Thanks to Scottish innovation, the future of healthcare could involve using 3D-printed organs for transplants and monitoring the vital signs of every human being through artificial intelligence. But how do we get there and what progress has been made so far? At the Art of Possible: Future of Healthcare, our panel of experts explored the future of each step along the patient journey through the healthcare system – from the training of medical students to what happens once you’re discharged from hospital.

The future of healthcare could be bleak, considering our rapidly aging population and chronically underfunded NHS.

But could Scottish innovation save the day?

Glasgow is already at the heart of the precision medicine ecosystem and Scotland is a pioneer in other areas of healthcare too.

Art of Possible: The Future of Healthcare was held on Thursday, May 2 to showcase how business, academia, government and the third sector are working creatively and collaboratively to drive the diffusion of disruptive technologies in the healthcare sector.

Five expert panellists set the scene, sharing their own ground-breaking work in the sector and how it has the potential to transform healthcare in Scotland and beyond.

1. Professor Paul Chapman, Head of the School of Simulation and Visualisation, Glasgow School of Art 

Despite being employed by one of Europe’s leading art institutions, Chapman is the first to admit he is not an artist – his background is in computer science.

But his skills have been put to good use. The School of Simulation and Visualisation (SimVis) has developed immersive medical training tools, including a breath-taking and ground-breaking 3D definitive human. Medical trainees can put on VR goggles and pull apart every piece of the human body.

The technology can be taken another step further when haptic technology is added to practice tools, so dental students can not only see but also feel what it’s like to give patients injections.

“You can use a tangerine,” Chapman said, “But this is better.”

The latest project for SimVis is a collaboration with the University of Strathclyde, applying immersive tech to the medical manufacturing space to help design and produce new medicines.

2. Professor Will Shu, Founder and Director of OrganLike

OrganLike is a pioneer of advanced 3D printing technology, producing hyper-realistic organ models for surgical rehearsal and training.

Shu, who brought along a 3D-printed brain and a heart in a jar to the event, discussed the OrganLike dream – to one day produce organs that can be transplanted into human bodies to save lives.

Currently, the OrganLike team uses data from MRI and CT scans to create near exact copies of actual organs that require surgery.

Unlike conventional 3D printing, which uses rigid plastic, OrganLike replicates the texture and consistency of real human tissue.

These extraordinary products, which emerged from pioneering work carried out by Prof Shu at the University of Strathclyde and Dr Isaac Wang from Herriot Watt University, will help to significantly improve surgical outcomes, patient recovery and the efficiency of surgical activities.

3. Dr Keith Goatman, Principal Scientist, Canon Medical Research

Goatman’s presentation discussed the power of machines to quickly and accurately process the millions of medical images that currently have to be analysed by humans.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has transformational potential for the future of healthcare; enabling earlier diagnosis and more efficient treatment for patients.

“It sounds too good to be true, but the solution is coming,” Goatman said.

Canon Medical is currently testing AI in Scotland to predict and detect disease – from stroke to cancer.

Scotland is also home to iCAIRD, the new £15 million centre of excellence for the application of AI in digital diagnostics.

4. Pamela Penn, Head of Business Development, Current Health

Current Health has developed a revolutionary AI-enabled wearable device that monitors patients’ vital signs with ICU-level accuracy. Last year, the start-up closed an $8 million seed funding round led by ADV, with participation from MMC Ventures and other private investors.

Penn, who wore the Current Health device to the event, shared how the company’s technology offers insights into a patient’s health and can alert medical staff if their condition deteriorates.

The company’s vision is to monitor the health of every human being to identify deterioration earlier with the goal of saving lives.

For now, Current Health is working to add more vital signs, such as blood pressure, to its monitoring list.

5. Janette Hughes, Head of Planning and Performance, Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre

In the early days of DHI – one of Scotland’s eight innovation centres – the focus was on exciting new technology and its potential. But Hughes said that focus has now shifted and engagement with citizens has become a top priority.

“Innovation must not be tech-driven, but demand-driven. Where is the appetite for innovation?”

Hughes has 15 years’ experience in the field and discussed how DHI has developed an innovation model that allows all partners to transform great ideas into solutions, through the use of co-design, simulation and collaborative working.

Following the panel presentations, a diverse audience including artists, academics and medical professionals took part in a workshop.

Key themes emerged including the importance of human-centred innovation, as well as market validation being key to new ideas and the need to empower users and simplify the innovation ecosystem.

The holes in education system were also raised as an issue. Students are learning in a silo system of traditional school subjects and teachers lack expertise in the emerging and enabling technologies that are creating the jobs of the future.

How can pupils prepare for a degree that crosses computer science with human anatomy at the Glasgow School of Art?

It’s a problem that extends far beyond the healthcare sector. Where are the data scientists and cyber security experts of tomorrow going to learn their trade?

However, in healthcare at least, humanity remains just as vital as technology.

Despite being at the very forefront of advances in artificial intelligence, panellist Dr Keith Goatman is against replacing humans with computers in the sector.

Goatman said he was hesitant about the push to automate everything.

“I feel very strongly that we should be using computers for what they’re good at and using humans for what they’re good at – to get the best possible care for patients.”

Intrigued? Join us for the next Art of Possible event in our ‘Future of…’ series, where we’ll be exploring tech-enabled innovations that can help define the future of agriculture.

You can register for free here.

The Art of Possible programme is delivered by Glasgow City of Science & Innovation, Technology Scotland, Cultural Enterprise Office and Glasgow City Council, in partnership with VentureFest Scotland.