Medical Lab Science Technologies to Watch in 2019

Medical lab science is a field in which technology has always played a role. MLS professionals work in clinical laboratory settings and conduct tests and report laboratory findings to doctors and pathologists.

While innovations such as advanced 3D printing and blockchain have already gained considerable traction in everyday news, newer developments such as precision medicine, machine learning, and pharmacogenomics will soon also become common topics of discussion in the medical profession. In fact, while there are literally hundreds of fascinating new advancements in laboratory science that could revolutionize medicine, there are some that have garnered considerable interest. This may be due, in part, to their business, consumer, or political applications. With the United States projected to spend 20 percent of its GDP in the coming decade on healthcare, now is the perfect time to research some of its most exciting new technologies.

Read on to learn about five exciting developments in medical lab science, as well as sample positions in the field making use of them, university programs with opportunities for undergraduate involvement, and pipelines into various medical technology industries.

1. Blockchain in Healthcare

As technology advances, so too do concerns about the vulnerability of confidential information systems. Imagine medical facilities that could freely and securely share data between locations, enhancing their collective diagnostic ability. Such collaborative opportunity could have a tremendous effect on the speed of advancements in treatment and therapy, in addition to changing how, why, and where doctors must work.

Just think, one day you might never need to see a doctor in person because that individual will already know everything they need to know about your medical history. Blockchain technology is one solution that addresses unencrypted gaps in our digital communications networks by encrypting data in ‘blocks’ that connect to another, thus forming the chain. It’s within the blocks that sensitive data is perfectly encrypted, creating an unhackable vault to protect information.

Just a few of the practical medical applications of blockchain tech include cybersecurity and privacy, spearheaded by companies such as BurstIQ and Factom, which help entities in the healthcare industry keep their patient data safe and store extensive histories of medical records, respectively. When it comes to making blockchain-encrypted cryptocurrencies, Medcredits devises solutions that allow patients to pay for medical costs with Bitcoin, among many other exciting developments.

The UC Berkeley Blockchain Initiative is a student-led organization with the goal of raising awareness of blockchain through education, seminars, innovation, research, consulting, design, and competition. They offer two courses: blockchain technology and bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Completing both courses ($99 each) earns graduates a certification in blockchain from this cutting-edge, non-traditional path.

Furthermore, the Swish Labs are frequently opening positions for blockchain experts and engineers. This innovative company accepts a variety of experiences as credentials, emphasizing a search for candidates with skills in new collar work, administration, operations, and data science.

2. Machine Learning

Machine learning, a function of artificial intelligence systems, is helping professionals in the medical field collate and analyze huge amounts of data, informatics, statistics, and many other sorts of information. In fact, ML and AI infrastructures work at their best when they have access to vast stores of raw data, which ML programs use to draw conclusions based on causation, correlation, and relation between variables.

For example, programs can view and analyze x-rays or MRI scans and provide a nearly-instantaneous, non-critical diagnosis. And as interest in machine learning continues to grow, the role of these futuristic technologies will inch ever closer to the front of the medical technology stage.

Some of the most interesting healthcare applications of machine learning include:

  • Predicting outbreaks with quantum computing
  • Identifying and diagnosing diseases
  • Improving radiotherapy
  • Crowdsourcing medical data collection
  • Performing clinical trials, as well as research result modeling and diagramming
  • Enhancing medical image diagnoses

As a branch of artificial intelligence, machine learning will no doubt rise immeasurably in the coming years as our use of advanced programs continues to grow.

Stanford University offers an online course in machine learning that can be taken by anyone. Considering that it comes from one of the country’s most well-respected universities, students can rest assured that they’ll come away from the course with an insight into the prevalence of machine learning and its numerous interesting applications.

Along with positions in blockchain engineering, Swish Labs are frequently opening positions in machine learning. Most of the entry-level positions listed do not require a BS degree but rather a combination of practical industry experience, at least an associate degree, boot camp credentials, and a variety of others—all dependent on the job.

3. RNA-Based Therapies & Treatments

RNA-based therapies intercept abnormalities in a patient’s genetic structure that might indicate worsening conditions. Closely related to DNA-based therapies, RNA therapies allow scientists and medical professionals to identify genetic abnormalities in a patient and get ahead of them before they’re translated into working genetic proteins.

RNA therapies have begun to gain traction in the wider medical world, with many nascent technologies emerging to combat the world’s rarest genetic conditions such as Huntington’s Disease, in addition to various neurological, biophysical, nervous, and cancerous conditions.

The mRNA vaccines that are developed by teams across the world require highly-specialized conditions and laboratories. As such, many have yet to see widespread use in medicine. In the coming years, we can expect that many such vaccines will be engineered to provide treatment and relief from enervating conditions and diseases.

This undergraduate program in biotechnology from the University of Maryland prepares students for a career in RNA research, genetic biotechnology, and interdisciplinary positions that combine biochemistry, molecular genetics, and branches of computer science.

Following graduation, aspiring professionals in this field might seek work with Dicerna Pharmaceuticals. This Massachusetts-based company excels at finding biotechnological solutions for pharmaceutical problems and has worked diligently to establish RNA therapies in the world of medicine.

4. 3D Printing

As the precision of 3D printing technology improves, what is capable in the field of medical devices will continue to amaze us. 3D printing is a versatile and advanced method of care and goes a long way toward decreasing the risk of these once-dire surgeries.

One of the many advantages of 3D printing is that devices and replacement organs are printed from patient-specific dimensions, meaning that they fit better with an individual’s specific anatomy. This typically includes cranial implants, orthopedic implants, external prosthetics, working parts of the heart, and highly-personalized airway stents for those diseases that cause complications of the airways. The market applications of 3D printing are very nearly limitless. Recently, at the Cleveland Clinic, 3D printing was used to aid in a total face transplant.

A few examples of the radical applications of 3D printing include the ability to print virtually anything necessary to a specific patient. 3D medical print engineers can create low-cost prosthetics, medical anatomical models, bones made out of chemical ceramic powder, heart valves, ear cartilage, and essentially every type of simple medical clamp, valve, or container.

Some machines are so advanced that they can print microscopically, capable of designing highly variable, convincingly organic organs, body parts, and other parts of human anatomy. Other more advanced prints include layers of living skin and even artificial blood vessels to carry blood to artificial organs.

Colorado State University offers a credential in 3D printing through its online education programs. In keeping with many upskilling developments in the past ten years, this certificate is represented as a badge that can be displayed on resumes, CVs, and other official documents.

Finally, print engineer positions at 3D Systems are an example of a great way to enter the field with a BS in engineering or certain concentrations in computer science. Many of these positions might prefer that applicants possess an MS in engineering or print technologies, but experience sometimes can be counted in place of an advanced degree.

5. Pharmacogenomics & Personalized Medicine

Pharmacogenomic therapies utilize the genetic makeup of each individual patient to help predict an individual’s metabolism of medications and drugs. They may be particularly useful in helping to treat opiate addiction, which has been quickened in the United States by an upswing in the net prescription of opioids for those who suffer from chronic pain.

This emerging field of medicine is part of a larger movement for greater patient customization of their own treatment. It is coming to be known as “personalized medicine”—a burgeoning movement that’s sure to gain momentum in the coming decade.

A key component of a personalized treatment philosophy is the concept of precision medicine. To this end, pharmacogenomics can be used to read an individual’s genetic structure and prescribe the best medication for them based on those genetic factors.

Each year, as many as 100,000 deaths occur worldwide according to the FDA. Personalized medicine stands to significantly decrease this number in the coming decade by inventing methods of identifying the relationship between genotype, phenotype, and adverse drug reactions in individual patients. Pharmacogenomics scientists can help the pharmaceutical industry predict a higher variety of adverse drug reactions at a faster rate than current research methods.

A certification from the UC Denver College of Pharmacy is a prime example of an incremental upskilling move that looks great on a medical or research resume and can help those interested into pivoting into personalized medicine.

As a final note, those interested in pharmacogenomics might consider a position as a research technician in pharmacogenomics labs, such as the one at the Washington University in St. Louis. This type of work is thought of as an entry-level position in this field, but further education in pharmacology, healthcare management, genetics, or biochemistry could prepare students for more advanced jobs in the field.

Kenneth Parker
Kenneth Parker Writer

About the Author: A graduate of the University of Oregon, Kenneth Parker is sometimes a musician and rarely a poet. His work spans copy editing, feature writing, and dissertation development.