A look at Future Medicine
By Austin F. Chapin III, RN
John lay in his hospital bed as the morning sun broke through the window. He noticed that he felt good and refreshed not tired and achy like he did several days before. The procedure worked and he would be going home soon. John was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the pain he endured was beyond comprehension. Without treatment John would have had only a few months to live. Lucky for John new agressive genetic treatments are available. Now its three days later and he feels no pain and better than he had in several years.
A tall man in a lab coat walks over to John. Takes a look at him and is pleased.
“Hi John, how are you feeling today?” The doctor asked.
John responds, “Great really!, I don’t feel any pain, will I be able to go home soon?”
The MD looks at John with a smile and waves a small phone sized device across his patient’s abdomen. The internal structures of John’s abdomen show up on the device and a green light glows bright. The display on the device took a few measurements and read cancer free. Pancreas operational and working properly.
The Doctor replies, “I think you are as good as new, you should be able to go home in a few hours. It looks like the treatment worked beautifully. You have grown a new pancreas that is as good as new. Your body took its own cells and grew a complete new organ and killed off all the cancerous cells. It used to take us months but now we have it down to a few days.”
John, “I can’t believe it, wow!!!, It’s genetics right? I have good genetics?
The Doctor spoke up, well that’s part of it, but we can use your genetics and then help the process out a little bit. I’ll have the nurses get your paperwork ready; we will have you home by lunch.”…
It’s now possible to grow new organs!
If that little story sounds like a something far into the future think again. Science is making some astounding advances in Medicine and health. It is now possible to grow new organs, even a spinal cord in a lab. How long do you think it will be before we are given an injection and our own body sprouts a new limb? How long do you think it will be before we can receive a treatment or take a pill that repairs a damaged central nervous system?
This essay is about just that, new and exciting abilities that will increase the quality of life for millions of people. People with a damaged spinal cord that were once unable to walk may be able get up and not only walk but run and jump soon. Doctors will be using our genetic code and science of stem cells to genetically fix a damaged body system. An article online posted August 3, 2009 (Popular Science) almost 5 years ago discussed engineering adult stem cells to cure blind mice (Smith, 2009). The scientist used cells from the bone marrow of the mice and used a virus to insert a new gene into the cells. The cells started to behave like retinal cells. The genetic information placed in the cell changed the behavior of the cell and facilitated production of new proteins. The cells were then placed back into the animal to complete the experiment. After only about a month of treatment with the new cells the mice began to react to light normally. According to the study the new healthy cells replaced the damaged ones and made it possible for the mice to see. It is not known what they were able to see but there was a notable improvement. Keep in mind that this was in 2009!! Most medical treatments go through this trial period, sometimes for 10 years before it is used on human subjects. This could mean in another 5 years blind people could have sight!!!
This of course this will open the door for a whole new area of rehabilitation therapy. This is because the brain has to be trained to interpret what comes in through our little windows. None the less; a good win for humans who are just about 1.5% genetically different from chimpanzees. The Key to this advancement is the completion of the human genome; discovering what does what in our genes is helpful when trying to change the behavior of a stem cell. It’s not much different from taking the car in for diagnostic testing then finding out that your alternator is not producing enough energy to sustain the electrical needs of the car. In medical terms, maybe your heart is not pumping efficiently to meet the needs of the cells in your body. Your cardiac output could be just a little inefficient and you could be unaware of the problem until it emerged 20 years down the road as an enlarged heart. All the extra work of pumping blood inefficiently over the years might lead to cardiomegaly and congestive heart failure. Well good news!!!, actually its old news. Little over a decade ago we as humans broke the human genome code and mapped it out. This has allowed us to do things we have never been able to do before in medicine. Here are a few exciting things to look for in the future.
Surgeons in Boston at the children’s hospital have figured out how to grow a new heart for children born with parts of the heart missing. WHAT?? The Boston Hospital for children have taken the children’s own cells and facilitated the repair of the heart at a cellular level. A rare number of children are born with a heart missing the ventricle side of the heart. It is called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, it is a fatal disfigurement if not repaired (Winslow, 2013 ).
The main problem with genetic mapping is cost. As the process of mapping out individual genomes becomes more cost effective the possibilities are endless. The cost in 2003 to do genetic mapping was about $2 million. Now the cost is dropping dramatically due to the ability to speed up the process and the devices used to do the mapping sequence get smaller and easier to develop. In the near future the cost may be as low as $1000 to do your individual genome map. A company in London is working on a prototype that is expected to reduce the cost even more to about $100 (Marcus, 2013).
In 5-10 years it may be possible that at birth you will already know what procedures you will need and in what time in your life you will need them. Your entire genetic makeup will be on your chart for maintaining your health throughout life. Right now it is already possible for Medical professionals to have the ability to do some diagnostic test on patients using a smart phone, FDA has approved a tiny device that attaches to a doctors phone that allows them to perform an EKG. Alivecor has a case that fits a smartphone with electrodes on the back and it runs for about $200. Another company has invented a cell phone device that lets parents take a picture of the inside of a child’s ear and send it to a doctor in order to keep down the overcrowding of waiting rooms (Weaver, 2013)
It will be amazing to see what we will be able to do in the next decade. Certain cancers may be resolvable, neurological diseases or injuries can be repaired, Children born with fatal congenital abnormalities might blow out candles for the next 100 years. We live in an exciting time where technology is only limited to the imagination of those who wield it. It is no longer fantasy only seen on science fiction shows like star wars or star trek that gave us images of healing people by just waving an electronic wand over a patient. As humans we will always be plagued by some disease or disaster, but our ability to fight back is definitely improving our situation.
Marcus, A. D. (2013). DNA Sequencing for routine checkups . Retrieved December 14, 2014, from Wall Street Journal : http://www.WSJ.com
Smith, D. (2009, August 3). Engineering Adult Stem Cells to Cure Blind Mice . Retrieved December 14, 2014, from Popular Science : http://www.popsci.com
Weaver, C. (2013). Health in the palm of your hands . Retrieved December 14, 2014, from Wall Street Journal : www. WSJ.com
Winslow, R. (2013 , December 31). The Future of Medicine is Now . Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.WSJ.com