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What will be dominating science and technology headlines in 2019?  Our technical experts peek into their crystal balls and share their predictions for innovation and technology in the coming year.

Prediction #1 – Nanoparticles to the rescue – Karen Baker, PhD, Technical Analyst

Metal nanoparticles are a class of catalyst that can behave like an enzyme, and can be retrieved and reused.  However, most don’t work in the body, as water-based bodily fluids react with the nanoparticles and destroy them.

Recently, an encapsulation technique has been developed to protect a palladium nanoparticle layer with a biocompatible porous outer layer, allowing small molecules to enter the sphere and catalytically react, with the products of the reaction exiting the sphere.

It is predicted that these “microreactors” could be used in the body to carry out a therapeutic reaction in that area only, reducing the risk of harmful side effects, and exciting work is planned in 2019 by several research groups to fine tune these reactors.

Prediction #2– Medication tailored to individual patients – Gemma Monaghan, Technical Delivery Manager

In September, NHS England announced access to a groundbreaking cancer treatment for children with leukaemia – CAR-T therapy is specifically developed for each individual patient and involves reprogramming the patient’s own immune system cells which are then used to target their cancer.

Cancer is not the only focus, with the hope that for genetic conditions, such as Cystic Fibrosis, doctors will have an arsenal of new therapies at their disposal to help provide the best care and treatment options for individuals with CF so that they can live healthy and fulfilling lives. In this new era, doctors will be able to use information about a person, including his or her specific CF mutations, lung function and bacterial infections, to select from a number of therapies to determine the best treatment options.

There are multiple drug development companies focusing on this area, in addition to a significant number of University research groups, and it is a huge area of R&D investment.

Prediction #3 – Is Quantum Computing finally emerging from the research laboratory into the commercial data centre? – Mark Westwood, Technical Analyst

The excitement (or is it hype?) surrounding quantum computers arises from the expectation that they will be able to carry out many types of calculation much more quickly than the binary digital computers we are all familiar with.

Using the fastest supercomputers available today it could take longer than 10^52 years to crack the type of encryption widely used in commercial and military cryptographic systems.  A quantum computer might be able to crack the same codes in seconds. At a stroke, all the security schemes we use to protect our money and our secrets would become ineffective. Not all is lost however, quantum cryptographic algorithms have already been designed to provide current levels of security once quantum computers are available.

Quantum computing has a lot of other areas of potential application where the speedups over current computing would be similarly massive, including searching databases (think Google) and simulating the physical world (think the design of future aircraft).

To set against the hype there are respected scientists openly questioning whether a useful quantum computer can ever be built.  Technological challenges have limited the development of practical quantum computers, and there is evidence of theoretical limits to the capabilities of any quantum computer that might be built.  It is notable that IBM are not planning yet to sell Q series computers, only to provide access to it to interested customers and researchers.  There is one other company, D-Wave Systems already selling quantum computers, though doubts have been cast on whether they really are quantum computers at all.

Nevertheless, quantum computing is moving out of the research laboratory and companies such as defence contractors, banks, and car manufacturers are known to be experimenting with quantum computing and with the available quantum computers.

Jumpstart says, ‘Watch this space’

Prediction #4 – Continued Integration of AI into Healthcare – Pamela Cook, PhD, Technical Analyst

Artificial intelligence (AI) applications, such as predictive analytics for patient monitoring has provided significant financial savings. Applications that target hospitals and medical institutions include patient monitoring and transcribing notes for electronic health records. This year, Google revealed its plans to harness AI and machine learning across a multitude of consumer technologies, particularly in healthcare. AI is helping physicians make smarter decisions at the point of care, improving the ease and accuracy of viewing patient scans and reducing physician burnout. For instance, machine learning algorithms have the ability to highlight problem areas on images, aiding in the screening process and quickly making sense of the mountains of data within a physician’s EMR system.

Prediction #5 – More performant electric vehicle batteries – Karen Baker, PhD, Technical Analyst

2018 was an incredible year for electric vehicle sales, and battery technology is expected to further improve in the coming 12 months, given the desire to decarbonise transportation.  Electric vehicle battery sizes will likely get smaller, primarily for urban driving, but exhibit better performance.  Solid-state batteries offer a high-energy density, an improvement on today’s lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery, and big players including Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen are working towards commercially viable versions for electric vehicles.

In tandem, a UK government funded academic-industry project is currently investigating alternative materials based on silicon, to replace carbon in the anode of (Li-ion) batteries.  Ultimately, the goal is to develop a drop-in replacement for graphite-based anodes, to increase the effective range to 400 miles and above on a single charge.

Whether or not our TA predictions materialise, 2019 looks to be an exciting and important year for science and technology companies. At Jumpstart, we look forward to helping our clients access the innovation funding they need to develop their R&D projects, and hopefully add to the list of groundbreaking tech for  2020!

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