8 Life-Altering Medical Breakthroughs on the Horizon

Surgeon at Work

The next ten to twenty years will be an astounding time for medical breakthroughs.

Advancements are happening right now that will change the quality your life, probably extend your life, and definitely make the lives of your children healthier and longer than ever thought possible.

It sounds like the stuff of a science fiction novel, but these advancements are already underway and will be considered commonplace in the not-to-distant future. The blind will be able to see, diseased organs can be re-grown and replaced, cancers will be cured, and genetic conditions can be erased.

  • What are the positive and negative implications of these advancements?
  • How will our lives change if the world population grows because we are living longer and healthier?
  • What if the next generation of children are genetically massaged to be smarter and free from possible debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s?

It is fascinating to imagine a time when we can live well into old age and remain active, mentally engaged, and free from any of the common diseases and problems of aging. But as you consider these exciting changes, think about how these advancements might impact you, your family and the our society as a whole. With every new breakthrough, there are the challenges and ethical dilemmas that must be addressed.

Here are eight medical advancements that are well on the way to changing the way we live and potentially altering the future of our culture and society.

1. The Blind Will See

People who have become blind at some point during their lives have real hope to see again. Scientists have already tested and continue to research microchip implants to help people regain their sight. The microchip is implanted into a person’s eye, and it is linked to a pair of video enabled glasses, allowing a bypass of the dead nerve endings attributed to loss of sight. Also, people who have been blind from birth have the exhilarating chance of seeing the world for the first time. Scientists are working on deep brain implants, coupled with special glasses, that can bring sight to unsighted. In the next ten years, being blind will be a thing of the past.

2. Order Up an Organ

Tissue engineering or regenerative medicine, a segment of bioengineering, allows scientists to grow new organs to replace diseased or damaged human organs. Using tissue from the patient’s own existing organ or synthetic materials, scientists can grow a replacement in a laboratory. Already, bladders have been grown in a laboratory and successfully implanted into patients. Tissue engineering can use these natural or synthetic materials to cultivate cells for skin, bone, cartilage, muscle, marrow, and other body parts. These advancements will offer dramatic improvements in medical care for hundreds of thousands of patients annually and equally dramatic reductions in medical costs. Engineered replacement organs would sidestep the hazards and problems associated with donor organs and do this at a lower cost.

3. Brain Repair

For someone who’s had a stroke or suffers from Alzheimer’s or other neurological diseases, the advancements in neural enhancements offers great hope for a better life. And once again, a microchip is the technology that can make it happen. By using microchips or by using a matrix of fiber optic wires to bridge damaged areas of the brain, it appears there’s a way to cure a multitude of neurological conditions. The use of microchips to bridge neural pathways also opens doors to the possible expansion of brain use for everyone.

4. Eradication of Genetic Conditions

With the completion of the human genome project, scientists know more than ever about the genetic structure and how it affects us. Right now, researchers and corporations are using DNA therapy to vaccinate people against dangerous diseases as designer medicines can be created that are disease or gene specific. But we are looking at a future where genetic conditions may no longer exist. Genetic engineering can help prevent life-threatening diseases like cancer. It can help increase the potential life span to well over 100 years, free from disease or disorders. It may even be possible to create “designer” babies with higher intelligence, beauty and talent.

5. The Fountain of Youth

Nanotechnology is the study of controlling matter on an atomic or molecular scale. It is being used for a variety age-reversing applications that could be a literal “fountain of youth.”  We age because the rate of cellular reconstruction slows down, and the body can’t keep up the maintenance. We will be able to stay looking younger much longer as “subatomic robots” can go into your bloodstream and repair cellular damage. In the near future, anti-aging treatments could be as easy as swallowing a pill and watching yourself grow younger in a short period of time. Nanotechnology treatments for other age-related disorders, such as macular degeneration, osteoporosis, arteriosclerosis, cirrhosis, and Progeria, are right around the corner.

6. Cures for Neurological Diseases

The debate about stem cell research has propelled scientists to find stem cells from sources other than human embryos or fetuses. Now stems cells can be obtained through umbilical cord or nose proteins, and research is accelerating in stem cell technology. Stem cells have the ability to grow into anything, and they offer the hope that they can be used to treat neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Stem cells can be designed to repair and regrow the damaged neurons in an individual’s brain.

7. Hope for Heart Disease

It appears that stem cells can help prevent heart attacks by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels around the heart. The FDA recently approved a study to test this in which scientists will take adult stem cells from the bone marrow of patients and inject them into their clogged arteries. The hope is that new vessels will grow and increase the blood flow to the heart.

8. The End of Cancer Deaths

Nanotechnologists already have developed treatments for certain types of cancer, and scientists are discovering more all of the time.  Now tumors of less than one tenth of an inch can be detected and targeted without killing  normal cells. Researchers are  producing drugs that show early success at preventing tumor growth by cutting of its blood supply. A complete cure for cancer may be further down the road, but officials at the National Cancer Institute predict that by 2015, all cancer deaths will be preventable.

As exciting and promising as these breakthroughs appear to be, it is clear that many of them are also fraught with ethical and practical dilemmas. How will we respond as a society to having a life expectancy of 10, 20 or even 30 years longer than we have now? How far will we take the desire to create the “perfect human” who is genetically altered to be smart, beautiful, talented and disease-free, and what are the implications? How will these exciting technologies be exploited by greed and self-interest?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the positive and potentially difficult and dangerous outcomes of these medical advancements becoming a reality in the very near future.

If you are interested in reading more on these medical discoveries and the implications and applications for them, I’ve provided this list of books.

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Comments

  1. I am legally blind due to the deterioration of the cones and rods on my retina. I am not going to say that there aren’t days when I haven’t dreamed of seeing again – to be able to read to my daughter, to take road trips, to read a novel, to be more competitive professionally… to use an ATM.
    That said, my disability has given me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise or that would have been more challenging for me to find and I am talking about life opportunities. I have learned more about empathy and compassion – about the acceptance of not being perfect – the joy that comes from living fully and not worrying about societal norms… and many of these I can teach to my daughter because she is learning to deal with adversity, imperfection, and experiencing a life that looks like very few of her friends.

    It is nice that we are learning how to make everyone healthier and live longer and removing many of the physical challenges that happen to the human body. My concern is in that we strive to be better and better and more and more perfect losing what it is to be human… to be imperfect… to appreciate diversity and adversity… to accept the life we have? And what about compassion, empathy, natural intelligence, individuality, beauty, ability?

    With such advances, and more in the future, do we prolong life to a point where the body is not able to die?

    Interesting article.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That is a lovely and thoughtful response. Our “disabilities” almost always expand us and force us to see the beauty and fullness of life in other ways. I agree with you, being imperfect is what it means to be human. I hope that our innate sense of that will override any tendency to exploit these advancements. How freakish if we all were perfect Barbie or Ken dolls who don’t have to struggle or endure much of life’s inevitable plights.

  2. Amit Sodha - The Power Of Choice says:

    The first one sounds a lot like Jordi from Star Trek when he got his eye implants. It looks like some of the stuff of sci-fi is coming true.
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..How To Climb The Lions At Trafalgar Square =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes, there’s probably an entire industry of “designer” glasses for implants just waiting to emerge!

  3. This is a nice site. I’d be interested in what prompted writing an article like this. I’ve been in healthcare for 12 years and a lot of this stuff is never going to happen. The human body isn’t meant to be tinkered with. The more they mess with this stuff the more other problems they are likely to create. I can promise you from the bottom of my heart that they will never have a cure for cancer by 2015 or at least stop people from dying. Cancer isn’t something you can burn, cut, or poison out of the body. “A cure is around the corner”, is the carrot they have dangled for 50 years. I hope people don’t get a false hope of miracle cures around the corner. Until the medical community starts to promote whole-food nutrition and back to basics cooking, these problems will always plague modern man. I think the first responder was right we are unique for a reason.
    .-= The Doc´s last blog ..Grand Teton National Park in an RV =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Doc,
      I enjoyed your beautiful blog and reading about your experiences and work as a chiropractor. I wrote this article because many of these breakthroughs are providing real changes for people right now. Bladders grown from a patient’s own tissue have already been successfully transplanted. Stem cell research is providing real hope for a variety of health problems. DNA therapy is providing the means to create targeted drugs for people. However, I agree that these advancements bring about many questions and potential problems. I think it is important to look at the tension between the positive realities of medical advances and the ethical and social concerns they create — and how we can address those tensions.

  4. It’s a very interesting article. In a society where the flux of information it’s almost unbearable, I think we sometimes forget to see de “big picture”. Some of the advances you write about are still a bit far away… but still, we have to prepare ourselves.
    It’s amazing how we evolved so much but still haven’t been able to evolve culturally and mentality. In a way, sometimes we seem like kids with toys, when we don’t care about the consequences of our actions.
    Living longer and better will be worthless if we don’t learn to enjoy life and to give our contribution to make this world, not a perfect place, but a better place. A place where we value diversity!

    (english is not my first language, sorry if I made any mistake)

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Ana,
      Your English is just fine — thank you for commenting. Yes, we do seem like kids with toys. The world is full of amazing ideas and discoveries, but we can’t plow forward with these without understanding all of the possible consequences. Living longer and healthier lives needs to be balanced with living more meaningful, authentic lives.

  5. In many ways, these potential cures and treatments offer hope, and often, hope equals health. As an MS patient and Advocate, I know that there is great progress with stem cell research and how it applies to neurological conditions and even greater hope for remyelination. I also know, living with a progressive, debilitating disease that timing is everything when it comes to new treatment approaches.

    I think the biggest problem is not coming up with great ideas and treatments but trying to make them available to real patients. More than $40 billion is spent annually on medical research at universities worldwide. The traditional system for funding and conducting medical research and translating that research into patient treatments is broken.
    .-= Courtney Carver´s last blog ..25 Lessons For a 15 Year Old Girl =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Courtney, that has to be incredibly frustrating. To know there are treatments available, but you can’t access them. I’m sure as someone with MS, you’ve done a lot of research about these potential treatments. I sincerely hope that you will see a successful treatment for it in the next few years. In the meantime, hope does offer health. Knowing that the possibility exists for a better life does keep you going. Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. Tess The Bold Life says:

    Hi,
    I think the future holds so many exciting developments it’s easy to be amazed by it all!
    My daughter works for eyes specialists and sees so many people who eyes are beyond repair. They would love to see your list.

    Cancer needs to go…period. I sometimes wonder what they do with all the money they raise and hopefully they’re putting it to good use and it will be eradicated!

    The aging thing is thrilling especially because I’m 56! This post brings hope in a world that only appears dark.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I agree with you Tess. I truly believe that there is reason to hope for these treatments and cures to appear in the near future. There already have been successful research patients who have been able to see after years of blindness. Imagine the thrill of that.

  7. the hope of things like blindness being irrelevant in ten years is a wonderful thing; so is the idea of more effective treatments for cancer.
    what worries me, though, is the idea you mention of “designer babies,” genetic manipulation, etc – the idea of this, of humans becoming like perfect robots, terrifies me. how many people would end up looking the same, thinking the same? i truly believe that our beauty is in our imperfections. these imperfections are what make us question what’s around us, think critically, instead of blindly accepting what’s handed to us. they make us unique.
    .-= Michelle´s last blog ..the art of…not being a hoarder =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Michelle, I agree with you. I find the “designer baby” idea pretty scary. However, if we can treat or avoid certain diseases or abnormalities prior to birth, that would be wonderful. But if that can of worms is opened, how do we stop people from tinkering with the genes for beauty, talent and intelligence? It is a sticky question and one that will require a lot of ethical minds working together to find a solution. The issues facing our children and grandchildren around the decisions and there consequences is mind-boggling. But happily, they also will get to enjoy longer, healthier lives.

  8. Farnoosh says:

    Barrie, I hope and pray and dream that more than anything, your first prediction is correct. My little brother, who is not so little anymore in his early 20s, is practically blind from failed surgeries – he is a genius, a prodigy, and a marvel of a person and I don’t know sometimes if these handicaps bring to our lives a different personality and way of being – but whatever it may be, I don’t care because I want more than anything in this world for him to SEE -and sadly, much as I have hope, I won’t believe it til it happens…..Let’s keep praying and hoping because I love what technology can bring to ease human suffering!
    .-= Farnoosh´s last blog ..Recounting my Vegan Diet- The first 20 Days =-.

  9. These are certainly fascinating medical advances. Just the other day, I read about use of stem cells to help a blind person gain (or regain) sight.

    I think that the time frame for some of the breakthroughs may be longer than suggested though. I’ve read discussions about how the advances expected after the successful sequencing of the human genome have been much slower than was initially hoped.

    It’s interesting that some conditions are associated with age, but so-called lifestyle choices may be as significant or more so. Good examples are smoking which substantially increases the risk of macular degeneration and excessive exposure to sun which prematurely ages the skin and may cause skin cancer.

    Finally, I like your acknowledgement of the difficult ethical and moral issues which these technologies create. Our current technology, including, testing for Down syndrome or muscular dystropy or other diseases in embryos, raises difficult ethical issues. It won’t get any easier in the future.
    .-= Madeleine Kolb´s last blog ..Medical Myths That Can Kill You =-.

  10. I would like to suggest Dr. Al Sears for your blog. Dr. Al Sears is fast becoming the nation’s leading authority on longevity and heart health and specializing on Natural Remedies and Anti-Aging. Since the release of his latest books, P.A.C.E.: The 12-Minute Fitness Revolution and The Doctor’s Heart Cure, he has been interviewed on over two dozen nationally syndicated radio programs with an audience of millions.
    In just three years, Dr. Sears has published over 600 articles and 13 books in the fields of alternative medicine, anti-aging and nutritional supplementation – including a monthly subscription newsletter entitled Health Confidential for Men.
    .-= Anthony Rodriguez´s last blog ..This Helps Keep My Mind Clear All Day… =-.

  11. Andrei Cantey says:

    Great knowledge to follow.

  12. I would say from a cultural, ethical, professional, and just about every other standpoint that it’s about time we are working on the medical challenges of extending human life. Up until recently “old age” as most people know it even medical doctors was just soemthing that was inevitable. And I believe that stems from the treatment philosophy that rather than prevention, just wait until the person has a disease and THEN treat the person. But is immortality possible? YES…it is. But our culture would have to radically change to exclude many of things we do now coexist with be another. For example the monetary based money system would have to be forgotten or at least extremely altered in a fashion. I mean…could you image doing your same job for 400 years?? Probably not. As usual we see our technological advances far surpass our cultural ones. And because we have so many different backgrounds and so few of us in power that the many of the gifts that will come from living longer will more than likely serve the elite and powerful first, before they trickle down to the common folk. We see this time and time again throughout history.

    On the concept of making people MORE intelligent can only come about through background and learning environment. I don’t believe anyone can be born intelligent. People can have a stronger propensity to learn things better or faster like balance or learning an instrument, but they can also learn to be cruel and mean just as fast also. I strongly believe that “environment” plays the greatest role in both disease and human behavior. Not genetics.

    So although we see that our technology is allowing humanity to do all sorts of magical things like living longer, traveling to other planets, we still from a cultural standpoint about 2000 years behind. We still kill one another, in prison people, we still sing merry Xmas, happy Halloween…all this stuff has to go…

  13. I am of exactly the same opinion. Overall that was really awesome post. Thanks for sharing such informative post. Barrie.

  14. Christopher says:

    I find these articles interesting and encouraging, although all the sites seem to have the same predictions. When you actually post these do you have valid insight as to the timing, in regards to Point 2 , this in itself would be a huge cost savings from the point of Joint replacements. Arthritis, which it would be referring to would assist millions and save economies around the world billions.
    Your predictions does not specify the years, would you say this is all possible within 2-3 or more?

    Thanks
    C

  15. Thanks for the hope this article brings to many people. There is a neurological disease called cadasil that runs in my family. It caused the death of my father, my brother has been dignosed with it. I have many of the same symptoms but have not had the test to be diagnosed. Though you say all neurological diseases will be cured I was wondering if you would include cadasil in the list you think will be “cured”. Thank you

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