10 remarkable breakthroughs that will change neurology

This is the age of rapidly advancing technology. Blink, and the scene changes unrecognisably. It would be unbelievable if we weren’t actually living it. What technological advances will impact Neurology in the near future? Here are my top 10 neurology-impacting technologies.

1. Nanotechnology to deliver clot-busting drugs

CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Clot-busting or thrombolysis is life saving treatment following stroke. This however requires getting to hospital within 4.5 hours of the event, and is given by intravenous injections. How much better if it would be if thrombolysis could be delivered by mouth, and at the point of contact with paramedics. Indeed this is the idea behind clot-busting nanocapsules. Nanoparticles may also have future applications in prevention of MS relapses.

2. Disease-monitoring wearables

What if people with epilepsy could predict their next seizure? Or if someone with multiple sclerosis (MS) could predict an impending relapse? Well,  wearable technology promises to do just that. This goes beyond the fitbit which measures basic biological processes; these technologies will monitor realtime data such as a watch that measures skin moisture for seizure-prediction, or an iPad strapped to the back to monitor walking speed of patients with MS. I predict this technology will rapidly spread to many other chronic neurological diseases.

3. Nanoscale-resolution brain imaging

From the humble X-ray to the CT scan, brain imaging has progressed in leaps and bounds to a proliferation of MRI modalities with ever-increasing resolution or power. But nanoscale resolution imaging promises to make things more SciFi than healthcare. With the ability to look at ‘every nook and cranny‘ of the brain, this technology will visualise brain connections with incredible detail. Imagine how this will enhance diagnostic accuracy (and diagnostic conundrums in equal measure). This work is still in mice butI’m sure human application will follow shortly.

4. High-resolution eye selfies

Mobile phones are ubiquitous and the camera function seems to be more valuable than the talk mode. What with the number of selfies proliferating like a rah over social media. This may however be of advantage to healthcare. As the camera resolution increases exponentially, eye-selfies may come to the aid of neurologists and  ophthalmologists who treat patients with a condition called idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH). In this condition the pressure of the fluid around the brain is elevated. This shows as a blurring of the margins of an area called the disc and this is seen in the back of the eye using an ophthalmoscope. With advanced mobile phone cameras patients with IIH could make an eye-selfie diagnosis or assist in monitoring their eyes themselves.

5. Wireless brain EEG monitoring

Thinker Thing. https://www.flickr.com/photos/thinkerthing/8075309856
Attribution: Thinker Thing. https://www.flickr.com/photos/thinkerthing/8075309856

 

The electroencephalogram (EEG) is an invaluable tool for making the diagnosis of epilepsy. The process requires a time-consuming application of several electrodes to specific points on the scalp. The electrodes are then connected by wires or leads to a machine which records the brains electrical activity. This cumbersome process is time consuming especially for patients that need to keep the wires on for days. To the rescue is the wireless brain helmetThis will not only make the recording easier, it will send the recording wirelessly to the physiologist who will interpret the test. More interestingly, it will allow receive signals sent by the physiologist which will be targeted to treat epilepsy or other conditions like depression. The NeuroPace’s RNS system is one such device leading the way.

6.Wireless drug delivery

This is another wireless technology which facilitates the direct delivery of drugs into the brainThe device, not thicker than a human hair, is implanted into the brain and wirelessly controlled to deliver the required dose of drug, at specified times. The likely beneficiary diseases are epilepsy and depression (again). It is still in the stage of trials in mice but coming to your neighbourhood hospital very soon. If you want the complicated details then see the journal Cell for the research paper titled Wireless Optofluidic Systems for Programmable In-vivo Pharmacology and Optogenetics. What a mouthful!

7. Suicide-prediction technology

By RyanJWilmot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By RyanJWilmot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A blood test to warn of the risk of impending suicide? Wouldn’t that be great? It is not a far-fetched dream if reports that a blood test for RNA biomarkers of suicidal thoughts fulfils its potential. This will have psychiatrists whooping for joy-or out of a job!

 8. Optogenetics

Optogenetics is the use of light to control cells. This has the potential to alter nervous system function with exciting prospects for disease treatment. Again epilepsy appears to be a prime beneficiary if this takes off. Imagine programming a brain cell or neurone to glow red when calcium flows into it. This glow then dampens the activity of neighbouring cells thereby inhibiting any rouge electrical impulse that may result in an epileptic seizure. The process requires the injection of a genetically engineered virus which infects the brain cells. This ability to modify brain cell behaviour also has implications for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and depression among other things. More SciFi you say.

9. Gene therapy for muscular dystrophy

Genetic therapy is an old dog that is still barking. This is just as well because it remains the only hope for many genetic conditions.  Genetic therapy has had its ups and downs and a very recent high is the positive outcome in leukaemia. Neurology is however not too far behind if this report that muscular dystrophy gene therapy has been successful in dogs is translated to humans. The research is rather complex but the academically minded may be interested in details of the trial.

10. Molecular spies for early cancer detection

A molecular spy is an antibody probe that is directed at the brain to detect and destroy ‘rogue’ cells. The leading researcher for this is Sam Gembhir who is based at the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection. Best to hear it from the horse’s mouth- speaking here at a TED talk.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/yG1J5e6-uT4” target=”_blank”>

Follow the links below for more on this topic:

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