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.
- Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human
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