Medicine is a beautiful thing and being healthy is among the most liberating of foundations that one can possibly have. The science, or understanding, of the human body in the last century has resulted in the saved life’s of literally, hundreds of millions of people, if not more. From a reduction in maternal mortality and infant deaths, to correction of malnutrition, new vaccines, and hundreds of initiatives that have all resulted in a vast increase in the length and quality of life for billions around the world.
In researching a chapter in my just released book, I came across many medicines and technologies that will be essential to our health someday. Everyday we discover new things about the human body that will aid in the search of greater health and I’m putting this post together in my head as an experiment to what the future of medicine and health could look like in the future.
With our understanding of the human body growing everyday and with the tools that are becoming cheaper with time, very soon we will have tools capable of mapping our individual genomes, as well as the nutritional needs of people for the cost of pennies. As such, we will be able to accurately inform each person what their ideal food / vitamin / mineral / medication intake will be to a very accurate Tee. As we know today, some people are lactose intolerant, some are carb intolerant, some have peanut allergies, some respond well to some medications, and not to others (7,000 people die a year in the US from medication errors). In this mythical future (I say mythical only because I cannot imagine it, despite having an understanding of it), you will know exactly what you can and can’t eat, and further still, you will know exactly what you should eat to derive the most benefit to your physical health, energy expenditure (especially useful for athletes), and mental health. This information will warn people to specific genes that show predisposition’s to diseases that may occur later in life, such as Alzheimer’s (which runs in the family), as well as heart attacks, and many others. In this sense, you will never be caught off guard in regard to your health. You will know exactly which vitamins you should take, with which foods (which provide maximum absorption), and how much food is acutely required for your body (taking into account not all the calories are used) and so on and so forth.
In a few short years (anywhere from ten-to-twenty), computers will be so prevalent and cheap that they will literally be in everything. Your bathroom, clothes, and home will be equipped with hundreds of sensors that completely monitor your health down to your blood pressure, to cancerous cells, and anything else that may indicate ill-health. And to elaborate further on cancer, it will be a thing of the past! Cancerous cells will be detected years before they pose a significant problem to your health, and cancer is very treatable in its early form (more on cancer soon). I only hope that this technology becomes cheap enough to ensure adequate distribution worldwide.
With the just-mentioned proliferation of cellphones, computers, gadgets et al (which is vastly increasing, especially cellphones), vast amounts of data are being created that can and will be (and is) used to anticipate pandemics, social health, and even on the origin of diseases. This trend is called Big Data and it is so vital (and useful already) for the future, that we are only just starting to realize the vast benefits and who knows how many more dozens of socially beneficial applications it has. Here are but a few. The company, Global Viral Forecasting have shown how viruses jump from animals to humans, which is valuable and proactive in that we can predict where pandemics are likely to be born and take preventive measures, identified a fifth strain of malaria, and identified how preventive measures on the containment of swine flu failed and proposed solutions that will better handle a real pandemic in the future. All of which, are just a few of the many (perhaps hundreds or thousands) of applications for Big Data.
In the future, hospital mistakes will be a thing of the past. Coupled with ‘the computers in everything’ and management of patient Big Data, no longer will errors in judgment occur as a result of fatigue, germs and any number of other factors that contribute to the accidental death of many. Each year, 98,000 people die, and many more are injured, as a result of these errors. These numbers are in the USA alone, with its developed infrastructure and regulations (and profit incentive no less). Delving deeper into the data that is available, we find out that 1.5 million Americans each year are sickened, injured, or killed by errors in prescribing and takingmedication. All these numbers will simply go away in the future. As far as I am aware, there are no worldwide numbers (or at least any that are accurate), and it is safe to say, that with America being only 3% of the population, that the worldwide numbers are much higher. Millions of people around the world will be healthier, get the care they deserve, and live longer, fuller lives as a result, and the trillions of dollars we spend worldwide on healthcare can be spent on research and development in dozens of disciplines such as agriculture, space, and transportation to mention just a few.
Diabetes, cancer, leukemia, and many other diseases would simply be a thing of the past. Attention Deficit Disorder would be severely reduced as it based in diet and inaccurate medication. Cardiovascular death would disappear (I’m sure some idiots would ignore their warnings so some might die), as well a host of other diet-related diseases. Your body, physically and mentally, fueled by science and the perfect energy (according to your genetic blueprint) will reach its zenith in terms of its functioning.
On a slight, but related tangent. The US government, specifically the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will soon deploy a new laser-based scanner that will be able to scan you from 50m (164 ft) away, and find out such information like what your adrenaline levels are, what you ate for breakfast, whether you use drugs (and which ones), have recently interacted with dangerous chemicals (say a bomb), and dozens of various other data points, all from a distance and without your knowledge. While I am uncomfortable with such power in the hands of an over-bearing government, if managed properly, it could be liberating and safer (no more TSA and security lines at airports is but one benefit.) Unfortunately, the path to such a happy medium between privacy fears and safety will take many years. This technology will be available by the end of this year. But the point I make in this paragraph shows you just how close we are to this inter-connected internet of everything that will help us lead healthier, longer, and (hopefully) happier lives. It is literally, right around the corner.
Then there is nanotechnology and if it gets its way, and proves to be what many scientists (and futurists) think it will be, you may even have a few billion nanobots roaming your bloodstream fixing unhealthy cells that they chance upon, keeping you in total health for the entirety of your life (which could be hundreds of years long). The way I look at that goes as such; at the back of my throat will be millions of little nanobots that (magically) transform the atomic, molecular arrangement of my all-to-frequent sugar-infused ice-cream with chocolate-topping into the atomic and molecular equivalent of my already calculated, ideal caloric food. I would eat whatever I wanted without the spare tyre, the mental fogginess, or cancer-supporting fructose. A free (calorically infused, healthy, sweet, and delicious) lunch so to speak.
That’s the preventive health side. Now the medical side is due for some marvelous advances of its own. Already, right now in this present, we have skin-cells in a spray-can, printed body parts (or grown), blood vessels and bones. Recently, a woman has had an exact replica of her jaw printed out, and successfully attached to her cranial structure (She was over 90 and was home safe a few days later), and coupled with innovative stem cell research, this will result in no antibiotics or immunosuppressant drugs (and the subsequent evolution of anti-biotic resistant super-bacteria). All of which, is child’s play compared to what will be possible in just a few short years. Think of the ramifications involved here. If an injured person, experiencing organ failure, or bones crushed beyond repair were to enter the hospital of the future, the surgeons or doctors could x-ray their bodies, take a blood sample, and create the necessary parts there in the hospital and begin surgery/treatment immediately. No waiting for a liver transplant as the patient’s own stem cells will be used to create a new one. No waiting for a spare heart from another dead person, or bone marrow from a random person. Organ donors in the future will cease to exist, as we will be our own donors.
We will soon have nanotechnology-guided cancer removal, that will render chemotherapy obsolete. It will subsequently be looked upon as crudely as we look upon the hanging of a patient upside down with a pan of milk underneath their open mouths to remove tapeworms. One line of nano-tech cancer treatment, being tested in animals now, delivers anticancer drugs in nano-bubbles directly to the affected tissue, by which an ultrasound can be precisely targeted at the cells, popping the nano-bubbles and releasing the drugs. Other near breakthroughs will involve far earlier detection of cancer (as already mentioned). Nano-fibers carrying antibiotics that can destroy even the most drug-resistant bacteria, which will be VERY IMPORTANT about 10 years from now (hint: the already-mentioned anti-biotic resistant super-bacteria). And the holy grail of nano-medicine, billions of little tiny robots traversing the human body repairing each and every cell on a daily basis, which has the potential to extend the human lifespan to hundreds of years, perhaps thousands, and beyond. Recently, researchers at Harvard University created a robotic device out of DNA that can seek out cell targets and rewrite their DNA code, essentially telling them to self-destruct.
“Oh hello cancer cell… I see you want to inflict damage on my master… Goodbye cancer…”. And that will be the end of cancer… Again, they have already created the first one, and it worked!
It’s said that the first person to live to 150 years old is alive today, and that within twenty years, a person will be born who will live to be 1000 years old (some say he’s already alive too), which is a fascinating prospect. I could potentially live to see the 22nd century, and beyond. I could maybe live long enough to see a human settlement on Mars, or even better, perhaps travel to it, satisfying my life-long dream of going to space. If we lived close to being a 1000 years old, perhaps we will see the first humans (or be among them) to travel to the stars. Our knowledge of the Earth could advance to such a point, that perhaps we could reverse the climate change and ecological disasters that we have inflicted upon our dear planet. We need but get out-of-the-way of the science and scientists who will make it happen, and hope that fundamentalists (or luddites) don’t blanket this essential progress with their predisposed ‘morality’, as religious fundamentalists did in the USA with stem cell treatment, losing many vital years of progress, which only prolonged the pain and suffering of millions around the world who had hoped it would cure them of their illnesses of blindness, paralysis, et al. But our possibilities are infinite. I just hope I don’t die in some freak accident before my time! I long to see this future, and more than that, to experience it.
“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”