How can Technology set a different course for Cancer and Diabetes?

We humans call ourselves the most intelligent beings of the universe. And why not? We have more than radically transformed since our existence on the planet. Today, we have well-defined economies, world-class technology, cutting edge research at top organizations along with intelligent systems that are close to replicating our thought process and mimicking us. However, in spite of our advancements and proactive measure of innovation, we are still fighting a fierce battle at the healthcare front.

A large number of genetic and environmental factors today cause diseases that lead to widespread deaths. The worst part is that we don’t have a solution to date to eliminate them from our lives. Two of such lethal diseases are diabetes and cancer.

Statistics from the World Health Organization suggest that as many as 1.6 million people die every year due to diabetes. A similar but more regressive trend can be observed for cancer. It is one of the leading causes of death in the world, accounting for more than 9.6 million deaths in the year 2018 alone.

Even though we’ve come up with drugs for cancer and non-invasive techniques of medication for diabetes, they don’t seem to vanish completely. Put differently, the cure for these diseases have remained elusive, in spite of the advancements in technology. The questions are when utilized to its full potential, can the existing technology help save few more lives.

Let’s take a look at our current scenario of diabetes and cancer and how technology might help set a different course for them-

Diabetes

Where are we now?

Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing epidemics in the world today. The worst part is that it is affecting more and more young people in the world today and the number is four times higher than it was 40 years ago. Diabetes is also the primary cause of kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and blindness. But, this doesn’t mean we are sitting with our hands back.

Even though we don’t have a definite cure or preventive medication for type 1 diabetes, virtually all type 2 cases can be prevented. Researchers at the Department of Nutrition, Diabetes and Food Science at Brigham Young University are studying natural food compounds present in cocoa, grapes and oats that demonstrate anti-diabetic and even anti-cancer properties.

Although invasive techniques are still popular to diagnose and keep diabetes under control, non-invasive techniques have been developed in the world. But, due to the lack of collaboration and higher costs, these methods are limited to only a handful few.

What changes are coming?

With the current pace of research happening around the world, we are incredibly close to treating both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 affects 10 percent of those with diabetes and is a condition where a person’s immune system attacks the pancreases. Therefore, to battle it, an artificial pancreas is now being developed. It will be worn outside the body and perform proper calculations, just a patient, only to automatically deliver insulin in the body when required. As per the current pace, this technology may be available to the masses in 10 years.

On the other hand, in Type 2 diabetes, the body stops responding to insulin and can no longer control sugar levels in the blood. Since it is somewhat caused by lifestyle choices such as diet, researchers are developing low-calorie weight management diet plans. However, experts are also looking at gene therapy to fight diabetes due to gut hormonal changes.

What does the future hold?

While it may seem impossible, medical experts are finding the cure for diabetes. They are looking to replicate the beta cells present in the pancreas using an islet transplant. The immune system attacks these cells and leads to diabetes. So, if they can be replaced with healthy ones, we might not have a future with diabetes. Some experts are also finding ways to coat these beta cells so that when the new ones are transplanted, they remain unaffected by the immune system. Overall, research is progressing at high speed in finding the cure for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which might not reflect immediately in the next ten years, but opens the door for the future.

Cancer

Where are we now?

In the last couple of years, research has been progressing in the direction of immunotherapy for cancer. This means employing our immune systems to fight the cancerous cells. Immunotherapy drugs alert the body’s immune system to identify hidden tumours in the body. Once the body can recognize it, a defensive attack is launched on the cancer cells.

Even though cancer has remained invisible to the immune system, immunotherapy is a step to increase its identification.

What changes are coming?

The domain of cancer is very vast, which is why there is a lot of scopes for researchers to intervene and use technology to find a cure. Experts are now actively looking for signals in the blood so that they can pick even little signs of cancer for a patient. While achieving this task at a human level may take decades, we now have machine learning for the job. With models specializing in predictions, it is becoming easier to identify traces of cancer at a much earlier stage.

What does the future hold?

Even though we’ve made significant progress in finding a cure for cancer, identifying it remains a big challenge. But once researchers can build predictive models based on samples of blood or any tissue of the body, it can be utilized for developing personalized vaccines. Furthermore, the surge of new technologies can also turn concepts like cell therapies, gene editing and microbiome treatment into reality.

Conclusion

The healthcare industry shows significant progress in the treatment of diseases like diabetes and cancer, especially in the past 40 years. Today, the likelihood of surviving cancer has improved from one in four to one in two. Similarly, for diabetes, we are on the verge of coating beta cells and transplanting them. In spite of this, we are still far away from a radical transformation because these changes will take a considerable amount of time to reach out to the masses. Unless we harness the best of technology and let it assist experts in speeding up the search for a cure.

Matt Wilson – A Healthcare Expert, working with Aegis HealthTech as senior developer from last 5 years. He has extensive experience in Patient portal software, EMR & EHR Development and healthcare app development.

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