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Illuminating the Future of Medical Devices

Innovation Center September 25th, 2017

A new generation of medical device technologies is spurring incredible progress across the health care spectrum, from enabling non-invasive surgeries to signaling serious health problems before they begin to impact patients’ lives.

This week, during the annual MedTech Conference — the largest annual gathering of medical technology professionals in North America — I’d like to share some of the trends that excite me most, both as a surgeon and as a leader of scientific innovation at Johnson & Johnson Medical Device Companies:

Digitally enabled medical devices are providing an increasing level of feedback to clinicians on patients’ health. This includes “smart” implants that relay information about whether the patient may be developing a complication, such as the devices used today to detect pressure ulcers in hospital patients or risks of bloodstream infections. These devices are just now entering the marketplace and we’ve only scratched the surface. In coming years, expect to see more patient data being collected from orthopedic implants, heart implants and other interventional devices that interact with the body.

Since the beginning of modern medicine, surgeons have relied on the visible light spectrum to see the patient’s body. Even tools such as the endoscope or laparoscope still rely upon the visible light spectrum. The challenge, however, is that biological processes, such as tumor activity, are often not evident by human visual inspection, instead appearing in near infrared wavelengths. Today, we’re beginning to see the body with different “eyes,” thanks to technologies that can show the extent of the tumor or the possible involvement of lymph nodes — processes that can’t be observed with visible light. A decade from now, what surgeons can see in the operating room will look fundamentally different, and patient health will benefit.

Early detection will transform the standard of patient care, notably in the cancer space. We will be seeing more tools that can diagnose tumors and other dangerous conditions very early, when treatment is most likely to succeed. These tools come in many forms, from breathalyzer-type technologies to algorithms that can evaluate suspicious lesions and determine right away that they’re benign, without having to send any actual tissue to a pathologist.

Closely related to early detection tools; the idea here is to make cancer management less and less invasive, so we’re only taking out tumors and leaving normal tissue in place. For example, with colon cancer, it would be better to avoid resections — in which part of the colon is removed —in order to remove the tumor. We will see more tools emerge that allow us to maintain and protect normal tissue, and address the tumor with greater precision than is possible today. We’d also like to get to a point where we reduce the requirement for additional surgeries without the risk of recurrence — in breast cancer, for example.

  1. Greater connectivity, more useful data
  2. Going beyond visible light
  3. Early detection tools
  4. Organ-sparing technologies
  5. Better global access to surgical care   

Of the 7 billion-plus people on the planet, somewhere between 3 and 5 billion do not have access to the most basic and essential surgical care. This is changing with new medical technologies and tools that enable lower-cost and safer procedures so people are able to receive care for conditions like appendicitis, which can be deadly without appropriate care. Here, we’re seeing innovation in sterilization technologies, supply chain improvements and education on new procedures for wound closure or hernia treatment.

These are just a handful of the many medical device trends I see reshaping health care right now. I look forward to meeting entrepreneurs and other industry leaders in San Jose to discuss how their innovations are bringing forth better quality of life and access to care.

Will you be attending the MedTech Conference, held Sept. 25-27 in San Jose, California? If so, find me and connect with me on Twitter, @ptheodoremd.

 Pierre R. Theodore is Vice President, Therapeutic Area Expert, Thoracic Surgical Oncology for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies.

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