Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Robotics the future of medicine

A surgeon performs an operation with the help of robot da Vinci at the University Hospital Geneva. Photo / AP
A surgeon performs an operation with the help of robot da Vinci at the University Hospital Geneva. Photo / AP

Computing and robotics is changing the face of medicine at a faster rate than ever before, and is going to affect the way we treat patients says a medical expert.

Michael Gillam, who is heading to the SingularityU summit in Christchurch next month, is a physician, medical informatics expert and IT health specialist.

He is also one of four directors that built and sold the patient information software Amalga which became one of Microsoft's flagship products.

According to Gillam, as computing power continues to increase and the cost of testing and research decreases, health providers will be able to tailor treatment to patients.

"When I started studying there were a few known types of blood cancers and by 2005, there were over 80 different types so we've come a long way," Gillam said.

"There's so many amazing changes occurring now in the treatment of cancer for example - largely because of the customisation that can occur," he said.

"Once you can sequence a cancer and find which proteins on the surface are being expressed that is unique to that cancer, then we can train the immune system to attack it."

Gillam said genome sequencing - mapping the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases in a genome - had already helped in the treatment of Melanoma and other diseases.

The very first human genome sequencing cost around $2 billion, but has since dropped down to around $1,000 with this likely to continue decreasing.

Michael Gillam.
Michael Gillam.

According to Gillam, if the trend continues, within five years the cost to sequence will be less than the cost of delivering a pizza and within ten years it will be less than a cent.

One of the biggest trends in future medical care he said, was around robotics.

"Drones and self-driving cars are being used for example to deliver supplies, so drones if there's no road access or communication to drop off supplies," Gillam said.

"We're also seeing the emergence of self-driving cars reforming the way healthcare flows so today patients go to the hospital but imagine we're moving towards mobile units where the tests are going to the patient instead of the patient going to the test."

Robotic systems were also increasingly being used in place of humans with Gillam saying in a lot of cases, the deep learning systems were better able to interpret x-rays than board certified radiologists.

Singularity summit:

• SingularityU New Zealand Summit is a 3-day conference, hosted by Singularity University in tandem with NZ organisations and companies.

• The summit will be held in Christchurch on November 14 to 16.

• The goal is to uncover cutting edge, "exponential technologies" in New Zealand and how they can be used to create positive change and economic growth in the region.

• The conference will hear from experts in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, energy, self-driving cars, crime, technology and public policy, medicine, strategic relations, bioengineering and the future of work and education.

• It will look at how to create "exponential" organisations or adapt our existing corporations and organisations to work best in this new, evolving environment.

• Singularity University (SU) is a benefit corporation, headquartered in Silicon Valley, with alumni in more than 110 countries.

- NZ Herald

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