This year, one of IBM’s closely-watched picks of the technologies most likely to have the greatest impact on society is the medical lab-on-a-chip
Clinical laboratory testing and diagnostics are one of the five technologies included in IBM’s 2017 list of the technologies it predicts will have the greatest impact on society during the next five years. Of equal interest to medical laboratory professionals is that several of the other technologies included in IBM’s list have the potential be used in medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups.
IBM Research, corporate research laboratory for parent company IBM (NYSE:IBM), has more than 3,000 researchers working in 12 labs on six continents. Each year the lab releases a list of five technologies it forecasts will have the greatest influence on how our bodies, minds, society, and the planet, develop over the next five years. The list is called “5-in-5” and has been released annually for the past 10 years by the tech giant.
These are the five influencers for 2016 listed on the IBM Research press release:
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI);
4. Lab-on-a-Chip; and
5. Smart sensors.
Lab-on-a-Chip Technology Expected to Play Greater Role in Medical Lab Testing
As regular readers of Dark Daily (ddaily.wpengine.com) know, an LOC is a device that consolidates one or more laboratory functions onto a single silicon chip to examine data that would typically be scrutinized using multiple tests run in a clinical laboratory. Developers of LOCs have been advancing the technology for years. IBM Research predicts the technology will increase in capability and sophistication exponentially and soon become a highly beneficial tool to enable pathology professionals and patients know in advance when treatment will be needed for many critical health issues.
IBM Research forecasts that LOCs will be able to ascertain immediately if an individual should seek medical attention by analyzing clues in bodily fluids. By examining miniscule bioparticles in fluids such as blood, saliva, sweat, tears, and urine, an LOC could detect diseases in early stages, enabling physicians to order medical laboratory tests earlier and more accurately, which should result in better outcomes for patients.
“The ability to sort and enrich biomarkers at the nanoscale in chip-based technologies opens the door to understanding diseases such as cancer, as well as viruses like the flu or Zika,” said Gustavo Stolovitzky, PhD, in an article published on Phys.org, a web-based science, research, and technology news service. Stolovitzky is Program Director of the Translational Systems Biology and Nanobiotechnology Group at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center.
In instances, where a person’s outside does not accurately reflect what is happening on the inside, IBM Research states that LOC nanotechnology could let people “know if [they] are unwell before [they] have any symptoms.” According to the 5-in-5 website, that’s because by using LOC nanotechnology, [pathologists and medical laboratory scientists] will have faster access to tiny bioparticles like exosomes, viruses, and DNA.
“Our lab-on-a-chip device could offer a simple, noninvasive and affordable option to potentially detect and monitor a disease even at its earliest stages, long before physical symptoms manifest,” added Stolovitzky. “This extra amount of time allows physicians to make more informed decisions, and when the prognosis for treatment options is most positive.”
Seeing Disease in New Ways
“5-in-5 began as a way to demonstrate the most exciting developments coming out of IBM Research, to generate collaborative conversations about the possibilities for innovation across various industries, and to promote excitement about how technology can be applied to solve certain societal problems and improve our daily lives,” said Dario Gil, Vice President, Science and Solutions, IBM Research, in a Yahoo! Tech article.
“The scientific community has a wonderful tradition of creating instruments to help us see the world in entirely new ways. For example, the microscope helped us see objects too small for the naked eye and the thermometer helped us understand temperature of the Earth and human body,” said Gil in the IBM press release. “With advances in artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, we aim to invent a new generation of scientific instruments that will make the complex invisible systems in our world today visible over the next five years,” he concluded.
It is good news for the clinical laboratory profession that IBM has such strong confidence that developing technologies are poised to make significant contributions to the science of medical laboratory testing. One impediment to adoption of these technologies for use in clinical diagnostics may turn out to be the fact that health insurers can’t move fast enough to develop coverage guidelines for such new diagnostic technologies.