Medical Innovations Boosted by the COVID-19 Pandemic
Author: Katarina Rausova
Published at: 03/30/2021
Every cloud has a silver lining. COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of pain and suffering, but it also helped to speed medical innovations that are going to stay with us.
A vaccine provides active acquired immunity to a disease. Traditional vaccines are made from a weakened or inactivated form of the microbe that stimulates the body’s immune system to create antibodies. As the threat is weakened, compared to the full attack of a disease, the body has an opportunity to recognize it, destroy it, and prepare for any future microorganism associated with it.
Genetic vaccines bring a new approach to immunization. Here the immune system receives genes that encode proteins of the pathogen. The first gene-based vaccines were created in labs some 30 years ago but faced a number of issues. The research slowly continued, but it took the COVID-19 pandemic for academic labs and biotechnology companies to fully turn to genetic vaccine research. Why are they so innovative? The traditional vaccine takes months or even years to be fully developed. A genetic vaccine can be developed in a matter of days once the genetic sequence of a pathogen is known. They also produce a more precise immune response. Moreover, approval of RNA vaccines such as the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines has revolutionized the field of genetic vaccines even further. Genetic vaccines may, in time, replace less effective traditional vaccines and maybe even provide a vaccine for HIV or cancer.
Wearables and other tech devices for early illness detection
Wearables have become quite a sensation lately. People have been using them to monitor activity, heart rate, and jogging. Once we understood the symptoms of COVID-19 better, these devices started to be also used to monitor temperature and other biometrics. Constant tracking of vital signs enables us to notice any change quickly.
Many people with mild cases of COVID-19 also started to use pulse oximeters that measure oxygen in the blood as it helps them keep watch over their health and know if they need medical care.
Boost of telehealth and virtual reality
Telemedicine has been with us for some time, but it has experienced a boost since the pandemic. It is only natural — doctors and hospital staff are most at risk for getting COVID-19 and are looking for ways to eliminate their exposure. An example of a telehealth solution is the TytoCare company developing special stethoscopes that listen to patients’ hearts while transmitting lung images. A doctor can remotely walk a patient through and see the images from the stethoscope.
Another example is a ventilation device company ResMed that uses patient data management software AirView on ventilation devices and CPAP machines. CPAP machines deliver air through the tubing and into a mask to keep the airway open. The software sends data to healthcare workers through the cloud to be analyzed and put in a dashboard to help them remotely triage patients, adjust CPAP and ventilator settings. This way, it allows high-risk patients on home ventilation to stay at home while still being monitored.
Virtual reality also came in handy when the pandemic arrived. Healthcare workers need to continually upskill and train, now more than ever. Some hospitals have turned to virtual reality to train large groups on the latest methods quickly.
Virtual reality might also be beneficial in recovering COVID-19 patients. Many critically ill COVID patients continue to have post-intensive care syndrome. As social distancing rules are still in place, VR might be crucial in their recovery and help them recover more quickly. Virtual reality helps not only with physical rehab but also with psychological support. VR technology enables therapy to be delivered remotely and therapists to treat several patients at once.
There have been many other solutions and innovations aimed at helping with COVID-19. A Taiwanese doctor invented an “Aerosol box” that shields doctors against coronavirus while intubating patients. 3D-printing was used to print face shields, ventilator valves, and ear guards for hospital staff to ease the pain caused by wearing face masks for too long. Drones are being used to deliver medical supplies to remote areas.
And don’t forget masks. Wearing masks in public has become the new norm. Will it stay with us, and will we use the masks on a regular basis when we are feeling sick or during the flu season? This is difficult to predict, but it might become a “social innovation” adopted by Western countries just like it has already been adopted in some Asian countries.
There are many other examples of bright ideas sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic all around the world. It is wonderful that even in difficult times, humankind has managed to bring ideas that we might be utilizing in the years to come.