Health technology research covers all technological developments essential to biomedical progress, both on a fundamental level (observing and understanding the mechanisms of living beings) and on a clinical level (transferring knowledge to therapeutic solutions). This concerns five major fields: imaging, technologies associated with drug development, biotechnology and bioengineering, surgery and other interventional techniques, and technologies associated with digital health.
It is sufficient to remember the benefits arising from the development of microscopy in the 18th and 19th century, or radiology in the 20th century to be convinced of this fact: the development of new technological approaches can contribute significantly to medical progress. Hence, health technology research is now one of the major avenues of progress for diagnosis, treatment, surgery and even reparative medicine.
Multidisciplinary and translational research
Health technology research entails close collaboration between scientists and engineers with technological expertise sometimes far removed from the medical field (mathematics, physics, chemistry, information technology, electronics, nanotechnology, etc.), biologists, physicians, and industrialists. Human and social sciences (sociologists, legal specialists, etc.) also play a decisive role in numerous projects.
This type of research is organized into five fields:
- imaging, whether anatomical or functional, targeting the whole body or cellular and molecular structures, or applied in vitro or in vivo. The main challenges involve increasing the sensitivity and definition of the images generated, accelerating data analysis, improving image reconstruction and reducing the doses of radiation delivered to patients for radiation-based examinations
- drug development, in which technology research aims to develop solutions to facilitate the identification of candidate medicinal products (screening efficacy), evaluate their toxicity and bioavailability in the early stages, optimize delivery to the target (vectorization and administration technologies), or even simplifying and accelerating drug development time
- biotechnologies and bioengineering, a field which includes the development of diagnostic and analytical tests (in vitro and in vivo including omic approaches), the development of biomaterials associated with regenerative medicine, technologies associated with the production of biomedicines, and even innovative therapies (gene, genomic and cell therapy)
- surgery and interventional and supportive techniques for patients and individuals. This field concerns surgical technologies (simulation, navigation, remote surgery, and associated devices, etc.). It also covers interventional radiology, radiotherapy, implantable devices, prosthetic and orthotic devices, together with rehabilitation and supportive devices for the elderly or disabled.
- digital health, i.e. the application of information and communication technologies to health. This field covers telehealth and the use of connected objects in a health context, including telemedicine (remote diagnosis and monitoring of treatment) and teleservices (supervision of vulnerable individuals and compensation for loss of autonomy). It also covers the processing of collected data for the clinical use of biomarkers or medical decision-making support via innovative software approaches (artificial intelligence, for instance)
Time frames for technology research
Based on these research topics, the duration of the projects is 3 to 12 years. These generally take place in four phases:
- emergence of the concept in the research laboratory
- obtaining technological proof of concept (experimental feasibility)
- industrial proof of concept (reproducibility and large-scale implementation)
- value creation for the envisaged applications and transfer of the project to an industrial partner, able to finalize the development, production, and marketing of the innovation
The Inserm Health Technology Theme-Based Institute notably assists scientists in the last three stages, in collaboration with Inserm Transfert.
Inserm accelerates technology research
A multidisciplinary organization experienced in the transfer of new discoveries, Inserm brings together over a hundred health technology research teams.
To further amplify its innovation capacity, Inserm has equipped itself with Technology Research Accelerators (ART). These structures aim not only to develop innovative technologies, but also to make them available to research teams able to benefit from them.