Why Medical Technology is Such an Exciting Sector

Medical technology has developed rapidly in recent years, from cutting edge equipment in hospitals and laboratories to affordable hi-tech devices available on the mass market.

Here Dr Ian Barwick, chief operating officer of the Life Sciences Hub Wales, answers questions on the sector.

Why is medical technology so important right now?

Medical technology is an incredibly exciting sector to be involved with at the moment; it is fast growing, has government support and announcements of pioneering developments are regularly making the headlines. One of the most interesting and innovative areas of research is around the use of technology to target diseases in a more accurate and focused way than has ever been possible with traditional treatments.

For example, scientists from the University of California, San Diego, recently developed microscopic cannons that can be injected into the body and remotely triggered to fire drugs deep into the tissue. This less invasive procedure could be used to fight a number of diseases, including skin cancer.

How exciting is the potential of proton beam therapy?

Proton beam therapy kills cancer cells in the same way as regular radiotherapy treatment, but unlike radiotherapy, proton beams stop when they hit their target rather than carrying on through the body.

Proton beams are more effective than conventional treatments because they can be directed at tumours more precisely and the treatment has fewer side effects than radiotherapy.

Oncologists believe that around 20 per cent of solid tumour patients might benefit from this treatment instead of conventional radiotherapy.

The UK’s first Proton Beam Therapy Centre is due to open in Newport in time for Christmas 2016 to treat 700 cancer patients a year.

It has been in clinical use around the world since the 1970s, with over 100,000 patients treated. So the fact that it will soon be on offer in the UK is very exciting indeed.

What difference will it make to patients?

Currently the NHS sends around 140 patients a year overseas for treatment, mainly to the US and Switzerland, at a cost of around £114,000 each.

Not only will the new centre help transform cancer treatment for hundreds of NHS patients, its developers Proton Partners International (PPI) say it will also save the NHS money and boost the Welsh economy – potentially by £87m over its first three years.

It’s regrettable we have had no facility for proton treatment in the UK until now, but it’s great for Wales, and the UK, that patients with these serious life threatening diseases will no longer need to travel abroad.

What about medical technology on a personal level?

Patients are increasingly connected and engaged in their own care, monitoring their health through apps and wearable devices.

Forward-thinking life sciences companies are responding by offering innovative technological solutions and making use of big data to develop new models of care.

But others risk being left behind in a rapidly changing world by not fully embracing the digital model.

Wearable tech is a particularly fast-growing area of the life sciences sector, and one which has huge potential to transform the healthcare industry.

For example, Swiss medical manufacturer CeQur, which recently launched a new Welsh subsidiary, manufactures a PaQ insulin infusion device for people with type 2 diabetes.

The three-day, patch-like device is discreet and offers a cost-effective alternative to insulin injections.

How do I get into med tech?

Med tech is a difficult career to get into, so it’s important to gain as much experience as possible as early as possible. A PHD will help you stand out and differentiate you in the jobs market, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

In terms of opportunities, many of the most exciting developments are being driven by start-up companies, so an entrepreneurial mindset and an eye for business would be useful in addition to a scientific skill set.

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