5 deep-tech solutions for the world’s biggest healthcare challenges

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Radiography, electrocardiograms, penicillin; medical technologies are among humanity’s best innovations saving countless lives over the last century.

Despite historic breakthroughs, technology is having to constantly evolve to confront humanity’s latest challenges. As the planet grows warmer, we face more frequent outbreaks of infectious disease, and, as our societies get older, we are increasingly burdened by chronic disease. While tackling these new problems, we continue to grapple with persisting ones such as access, equity and overstretched services.

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Luckily, deep tech is stepping in with some answers.

The future of health is here

Optimism for the future of healthcare was alive and well at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Global Healthcare Week this month, as a futuristic scene of sleek robotics, VR booths and precision tool demonstrations wowed attending health leaders, investors and policymakers.

“Healthcare is undergoing a major transformation as we speak.” Raymond Fryrear II, Global Head of Digital Solutions at Johnson & Johnson told us at the event. “[But] it’s going to take a mind shift to how we’ve thought about innovation in the past.”

“Moving from reactive healthcare to preventative health management requires biology and technology to come together to create smarter technology tools, less invasive procedures and more personalised approaches.”

Below we outline some of the most exciting smart technologies discussed at Abu Dhabi Global Healthcare Week and how they’re helping solve the biggest problems in health.

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1. AI/deep learning

Orchestrating internet algorithms, streamlining manufacturing and automating no end of services, artificial intelligence is fast changing the way the world works.

Within healthcare, the use of deep-learning algorithms and Large Language Models (LLMs) is becoming more and more widespread, helping scientists, technicians and healthcare professionals unpack their patient data and search for solutions to even the most complex of problems.

Established companies such as Johnson & Johnson were joined by early stage startups and academic enterprises at the cutting-edge of healthcare AI, showcasing their latest developments to investors, policymakers and business leaders at Abu Dhabi Global Healthcare Week.

Among them was personalised medicine app Fava Health, whose co-founder Videha Sharma, Clinical Innovation Lead for the University of Manchester’s Pankhurst Institute for Health Technology, was a guest speaker. “It’s about making medicines safer and avoiding adverse events, but it’s also about making them more effective,” he said on the event’s HealthBeats podcast.

Further applications of AI include enhancing diagnostic accuracy, personalising treatment plans, and improving patient outcomes through data-driven insights.

At the University of Virginia in the US, AI is being used to help identify drugs that minimise scarring while researchers at Imperial College London are rolling out AI-powered stethoscopes to GPs across the country. On the industry side, ventures are pushing into exclusively AI-led services, such as Qure.ai, a global healthcare AI built to enable the early detection of lung cancer.

We also discussed the revolutionary intersection of AI and genetics with Dr. Alireza Haghighi, Founding Director of the Harvard International Center for Genetic Disease. “AI has significantly helped us to better understand genomic information and helps us to devise new diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic strategies or interventions.” See number five for more details.

2. Mixed reality and wearables

Tying AI in with other technologies such as mixed reality can also help bring greater equity to healthcare users. “We’ve heard a lot about artificial intelligence; about big datasets and classification systems. But now we’re starting to move into the second phase, which is the generative side,” J&J’s Fryrear told us on the ground.

“We’re seeing biometrics, immersive environments and wearables being used. When we start pulling all this together, we enhance the patient experience, the provider experience and we increase productivity. If we can do this, we can bring down costs, knock down geographical and economic barriers, and open up access across the world.”

Immersive technologies are transforming how patients access care, such as mental health therapy through Oregon Reality Lab, but also, how medical professionals are trained and operate. US-based Immersive medical training platform HintVR is a leading example of how clinicians will be trained in the future.

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“At a high level, wearables and mixed reality allow you to have a more immersive experience disconnected from geographical location,” Fryrear said. “VR breaks down those past barriers, without losing the immersiveness. The newer technology can put you both in the same room, even though physically you are [apart].”

Leaders in immersive therapeutics were present at Abu Dhabi Healthcare Week, including Co-Founder and CEO of AppliedVR, Matthew Stoudt, who spoke at the event about how VR is changing the game in chronic pain management.

3. Robotics

Trained on the deep-learning algorithms already mentioned, robotics have increasing power in the medical world.

Service robots such as the Camello+ robot built by Singaporean company OTSAW, are busy automating hospital duties while robotic biobanks are becoming the smart way to secure biological samples and advance medical research.

Robotics can also bring about more effective treatments in the most unexpected of ways.

“We have a platform called Monarch which is a flexible robotic system designed to help us analyse potential cancer lesions to be able to intervene much earlier,” Fryrear told us about Johnson & Johnson’s latest robotics innovation. “It enables us to diagnose and treat, often in the same setting, so it’s cost efficient.”

It seems that the most groundbreaking innovations will be a synchronous blend of all these new technologies; robotics, wearables, AI and AR. “From a medtech standpoint, we believe innovation is going to have a multifaceted approach.” Fryrear told us.

“When we think about it through a surgeon’s lens, it’s really about how we provide more advancements in terms of in-situ diagnostics and data driven insights in an effort to get more intuitive technologies or tools to use during surgery and more personalised care,” he explained.

4. App technology/ telehealth services

The smartphone revolution has made personalised healthcare a reality for millions, going some way in democratising healthcare access across the globe.

Telehealth services, supported by wearable technology and Clinical LLMs that give automated health advice, are booming. During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth quickly became a shining example for how to better deal with infectious outbreaks, ensuring risk-free healthcare services for all those who needed it.

By 2025, the telehealth sector is estimated to be worth $520.8 billion worldwide, with leaders such as US-based Hims & Hers which offers remote weight loss and mental health services. UAE field leader, Alma Health, was one of a handful of telehealth operators showcasing its patient-centred model at Abu Dhabi Global Healthcare Week.

By breaking down geographical barriers, and improving access to quality care among vulnerable communities and in remote areas, telemedicine is revolutionising the approach to healthcare management while also tackling long-standing challenges of global equity and access.

5. Cell and gene therapies (and their automation)

Beyond what is generally thought of as deep tech, burgeoning biotechnologies go deeper still. Enhanced understanding of genetics and genomics, combined with data-driven technologies, is radically transforming how we diagnose, treat and prevent illness.

Examples include CARVYKTI which utilises immune system responses to fight cancers and CRISPR Therapies which uses gene editing to cure rare blood disorders such as sickle cell disease. Meanwhile, Berkeley start-up Profluent recently released the world’s first open-source, AI-generated gene editor, in an effort to automate the development of CRISPR medicines and speed up innovations that tackle a range of diseases.

Dr. Alireza Haghighi talked to us about how the Harvard International Center for Genetic Disease is driving forward genetic innovation. “Our aim is to enhance genomic medicine and live science globally, through partnerships with governments, academic institutions and industry leaders,” Dr. Haghighi told us. “We analyse data from populations around the world, in order to make discoveries and develop new preventive and diagnostic opportunities in medicine.”

“The science and the research of genetics and genomics is well ahead of the clinical applications. This is cutting-edge science, and you need infrastructure to be able to implement the findings. So, we work with governments to help them establish their infrastructure.”

For more on this topic, see our article: From genomics to big data: the evolution of precision healthcare.

The future of deep health

While issues of equity and accessibility won’t disappear overnight, it’s clear that deep-tech technology has potential to put power back in patients’ hands all while furthering medical progress.

“It is in everyone’s interests that we create equitable healthcare outcomes,” Tony O Elumelu, Chairman of the United Bank for Africa Group, and Founder, Tony Elumelu Foundation, told us when asked about the role of platforms such as Abu Dhabi Global Healthcare Week.

“When opportunities like this come, for policymakers, healthcare practitioners, philanthropists and the private sector to work together to formulate or restrategise on the health-for-all agenda, they should be welcomed by everyone.”

This sentiment was supported by Dr. Haghighi of the Harvard International Center for Genetic Disease. “If we want to make any advances in medicine, with the ultimate aim of making people healthier,” he concluded. “It’s not possible to neglect one part of [the world]. We believe that, without global collaboration, it’s not possible to promote health globally.”

A key role of Abu Dhabi Global Healthcare Week is to enable this collaboration, by exposing healthtech innovators to potential partners, including foundations and development agencies, as well as traditional industry. This year’s inaugural event marked an important milestone for the global healthcare community, empowering all players to tackle the healthcare challenges of today, yesterday and tomorrow, as one.

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