Remember the days when your doctor was the one person who could check your vitals? Now in our tech-crazed world, it’s not so insane for you to do it yourself. Thanks to apps like Withing’s Health Mate (and its accompanying watch) or the buzzed-about Apple Healthbook, tracking your own heart rate, sleep cycle, and blood pressure doesn’t seem so silly anymore.
Tech is also making a big impact in the health world when it comes to treating chronic conditions, performing surgeries, and more. Here are eight pieces of technology that are changing the face of healthcare:
Google contact lenses for glucose monitoring
Finger-stick tests could be a thing of the past for diabetics if Google succeeds in creating its super smart contact lenses (that’s them in the video above). The tech giant announced plans for the project earlier this year and more recently joined forces with drug maker Novartis to help bring them to market. These babies would be so advanced that they’d track blood sugar levels through another kind of fluid: your tears. The lenses would have a mini glucose sensor and an embedded wireless chip that would send results straight to your smartphone throughout the day. Measuring glucose via tears is an area scientists have been exploring in the past few years and with Google’s latest partnership, the technology could soon be a reality.
RELATED: 10 Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
Vibrating capsule for better digestion
Sooner or later, you may not need to take over-the-counter laxatives if you experience chronic constipation. An oral capsule presented at the Digestive Disease Week conference in May could give you relief. Once swallowed, it moves through the digestive tract and is programmed to vibrate six to eight hours later, when it’s in your intestine. Those vibrations lead to contractions, which make it easier for you to go. In an Israeli study, 26 patients suffering from chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) and constipation predominant irritable bowel syndrome (C-IBS) took the capsule twice a week, and it nearly doubled their bowel movements from two to four times per week.
DEKA bionic arm for amputees
On the market since May, the DEKA Arm System is revolutionary for military veterans and others who have lost an arm. This high-tech wonder works via brain signals: When electrodes pick up on the contraction of muscles near the prosthesis, they send signals to a computer device in the bionic arm that translates into movements. So tasks that may have proved difficult for some amputees—like brushing your hair or feeding yourself—aren’t so out of reach. The DEKA arm was partly inspired by Star Wars‘ Luke Skywalker, CNN reports. You might remember the hero received a prosthetic after losing his hand in a light-saber battle with Darth Vader. Nice to see pop culture having a positive impact on the world.
Sperm-inspired robots for IVF
If you’re someone who’s struggled with getting pregnant, a neat tool may be able to help in the future. Researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and German University in Egypt have developed a pack of microrobots called MagnetoSperm. The technology relies on magnetic fields, so at a certain frequency the tails get the signal to start to move back and forth, propelling them forward. The researchers can then steer the tiny bots by directing the magnetic field to get them to a particular point, like the lining of your uterus with a fertilized egg in tow. In addition to aiding with in vitro fertilization, these little guys could help pave the way for targeted drug delivery, cleaning of clogged arteries, and other actions at the micro level.
Bionic pancreas for type 1 diabetics
In people with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, a key ingredient needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy. So patients not only need to perform a finger-stick test several times a day to check their blood glucose levels, but they also have to inject insulin into their bodies when their glucose gets low. But a new gadget dubbed the bionic pancreas could put a whole new spin on the process. Researchers from Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital tested the system, which includes a thin needle with a tiny, removable sensor that’s placed under the skin to monitor glucose levels in real time, plus two automatic pumps that provide insulin and its counteracting hormone, glucagon. And it looks like the technology may work better than traditional monitoring: The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found adults and adolescents with type 1 diabetes who used a bionic pancreas instead of monitoring glucose via a finger-stick test were more likely to have blood glucose levels consistently within the normal range, with fewer dangerous lows or highs.
Google Glass for surgery
Though the public has been slow to accept Google Glass, a wearable computer for your eyes, several health professionals have found it helpful for treating patients and even performing surgery. A University of California, San Francisco lung surgeon has used Glass to perform minimally invasive surgery, The New York Times reports. The technology allows Dr. Pierre Theodore to see images from scans as well as live images simultaneously as he operates. Even doctors from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston use Glass to pick up on a patient’s vitals, and some clinics in California utilize Augmedix, a custom app for Google Glass, to record a patient’s health info as they talk.
Implantable device for heart failure
Heart failure is no joke in the U.S., especially for those 65 and over. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the condition, where your heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to your vital organs, costs the nation an estimated $32 billion a year. Thankfully new technology like the CardioMEMS HF System may help lower the number of hospitalizations from heart failure. The wireless and battery-free sensor, which was recently approved by the FDA, is implanted permanently into the pulmonary artery, a key pathway that carries blood to your lungs. So while you’re at home, your doctor can view your vitals remotely through a special database and decide right away if you need changes in treatment. Right now, the system is only approved for patients with Class III heart failure as defined by the New York Heart Association (NYHA), but it’s shown a lot of promise. A clinical study involving 550 people found the system significantly reduced heart failure-related hospitalizations for the patients whose doctors had access to pulmonary artery pressure data.
RELATED: 17 Worst Habits for Your Heart
Robotic exoskeleton for paralysis
For many of the 200,000 people living in the U.S. with spinal cord injuries, being able to walk again may seem like a bleak prospect. A new device called the ReWalk Bionic Suit may offer hope. After promising clinical studies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administrated recently allowed marketing of this motorized exoskeleton, which is a metal brace worn over the legs and part of the upper body. Motors in the brace trigger movement at the hips, knees, and ankles, so when the user wants to stand up, sit down, or walk, all they have to do is press a button on a wireless remote on their wrist. Users of the device must wear a backpack that contains a computer and power supply, plus use crutches for stability. The FDA also says that users should work with a caregiver or spouse for assistance. While ReWalk is not suitable for all patients with spinal cord injuries, it’s definitely a big step for the future—pun intended.