When it comes to the treatment of illness, we’re living in a really exciting time. The past few decades have seen massive progress, making it possible to treat and even cure ailments we never thought we’d conquer. What might we look forward to over the next ten years?
First Generation Nanomedicine
One of the big challenges of modern medicine is that it requires doctors to do complex and difficult jobs very precisely, sometimes at the molecular level, deep inside our bodies, and invasive surgery is a major undertaking which entails obvious risks.
Nanomedicine changes everything. By inserting tiny sensors or even tiny robots into the body such that they can travel to where they’re needed, doctors will be able to make much clearer diagnoses, monitor known conditions, deliver medicines directly to where they’re needed or cut away damaged tissue so that it flushes out of the body naturally.
The first devices needed to do this are currently at the testing stage. We’re at the start of a bold new era in medicine which could even lead to the production of artificial antibodies, allowing us to keep pace with rapidly evolving diseases.
A Revolution In Nutrition
As we move forward into exciting new areas like nanotechnology, we’re also becoming increasingly alert to the importance of health basics like diet – but in a new way.
The emerging science of nutrigenomics, popularized by figures like Amy Yasko, is exploring the way that genes and diet interact, paving the way not just for improvements in overall nutritional science but also for the development of personalized diets optimized for an individual’s health.
It has long been established that diet plays a role in gene expression and by eating in the right way, individuals may be able to cut their risk of developing diseases to which they are particularly susceptible, expanding a technique used to prevent inherited forms of diabetes across a far wider range of ailments.
As it advances, nutrigenomics may also be able to tackle established conditions like obesity and irritable bowel syndrome by turning off genes that cause us to process food in problematic ways.
New Techniques In Muscle Restoration
They say that war is the mother of invention. In actual fact, the overall rate of innovation falls during wartime, but one area where the old saying holds true is in medicine. In recent years the conflicts in the Middle East have led to extensive work on muscle regeneration due to the number of injured soldiers coming home.
There’s one major problem with this however, and that’s that while we’re now on the verge of being able to replace some locally damaged muscle, it hasn’t been possible to get new muscle cells to distribute throughout the body, which is needed in order to help people with muscle-wasting diseases and, ultimately, all of us as we lose muscle due to age.
New approaches to this problem look as if they might bear fruit within the next few years, letting us stay strong throughout our lives.
Electromagnetic Treatment For Depression
Getting help with depression can be a real struggle. There are lots of different drug treatments out there but identifying what’s likely to work for which patients is still very difficult, and many people have to try several – over the course of months – before they find anything that helps at all.
Then there are 4% of depressed people whom our current technologies simply can’t help. What we do know is that electroshock therapy helps many people, but it’s a drastic method which is distressing to undergo and can have serious side effects. A new technique, transcranial magnetic stimulation, could prove similarly effective but more accurate, less damaging and free of all that unpleasantness.
Currently, at the developmental stage, it involves using magnetic pulses to create small electrical currents in the brain, stimulating particular nerve clusters without damaging surrounding tissue. Those working on it believe that it might also be adapted to treat other brain disorders.
3D Printed Organs
Organ transplant surgery has been a mainstay of medicine since the late 1970s but it runs into two major problems: firstly, there’s a shortage of donated organs, and secondly, patients’ bodies often reject the organs they receive because they’re genetically different.
Preventing rejection necessitates the use of drugs which compromise the immune system and have other unpleasant side effects. What if organs could simply be printed from the patient’s own cells, doing away with these problems altogether?
The first 3D printed bladders were implanted into patients in 2004 and the results were a big success, but progress on more complex organs has been slow, largely due to difficulties in creating the fine networks of capillaries needed to supply them with blood.
Now scientists seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough, with kidneys, livers, bones and even hearts a real possibility within the next decade. This could save hundreds of thousands of lives and mean much better quality of life for transplant recipients.
Personalized Cancer Vaccines
Did you know that the first-ever form of chemotherapy was mustard gas? When cancer patients returned from war with their tumors reduced, their doctors realized that poisoning cells could kill the disease. Since then, such treatments have been refined so that they’re better at killing cancer cells with less collateral damage.
But what if using poison wasn’t necessary at all? What if the body’s own immune system could be taught to target the cancer? This is the idea behind the coming generation of cancer vaccines, which can be personalized so that they target the unique genetic make-up of the cancer and leave healthy cells alone.
This approach not only means that a wider range of cancers – some currently incurable – could be treated effectively – it also means that treatment won’t make people ill and they can carry on with their lives as usual while it’s taking place.
With these and many more exciting technologies emerging, we’re about to find ourselves looking at the treatment of injury and disease in a whole new way.