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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Advances in Medical Testing that Just Might Save Your Life

Here's a shocking fact. One of the most important elements of a doctor's lifesaving decision making process has absolutely nothing to do with medicine. It has to do with logistics. Medical testing takes on many forms.

Blood tests are what immediately spring to mind for most of us. You go to your doctor because you are having symptoms of a high fever and chills. The doctor suspects some type of infection. She orders a blood culture that will detect bacterial and fungal germs in the blood. What happens next is not medicine, but logistics. The samples she ordered has to be sent off to a lab for testing. The proper handling and transport of those samples could make all the difference in the quality of your treatment.

Lab relocation and transport of samples between patients, doctors, labs, and scientists is one of the most critical aspects of a good diagnosis. It is not just a matter of putting in in a box and shipping it FedEx. Among other things, it involves expertise in:

The science of cryo-preservation
The countless state and federal regulations governing shipping and transportation, and...
The products and equipment needed to preserve materials at ultra-low temperatures

Get the cryo-preservation a little bit wrong, and the lab does not have a usable sample for an accurate reading on which your doctor can base a proper diagnosis.

Of course medical testing consists of a lot more than simple blood cultures. Recent advances in medical testing are yielding results that may appreciably extend the human lifespan in your lifetime. Just consider the advances we have made with regard to some of the most common life shorteners:

New technology advances cancer detection through blood testing.

One of the big challenges of cancer research is the ability to isolate CTCs. Circulating tumor cells are rare and difficult to categorize. New technologies have made it possible to address cancers of epithelial origin: prostate, breast and colorectal. There is reason to believe that more effective treatments are within our grasp thanks to advances in medical testing.

Future devices may eliminate the need for invasive glucose monitoring.

In the span of a single lifetime, we have already seen diabetes go from a death sentence with inevitable complications, to a manageable condition that does not have to hinder or shorten a normal life. For many, the most inconvenient part of having diabetes is the finger pricking necessary for frequent glucose monitoring.

Today, we can test glucose with a tiny implant under the skin that sends information to an external device. Currently, it does not replace the finger prick entirely. But it will in time, just as the finger prick replaced urine samples. Though current technology has not yet caught up to the vision, researchers are looking to wrist-worn devices to perform the task of persistent glucose monitoring. It is rumored in some quarters that Apple is working on such a feature in its upcoming iWatch wearable.

There are new methods of detecting heart disease.

Right now, heart disease is the number one killer. We are devoting a great deal of research to push it down in the rankings. One of the best ways to do that is detecting it early enough to do something about it. One of the newer tests is engineered to detect the presence of cardiac troponins which are only found in the heart. Another more recent test helps to diagnose patients who present with chest pain. It can more accurately determine if a heart attack has occurred. By using these and other advanced methods, we are able to greatly reduce the damage cause by heart disease.

This is a post by Nancy Evans

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