Three Sci-Fi Inspired Medical Breakthroughs

As part of Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws of prediction: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’: if this is the case, we are living in magical times indeed!

If you have ever marvelled at the fictional medical technology portrayed in a TV series such as ‘Star Trek’ or in a block-busting movie such as ‘The Abyss’, you may be surprised to find out that these works of fiction are not too far removed from reality – let’s take a look at three science-fiction inspired medical breakthroughs of recent times:

The real-life ‘Face/Off’

Nicolas Cage and John Travolta starred in a 1997 sci-fi action movie directed by John Woo: ‘Face/Off’ revolved around two characters who swap identities with one another via an advanced medical procedure: in the film, the characters literally had their faces swapped: sound far-fetched?

  • By 2005, the world’s first partial face transplant was successfully completed in France;
  • In 2010 a complete full-face transplant was achieved in Spain;
  • By 2012, one of the most complete face transplant operations was completed successfully in the USA: Every part of the face, except the eyes and part of the throat were completely replaced.

This technology is growing at a rapid rate…

With ever more advanced procedures being carried out each year and the results being less noticeable cosmetically, the scenes witnessed in ‘Face/Off’ may soon be a stylised reflection of what is possible in reality.

Bionic Eyes which would be at home in ‘Star Trek’

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, a visually impaired character by the name of ‘Geordi La Forge’ (portrayed by LeVar Burton) uses a piece of equipment known as a ‘VISOR’ which gives him the use of his eyes: in one of the spin-off movies, the character is given ocular implants, which are essentially bionic replacement eyes: does this seem like it could only ever occur in a science-fiction show? Perhaps not…

  • Visual prosthesis devices have reached an exciting stage of development since the early 1990s
  • A number of promising results have been achieved using retinal implants and by installing stimulator chips into the primary visual cortex of a human test subject
  • Some success has been achieved by various institutions across the globe, with the best results being observed in patients whose cause of loss of vision is via the degeneration of photoreceptors.

So, whilst the restoration of full sight is still some way off, expect to witness ever more sophisticated treatments coming on the scene soon.

Liquid Oxygen: only possible in a James Cameron movie?

Long before ‘Avatar’ or ‘Titanic’ hit the silver screen, James Cameron directed a Sci-Fi blockbuster which featured the portrayal of an interesting piece of fictional technology: 1989s ‘The Abyss’ featured a ‘Liquid Breathing’ apparatus, used by one of the characters to perform an ultra-deep underwater dive without experiencing compression: whilst this proposed technology essentially means that the character ‘breathes’ liquid, in reality scientists have now made a breakthrough which could mean that a person who is suffering from respiratory failure could receive a dose of oxygen via an injection:

  • The Boston Children’s Hospital has recently produced positive results by using special fat-encased oxygen gas particles which are injected as a liquid into a patient’s veins;
  • The result: up to half an hour of life without breathing
  • This technology can make all the difference when a patient cannot breathe: an additional 30 minutes of oxygenation could help to prevent brain damage or in some cases, could save lives.

Gabriel Nolan is an occupational therapist who likes to blog about exciting medical discoveries and the changing roles of professionals within Occupational Therapy Jobs.