• Question: Where do you imagine medical engineering will be in 10 years? and where do you see yourself?

    Asked by ilittle to Alex, Claire, Kate, Marcus, Neil on 17 Jun 2014.
    • Photo: Marcus Johns

      Marcus Johns answered on 17 Jun 2014:

      If I was being really optimistic I would say that in 10 years time we’ll be able to heal or regrow any part of a person either in their body or in a lab, thus negating the requirement for machines that help organs damaged organs, such as an iron lung or dialysis machine, and for inorganic implants. However, I think this will take a little longer to achieve – perhaps 40-50 years to perfect in a lab and 70+ years to bring to a commercial scale.

      In reality, I think we’ll be able to repair basic tissue types – bone and skin – this way in the lab in 10 years but more work will be required for more complicated tissue types and whole organs, and to bring the technology to a point where it will become routine in hospitals.

      I also think that synthetic implants, such as hip or knee replacements, will be significantly better than they are now. Researchers now know that bone needs an evenly distributed constant load across it in order to regenerate correctly. Current joint replacements don’t distribute the load well, leading to areas where the bone weakens and effectively disappears, meaning that the replacement has to be replaced. Future replacements shouldn’t have this problem.

      I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be in 10 years time. I finish my PhD in 2 years and currently think that I’ll go into academia, i.e. become a lecturer, rather than going into industry but I tend to make impulsive decisions so can’t guarantee this.

      I also don’t know whether I’ll be working in the same field of research as I do now. At heart I’m a material scientist that enjoys working with chemicals that originate from plants. The work that I’m currently doing is just one aspect of this; whether I continue with it after my PhD remains to be seen.

    • Photo: Claire Brockett

      Claire Brockett answered on 17 Jun 2014:

      I hope medical engineering will be a more popular career choice than it is now, and hopefully more people will know about it.
      In terms of what we’re doing, I agree with Marcus – the medical engineering field is certainly moving a long way, and being able to repair tissue, rather than replace it would be a great achievement. Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine are both areas associated with medical engineering that would help achieve this.
      If I think about my specialist area – joint replacement – then eliminating the need for these would be ideal. But, as well as improving the treatment technology, we also need to work with doctors and other health care providers to improve diagnosis. Lots of these diseases and damage occur over a long period of time, so if we could see it sooner, then we might treat it sooner.
      As for me… I love working in academia, so I will hopefully still be at a university somewhere, running my own research group. It will still be based around joints, but I might be looking much more at repairing the body rather than replacing bits!

    • Photo: Alex Lyness

      Alex Lyness answered on 17 Jun 2014:

      Hey ilitte,

      What a question that is… who truly knows?!

      If you can even image what has happened over the last 10 years with things like wifi, touch screens and electric vehicles it’s really difficult to predict what will happen in the future. One thing is for sure, there will be a lot of people on the planet (8 billion+) and there will still be diseases and injuries that need treating.

      I think in 2024 regenerative medicine and cell therapies (using patients own cells to repair or restore function to parts of the body) will, hopefully, be used to treat all different kinds of problems. Also there will be cleverer ways or targeting drugs and dose sizes to treat people (this is called ‘personalised medicine’). We might also be able to do even cleverer things such as gene therapies. All of these treatments will be possible eventually given enough resource, funding and computer power. Some will take 10 years and others may take longer.

      In 10 years time I would like to be in charge of my own (or someone else’s) company in the healthcare field that creates innovative devices that make people better. I want to do this as I think it’ll make me very happy… my Mum and Dad want me to do this as they think it’ll make me very rich!

    • Photo: Kate Niehaus

      Kate Niehaus answered on 21 Jun 2014:

      A current challenge with the type of work I do (using data and analysis to predict human disease) is that doctors often feel threatened by these “predictive” technologies because they think they will take their jobs. What I hope is that over the next ten years they come to better appreciate how these technologies can help them – computers are good at some tasks, and humans are good at others. It would be much better to let the humans focus on the tasks in which they excel!

      I’d hope to see myself at an exciting medical technology company that is making cost-effective (meaning, basically, good value for money) diagnosis or treatment or monitoring tools for health. Most likely in California 🙂