Engineering the future of medicine

Singapore is facing a greyer future, with its accompanying health woes.


Three in five people will have contracted cancer by the time they reach 65, and diabetes is a serious concern. Health problems will put a tremendous strain on our healthcare system and infrastructure.


This is where biomedical technology can make a significant impact. There is a slew of emerging technologies that are slowly but surely disrupting the way healthcare and medicine are being practised.


For example, personalised or precision medicine is changing how patients are being diagnosed and treated, especially for diseases such as cancer. The idea is to administer the right drug to the right patient, at the right dosage and the right time.


By sequencing a cancer patient’s genome, we can now better treat him by matching drugs to specific treatable mutations that this patient may be suffering from.


The genetic sequencing can be performed on circulating tumour DNA strands or cancer cells obtained from blood – which is known as a liquid biopsy.


This is less invasive and can be done more frequently than a tumour biopsy. With this technique, we can obtain real-time feedback as to the condition of the patient through frequent sampling and testing, something not possible with a highly-invasive tumour biopsy.


Trials being conducted on patients are showing promise, and liquid biopsy and precision medicine could potentially disrupt how cancer can be managed and treated.


Bioprinting is another technology that may one day solve the organ shortage problem. Imagine being able to print tissues or organs that can be specifically tailored to the needs of a particular patient.


Progress in this area is slow, however, as researchers grapple with printing cells and concocting growth factors that will not only ensure the cells survive, but also grow in the way they should, to form the proper structure so they can perform the functions of the tissues or organs needed.


Nevertheless, there are start-ups which are already making headway in bioprinting human tissue for the liver and kidney.

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