Health and medical research has considerably contributed to the improvements in human health and general wellbeing across the world and Australia has most certainly played its part!
As a result of the many health professionals developing innovative technologies and medical breakthroughs, Australians have benefitted by keeping healthier for longer. Despite the major role of medical research in Australia, there have been a few standout health advancements throughout Australian history. Before looking into the future of what health advancements are to come, let’s take a step back in time and discover how our country has contributed to the medical marvels of today:
Taking a look into the past – Australia’s health tech and advancements:
- 1910 – The first formal medical research facility was created: “The Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine”
- 1935 – Development of the first portable electrocardiograph by Edward Both and the isolation of a strain of the influenza A virus by Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet
- 1939 – Howard Florey, a scientist from Adelaide, developed a way for penicillin to be manufactured and processed so it could be used to treat infections in humans
- 1944 – Sir Neil Fairley highlighted the risk posed by malaria and developed an anti-malarial drug
- 1948 – Dr John Cade discovered the treatment of bipolar disorders with lithium carbonate (as a mood stabiliser) and Dr John Colebatch conducted the world’s first controlled clinical trial of the use of chemotherapy to treat children with leukaemia
- 1962 – Development of the ultrasound by David Robinson and George Kossoff
- 1978 – Melbournian Dr Graeme Clark performed the first cochlear ear implant (the bionic ear)
- 1984 – The first frozen in-vitro fertilisation baby was born in Melbourne due to a technique developed by Dr Alan Trounson and Dr Linda Mohr
- 1996 – Peter Doherty discovered the role of T cells in the immune system
- 2005 – Barry Marshall and Robin Warren showed that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori were the cause of most peptic ulcers. This discovery reversed decades of medical work saying that ulcers were caused by stress, spicy foods and too much acid.
- 2014 – Researchers at Bionic Vision Australia conducted tests with an early prototype of a bionic eye which will help people with macular degeneration
Already, Australians researchers have led developments in vaccines against human diseases and infections and led discoveries in genetics. But what can we look forward to in the future? What other advancements could change the course of our health and even our kids’ health? Richard Lewis is a Professor and Director of the IMB Centre for Pain Research at the Institute of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland. He is just one example of a health professional leading the way in medical change for the future.
Professor Richard Lewis
I have worked in the medical field for many years now, focusing my research in the past on a fish poison known as ciguatera and also on analgesic venom peptides. At the moment, I am currently working on the discovery and development of novel analgesics on ion channels, receptors and transporters. Basically, our research explores the mechanisms of how the body feels pain and we then use this knowledge to develop new drugs to combat chronic pain.
To do this, we study conotoxins, which are small peptides from predatory marine snails that are very active in pain pathways. This could potentially provide the pathway for a new class of pain management drugs with fewer side effects. Several conotoxins discovered by our scientists have been taken into the clinic for severe pain treatment.
During the past 12 months, we have discovered a new mechanism of peptide diversification which is being developed as a new pain treatment. We have also identified a key role of potassium channels in the activity of nerves associated with cold pain. I am currently leading a Program Grant in Pain Research from the NHMRC and I hope to be able to deliver new therapeutic leads especially in the area of pain treatments.
Better pain medication can improve the quality of life for Australians suffering chronic pain as our population grows older, this is something we have to face and fight. I think there is a lot to look forward to in the future for medical advancements and I know we will continually find new ways to combat disease, viruses, pain and genetic disorders.
Taking a look into the future: Australia’s health tech and advancements
We’ve had a look into the past, talked to a professor about his current therapeutic studies but what we all want to know is: what does the future of health advancements look like? According to the experts…
- Google and DexCom are currently working on discrete and unobtrusive wearable continuous glucose monitoring systems that would notify both the patient and the healthcare professional when levels make a dangerous change.
- More weight loss drugs will be available in the market according to obesity expert Dr Nuala Byrne from the Queensland University of Technology. Some drugs will be designed to slow the stomach emptying and some will be made to make you feel full or limit fat absorption. There may also be electrical impulses to control the nerves which regulate the stomach and pancreas to tell you when you’re full.
- Professor Arthur Georges from the University of Canberra predicts DNA sequencing technologies will make personal genomes a reality. New machines which can yield terabytes of genetic information will make it possible for anyone to have their entire DNA sequenced in less than a week for a $1000. This information could be used to predict diseases, cancer and obesity years ahead of when they actually develop.
- Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Wood from the University of Western Australia forecasts that genetics will be combined with other technologies in the future to heal the damage created by trauma, burns and even cancer. We will apparently see the construction of three dimensional tissues including skin, cartilage, cardiac and bone tissue.
- Advances that emerge from broad screening programs such as the Australian-initiated Human Variome Project will likely lead to greatly improved diagnostics. This will hopefully enable the transition to more precise therapies such as the particular subsets of cancers.
Australia has achieved an incredible amount when it comes to our healthcare. From penicillin to ultrasounds to the bionic eye, and we have so much more to look forward to. It seems we are in safe hands when it comes to our health! As long as there are passionate health professionals and new ideas sprouting, the technological advancements in the coming years have no bounds.