As the physicist Richard Feynman said, “if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” Even scientists find it difficult to fully understand concepts such as wave-particle duality or entanglement.
Still, quantum mechanics is at the base of many modern technologies that have revolutionized our lives in the last century, such as lasers, computers, mobile phones or medical imaging tools.
Unlike a classical computer, which solves problems one after the other in sequence, a quantum computer is designed to simultaneously explore few possible solutions to a problem. The memory of a conventional computer is made up of ‘bits’ of information, built on a binary system in which each ‘bit’ takes the value 1 or 0. A quantum computer has a sequence of ‘qubits’, each of which may take the value 1, 0, or any quantum superposition of these two states, which means that a quantum computer is able to carry out many operations in parallel.
Thanks to its capacity of processing multiple pieces of data the same time with great precision, quantum computing promises to solve most complex problems in the healthcare field.
Due to quantum technology, the medical scientists are potentially capable to build more accurate and personalized diagnostics, treatments and tools that will basically extend and ameliorate our lives. Moreover, the researchers are starting to use quantum data to improve the storage and protection of medical data.
Although this technology is still in its beginnings, it is rapidly evolving and it promises a paradigm shift in the medical field.
Here are some of the most important practical applications of quantum technology that will dramatically transform the healthcare industry.
Disease Screening and Testing with Biomarkers
Quantum optics is radically changing the medical screening and testing. Medical researchers are using a new procedure of diagnosis based on diamond and gold nano-particles, employed as biomarkers.
Due to their quantum properties, these particles can be attached to disease-fighting cells and are visible using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology. The role of biomarkers is to detect the signs of disease and enable earlier diagnosis and treatment.
There are some major advantages that come with this procedure. The quantum biomarker method offers a more precise disease detection and it doesn’t require invasive surgery nor produces negative side effects to the patient.
More Accurate Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Magnetic resonance imaging uses radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to generate precise images of the tissues and organs within the body.
Quantum-based MRI could extend the capacities of the standard magnetic resonance images down to the nano scale, being able to observe single molecules or groups of molecules and detect structures that cannot be seen using traditional imaging.
As many diseases are the consequence of molecular malfunctions, quantum-based MRI will permit scientists to see more precisely how these disorders interact with the body. Moreover, it will be possible to discover diseases before they show symptoms.
With a much more accurate picture of how the disease influences cellular components, researchers will be able to develop more effective therapies and ameliorate treatment responses, which would be of great benefit to patients with time-sensitive diagnosis like cancer.
A Personalized Radiotherapy Planning
Radiotherapy is a treatment which uses the radiation beams to eliminate cancerous cells or at least stop them from growing and spreading in the body.
The radiation dosage needs to be thoroughly calculated by a medical dosimetrist who uses advanced software, to minimize the side-effects on the patient. Developing a radiation planning with minimal damage to neighboring healthy tissue is a very complex problem with many variables. Multiple simulations are necessary in order to find the best solution.
Classical computers cannot guarantee a perfect result as they don’t have the capacity to try out all the possible solutions.
Here the quantum technology comes into play.
A quantum computer is able to run many simulations at the same time and develop a more correct planning in less time. Being capable to handle a large number of parameters, a quantum computer will potentially have the capacity to develop the best personalized treatment for each patient.
Advanced Drug Research
Molecular comparison is a crucial step in drug design and discovery. Today, companies that run a large number of comparisons on classical computers are limited only to molecules up to a certain dimension that a traditional computer can actually process. As quantum computers are being developed, it becomes possible to compare more complex molecules, which opens new avenues for drug research.
Predicting how the drugs might affect humans is a hugely complex process. There are millions of possibilities to how a drug could behave across the human body. With the classical computers, these simulations are restricted to little systems and imperfect approximations.
The big processing power of quantum computers will allow researchers to simulate more complex molecules and their interactions. These simulations will help scientists determine important drug properties and how they may interact with other proteins, making clinical trials safer and helping discover more efficient drugs and treatments.
More Secure Healthcare Data
The healthcare industry is generating massive quantities of data, driven by record keeping.
This big data is hard to manage with traditional software/hardware not only because of its quantity but also because of the multitude of data types and the speed at which it has to be handled.
As the new information infrastructure in the healthcare field has enabled data sharing, mobile access to records, or distant diagnosis, sensitive medical information has become an attractive target for cyber-attackers, who could use it for different malicious intent.
Quantum communication systems promise a virtually flawless encryption. By using quantum superposition or quantum entanglement and transmitting data in quantum states, a communication system could be implemented that discovers cyber spying. This system would prevent information from being seen by anyone other than the intended receiver.
Potential applications of quantum computing in the healthcare data field include a faster and more accurate data indexing, searching, and retrieval, as well as a more secure communication and information processing.
- Quantum computing set to revolutionize the health sector.
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- Ways That Quantum Technology Could Transform Health Care. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/3016530/4-ways-that-quantum-technology-could-transform-health-care
- Quantum physics sheds light on cells. ABC Science. http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2013/02/04/3681478.htm