Quantum computing is poised to revolutionize almost every industry around the globe. Computer processes that were once theoretical are now made possible with quantum computing technology, opening up an unlimited number of doors to developing new applications in sectors from medicine to aviation.
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At the same time, industry 4.0 has taken off, fueled by the widespread adoption of connected devices, automation, and integration of real-time data and machine-learning algorithms. Today, those living in the first world rarely go a day without making use of a connected device. Usually, we rely on multiple devices throughout the day, such as our smartphones, smartwatches and fitness trackers. Everything from the food we eat to the transportation we use has likely leveraged connected sensors as part of the internet of things (IoT).
Here, we explore how quantum technology is being integrated with sensor technology to develop next-generation biosensors that will cause a profound shift in the medical field.
The Dawn of the Era of Quantum Computing
Quantum computing is an emerging field of science that is causing much excitement due to the potential it holds for many industries. It is more than a development of current computing technology; it is a complete paradigm shift. Traditional computers use transistors to code data in binary (1s and 0s).
With quantum computing, data is held in the form of a quit, which can store information as both a 1 and a 0 simultaneously. This means that quantum computers can do something that traditional computers cannot – they can process data in parallel rather than linearly. As a result, quantum computers not only are able to process information in a fraction of the time that traditional computers can, but they can also solve problems that are out of scope for traditional computers.
Seeing the Brain in Full Color
Medical imaging has come a long way over the last century. However, our current neuroimaging platforms provide images of the brain equivalent to how a black and white camera interprets the world. The brain cannot be fully understood via a static image. It is a highly complex interactive and evolving network of connections.
Because of the highly effective casing humans have evolved to project their brains, our skulls and intracranial fluid, scientists have faced great challenges in developing efficient methods to accurately visualize brain activity. As a result, scientists exploring neurodegenerative disorders, which often involve deep brain structures, have faced significant challenges, and our understanding of these disorders has been restricted.
The emergence of quantum sensor technology has helped to support the development of brain imaging techniques. In particular, quantum sensors are being leveraged to enhance magnetoencephalography (measuring the magnetic fields generated by the electric activity of neurons). Studies with quantum sensors have demonstrated how quantum sensors can be incorporated into magnetoencephalography platforms to allow for activity in brain networks to be observed on a millisecond timescale while the person is moving. These techniques are currently in their infancy; however, as they develop, we will undoubtedly gain more information on neurological disease, supporting the innovation of enhanced diagnostic and disease monitoring applications.
Quantum Sensors for the Early Detection of Neurodegenerative Disease
Quantum sensors offer a window into the brain inaccessible with traditional imaging techniques. Therefore, they present the opportunity to detect diseases before their observable symptoms have developed. This is vitally important to improving treatment outcomes of neurodegenerative disease. It also offers scientists the chance to expand their understanding of neurodegenerative disease at a molecular level. This will lead to more effective treatment options and preventative strategies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Recently, scientists at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) have used quantum technology to create some of the most advanced biosensors. These sensors built from diamonds can measure a cell’s magnetic and electric fields, temperature, and internal pressure. It is hoped that this technology will eventually be applied to studying the microscopic macramé (protein folding) that is synonymous with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease. While protein folding is a normal biological process, sifting out of mis-folded proteins is a hallmark of neurodegenerative disease. Therefore, we must understand more about its mechanism to prevent and treat these diseases.
We are only just beginning to understand the full potential of quantum computing. Its application in biosensors is truly in its infancy and in the coming years we will likely discover far more about its capabilities in this field.
In addition, there is a definite trend toward investments in quantum computing and brain-driven data. The BRAIN initiative from the Obama era as well as the interest in brain-computer interfaces from some of the world’s most influential entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk represents the growing interest in this field that will likely help propel it forward.
References and Further Reading
Barnard Marr. 2018. What is Industry 4.0? Here's A Super Easy Explanation For Anyone [online]. Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/09/02/what-is-industry-4-0-heres-a-super-easy-explanation-for-anyone/?sh=374b6cac9788 (Accessed June 2022)
Gauglitz, G., 2021. The new generation: quantum sensors. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 413(23), pp.5679-5680. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00216-021-03554-7
2022. Sensing a cure: quantum technology takes aim at neurodegenerative disease [online]. Eurekalert!. Available at: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/953385