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research for health


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research for health

Boutros G. Mansourian & Bruce MeA. Sayers


he discovery of X-rays is a fine example of the contribution made by the physical sciences, together with the biological sciences, to the progress of medicine in the last 100 years. More recent advances in diagnostic technologies are the result of important multidisciplinary research in medicine and the natural sciences. For example, the biotech- nology industry has grown as a result of the use of the hybridoma tech- nique for producing monoclonal anti- bodies; recombinant DNA methods are thus available for prenatal screen- ing and, where necessary, for post- natal examination for inborn errors of metabolism. Also, the fact that particular types of tumour generate specific proteins offers opportunities for the development of specific assay techniques for the early detection of cancer.

Improving diagnosis and evaluation

Developments in the physical sciences and technology have pro- duced three major kinds of diagnos- tic procedures: the wide range of simple, commercially produced disposable kits for the testing of body fluids in the field; electronic diagnos- tic equipment which was facilitated by microchip technology and, in some cases, is dependent on biosen- sors; and technology for imaging and visualization.

represent the combination of two technologies: microelectronics and enzyme catalysis. Other detection techniques depend on antibody- binding reactions rather than enzyme catalysis, and these offer the possi- bility of assaying an increasing range of drugs and hormones.

Current and future developments in biosensor technology will be important for monitoring water and air pollution, for monitoring bio- processing in the food industry, for quality evaluation of food products kept in storage, and for veterinary purposes. Applications in primary health care would also become evident, because such devices are inexpensive and easy to use.

Electronic diagnostic equipment is developing. rapidly because microchip technology has made it possible for the individual instru- ment to be attached to a personal computer or for a microcomputer to be included within it. Advances in diagnostic procedures, such as electro- and magneto-cardiography, electro- and magneto-encephalogra- phy, ophthalmography and the


Transport/Dispersion Chemical transformations

Pollutants, heat, Wind speed, direction, dust, humidity etc... turbulence, temperature, local

topography, climatic conditions

World Health • 48th Year, No. 3, Moy-June 1995

Doppler investigation of regional blood flow, depend on quite sophisti- cated processing which is transparent to the user. Consequently it will be increasingly feasible to perform dynamic measurements, in "spatia- temporal terms", i.e., displaying

"surface maps" of the physiological variable as a series of "snapshots" in

"real time", at a hundred times or

more per second.

Imaging technologies such as ultrasonography, computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and positron emission tomography have grown out of basic research in physics, mathematics and electrical engineering. In addition to expected improvements in speed and resolution (e.g., by 1000 times in the still experimental "ion computer tomography"), new efforts are being directed towards extracting informa- tion about function for a better evalu- ation of planned treatments. Of particular interest is the use of ultra- sound imaging, achieved by echo- reflection and Doppler effect, which allows conventional visualization as well as measurements of flow and

Predicted immissions, Responses to pollutant emissions

control strategies

Concentrations in space and time

Man, flora, fauna, materials etc ...

Disposable "self-test" kits are now commonly used for the approxi- mate estimation of blood glucose, for pregnancy tests and for testing of urine. However, when more precise determination of concentrations is needed, biosensor technology will become important. Biosensors

Computer modelling is a useful tool in many fields of medicine. This example shows the concentration of industrial pollutants under certain climatic conditions which may have an impact on health.


World Health • 48th Year, No. 3, Moy-June 1995

tissue movement. Special techniques -e.g., colour display of flow map- ping which helps visual interpreta- tion, and pulsed Doppler which measures both range and velocity, thus allowing velocity profiles to be examined -are adding complexity, but are also likely to expand the range of investigations.

Relevance to health care

There are two respects in which multidisciplinary research is a potent source of support for health care.

• Within the particular field of medical radiology, for example, both materials technology and computer technology have much to offer.

Thus, the impending development of higher temperature superconducting materials will simplify and render cheaper the costly magnets used in magnetic resonance imagers. At the level of manufacture, high-strength light-weight composite materials could help to reduce the weight and bulk of complex equipment, making their transport in the field easier.

Computer technology, coupled with the technology of digital signal processing, is progressively improv- ing the methods for interpretation of medical images, both through techni- cal developments in image enhance- ment and by incorporating and using semantic information that encapsu- lates the experience of expert ob- servers. Another imaging technique has also recently evolved from re- search in combination of materials, computing and signal processing;

this ultrasonic examination technique evaluates the state of the walls of arteries and promises improved early recognition of developing atheromas.

In the next issue

What induces people to abuse psychoactive substances, i.e.

substances affecting the mental process and leading to dependence? What are the implications for health? The july- August 1995 issue will give some answers to these important questions and describe possible solutions. •

• The overall effectiveness of any specific medical technology depends on where it is needed and on how and through what system structure it is to be operated, so that strategic plan- ning for the introduction and use of this technology is important.

Planning the best use of technology within an overall national or regional health care plan requires the consid- eration of very many factors. Since human planners cannot easily take account of the numerous relevant data that bear upon choices, there is a need for special computer-based tools to help acquire and analyse the essential information, decide on resource allocations, and design organizational structures for the best use of this technology, with plans on how to introduce them. Further- more, training of personnel may have to be planned and implemented and job descriptions devised. Monitoring of performance may have to be arranged with a view to identifying the need for further training or cor- recting mismatches between job descriptions and the actual require- ments.

Much of this effort has to be based on the insight and experience of experts, planners and consultants who know the country, its systems and its culture well. As their experi- ence and knowledge are often encapsulated in statements, both

"knowledge engineering" and the techniques of computational logic are needed to make use of this resource. Potentially valuable developments are taking place in information technology, in the acqui- sition and use of "knowledge" as distinct from "data" in interpreting


national health needs and constraints, in decision support technology, and in the design of project management techniques. Such multidisciplinary research advances should not be overlooked by health planners: not least in developing countries where limited resources have to be stretched as far as possible. •

Or Boutros G. Mansourian is Director, Office of Research Policy and Strategy Coordination, World Health Organization, 12 I I Geneva 27, Switzerland. Professor Bruce MeA.

Sayers, former Dean of the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, is Director of the Centre for Cognitive Systems, William Penney Laboratory, Imperial College, London.

SW7 2AZ, England.

Photo Credits

Covers: Design by WHO. Photos courtesy of: lnstitut fUr Klinishe Radialagie- Rontgen diagnastik -MOnster, Germany; Department of Radiology, University of Tokyo Faculty of Medicine.

Page 3: WHO/Centre Antoine Beclere, Paris;

WHO/H. Anenden

Page 4: Courtesy of the Americon College of Radiology archives, Reston; USA ©

Page 5: Archives Curie et Jaliot Curie, Paris©

Page 6: WHO/D. Gibson Page 7: WHO/G. Hanson Page B: WHO/H. Anenden

Page 9: Courtesy of the Hungarian Institute of Cardiology, Budapest©

Page 10: WHO/H. Anenden; WHO/Seiichi Higa Page 11: WHO/Regional Medicol Physics Department,

Newcos~e upon Tyne, UK Page 12: WHO/T. Holm; WHO/G. Hanson Page 13: WHO/H. Anenden

Page 14: Radiological Society of North America, Radiographies 1989; 9:723-7 64/C. Viborny ©

Page 15: L. Sirman © Page 16: WHO/F. Ben Chehido Page 17: WHO/F. Jangheerkhan

Page 18 & 19: WHO/Derortment of Radiology, University of Tokyo faculty o Medicine

Page 20: L. Sirman ©

Page 21: Courtesy of the Centre Georges·Fran1ois led ere, Dijon ©; L. Sirmon ©

Page 22: WHO/A. Anenden Page 23: WHO/J. lindmark Page 24: WHO/Arias & Skvarca

Page 25: WHO/Arias & Skvarco; WHO/H. Anenden Page 26: l. Sirman

Page 27: Courtesy of: Biomognetic Technologies, San Diego, USA ©; Dr Ferencz, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Harvard Medicol School, USA ©; Dr Brook R Jeffrey, Stonford University, USA ©

Page 28 & 29: L. Sirrnan

Page 30: Courtesy of Victor lebessis, EPFL, lausanne, Switzerland©

Back cover: L. Sirman

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