The future of medicine seems to look like a sci-fi movie. In the movie “The Fifth Element” a woman was reconstructed from a scrap of DNA. Genetic information was used with a 3D printer to recreate her. That may seem like a work of fiction, but we are toying with some similar ideas right now. A biotech firm in CA will begin selling 3D printed liver tissue for medical research. Scientists are growing small human brains and kidneys, and can even grow human skin tissue.
Gamma brain waves
In the movie “Inception”, thieves can steal information from your subconscious. Right now thieves can’t actually steal your thoughts, but scientists are experimenting with gamma brain waves to help people with PTSD. Researchers now think that our experience of the world is split into two levels of consciousness. Primary consciousness relates to simple emotions and sensory perceptions. Secondary consciousness is, in simple terms, being aware that we are aware.
According to New Scientist:
“The gamma wave oscillations may help different areas of the brain synchronize their activity to create a cohesive experience. The frontal and temporal areas – which are involved in decision making and memory and are most highly evolved in humans – aren’t normally synchronized in REM sleep, but are in waking consciousness. Ramping up the gamma waves may have created a hybrid state with greater synchronisation and awareness in this area, creating some of the characteristics of secondary consciousness, while the rest of the brain sleeps.
The team suggests that brain stimulation might help people with post-traumatic stress disorder who have recurring nightmares. Perhaps by triggering lucid dreaming, people with PTSD can take control of their dreams and make them less frightening.
In “Elysium” Matt Damon is exposed to a lethal amount of radiation. He needs to get to a medical chamber that will heal any kind of disease to save his life. He attaches himself to an exoskeleton to increase his strength and speed. This also sounds farfetched, but might not be too far off in the future. The FDA has approved a robotic device that “assists individuals with lower body paralysis from a spinal cord injury. The motorized brace is fitted to support both legs and a portion of the upper body. It uses motors to power movement at the hips, knees and ankles.” It will allow paralyzed individuals to sit, stand and walk with assistance.
3D body scanning
By the year 2050, thanks to 3D body scanning, we may all have a digital self. According to Doc Wire News:
“EXPLORER, the 3D medical imaging system that can scan the whole body at once, has recently produced its first scans. Created by UC Davis researchers Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi, the scanner combines positron emission tomography (PET) and x-ray computed tomography (CT) technologies to image the entire human body. Coupling these two imaging methods and capturing radiation much more effectively than other scanning systems, EXPLORER can generate images much faster than other scanning methods. Over time, this system can also create videos tracking specially marked drugs as they travel throughout the body.”
The whole body can be imaged in less than 30 seconds, and results are 40 times faster than the PET scans we use now. There will be more detailed imaging, and we’ll actually be able to see cells and blood flow. The amount of detailed images will be incredible.
Medicine of the future will be more self-serve where people are able to track their health using apps and wearables. I imagine a hospital where you drive through, like a fast food restaurant, and have Watson evaluate your whole body. Then you pull up to another window where you’re given a printout of your health, along with customized medicine specially formulated and targeted for your condition.
Miniature labs will provide a quick diagnosis, and medical microchips will save time and lives. Medicine will be much more preventative. And customized medicine means we will have smart antibiotics and organs that are 3D printed just for us.
The future of medicine
These are all medical wonders that would have fascinated some of the early medical pioneers such as Dr. Rene Laennec, inventor of the stethoscope, or the inventor of the X-ray, Wilhelm Roentgen, Alexander Fleming, inventor of penicillin, or Louis Pasteur who was known for his discovery of pasteurization and microbial fermentation. Pasteur’s germ theory states that many diseases are caused by microorganisms and his scientific breakthroughs in the cause and prevention of disease have saved millions of lives.
Who knows what the future of medicine holds? But one thing is clear, it will be targeted, customized, molecular and digital. The idea that we could detect diseases before they actually even occur would be amazing. To detect genetic defects and fix them in the DNA would be mind boggling.