This is the sixth in a series of posts entitled Technology for Good: A Historical Perspective From GE. Last week, GE released all their of annual reports in one interactive data visualization. This interactive data viz pulls together 120 years of their annual reports, showcasing GE’s long-standing tradition of technology for good. Learn more about GE’s history of innovation and see GE’s new Data Visualization in action. GE is a 3p Sponsor.
“Nuclepore – another ’64 polymer advance – is now in production at Pleasanton, Calif., supplying medical and other customers with a filter whose extremely fine pores can be used in such ways as isolating cancer cells for medical research.”
For almost half a century GE has been on the front lines of cancer research. The company’s scientists and researchers have been central to the development and improvement of cancer screening tools that have detected cancer before it kills.
From the company’s earliest investment in x-ray machines, GE’s cancer screening tools are part of what is now a healthcare innovator that employs over 46,000 people worldwide and have saved countless more lives.
A decade after the company started production of Nuclepore in its northern California plant, GE joined the fight against cancer at a prescient time. By 1974, cancer was no longer talked about behind closed doors in hushed tones. That year First Lady Betty Ford was treated for breast cancer just weeks after her husband, Gerald Ford, became President after Richard Nixon’s resignation. Her battle against the disease inspired women to become more vigilant about screening themselves for the disease. Meanwhile, GE introduced the MMX II, a new mammographic x-ray system. Other instruments, including the Spectratherm thermographic system and Maxiscan body scanner, led the way in the early detection of cancerous tumors. 200,000 Americans, or one in three stricken with cancer, survived in 1974 because of improved screening procedures and increased awareness about detecting cancer at its earliest stages.
By the early 21st century GE ramped up its battle against cancer. Imaging technology improved immensely and gave more patients hope with GE’s Discovery LS. The system allowed doctors to accurately detect and visualize cancer so that they could develop the best possible treatment regiment. In 2003 the company began research on nano-sized “contrast agents” that could detect diseases, including cancer, before any symptoms developed. Meanwhile in Indiana, medicine in the digital age took an enormous step forward with the GE Centricity Information System. GE Medical Systems’ partnership with Indiana Heart Hospital allowed Centricity to integrate electronic patient records, data and medical images in real time, providing easy access to patient information from anywhere in the hospital.
In 2005, GE introduced the world’s first high definition magnetic resonance (HDMR) system. HDMR provides doctors with the highest level of image clarity when either their patients suffer from uncontrollable motion or children are unable to stay still. Later that decade, GE’s engineers developed the first new detector material in 20 years with the help of gemstones. Using garnets, the Lightspeed CT750, the world’s first high-definition CT scanner, provided images at 100 times the speed of previous medical scanners and gave medical professionals another tool to catch the earliest stages of cancer.
GE’s continued fight against cancer involves partnerships with other companies, too. In 2009 GE and Eli Lilly research teams collaborated on the development of new tissue-based biomarker technology that can simultaneously map over 25 different proteins in tumors. This ability to view such proteins at the sub-cellular level for the first time was a crucial step in allowing physicians to develop personalized cancer treatments.
Over the years GE’s progress on healthcare and cancer research coincided with the company’s citizenship campaigns. Initiatives like the GE Development Health program offers grant funding and volunteer support to nonprofit centers across the United States that offer healthcare to those in dire need who cannot afford coverage. GE Healthcare professionals also work with hospitals and cancer treatment centers to improve their operations so that these facilities can use its staff and resources more effectively.
The fight against cancer is far from over, but GE’s culture of innovation gives doctors the best possible tools to fight a frightening and frustrating disease and hopefully saves lives. Watch the video below to learn how GE Healthcare employees explain the impact their work has when they meet a group of cancer survivors.
Leon Kaye, a history and international business major, is a journalist, sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.