The new frontier of healthcare technology

Augmented reality gives new meaning to the idea of doctors working without borders.

Dr. Nadine Hachach-Haram, a Lebanese surgeon based in the UK, co-founded the AR platform called Proximie, to virtually transport herself and other doctors into any operating room in the world, to train and support other medical experts.

“The platform allows remote ‘hands on’ virtual assistance and effectively enables a remote surgeon to virtually ‘scrub-in’,” says Hachach-Haram. “It uses any pair of computers, tablets or smartphones with cameras to connect surgeons worldwide in real-time.”

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Combining this technology with tablets, surgeons can guide local teams, while placing their hands in the surgical field and integrating the patients’ records. Through Proximie, surgeons in Gaza, Syria and Iraq have coordinated with colleagues in Beirut for nearly 10 trauma wound surgeries.

How else can AR work for surgeons and other medical professionals working in conflict regions?

“The platform has evolved as augmented reality has evolved,” says Haram. “Proximie also has advanced to integrate with medical technologies, and to meet the needs of the medical field. Along with AR and real time collaboration and training features, we have added a 3D interface for measurements, integrated training modules and features to integrate with EMR (Electronic Medical Records).”

The platform is able to help doctors saves lives in high-risk zones where acute injury is most common, and where no local direct expertise is available. That’s because the hardware works on virtually any device, allowing surgery to be instantly matched with a specialist surgeon in the field, in a medical evacuation vehicle, or a local hospital.

Tech Addressing Paralyses

While AR beams doctors to conflict zones, new technology could change the lives of paralyzed patients. A team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has developed a neuroprosthetic system called “brain-spine interface,” which decodes brain activity associated with walking movements, and communicates this information to the spinal cord.

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So far, the experiment has been tested on Rhesus monkeys that were paralysed in one leg due to a damaged spinal cord. Tomislav Milekovic, aPhD at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) says it may take several years before all the components of this brain-spine interface can be tested on people.

How does it work?

“Our technology only records neural signals from the brain – it does not stimulate it,” says Dr. Milekovic. “The stimulation is delivered over the spinal cord. Electrical stimulation of a few volts, delivered at precise locations in the spinal cord, modulates distinct networks of neurons that can activate specific muscles in the legs.”

What are other ways this kind of tech can be used to stimulate the brain and potentially correct ailments?

The field of neurotechnology is going under a rapid transformation. Clinical treatments using electrical stimulation of the brain to restore some lost body function are already available or are currently being developed.

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Milekovic cites cochlear implants as an example. These devices, which electrically stimulate the brain in order to restore the lost or failing sense of hearing, have helped people for more than 30 years.

“Perhaps the most exciting therapy devices coming to clinical use are systems to restore vision and reduce the incidence of epilepsy seizures,” says Milekovic.

He adds that a number of other approaches that use cortical stimulation to restore sense of touch and movement are currently being tested in people within small clinical trials.

It may take several years until such approaches reach clinical practice, but with the speed of exponential technologies quickening every day, we could also end up surprised.


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