A first-of-its-kind medical trial at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, UK could open up new avenues for improving treatments for patients with disorders related to blood cells, rare blood types, or people with severe transfusion needs.
The aim of the “Recovery and survival of stem cells originated red cells” trial is to transfuse lab-grown red blood cells onto human volunteers to test how well such cells survive in the body compared to the standard ones taken from a donor.
For the trial, the scientists extracted hematopoietic stem cells from adult volunteers and then matured them in lab-grown red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Once filtered to remove the white blood cells, the mature lab-grown cells were tagged with a radioactive marker to allow the scientists to monitor them in the volunteer’s body after transfusion. So far, this procedure has been done on two out of at least ten volunteers, and no side effects have been recorded.
Among the various benefits expected by scientists, the use of lab-grown red blood cells – manufactured to survive longer than standard cells – would allow patients requiring long-term transfusions (such as those with sickle-cell anemia) to reduce the rate of transfusion, thereby reducing the risk of organ damage caused by excessive iron accumulation in the body.
“If our trial, the first such in the world, is successful, it will mean that patients who currently require regular long-term blood transfusions will need fewer transfusions in the future, helping transform their care,” says chief investigator Dr. Cédric Ghevaert, a professor in transfusion medicine and consultant hematologist at the University of Cambridge and National Health Service Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).
Lab-grown cells lend themselves well to being engineered to meet specific requirements, thus showing enormous potential for medical researchers to grow rare blood cells in the lab. The possibility of targeting the antigens that differentiate both the major blood groups (A, B, AB, and 0) and the lesser-known ones, could simplify the challenge of finding the necessary match between donor and recipient to avoid life-threatening immune reactions in the latter.
So far, the trial bodes well, but further participants and research are needed before lab-grown blood cells become a standard in transfusions and meet the expectation of being able to transform care for those suffering from blood diseases.
If you enjoyed this article, we invite you to discover our upcomingSupertrends Platform, conceived to give you access to trends and innovation impacting your areas of interest directly from one place.
Medtech is one of the fastest-growing technology fields, and also one of the most regulated. In the past two years alone, it has grown by 235 percent, developing a broad range of innovations and technologies – in the areas of personalized medicine, algorithm-aided diagnostics, augmented reality, and self-driven healthcare – aimed at improving health and ensuring more equitable, easy, and distributed access to patient care. This proliferation of medical technology has been accompanied by regulatory measures, standards, requirements, and processes to ensure that patients’ safety always remains at the forefront.
According to AND Technology Research CEO Nicole Thorn, the tension between agile technology development and stringent regulation will continue to grow in the future unless a new approach is developed. On the one hand, iterative and dynamic approaches to development are proven to result in better technology. On the other hand, however, a lack of strict regulation in medtech can open the door for under-tested and under-managed systems, devices, and products that can be dangerous and harm patients.
Thorn suggests that regulatory compliance geared toward patient safety could be better aligned with the aim of agile medical innovation by focusing on three areas. The first is to ensure that auditing bodies and regulatory consultants are given better guidance to enable engineering teams to easily combine compliance standards and agile development processes. This would help reduce innovators’ confusion when faced with a cascade of regulations and long lists of product requirements, and allow them to proceed smoothly through all stages of development.
The second suggested area of focus is to leverage technologies to help innovators better understand the requirements. To this end, electronic quality management systems can be employed, although they can be expensive and require special expertise. Decision support algorithms, classification algorithms, natural processing language, and visualization tools are some of the technologies that can support companies in generating documentation, tracking testing, and assembling evidence of compliance.
Finally, Thorn suggests consolidating information sources in one place, as far as possible, to help innovators find information such as relevant contacts of bodies and authorities, submission requirements, ethical approvals, and so on more quickly.
Did you enjoy this article? Discover ourSupertrends Platform and learn how it can inform your strategic decision-making, and unlock the full potential of your organization by accelerating your innovation efforts.
Mental health is an issue that is gaining increasing relevance, as associated disorders – such as anxiety and depression – are found to be on the rise globally. Worryingly, these also involve young people and children to a significant extent. As little progress has been made in the development of new medicines and treatments in the past decade, experts in the field are looking to digital technology as a valuable resource to help counter and prevent this trend.
Predictions by the World Health Organization (WHO) support this future outlook. In fact, the WHO believes that by 2030, mental health conditions will be the leading public health burden globally, fomented by the failure of mental health services to be able to understand and intervene early enough to provide patients with appropriate care. According to the WHO, technology and innovation could make up for shortfalls in these areas.
In the wake of these considerations, healthcare providers, tech providers, and disruptive innovation companies have already begun to work independently or in collaboration with a wide range of public and private actors – governments, insurance entities, research centers, and universities – to enhance and further develop digital technologies to address different types of mental disorders while increasing the scalability, affordability, and accessibility of the global mental health system for afflicted patients.
Mobile applications – passive symptom tracking
A lot of effort is going into the development of mobile apps that can assist and monitor mentally ill patients at different stages of their condition. For example, researchers are currently exploring methods to enhance mobile applications for passive symptom tracking. Through sensors inside smartphones, these apps can record movement patterns, social interactions, and collect other data relevant to behavior analysis, such as tone of voice, speed of speech, and more.
By cross-referencing this data, the app is able to identify significant behavioral changes that could be indicators of upcoming episodes of mania, depression, or psychosis. This makes it possible to alert mental health professionals early on, allowing them to intervene before these episodes occur.
To date, the analytical capacity of these apps is still relatively limited, but the goal of enhancement is to make them capable of greater accuracy in analyzing behavioral data, with the ultimate goal of being able to manage even patients with more acute disorders.
Virtual Reality – Supporting doctor-patient communication and therapies
In the past two years, there has been a growing interest in the development of virtual reality as a way of supporting therapies to enhance mental health. Worldwide, researchers are studying the benefits of VR from different perspectives, ranging from increased patient engagement to the possibility for the mental health professional to be more in close contact with severe cases, to actual therapeutic applications.
Regarding greater involvement, research on VR-based solutions conducted in 2021 (Dilguel et al.) showed that Virtual Reality Group Therapies (VRGTs) stimulate patients to interact more with each other and with the therapist, and to be more participatory and honest in sharing, leading to greater group cohesion overall. This is due to the virtual environment and especially the anonymity provided by the avatars, which allow greater openness for patients who have difficulty talking freely about their disorder.
From the mental health professional’s perspective, virtual reality can facilitate stronger connections with the patients, allowing them to be more closely followed. What’s more, it is a technology that lends itself well to various therapeutic models, including preventive ones, and can give greater access to mental health services even for patients who are unable – or reluctant – to reach out to the therapist in the physical world.
From the point of view of therapeutic outcomes, advances in the study of VR therapies involve more disorders such as pain management, phobias, and anxiety, while the treatment of depression, for the time being, is least addressed in the current literature. The focus of research is also primarily geared toward using VR technology for the development of therapies rather than as a tool for diagnosing mental health conditions.
What to expect in the near future?
Currently, much effort is still focused on researching the possible uses of VR to ensure accessibility, patient care, and effectiveness of virtual therapies. Moreover, the support provided by mobile applications has not yet reached the level of maturity where they can handle the analytical complexity required for effective and preventive management of mental health conditions. However, according to experts, VR technology will become increasingly popular and widespread in the future due to a gradual reduction in costs and an increase in the quality of VR headsets. This will have a positive effect on the progressive development and testing of VR interventions to support mental health.
The digital approach to mental health as a whole has the potential to be implemented in a multitude of different regional and cultural settings and thus achieve a generalization of therapies that can reduce the burden of mental disorders globally.
Do you want to go deeper? Discover ourSupertrends Platformand learn how it can inform your strategic decision-making, and unlock the full potential of your organization by accelerating yourinnovation efforts.
Quantum computers and superconducting microprocessors usually operate optimally at temperatures around absolute zero (-459.67° Fahrenheit). However, they still have to exchange information and interact with traditional devices running at room temperature. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, have developed a device that mediates the communication between these two types of devices, hoping to enable seamless integration between cutting-edge and traditional technologies in the future.
Quantum computers, devices that operate based on quantum physics laws, are expected to revolutionize all industries due to their capacity to solve problems that are out of reach for traditional computational devices. Even though some prototypes have been proven to work at room temperature, most quantum computers need to be cooled at temperatures close to absolute zero to minimize errors and facilitate the quantum states. At the same time, quantum devices haven’t yet reached their full potential; thus, present operational solutions propose a hybrid approach, in which computations are performed partly on a quantum device and partly on a traditional one.
Currently, the connection between cryogenic systems and room-temperature electronics is established via standard metal wires. However, these wires transfer heat into the circuits and allow only small amounts of data to be transmitted. The solution proposed by Paolo Pintus, the lead researcher within UC Santa Barbara’s Optoelectronics Research Group, is to convert data from electric current to light pulses using magnetic fields. Then, the light can be transferred via fiber-optic cables, which have a larger data capacity and minimize the heat that leaks into the cryogenic system.
The prototype has already been tested in projects developed together with the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the Quantum Computing and Engineering group of BBN Raytheon. According to Pintus, “[t]he promising results demonstrated in this work could pave the way for a new class of energy-efficient cryogenic devices, leading the research toward high-performing (unexplored) magneto-optic materials that can operate at low temperatures.”
Did you enjoy this article? Discover our Supertrends Platform and learn how it can inform your strategic decision-making, and unlock the full potential of your organization by accelerating your innovation efforts.
The faster, the better: Recent research on the potential of 5G in healthcare carried out by Massachusetts-based International Data Corporation confirms that this technology can boost healthcare technology by making it faster, more precise, and more accurate, with clear benefits for patients. The list of technologies boosted by 5G includes remote robo-surgery, tele-treatment, and augmented and virtual reality for the purposes of medical diagnostics and practice.
Regarding robo-surgery, the application of 5G would enable connectivity with extremely low latency – that is, very small delay times – between command and execution. This enables greater precision and accuracy by the surgeon controlling the robot. It also means that, unlike now, the doctor would no longer be required to be physically close to the patient and operate from the same room for safety reasons, but could do so completely remotely. Reinforcing surgical robots with this technology would thus enable them to perform surgery even during crisis situations that prevent doctors from reaching patients in remote locations.
The higher connection speed provided would also normalize tele-treatment as a practice, as it would ensure the enhanced and more stable video streaming quality that doctors require for detailed checkups and identification of symptoms. In addition, 5G-supported telemedicine can easily integrate and store extensive patient data, images, and documentation without compromising connectivity. Thus, tele-treatment would provide greater accuracy in remote medical practices, greater coverage of patients scattered in remote locations, and greater safety even in the event of pandemic outbreaks while ensuring compliance with any social distancing norms.
The increased bandwidth and low latency will also facilitate the latest applications of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in the medical field and help to unleash their full potential. For medical students, the accuracy of VR and AG technologies enabled by 5G would eliminate the need to practice surgery on human corpses.
In addition, 5G-based AG allows diagnostic images to be accurately projected onto the patient, helping the surgeon identify less damaging surgical pathway alternatives. The technology is expected to pave the way for many more improvements in next-generation healthcare technology, as well as in other industries.
Did you enjoy this article? To learn more about the technology, challenges, and opportunities in the health and life sciences sector, read our industry overview.
In just three years, German pharma company BioNTech, which delivered the first vaccine against COVID-19, has become a major player in the biotech field, not only delivering hundreds of millions of vaccine doses, but also continuing its original focus on mRNA vaccines and other drugs to treat cancer. The company’s rapid growth has not only brought fame and revenues, however, but also new collaborations, production facilities, and supply chains that need to be carefully managed on a country-by-country basis, especially because its core product are personalized mRNA vaccines that are specifically tailored to individual patients.
In order to handle the massive increase in logistics while continuing to coordinate its research and distribution, BioNTech has entered into a partnership with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM, a renowned German applied research institute that develops and implements technologies spanning theoretical and applied mathematics in collaboration with industry partners. Working together, Fraunhofer ITWM and BioNTech developed two software platforms whose algorithms support planning, management, and automation of the pharma company’s global research and distribution work, including cancer treatment and vaccination applications, and to adapt to new requirements.
Fraunhofer ITWM researcher Heiner Ackermann, who works at the High Performance Center Simulation and Software Based Innovation in Kaiserslautern, Germany, said the software tools are able to handle the complexity of BioNTech’s work flows in a way that off-the-shelf solutions cannot match. As such, they provide a “solution that uses flexible mathematical methods and models – a tailor-made solution that is not only specifically designed for the processes at BioNTech, but can also optimize them,” Ackermann explained.
The challenges of managing the complex operations of a global biotech corporation include applications for regulatory approval, setting up and carrying out pharmaceutical trials, or dealing with industry-specific problems such as fluctuating process times and higher reject rates caused by defective tissue samples, to name just a few. But for BioNTech, these challenges are compounded by the fact that its individualized cancer drugs are designed differently for each patient in small batches. They are then distributed to many countries, each of which has its own regulatory requirements governing everything from initial approval to rules about shelf life.
Now, the company has received its own customized solutions to deal with this high level of complexity. With the two new software platforms, BioNTech will be able to establish durable and stable production processes for vaccine production and individualized mRNA-based cancer treatments. “Thanks to our successful collaboration with the Fraunhofer ITWM team, BioNTech has acquired tailor-made solutions that provide vital support in high-stakes situations. We will continue to use the software-optimized processes in other areas in the future,” said Oliver Henning, Senior Vice President Operations at BioNTech.
Did you enjoy this article? To learn more about the technology, challenges, and opportunities in the health and life sciences sector, read our industry overview.
While the efforts to implement and increase the adoption rate of 5G technology are still at the starting line, researchers and players in the communication industry are already setting their eyes on the next frontier: 6G. Even though this technology is still in the research phase, it has the potential to propel the IT sector to a new level, allowing for very high processing speeds, low latency, and increased bandwidth. Moreover, adopting this technology will support the IT sector in aligning with societal goals (e.g., high-speed services available anywhere, anytime), satisfy increasing market expectations, and improve the efficiency of the sector’s operations.
Over a span of 30 years, mobile communications technology has gone from barely maintaining the connection during phone calls to secured conversations, networks that support rapid and clear transmission of data, SMS, roaming conference calls, multimedia services, VoIP apps, video streaming, and video conferencing services.
5G – one step away from market adoption
The current fifth-generation technology is faster than any other previous generation, promising reduced battery consumption, improved coverage, and seamless device-to-device communication. Commercial 5G networks are operational; however, the adoption rates are low, and the roll-out is proceeding at different speeds across the world. According to Ericsson’s Mobility Report, the number of 5G subscriptions is expected to reach one billion in 2022, while the GSMA, an industry organization representing the interests of mobile network operators, expects 5G to account for 21 percent of all mobile connections in 2025.
Even though the next logical step after 5G is 6G, there is also a significant intermediate evolutionary phase, 5G Advanced, which is now taking shape and starting to be implemented across industries.
6G – the next frontier
While 5G is still under roll-out, efforts to shape the 6G infrastructure have already begun. This technology will take IT applications for smart cities, smart farming, industrial automation, and robotics to the next level. Moreover, because 6G will be built upon the previous generation in terms of technological infrastructure and use cases, it will allow the IT sector to scale it up in an optimized and cost-effective way.
The vast majority of IT applications will benefit from this surge in terms of efficiency, capabilities, and speed: Digital twins, virtual models of physical objects or processes, will be operational at a larger scale, new types of man-machine interfaces will be enabled, and the potential of artificial intelligence and machine learning will be unleashed. In terms of localization and geospatial imagery, 6G will substantially improve positioning accuracy and potentially extend coverage into space while at the same time meeting extreme connectivity requirements, including sub-millisecond latency.
IT players that are already developing AI-based applications will benefit from a synergy between 6G and AI that can unlock new opportunities in an unprecedented way: On the one hand, AI will help improve 6G performance; on the other hand, 6G will provide the infrastructure to propel the use of AI across all sectors and in multiple use cases.
Innovators and early adopters
Important players in the IC&T field have already kicked off 6G-related research projects or experiments. In 2020, China launched the first 6G experimental satellite to test data transmission using the terahertz spectrum. The country also holds most 6G patents, closely followed by the US.
In April 2011, AT&T, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, applied for experimental licenses with the US Federal Communications Commission. This would allow the company to showcase the functionality and capabilities of 5G Advanced and 6G wireless systems.
Samsung, a multinational electronics and information technology company, plans to host its first 6G forum, where scientists and industry experts will explore next-generation communication technologies. Nokia Bell Labs, the Finnish multinational IT&C and consumer electronics company, has also begun research work in the 6G area, planning to make this technology commercially available by 2030.
Public or private organizations in Japan, Germany, South Korea, and Russia are also establishing research facilities or starting pilot projects. In the US, the Next G Alliance, launched in 2020, aims to advance North American leadership in 6G. On the same note, the EU initiated the 6G flagship project, aiming to advance the research in this area.
An eye on the future
The vision of the future of 6G tends to converge across business players, industry organizations, and research centers. The most optimistic prediction places 6G commercial roll-out as early as 2028, while more conservative approaches predict that it will become available in 2035. Most of the roadmaps of the important players in the telecommunication field envision 6G commercial availability in 2030.
However, there are still important challenges that need to be addressed before full deployment of the new generation of communication technology becomes possible, such as new technological advancements to differentiate the new generation from the previous one, global, unified standards in order to prevent market confusion and fragmentation, as well as diverse and secure supply chains.
Find out more about other technologies that will have a tremendous impact on the IT sector in the future.
Which innovations will emerge in your industry in 2022? A look at the Supertrends timeline reveals predictions such as “NASA’s space probe collides with an asteroid” in a manner similar to the popular Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up”, “Hyperimaging and AI provide humans with X-ray vision”, and “First commercial flight of a passenger air taxi”. In fact, the advances in technology may exceed your expectations in many areas. Let’s take a look at the most striking innovations that we can expect in 2022.
Healthcare industry: COVID-19, next-generation vaccines, and digitalization
January 2022 marks the start of the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we may still not see the pandemic ending this year, we can expect new testing methods, such as a COVID-19 breathalyzer, that can test the virus rapidly and non-invasively. mRNA vaccines have been and probably will continue to be a major tool in our battle against COVID-19. Both Pfizer and Moderna are working on new mRNA vaccines targeting Omicron and other existing variants, which are likely to be available in a few months. We may also see the development of mRNA vaccines beyond COVID-19. Several mRNA influenza vaccines are already in the human trial stage. At the same time, DNA vaccines may become a good alternative for some countries, as they are easier to manufacture and store. The first DNA vaccine has received emergency use authorization in India.
COVID-19 pandemic also accelerated the digitalization of the healthcare industry. By digitalization, we are not just talking about telemedicine, which has been a critical tool during COVID times. From early diagnosis to drug discovery, artificial intelligence (AI) is being adopted by more and more sectors in healthcare. AI and virtual clinical trial (VCT) could be a valuable tool in improving the time-consuming and expensive clinical drug development process.
As age-related diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and dementia, become more common, researchers are increasingly starting to view aging as a disease. Anti-aging technology innovation aimed at increasing our lifespan and health span has also become one of the fastest-growing fields in life science. This trend will continue in 2022. Although we won’t see aging itself being reversed (yet), some of the first milestones to be reached in this field could be in age-related diseases, such as early detection of dementia through AI tools.
Below are some of the interesting milestones that have been predicted to come to pass in the healthcare industry in 2022. Interestingly, the first of these was reached sooner than expected:
The first AI-discovered drug target and molecule enters clinical trial (in December 2021)
The first DNA vaccine for humans is approved by the FDA
An artificial pancreas is routinely available in the UK via the NHS
Longevity investment company Juvenescence goes public
Energy, natural resources, and environmental industry: “Green” is the desired color
The energy sector will continue to adapt to a more sustainable approach. The integration of green hydrogen into energy systems could also be boosted by renewable energy projects, such as offshore wind farms.
Climate change continues to be high on the agenda in countries around the world. Another round of United Nations climate talks will take place in 2022. Green/sustainable technology will be adopted across industries. In December 2021, the green/sustainable tech sector got a boost in China when the country’s industry ministry unveiled a five-year plan to make industrial sectors “greener”. In Europe, as part of its general climate action plan, the European Commission (EC) has allotted significant funds to finance large-scale projects that would foster the commercialization of clean technologies. A financial aid package of around €1.3 to 1.5 billion is expected to be approved in the last quarter of 2022. We will monitor these developments closely to see which green innovations will win the EC’s support.
Efforts to preserve biodiversity will also be stepped up in 2022. Scientists have been warning for years that we are entering a mass extinction phase that could wipe out more than one million species. Increased extinction rates will threaten ecosystems and have severe consequences for the survival of humanity. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity is scheduled to take place in April 2022 in China.
Some 28 percent of the 138,374 species assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature for its survival watchlist are now at high risk of vanishing forever
The “green” trend and efforts to achieve global climate goals will impact other industries as well. In the fashion industry for example, we will see a shift towards more digital services, such as the opening of the world’s largest virtual fitting room, and environmentally-friendly products. Pandora, the world’s largest jeweler, has announced that they are shifting from mined diamonds to more sustainable lab-made diamonds this year.
Below are some of the milestones that this sector could achieve this year:
The world’s first offshore green hydrogen plant begins operating
IUCN’s Red List extended to include 160,000 species
Geothermal energy is generated and sold in the UK
Food and agriculture industry: Alternative protein – it’s what’s for dinner
Cultured meat – the animal protein produced from cell cultures in bioreactors – has come a long way since the debut of the world’s first cell-cultured burger in 2013. In 2020, cultured chicken meat became the first commercialized cultured meat product. Quite a few start-ups have announced plans to bring cultured shrimp, cultured lobster, cultured foie gras, cultured fat, and cultured human milk to the market in 2022.
Another active player in the sector of alternative protein is insect protein, which has great potential as a future food because of its high efficiency and sustainability. Demand for insect protein is currently mainly for use as animal feed and pet food ingredients. In 2021, the yellow mealworm became the first insect food approved for human consumption in the EU.
We picked a few interesting milestones that could be realized in 2022 in the food and agriculture sector:
The world’s biggest insect farm is opened with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes of insect products per year
A cultured milk company is listed in the US stock market
A cultured meat product that costs less than US$10 per pound is launched
Transportation, logistics and mobility industry: self-driving cars on the roads?
The COVID pandemic has been a driving force for digitalization and automation in several industries, especially the healthcare industry. However, this is not the case in the transportation, logistics and mobility industry. Disruptions to the supply chain and quarantines have caused delays in many projects, including the development of autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving cars. Will the development of self-driving cars catch up in 2022? According to the Supertrends radar, the UK and Germany may allow self-driving cars on their roads this year.
Another trend to watch in this industry is the shift toward renewable energy-powered ships. Today, cargo ships contribute only two to three percent of global CO2 emissions, but that share will increase when other sectors use less fossil energy. Shipping is expected to contribute up to 17 percent of total CO2 emissions by 2050. We may witness the shipping industry turning to clean energy to replace heavy fuel oil, starting with the world’s first ammonia-powered ship in 2022.
Below are a few 2022 milestones in this industry, and again the first predicted breakthrough occurred even sooner than anticipated:
Germany allows autonomous vehicles on public roads (in December 2021)
The world’s first ammonia-powered ship is launched
First commercial flight of a passenger air taxi
The first commercial solar car is on the market
Other industries and sectors: Keep your imagination alive
Another highly active industry is space exploration. In 2022, Europe may land its first rover on Mars through a joint Russian-European mission (ExoMars), a NASA space probe is scheduled to collide with an asteroid in a testing mission, and China’s first space station Tiangong will be completed. It’s going to get crowded even on the moon this year. Other than NASA’s moon mission, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea have all announced their own moon missions in 2022.
We are in an era of exponential innovation. Almost every sector is benefiting from new technology and creating new products, new markets, and new business models. Don’t be surprised if the innovation milestones below are achieved in 2022:
Elevators travel to a height of 1km
First flexible smartphone invented using ultra-thin chips
Hyperimaging and AI provide humans with X-ray vision
The first “augmented paper” enters circulation
China rolls out a state-controlled digital currency using blockchain technology
All products of a major fashion retailer can be viewed in augmented reality
In 2021, a 50-year-old challenge – the protein folding problem – was solved by AI, starch was produced synthetically from air, the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge opened in Amsterdam, and one in four people in the US used cannabis.
These are some of the many predictions on the Supertrends timeline of the future that were fulfilled this year, while some others were not. In the following, we will look at the breakthroughs, the trends that moved faster than expected, the trends being pushed backward, and the trends you should keep an eye on as 2021 draws to a close.
The breakthroughs in 2021
AI continues to show its immense power by solving the “protein folding problem”
In 1972, US biochemist Christian Anfinsen predicted during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that it would be possible to determine a protein’s 3D structure based on its one-dimensional amino acid sequence. This is the famous “protein folding problem” that has challenged scientists for the past 50 years. Until the beginning of this decade, humanity had collectively discovered the three-dimensional structure of 180,000 proteins. Now, an artificial intelligence tool called AlphaFold has predicted more than 350,000 additional protein structures, and it may be able to predict more than 100 million more within months.
3D printing applied to construction and healthcare
The practical applications of 3D printing expanded to architecture and healthcare in 2021. This year, the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge was opened to the public in Amsterdam, the first commercial 3D-printed house went on sale in the US, and the first 3D-printed school opened in Africa. In healthcare, a three-dimensional biomaterial scaffold was shown to reverse arthritis in mice, and 3D-printed vascularized human organ tissue survived for 30 days in a lab.
Sustainability became a trend across industries
With the US rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and China launching its national carbon emission trading scheme, sustainability became an important trend across industries in 2021. One example is the fast development of sustainable agriculture. After the debut of cultured beef, pork, chicken, and fish, this year saw the arrival of cell-cultured caviar, as well as chocolate developed in the lab, along with the first underground urban farm.
Trends that accelerated
Sometimes the speed of innovation exceeds our expectations. For some trends, faster-than-expected development brought certain milestones forward into the year 2021.
On 6 October 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) approved the first malaria vaccine. Researchers have been working on a malaria vaccine for more than 30 years. The crowdsourced consensus on Supertrends was that a vaccine would not be approved before 2025. Based on positive (though less successful than hoped for) trial results, the protein-based malaria vaccine Mosquirix was approved for broad use in children by the WHO, marking an important step forward in the fight against one of the world’s most dangerous remaining infectious diseases.
In November 2021, IBM announced the launch of a 127-qubit quantum computer. This set a new record in quantum computing, bringing the industry a step closer to developing devices capable of outrunning classical computers in performing specific tasks. “A quantum computer with over 100 qubits” was originally predicted on Supertrends timeline to happen in 2022.
Also in November, the first zero-emissions container ship completed its maiden voyage in Norway. Although the ship only embarked on a short sail along the Oslo fjord, the journey nevertheless marked a new trend in sustainability that came to fruition sooner than predicted.
Trends that lagged behind expectations
For reasons related to regulation, technology, and sometimes as part of the domino effect of the COVID pandemic, some trends that had been expected to manifest themselves in 2021 were delayed.
Wall Street’s hopes for launching a bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) were quashed again by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Despite Bitcoin’s new highs, the SEC rejected an application by US investment firm VanEck for a BTC ETF. Some experts think that this milestone could be postponed for years.
As sales of electric vehicles (EV) boomed, the development of autonomous vehicles (AV) remained stagnant in 2021. iQ-cruise, an intelligent, fuel-efficient cruise control system for trucks developed as a precursor to fully autonomous mobility, remained a pilot program this year despite predictions of its commercialization. Perhaps Apple’s push into the EV and AV field will accelerate the development?
Another milestone was delayed as a direct consequence of the COVID pandemic. In 2020, Sunflower Labs launched the world’s first fully autonomous residential security system that combines sensors, drones, and AI. The company was all set up to deliver their autonomous security system to customers before the COVID outbreak abruptly changed the status of the home security market and led Sunflower Labs to focus on new business applications.
Benchmarks that may or may not be reached in December
The world is changing faster than ever. Although Supertrends strives to bring you news about the most impactful and disruptive innovations, no single company can cover every new technology and new trend. Therefore, we invite you to join us in predicting new trends and spotting their development.
Help us to keep an eye on the following milestones that could still be achieved in 2021!
Self-driving cars are allowed on UK roads. The UK government has said it would change the law by the end of 2021 to define cars with certified standards of Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) as “self-driving”. This hasn’t happened yet, but we are still watching.
The James Webb Space Telescope is launched.The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was jointly developed by the US, Europe, and Canada and planned as NASA’s flagship astrophysics mission. The JWST’s launch, initially planned for 2007, has suffered numerous delays. The latest delay pushed the launch date to 22 December 2021. Will the JWST make it into 2021’s list of Supertrends achieved? We certainly hope so!
If you want to always be in touch with the latest trends in innovation, get free access to the Supertrends timeline by signing up for Supertrends Pro app.
Not many people know how dangerous sepsis is. Even fewer people know that there is no specific therapy available to treat sepsis. Sepsis, a disorder that is developed from infections, can lead to limb amputations and deaths in a matter of days. For decades, it has remained one of the deadliest and costliest medical conditions. Now a startup is getting one step closer to finding an innovative therapy.
Finding an innovative approach
Aquaporin is a channel protein found in plants, animals, and humans. The discovery of aquaporin won Dr. Peter Agre a Nobel Prize in 2003. However, despite having a profound physiological impact, aquaporins have so far not been transformed into practical applications. Could aquaporins offer an innovative therapy for sepsis? Supertrends has been following the development of ApoGlyx, a start-up dedicated to creating aquaporin-based therapies. This year, ApoGlyx has seen promising achievements after more than a decade of hard work.
In April, ApoGlyx won the NLSInvest Rising Star Award on the first Nordic Life Science Investment Day. The award provided the opportunity for ApoGlyx to highlight its innovative therapy in front of investors.
Attracting new investors
For the last few years, ApoGlyx has been busy working on two preclinical studies with Professor Giuseppe Calamita of Bari University in Italy, Professor Angela Tesse Ragot, University of Nantes, and Prof. Christoph Thiemermann at the William Harvey Research Institute in London. Both studies have delivered promising results. “The results proved that a modulated aquaporin might offer a new approach for sepsis management,” Calamita told Supertrends in an interview. Thiemermann went one step further in describing the result as “striking”.
“We have never seen a drug that is administered after three hours after the onset of sepsis and is still effective.” – Professor Christoph Thiemermann, Director of the Centre for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the William Harvey Research Institute, and Supertrends expert
With sound scientific evidence to back up its claims, no wonder ApoGlyx stood out in the NLSInvest event. Following the event, Aploglyx successfully completed a US$700,000 (six million Swedish kronor) financing round. Among the new investors is the Swedish fund Almi Invest, a venture capital fund that supports early-stage start-ups with high growth potential and a scalable business plan.
Entering “Medicon Village”
To support its further development, ApoGlyx is entering the SmiLe incubator located in Medicon Village, in Lund, Sweden. Seated around the Öresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark in the thriving life-science region nick-named “Medicon Valley”, SmiLe is a prestigious life science incubator that has already produced 16 IPOs and demonstrated a success rate of 86 percent.
In its new home at SmiLe, ApoGlyx will further analyze valuable biomarkers with its already completed experiment and carry out further studies to provide more evidence for its aquaporin-based therapy.
“ApoGlyx is transforming from research into scaling and commercialization,” said Kristina Nyzell, an early investor who has witnessed the transformation of the start-up.
Contributing to sepsis awareness education
Sepsis, one of the earliest medical syndromes to be described in the history of medicine, remains one of the most dangerous and costly medical conditions even today. Nevertheless, public awareness of sepsis is poor across the globe. Surveys showed that only 7 to 50 percent of respondents were familiar with the term, including many who had an incorrect understanding of the condition.
To help the public understand sepsis better, ApoGlyx, in collaboration with Disruptiveplay, has developed a minicourse about what sepsis is, how to identify the condition, and how to manage it. The course is part of the Educate All initiative led by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (unitar) and micro-learning platform EdApp. The Sepsis Awareness course can be accessed for free on EdApp.
Preparing for clinical trials
“Preclinical modelsthat are often used for regulatory safety studies involve a rodent and a non-rodent species and must be relevant for the drug’s mode of action and expected off-target effects. Once sufficient safety information is obtained, dosage and treatment schedules are determined for Phase I trials in humans. I see no major obstacles for ApoGlyx’s next stage of clinical trials.” – Dr. Frank Staedtler, biologist, and Supertrends expert
Before the drug candidate is tested on humans, ApoGlyx must gain a better understanding of potential risks that their aquaporin-based therapy might have. The company will start a preclinical toxicology program in early 2022. After the toxicology data is analyzed, ApoGlyx will officially start its regulatory process for clinical trials.
The company plans to start its discussion with the European Medicine Agency (EMA) in 2022. If all goes well in Europe, ApoGlyx will then start the process in the US with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
It will certainly be a lengthy and uneasy journey to bring a new drug into clinical practice. The challenge will be even bigger when dealing with a condition like sepsis, which has previously defeated numerous attempts at therapeutic intervention. Today, factors such as emerging viral infections, antibiotic resistance crisis, and an aging population have caused sepsis to be an even bigger threat. More than ever, we need a successful therapy against sepsis. Aquaporin-based therapy provides an innovative approach to this challenge. Our report on Supertrends in Aquaporin and Sepsis describes how the future of aquaporin could be intertwined with the future management of sepsis.
While many human activities affect the environment in negative ways, nature’s solutions often are more efficient and sustainable. How do plants and animals purify water? What can we learn from them about filtration? With these questions in mind, Supertrends talked to two executives from Aquaporin, a water tech company delivering innovative technology based on nature’s own water filter.
Aquaporins: the truly natural water filters
The cells in Aquaporins are channel proteins that facilitate the transport of water across cells. Through aquaporins, cells in plants, animals, and humans can filter pure water from other molecules very quickly and efficiently. The discovery of aquaporins in 1992 won Dr. Peter Agre a Nobel Prize in 2003 and laid the groundwork for practical applications in a number of industries.
Inspired by nature’s own water filtration method, Danish company Aquaporin developed the Aquaporin Inside® technology, a biomimetic membrane that serves as a natural, sustainable water treatment solution. The company offers innovative products such as a water filtration system that does not need electricity, a natural concentration process that can achieve high concentration levels without loss of natural flavor in food and beverages; and a sustainable and efficient wastewater treatment process involving lower energy consumption and less wastewater discharge.
Water treatment goals in the textile industry
Accounting for 20 percent of global wastewater discharge, the textile industry is one of the largest polluters and consumers of water. To make matters worse, many textile factories are located in water-stressed regions, such as India and Bangladesh. “With Aquaporin’s technology, textile factories could reuse up to 95 percent of their wastewater and ultimately achieve zero liquid discharge,” said Søren Robenhagen, the sales director for industrial water at Aquaporin.
Have worked for quite a few years in a diplomatic position in South Asia and the Middle East, Robenhagen is no stranger to the environmental damages caused by industrial wastewater.
“India is a global manufacturing hub, with textile industry alone accounting for 12 percent of the country’s export earnings. Mass production comes with the challenges of water pollution, contributing to water scarcity, and increased regulations to manage it. Aquaporin technologies enable the industry to be greener, cleaner, and more water- and carbon-conscious.”
Søren Robenhagen, Sales Director, Industrial Water at Aquaporin & Supertrends Expert
Robenhagen told Supertrends that his ambition is to bring Aquaporin’s sustainable water tech to major textile exporters such as India and Turkey. “We are expecting our first commercial installation of wastewater treatment unit in India in the first half of 2022,” he said.
Consumers are part of the sustainability solution
Water is a costly resource in Europe. European companies usually can benefit from direct cost savings in reduced water consumption by adopting the sustainable water treatment solution developed by the company Aquaporin. However, in developing countries like Bangladesh, water is exacted from the ground almost free of charge. What are the incentives for textile factories there to spend on sustainable water treatment equipment?
Robenhagen believes that such incentives depend on the choices made by individual end users. “Consumers like you and me are demanding more sustainable products from fashion brands. Fashion brands will then work with the factories to make them greener by forming long-term partnerships.” Aquaporin has been chosen by Fashion for Good, a platform dedicated to sustainable fashion innovation, for a pilot project at textile factories in South Asia, where the technology will be presented as a blue stamping that features the Aquaporin Inside® technology.
The paradox of freshwater
Global warming causes increased drought in many places. In 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could face a fresh water shortage. More and more regions have to rely on the treatment of salty water for freshwater supply. However, brackish water (water that is saltier than freshwater, but not as salty as seawater) treatment and seawater desalination require vast amounts of energy, which are provided by fossil fuels in many places. Some experts have expressed their concerns about creating a feedback loop where seawater desalination worsens global warming, and in turn leads to a greater shortage of freshwater.
As a more energy-efficient and sustainable solution, an aquaporin-based membrane could help to save energy and increase efficiency in the treatment process for brackish water and seawater. The company Aquaporin is launching a reverse osmosis system with Aquaporin Inside® technology as a more energy-efficient method of treating brackish water. The company is also working actively with partners to develop aquaporin-based membranes that can improve energy efficiency in the seawater desalination process.
“Desalination uses a lot of energy. It is not only expensive, but could also have a high carbon footprint if the energy comes from fossil fuels. An aquaporin-based membrane that is highly efficient, but uses lower energy is very beneficial. It can translate into lower cost of operation and lower carbon footprint.”
Matt Boczkowski, deputy CEO of Aquaporin and Supertrends expert.
To have enough water for agriculture, industry, and daily life, we must achieve sustainable water management. Nature is the best teacher. Aquaporin – nature’s own water filter – could help us to ensure that our water supply continues to be sourced sustainably and using natural processes.
On 13 September 2021, World Sepsis Day will be observed for the tenth time. Sepsis, a disorder that is caused by infections, can lead to limb amputations and deaths in a matter of days. The condition kills at least 11 million people every year globally. However, the condition is still not well known, with only from 7 to 50 percent of respondents being familiar with the term, and many having an incorrect understanding of the condition. Supertrends asked four experts to comment on current sepsis-related trends and challenges.
COVID-19 and viral sepsis
Traditionally, bacterial infections had been regarded as a leading cause of sepsis. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed viral sepsis to be one of the characteristics of modern-day sepsis syndrome. Studies found that sepsis was the most frequently observed complication of COVID-19. The elevation of cytokine levels, an indicator of dysregulated immune response to the virus infection, was linked to viral sepsis and critically ill COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Masab Moumneh, who has been an ICU physician in Abu Dhabi for the past ten years, still cannot believe how many lives COVID-19 took during the peak days of the pandemic. He told Supertrends that almost all COVID-19 patients are killed by the dysregulated immune response rather than the virus itself.
“I have never seen anything as bad as this. Patients typically develop a high fever, their Interleukin 6 (a type of cytokine) is high. If we can get them to pass the two-week mark, they will survive.”
– Masab Moumneh, MD, ICU physician, and Supertrends expert
Sepsis in contemporary healthcare
Dr. Mads Koch Hansen, an intensive care specialist and hospital administrator, believes that we are facing a greater challenge from sepsis today due to shortened post-surgery hospital stay, emerging viral infections, antibiotic resistance crisis, and an aging population.
“Today, there are more elderly patients and more patients with chronic conditions. Another factor we should pay attention to is that we do more surgeries on elderly people, with fewer post-surgery staying days in the hospital. This means we will not be able to detect these patients early if they develop sepsis.”
– Mads Koch Hansen, MD, intensive care specialist, hospital administrator, and Supertrends expert
Currently, there is still no drug specifically targeting sepsis. Hansen felt that doctor’s hands were quite tied when it came to treating sepsis patients.
A promising new approach
Aquaporin (AQP) is a channel protein found in plants, animals, and humans. The discovery of aquaporin won Dr. Peter Agre a Nobel Prize in 2013. However, despite having a profound physiological impact, aquaporin has not been transformed into practical applications. Dr. Michael Rutzler, CEO and founder of start-up Apoglyx, told Supertrends that aquaporin could be a potential treatment for sepsis.
“We found strong evidence that the inhibition of AQP9 demonstrated a protective effect from sepsis in rodent models, especially on heart function. We are hoping to get similar results in humans.”
– Michael Rutzler, CEO and founder of Apoglyx, Supertrends expert
Rutzler has been collaborating with Professor Giuseppe Calamita of Bari University in Italy. Calamina’s team was the first in the world to study aquaporin’s involvement in sepsis in a living animal model.
“We got a very promising result with more than 25 percent of the mice surviving sepsis […] The results proved that modulated AQP might offer a new approach for sepsis management.”
– Giuseppe Calamina, professor in biosciences and Supertrends expert
A new era for sepsis management
Advances in the field of biology and computer science are changing the way we prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases. Innovations in medicine mean we can understand and manage many health issues better than before.
Aquaporin-based therapy or other innovative approaches one day will help clinicians to overcome the challenge of sepsis. Our report on Supertrends in Aquaporin and Sepsis describes how the future of aquaporin could be intertwined with the future management of sepsis.
Going in for surgery in 2030 could look like this: the patient is greeted by a smiling robot receptionist and asked to fill in personal information. Then the patient is led to a wardroom that has been disinfected by a service robot. On the day of surgery, the surgeon is in the operation room; but rather than standing next to the patient, he sits at a console, from where he can view the operation field and control his surgical-assistance robot to perform the surgery through a tiny incision. This vision of the future may not be too far off the mark. Already today, different robots are taking over some of the most demanding jobs in hospitals and accessing the hard-to-reach parts of human bodies.
The Seven Revolutions in Healthcare That Will Impact Your Life– Part 6
Surgical robots: smaller incision and more precise cutting
In 1985, the first documented surgical robot, PUMA560, was used to insert a needle into a patient’s brain for biopsy.1
Surgical-assistance robots have since been developed for use in two main surgical fields – minimally invasive general surgeries and orthopedic surgeries.2
The da Vinci Surgical System is the most widely used robotic surgical system today. It consists of a console, a set of wristed instruments that move similarly to a human hand but with more flexibility, and a 3D-vision system. The surgeon can view a virtual surgical field on a monitor while controlling the movement of the instruments through the console. The size of the instruments makes it possible to operate through very small incisions accurately. Minimizing surgery incisions could help to reduce infections and other complications. The system can be used for surgeries on the stomach, liver, heart, and many other organs.
Another area that has benefited significantly from surgical robot is orthopedic surgery, especially joint replacement surgeries. With the population getting older, knee and hip replacements have become two of the most common orthopedic surgeries. However, a 2021 study found that 20 percent of the patients who have undergone knee replacements are not satisfied with their outcomes. It also found that malalignment and bone cutting inaccuracy are two of the major factors associated with poor clinical outcomes.3 Robotic-assisted systems use 3D modeling of bone anatomy to create an individualized and optimized surgical plan. At the same time, tactile feedback is used to ensure the accuracy of the surgery.
In the future, surgical robots are expected to obtain perception skills so they can see, hear, and feel their surroundings. Artificial intelligence will also make surgical robots smarter and perform some automated tasks. In 2020, a team from the University of California Berkeley developed a deep-learning system to teach robots to perform automated suturing by watching actual doctors perform on surgical videos.4
Exoskeletons help patients back on their feet
Robotic exoskeletons, also called powered exoskeletons, support and enhance human motion. One of the most famous exoskeletons is the suit worn by Iron Man in the Hollywood movie of the same name. While real-life exoskeletons cannot fly or carry weapons arsenals, they can enable paralyzed patients and amputees to walk again.
Today, robotic exoskeletons are already commercially available in hospitals, homes, and community settings to improve patients’ physical and psychological well-being as well as their quality of life. In a 2020 study, patients with spinal cord injury found that exoskeletons provided the psychological benefits of being at eye level with their healthy peers. However, it is still not practical to use exoskeletons for activities of daily living due to limitations such as fitting time, speed, and cost of the device.5
“The biggest thing for me is to be able to talk to somebody face to face standing up. It’s okay being in a chair, you’re still communicating the same way. But to look them right in the eye as your talking to them is a big deal.” – A spinal cord injury patient describes how they feel about using a robotic exoskeleton.6
Nanorobots deliver drugs to where they are needed
No matter whether we swallow a pill, get an injection, or receive a nasal spray, the medication will be absorbed into the bloodstream, then distributed not only to its targeting location but also throughout the body. Delivering drugs in a more targeted manner can improve treatment efficiency and reduce side effects.
One targeted drug delivery approach is through tiny robots. Nanorobots, also called microrobots, are mobile robots that are smaller than one millimeter. These miniature robots can be loaded with medication, then guided inside the patient’s body to the location where the medication is needed and release the medication at the targeted location. In a recent study, a team of US scientists developed nanorobots that are wrapped in soft algae capsules. These tiny soft robots were able to climb a 45-degree slope and “walk” on the surface of brain tissue in a rat without causing damage.7
Although research in nanorobotics is still mainly in the animal testing stage, it is not hard to imagine that one day, these tiny robots will serve as drug-delivering vehicles in our bodies.
Social robots and service robots extend a helping hand
Social robots can interact and communicate with patients as well as carry out certain caring tasks such as lifting. Service robots can handle routine logistic tasks such as disinfecting patient’s rooms, refilling medical supply cabinets, and transporting laundry items.
Social robots and service robots are viewed as part of the solution for healthcare staff shortages, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. One example of social robots is Pepper, a 1.2 meter tall humanoid robot. By analyzing facial expressions and tone of voice, Pepper is able to have “emotional” communications with patients. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the intensive care unit at the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris used a Pepper robot to help COVID-19 patients keep in touch with their families. Pepper was programmed to stand next to the patient’s bed and use a screen on its chest to facilitate a video call between patients and their families.
The robot Pepper was able to reduce the stress levels of both the patients and their families. It also lowered the COVID-19 exposure risk of hospital staff by reducing their physical contact with patients, according to a research analyst.8
It is already technically possible for social robots to sense human emotions through implanted sensors.9 The question is which tasks social robots should be allowed to perform in healthcare, and for which ones only human intervention is acceptable. Going one step further, one might also ask whether it is acceptable to develop companion robots outside the healthcare sector.
The scenario of robots working alongside doctors and nurses in hospitals might become reality sooner than many people expect. Would you be comfortable having your blood sample drawn by a robot? Search “Future of healthcare” on the Supertrends Pro app and tell us your thoughts regarding the following milestones:
 Lanfranco AR, Castellanos AE, Desai JP, Meyers WC. Robotic surgery: a current perspective. Ann Surg. 2004;239(1):14-21. doi:10.1097/01.sla.0000103020.19595.7d
 Robotics in Healthcare to Improve Patient Outcomes. Intel. Accessed on 13 August 2021. https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/healthcare-it/robotics-in-healthcare.html
 Siddiqi A, et al. A clinical review of robotic navigation in total knee arthroplasty: historical systems to modern design. EFORT Open Rev. 2021. 6:252-269. DOI: 10.1302/2058-5241.6.200071
 Tarantola A, Researchers taught a robot to suture by showing it surgery videos. Engadget. 16 June 2020. https://www.engadget.com/intel-uc-berkeley-motion2vec-ai-robot-surgery-203003829.html
 Kinnett-Hopkins D. et al. Users with spinal cord injury experience of robotic Locomotor exoskeletons: a qualitative study of the benefits, limitations, and recommendations. J NeuroEngineering Rehabil. 2020. 17, 124. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12984-020-00752-9
Although stories revolving around long life and eternal youth have always been told throughout human history, most of us accept aging as a completely natural process. But if it is possible for some species, such as a certain type of jellyfish, to be biologically “immortal”, why not humans? As our understanding of biological processes improve, scientists have started to take on aging from a whole different viewpoint.
The Seven Revolutions in Healthcare That Will Impact Your Life– Part 5
Only the gods can never age, the gods can never die. All else in the world almighty Time obliterates, crushes all to nothing.
– Oedipus at Colonus
Before we discuss potential lifespans of the future, let’s first take a look at what has happened in the past century. The 20th century saw an unprecedented acceleration and growth of life expectancy. The world average life expectancy rose from 45.6 years in 1900 to 77.8 years in 2000. This means that our average longevity increased by 3.22 years every decade during the past century. But this trend is slowing down. In the UK, from 2009 to 2019, male life expectancy only rose by 1.5 years, and female by 1.1 years.1 In the US, life expectancy plateaued at 78.9 years in 2014, dropped slightly for three consecutive years, and remained at below 79 years until 2020. Ironically, this deceleration trend has been accompanied by record spending increases in the healthcare sector.2
Another trend in aging is the separation of lifespan and healthspan. Healthspan is the period of lifespan free from any chronic, age-related diseases. In 2019, noncommunicable, chronic diseases contributed to seven of the world’s top ten causes of death. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and type 2 diabetes, all age-related diseases, are leading causes of frailty and disability among the older population.3
There is no single answer yet to how long we can live.
Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is well known for his rather radical theory of “longevity escape velocity”. He believes that at some point in the future, scientific progress will advance faster than the human body ages, potentially extending our life expectancy indefinitely.4
Other scientists have looked to statistic modeling to predict the trajectory of life expectancy. A recent study based on longitudinal monitoring and analysis of human blood markers concluded that the upper limit of the human lifespan is between 120 and 150 years.5
The question of lifespan and its potential limits is expected to be debated for a long time to come. However, despite different answers to this question, more and more scientists are coming to the understanding that aging is a fundamental biological process among the elderly. The key to all age-related diseases may lie in aging itself.
Why do we age?
One of the oldest theories about aging is the wear-and-tear theory. This theory argued that the human body will inevitably break down with use over the years, similar to a mechanical system.
Although the wear-and-tear theory fits with our observation, we know now that the human body is a biological system that is equipped with damage-repairing ability. In some studies, scientists have found that the aging process can be partially or completely reversed.
Scientists are only now beginning to understand the deeper underlying mechanisms at the cellular level. Anti-aging research now involves many very different ideas and approaches. The development of “The Nine Hallmarks of Aging” established a model that presents all the different factors that play a role in aging.6
In the 1970s, Elizabeth Blackburn discovered telomeres, the DNA sequences located at the end of all our chromosomes. During aging processes, the telomeres shorten, which also limits the number of times our cells can divide.7 Telomere attrition became one of the first hallmarks of aging to be identified. Other hallmarks are genomic instability, epigenetic alterations, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient-sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion, and altered intercellular communication. If one of the hallmarks is aggravated, aging will accelerate; if it is ameliorated, aging will be prevented. The nine hallmarks of aging also showed us which areas anti-aging treatment should target.
What can we do about aging?
For many people, remaining healthy into older age is more important than having a longer life. Both for individuals and for society at large, the best outcome would be if the progressive disability of later life could be compressed into a shorter period. This goal, however, will be difficult to achieve if we treat age-related diseases separately. Aging not only affects nearly all our organs, but it is also the single most important risk factor for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. If we try to combat age-related diseases individually, we will only be replacing one problem with another one. The reasonable solution should be to prevent, delay, or reverse aging itself.
“If you live long enough, you will get cancer.” – Professor Robert Weinberg, a pioneer in cancer research8
Anti-aging medicine is still in its infancy. Many medical treatments targeting aging are still being tested on animals, which means we will likely not see any age-targeted treatment before the next decade. However, a few lifestyle-related approaches are already showing promising results in small-size human trials. Among these approaches are intermittent fasting and high-intensity interval training. Some supplements, such as NAD+ booster, resveratrol, and most recently spermidine, also are considered to be effective in preventing aging processes by bringing about rejuvenation on the cellular level. Last but not least, personal factors such as having a purpose in life, feeling healthy and satisfied, or becoming socially connected also play a role in healthy aging. The above actionable approaches are explained in detail in the Supertrends practical guide for longevity.
The future of healthy aging
Time waits for no one. For anti-aging interventions, sooner is better than later. The Supertrends in Anti-aging Report identified 150 companies that are working on anti-aging solutions. Most of the therapies are still in the pre-clinical stage. About 28 of them are currently being tested in human trials, including some of the existing drugs that were initially designed for other conditions, such as metformin and rapamycin. The re-purposed drugs could become some of the first available anti-aging treatments.
Anti-aging medicine is benefiting very much from the application of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, data analysis, and progress in genomic research. AI-assisted drug discovery has been implemented by a few start-ups. There are also some anti-aging start-ups that combine digital markers, biomarkers, and genetic markers to monitor the aging process and provide lifestyle recommendations.
Whether aging can be stopped or reversed is a question that will likely be debated for the foreseeable future. But there should be no doubt that even a few years’ delay in the aging process will have huge impacts on individuals and society.
The opinion on aging from some scientists is reflected in a tweet from the renowned biologist and professor of genetics, David Sinclair, “there is no biological law that says we must age.”
Share your thoughts on one of the most intriguing questions in human history – will we live longer and healthier?
Search “Future of healthcare” on the Supertrends Pro app and make your prediction for the following:
 Life expectancy (from birth) in the United Kingdom from 1765 to 2020*. Statista. June 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1040159/life-expectancy-united-kingdom-all-time/
 Christensen J., US life expectancy is still on the decline. Here’s why. CNN. November 26, 2019. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/26/health/us-life-expectancy-decline-study/index.html
 World Health Organization. The top 10 causes of death. 2020. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
 Findlay C., Extreme longevity: Why Aubrey de Grey believes we may live to age 1,000. Supertrends. September 16, 2020. https://supertrends.com/extreme-longevity-why-we-may-live-to-age-1000/
 Pyrkov, T.V., Avchaciov, K., Tarkhov, A.E. et al. Longitudinal analysis of blood markers reveals progressive loss of resilience and predicts human lifespan limit. Nat Commun 12, 2765 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-23014-1
 López-Otín, C., Blasco, M.A., Partridge, L., et al. The Hallmarks of Aging, Cell, 2013, Volume 153, Issue 6, Pages 1194-1217, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2013.05.039.
 Supertrends in Anti-Aging, Supertrends, last updated 22 June 2021, https://supertrends.com/solutions/dynamic-reports/supertrends-in-anti-aging/
 Lents N., Why Everyone Will Eventually Get Cancer. Psychology Today. May 22, 2018. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beastly-behavior/201805/why-everyone-will-eventually-get-cancer