Tuesday 25 August 2015, 14:01 | By Adam Hallows
In the News Aug 2015 – Technology, a Force for Good
We are tantalisingly close to the next instalment of Star Wars. A perfect time then to see just how close we’ve come to the amazing technology predicted in the iconic films. Also, as another busy summer of festivals draws to a close, we take a look at recent progress in understanding how music and the arts can help us in our mission to happier, healthier lives.
THE FUTURE OF 3D PRINTING
I have fond memories of sitting cross legged in front of the TV, watching in awe as Luke Skywalker had his recently removed hand, replaced with a bionic one. What stood out however, was not the new hand itself, but the casual way in which it was fitted.
Lost a limb? Not a problem, we’ll just pop another one on and off you go. Back to saving the universe before lunch. Thirty five years on, and innovators are bringing us close to that level of ‘ease’ through which humans can get bionic limbs, but two recent stories around the use of 3DP underline why the revolution still has a way to go.
Firstly, although tech innovation is moving faster than ever before, it doesn’t immediately guarantee access to it.
This was highlighted in a recent article we tweeted, which looked at how Open Bionics and founder Joel Gibbard are doing their bit to turn the world of bionic limbs into ‘an affordable reality for more people’.
“For those who need it, a bionic limb can cost up to £80,000 and take three months to make. However, by using 3D scanning and printing, (Open Bionics) reckons it can provide an amputee with a bionic hand for less than £2,000 in less than a week.”
Revolutionary stuff, but for Jaime Purvis, an expert in screen-reading software, the tech industry now needs to move faster on this assistive technology to get it to those who need it.
“There’s more being done now than three or four years ago, but it’s still not as widespread as it could be … There are a lot of [disabled] people being left behind because they don’t have access to the hardware that tech companies are creating.”
Secondly, the need for testing, regulation and then industry-wide adoption in health means that however revolutionary the tech, its benefits can only be realised at its rate of acceptance. This was outlined in another article we tweeted on the complex world of 3D-printed drugs.
“The prospect of tailor-made drugs that are customised to your individual needs has moved a step closer with the recent announcement of the first 3D-printed (3DP) drug to gain approval from the US food and drug administration (FDA).”
Great news for a population with growingly complex health needs, but as the article asks, with the innovation comes big questions. Will it be safe, will pharmacists accept the new tech, will humans be the weak link, and can criminals use it to make counterfeit drugs?
One way perhaps to get questions like this answered sooner, is to highlight the financial benefits of adopting new tech, something Tamsin Baxter, head of partnerships at Scope highlighted in The Guardian’s article on assistive technology:
“[Baxter] cites the final report of the independent Extra Costs Commission, published in June, which puts the spending power of disabled people in the UK at £212bn per year.”
In Star Trek, another sci-fi classic that predicted revolutionary technologies, all human endeavour was carried out for the betterment of mankind. But until we reach that particular vision of the future, then making the financial argument for supporting innovation and continuing to promote its use may be our best option.
MUSIC CAN REDUCE PAIN
We needn’t always have to wait for new technology to make us feel better. Several of this month’s tweets looked at how research is supporting non-medical therapies we can use right now to reduce pain and improve recovery rates.
Running, for example, takes its toll on our knees, but what if there were a way to naturally release opioids, that act like morphine, to help you deal with any discomfort while exercising?
This research suggested that listening to music while exercising actually decreases exertion and releases natural painkillers in the brain to do exactly that.
The practice has in turn been supported by Spotify, who earlier this year teamed up with specialists to create specially designed playlists that are “scientifically constructed to keep you sweating longer.” But what about those who aren’t looking to ‘feel the burn’, but instead recover from surgery? This article revealed that listening to music before, during and after an operation can actually help reduce pain.
“Researchers at Queen Mary University of London said the patients who had listened to music had been less anxious after their surgery and had needed less pain relief. The lead author, Dr Catherine Meads, said Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album had helped soothe her pain three hours after hip surgery in April. She said, music was a safe, cheap and non-invasive option that should “be available to everyone having surgery.”
The mental and physical benefits of music continue to be proved. But following reports about how its use in operating theatres can actually distract surgeons, especially drum n bass music, then we hope patients are sensible enough to use decent headphones during their procedure.
THE EDINBURGH FRINGE AND MENTAL HEALTH
The arts are not only helping us physically, as this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival has proved with a variety of shows that looked at the stigma attached to our mental health.
Performers such as Brigitte Aphrodite have devised pieces spanning stand-up and musicals to monologues and dramatic lectures, exploring issues such as anxiety and mental health and how it affects ‘relationships with people and the world at large.’
“People don’t want to talk about this stuff,” said Aphrodite. “I thought by putting it in the format of a musical it almost lures them into a false sense of security until they realise what the songs are about. I do feel like things are maybe changing a little but I know from experience there is still such a huge stigma attached when anyone even mentions depression.”
With the reported cuts to mental health over the last parliament, then the importance of the arts and the inspiring people working in it to keep raising awareness of our mental health grows, and we applaud anyone brave enough to get on stage and tell their story in the hope of helping those who may be suffering in silence.