Recently, scientists shared new findings that may indicate the inner core of the earth has stopped its spinning and could be preparing to move in reverse. However, because we lack the technology necessary to actually see that deep inside our planet, this is all conjecture.
For most of humanity’s existence, the same was true of our ability to see inside the human body. It wasn’t until late in the 16th century that we began to develop a scientific understanding of our cells and body composition by examining tissue that was removed and viewed outside of the body through a microscope.
Now, we stand on the cusp of incredible imaging advances that leapfrog what we are able to do today, potentially even scanning to see the future state of diseases and conditions with patients. This revolution in imaging stands to dramatically impact the future of medical care.
Medical imaging today
To the average person, a few millimeters may sound insignificant. To a physician, it can be the difference between accurately diagnosing a cancerous lesion or not finding it altogether.
That is the razor’s edge that defines success for clinicians operating inside the human body. The 20th century brought us numerous, powerful advances in medical imaging like ultrasounds, CT and PET scans, and MRIs that help with this navigation. But even these advanced imaging standards have limitations that impair a physician’s chances of success during a procedure.
Most require a human to navigate with precision using images and scans that were taken days or even weeks earlier and often when the patient was in an entirely different position, like standing up or with arms raised versus laying flat on a table.
It’s the equivalent of playing the game Operation while looking at a static photo of the game instead of at the actual board. Maybe the board is placed at a different angle or one of the playing pieces has shifted slightly. There’s no way to tell because you don’t have a real-time view of it.
Visualizing procedures in real-time has become commonplace for some procedures like colonoscopies that rely on traditional scopes. It affords gastroenterologists a critical ability to view the inside of the body and navigate to a precise location using a live image to identify, perform a biopsy of, or remove lesions.
But real time imaging still has not become the standard in many, more complex procedures, or in those fields like pulmonology that must reach hard-to-navigate locations on the periphery of the lungs. The recent introduction of real-time tomosynthesis for robotic platforms and TiLT Technology™ (tool-in-lesion tomography) for bronchoscopy could be a preview for real-time imaging technology in other fields.
The future of medical imaging
Looking ahead, early advances in other areas of imaging illustrate the astounding potential for seeing deeper into the body and further into the future.
Like with many other industries, AI is at the forefront of revolutionizing medicine and medical imaging in particular. Today, it is already being used to sift through large volumes of scans and provide critical insights with unprecedented accuracy and speed. But early strides in other, almost unbelievable areas, show how much it will augment doctors’ ability to detect disease and determine effective treatments.
Consider advances like Google’s DeepMindwhich can read 3D retinal scans and diagnose as many as 50 different conditions with 99% accuracy. It can also triage patients by urgency and potential treatments, and detect early indicators of eye disease.
Similarly, iCAD’s “ProFound AI” uses digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) to help detect cancer up to eight percent sooner. on average. It also saves time spent on reading breast scans by more than 50 percent, allowing radiologists to review more scans for more patients.
Even more incredible, a recent article showcased early success at MIT in using artificial intelligence to predict cancer cell growth in the lungs six years out based on a single scan today.
Deep tissue imaging is another field with enormous potential. It can provide physicians with visibility into activity at the cellular level. Once technology and data analysis capabilities make this technology possible, we could gain unprecedented sight into the deepest mysteries of how the human body operates, opening the door to new vaccines, treatments and cures.
To fully realize the potential of these emerging technologies, it will be important for innovators to optimize their integration with existing medical technologies and procedures. With the right execution, institutional investment, and commitment from the medical community to embrace integrations in everything from the simplest technologies to advanced robotics, we can gain a literal window into how our bodies work. This will open up staggering new possibilities for treatments and cures – allowing people to live longer, healthier and happier lives.
Photo: metamorworks, Getty Images