expensive than a mechanical hand, but more effective. The founder, Jorge Zuniga calls it the Cyborg Beast, and he says that about 3,000 children used Cyborg Beast last year.
There is a need to mention a couple of other innovations that can impact many lives. Bio-degradable stents could bring a qualitative change in the treatment of cardiac patients worldwide. A skin implant developed by researchers at Zurich recognises four common types of cancer at a very early stage. The technology causes a mole to form in cases of cancer.
Finally, this write-up would be incomplete without mentioning the research at our own AIIMS on tissue engineering and use of stem cells, even developing tissues and organs using 3D bio-printing for treatment or replacement of damaged ones.
Technology will be meaningless if it is accessible to a select few. Healthcare of a nation depends to a large extent on its government. The allocation of funds, schemes and the medical facilities are integral components of the healthcare issue. In India, people often do not know where to go in times of crisis and quite often buy medicines over the counter.
A Delhi-based startup helps patients find doctors near their location, and connect with them instantly. Founded by Saurabh Arora and Rahul Narang in 2013, Lybrate helps patients communicate with doctors. Formed out of the need to eliminate the practice of chemists and pharmacists prescribing wrong medicines to patients, Lybrate has more than 100,000 doctors across different specialisations providing support to the needy.
The author is a practising cardiologist, interventional electrophysiologist and a Vedic scholar with research interests in mind-body medicine.
Indranill Basu Ray is an author, practicing cardiologist & interventional electrophysiologist, and a Vedic scholar with research in mind-body medicine.
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