The technology driving your display may also help cure cancer. While it’s only been a few short years since the introduction of ‘Quantum Dots’ to consumer displays, they have been of interest to the scientific community since the mid-1980s and they are about to make a real difference in both the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Whenever a technology can be leveraged for completely new applications – I take notice. Cleverly borrowing successful technologies from one market and applying them to a new application space can mean real innovation and disruption.
I covered quantum dots and how they are used for displays in a previous blog post. If you’re an AV nerd or just love the scientific history around our everyday products – take a look at that post. For those who just want the summary, Q-dot is a very small (a ten-thousandth of a human hair) crystal that will become luminous when you shine a particular light source on it. Think ultra-small version of your Lite–Brite toy. Display designers love to use them because they emit a very pure color that is directly related to the size of the crystal. This means that they can be used to generate very pure colors for your flat panel display. Until recently, the manufacturing of quantum dots has involved Cadmium, an element that is very bad for human health.
Work at Nanoco in conjunction with the University College of London has focused on new cadmium-free processes that allow Quantum Dots to be injected directly into the body for medical applications (hmm – there has to a be a super hero origin story here). The work is very promising and could revolutionize how cancer is treated. Why? Turns out that one of the key approaches to removing a cancerous region from your body is to map where the infected tissues are, as well as the lymphatic vessels and nodes that surround the tissue that are already infected. The lymph nodes need to be removed because they can carry cancer to other parts of the body. Because infected tissue is more permeable than other areas, surgeons inject a colored dye into the tissue and remove areas where it spreads. This is a fairly primitive approach – the dye can quickly spread to other regions of the body (eventually your entire lymphatics system), so either you have to snap a photo or work quickly. Obviously, mapping areas that are tagged for removal hasn’t been an exact science.
Enter quantum dots. Because Q-Dots aren’t biological, they spread much more slowly and thanks to their ability to fluoresce brightly when illuminated – can “light up” tissues where they reside for hours. They will also enter permeable, cancerous tissue quickly and stay there. This means doctors can inject Q-dots and gain a very accurate light-map of the tissues that need to be removed. Maybe more importantly, the map will stay lit and accurate throughout a surgery. Pretty cool.
This is part of a technology pattern that always gets my attention, which is the ability to leverage technological advancements for large-consumer markets for other, maybe even more important tasks. When this happens, costs go down, innovation rises, and there is market disruption. This has happened again and again in the AV market, as software arrived, and more traditional mass market hardware is leveraged for what used to be specialized AV tasks (think custom AV switchers versus software and your existing network).
Other examples? I’ve seen plenty in the past 5 years, but I’m sure you have a few you can think of too.
Like this article? Check out Techno-Inversion: What it means for companies when consumer technology comes first.