The hybridization of knowledge, the contamination between medicine and biomedical engineering for years they have been at the center of the interest of companies in the biomedical and pharmaceutical sectors.
It is a cultural revolution, made up of innovations destined to transform the figure of the doctor, to make medicine more and more advanced and personalized and, ultimately, to change the face and organization of the National Health System. The University is naturally at the center of this process of change: called to interpret the signs of the times, it is the place where experience must meet experimentation and favor the encounter between new hyperspecialized languages, which no longer progress in an isolated way, but integrate synergistically, developing still unexpressed potential and generating results unthinkable until just a few years ago.
A great opportunity at the center of the radical change we are witnessing is given by the possibility, which is increasingly widespread today, of record and analyze huge amounts of data, thanks both to commonly used objects such as smartphones and smartwatches, and to advanced medical electrodes and sensors. These data represent key information, which can be applied for the prevention of diseases, early diagnosis, remote monitoring, the setting of acute phase therapies, the modulation of chronic therapies, rehabilitation, personalization of treatments. But also a tool through which it is possible, more generally, to optimize processes, reduce errors, adverse effects and complications, create new and more effective medical and surgical therapeutic opportunities, contributing to the development of innovative devices.
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Examples of application of advanced biomedical technologies and tools
The examples of application of advanced biomedical technologies and tools are numerous, and constantly increasing.
Robotic surgery it is probably having the greatest media coverage. It is a sector in enormous expansion, which has concretized scenarios that were previously only imaginable, such as the remote participation of specialists in complex surgical interventions, and which, in general, has contributed to making surgery less invasive than the traditional approach, allowing a more rapid recovery to the patient.
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Very recent is the news of the patent of a 3D printer capable of recreating living tissues, whose developments we will see in the coming months. But for some years now, 3D printing has made it possible to print models of human organs starting from radiological images, used for surgical simulations and preoperative planning of complex interventions.
Still in the surgical field, they are being perfected augmented reality systems that project the shape and position of the patient’s organs in real time directly into the surgical field, allowing you to perform some procedures without looking away from the monitor.
Another example of technological innovation in surgery is the use of focused ultrasound guided by magnetic resonance: by exploiting the energy of ultrasound, it is possible to intervene in a non-invasive way on a series of pathologies, including bone and prostate tumors, and also to injure specific brain regions for therapeutic purposes involved in the genesis of movement disorders.
Artificial intelligence and epilepsy
Con i movement disorders we enter the neurological field, which is one of the sectors in which we are witnessing extraordinary innovations, both as regards acute and chronic pathologies. For example, artificial intelligence has shown that it can automatically recognize Seizures generalized nocturnal motor skills through the real-time analysis of video recordings. This is an important result, which can allow rapid action to be taken to reduce the risks associated with these critical events and at the same time optimize treatment. Still in the epileptic field, in the next few years we will probably see the transition from a qualitative analysis, operator dependent, to a quantitative and semi-automatic analysis of brain electrical signals thanks to deep learning, a type of machine learning that uses neural networks to simulate human decision-making and identifying the presence of anomalies.
This approach is already giving very surprising results also in other sectors, such as radiological diagnosis, oncology and pathological anatomy. Epileptic seizures could be identified – and therefore potentially interrupted in the bud – also through sensors, with which the patient can be monitored outside the clinical environment, connected to neurostimulators. Similar sensors have already amply demonstrated their usefulness in identifying cardiac arrhythmias, which may increase the risk of cerebral ischaemia and cardiac arrest, and changes in blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. Sensors that are both invasive, but also and above all non-invasive, today increasingly sensitive and reliable thanks to technological advances and machine learning, capable of supporting the analysis of massive amounts of data.
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Sensors in the treatment of chronic diseases
Through sensors we are trying to improve the therapeutic response, and therefore the quality of life, of patients suffering from chronic diseases such as, for example, Parkinson’s disease, typically characterized by a fluctuation of symptoms which makes it necessary to optimize and individualize treatments. The sensor data can be integrated with clinical data collected through applications installed on smartphones or other devices for home monitoring, an approach that can improve the lifestyle of subjects at risk and to follow subjects with chronic diseases. The acquired information can be sent to the specialist by performing a reassessment in telemedicine, which far from making the relationship between doctors and patients impersonal and mediated, can instead improve the management of patients suffering from chronic diseases, often in multimorbidity, and disabilities, as well as streamlining the flows of the national health system, when applicable. We have all understood even better the potential of telemedicine during the pandemic and in the future, it could be an opportunity for close international health collaboration.
Robots and rehabilitation
Further examples that I would like to cite of innovation based on the integration between medicine and engineering are the development of innovative upper limb prostheses that allow not only better motor control but also sensory perception, robot-assisted rehabilitation and through exoskeletons of patients suffering from outcomes of stroke, the implantation of spinal electrodes in patients with spinal cord injuries, which is opening up the possibility of promoting recovery of walking in some paraplegic patients, as well as the artificial retina and cochlear implants, which allow to recover at least part of the perception of sensory stimuli fundamental for our interaction with the world and other people.
The need for transversal skills to manage innovation
However, integrating the benefits deriving from technological development into clinical practice is necessarily conditioned by the ability of professionals and doctors to be able to manage the challenges that accompany these opportunities.
The complexity of medical devices, the enormous amount of data available and the implementation of numerous algorithms will be just some of the realities that doctors will have to be able to face in the future. A scenario that requires the acquisition of increasingly transversal skills, in which notions of medicine are combined with notions of biomedical engineering and computer science.
An objective that at the Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome in particular has been pursued since its origins and more recently has been strengthened thanks to the enrichment of the educational offer with the establishment of two new degree courses in English called Medicine and Surgery “Medtech” and “Biomedical Engineering”. Medicine and Surgery “Medtech” is a 6-year course aimed at training a doctor who possesses extensive technological knowledge and which also allows for the achievement of a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering with 30 additional credits.
The second constitutes a three-year degree which aims to complement the foundations of engineering with basic medical knowledge.
Paths that will lead to the creation of highly innovative figures in the healthcare landscape, destined to assume a key role within public and private structures, as well as in the field of research and development, where they will be able to direct – and speed up – the creation of technologies that meet the actual needs of patients. As far as doctors are concerned, it is important to know that they will be able to access all Postgraduate Schools just like doctors from traditional degree courses.
Professionals trained with this multidisciplinary approach will not limit themselves to using the most advanced technologies but will contribute to developing innovative technologies, thus assuming a key role in the advancement of the entire care system.
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