Most of us have probably gone to a hospital, clinic or pathology centre at some time or another to provide blood or other samples for diagnostic testing, and then waited some time to hear the results of the tests from our doctor.
These types of tests for infections, disease and other health conditions are certainly faster now than they were in the past, but how would it be if a diagnosis could be almost instant? Not only that, what if people travelling, working or residing in remote parts of the world - where the availability of doctors and diagnostic equipment is in short supply - could get very fast diagnoses of conditions just from a single drop of blood or saliva?
This might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but in fact the technology to do this already exists. The technology, while still in the development phases, is being piloted in various parts of the world. This nano-sensing technology may also determine the future of general healthcare, whereby regular visits to the doctor become a thing of the past as the capacity to self-monitor our health and communicate remotely with physicians for health guidance becomes more available.
How nano-sensing technology is changing
Mobile smartphone sensors already have the capacity to detect location, orientation, movement, light, humidity, temperature and proximity to a person's face during a call, using silicon Micro-Electric-Mechanical Systems (MEMS). Researchers, scientists and innovators are delving into the ways that these sensors might further be used - such as to measure air and water quality, detect earthquakes, and even read emotions. Sensors for health and wellness are also being developed, and may have the capacity to revolutionise healthcare technology in the next few decades.
Various types of technology are being developed to capture body metrics and information, including:
- Mobile electromechanical detectors that can conduct medical assessments and relay this information through mobile devices such as smartphones.
- Wearable devices that measure heart rate, blood pressure and so on for self-analysis.
- Phone apps to assist in the self-management of conditions - diabetes for instance.
- Smartphone microscopy apps that use a camera to take photos of samples and transmit them to a lab for analysis.
- Detectors that send health information by audio cable attached to a mobile phone (including old-style phones) and receive back the test results by SMS.
- Organic polymer chips that may one day be implanted in the human body.