From growing blood vessels in labs to applying advanced nanotechnology to cancer testing, here are some emerging technologies that could have a big impact on medicine in coming years.
Engineered blood vessels
Humacyte Inc., a Morrisville, N.C., startup, is notching big advances in growing human tissue in labs that can be implanted safely in the body. Its lead product is a blood vessel designed for patients undergoing kidney dialysis.
The company uses donor cells to grow the human tissue needed to make the blood vessels. It cleanses the donor cells from the vessels before implanting them, so patients’ immune systems don’t reject them.
Two midstage studies published in the Lancet in May showed patients’ natural cells merged with the engineered blood vessels, which could make them less prone to infection and more durable than the metal tubes often used to facilitate blood flow in dialysis patients. Humacyte hopes to bring the first bioengineered blood vessel to the U.S. around 2019.
Co-founder Laura Niklason, an anesthesiologist and scientist at Yale University, says the blood vessels are a another step forward in bioengineering human tissue that functions and regenerates in a way similar to natural tissue.
“It’s still a far cry from engineered whole organs—that’s still 20 years away,” she says. “But in the 1990s there was a lot of hype, and I think that it’s now finally starting to get here.”
Smartphone-connected smoking-cessation device
Cigarette smoking causes one-fifth of U.S. deaths each year, but the most commonly used methods for quitting have spotty effectiveness. Harvard University researchers found in a 2012 study that nicotine gum and patches were no better than going cold turkey in helping smokers quit long term.
Chrono Therapeutics, based in Hayward, Calif., is betting it can combine smartphone technology with a gadget similar to the patch to improve quitting rates. Smokers wear a small electronic device that is timed to deliver nicotine at higher doses when cravings are strongest, such as in the morning after waking up and after meals. Since nicotine can interfere with sleep, the device shuts off when the person goes to bed.
The device connects with a smartphone app that uses gamification techniques to help users track their progress and deliver tips on how to deal with cravings. Chrono plans to start a midstage study this year, and hopes to have the product on the market in 2018.
“They’re getting encouragement and guidance through their smartphone, setting goals and networking with friends,” says CEO Alan Levy.
To read the rest of this article, published in the Wall Street Journal, please click here.