The Future of Medicine

In the next fifty years, technology will change humankind's longevity and the average health of the world population.

In the next fifty years, technology will change humankind's longevity and the average health of the world population. We will see new affordable cancer treatments and vaccines that will give us a chance to win the fight against one of the deadliest diseases. Moreover, as of now, we are experimenting with synthetic tissues and organs, brain-computer interfaces, innovative genic therapy, and telesurgeries via 5G networks.

However this bright future for humanity will come with a cost, and it’s not clear if this new medicine will be affordable for everyone or only for wealthy people that can spend millions of dollars on new treatments, drugs to extend life. Given we are still grappling with the COVID pandemic, this channel will also cover medical breakthroughs and key developments in the fight against the virus. Insofar as COVID has uncovered - and future pandemics will exacerbate - new geopolitical tensions, the series will also speak to the growth of health-related soft power, reshaping our world as we know it.

1.What will healthcare look like in the future?

With almost $200 billion being spent each year in the U.S. alone on medical and health R&D, the future of healthcare promises to improve every stage of our lives, from birth to old age. Groundbreaking new technologies, like gene editing, synthetic tissues, or nanomedicines, will enable us to live healthier and longer lives.

In our daily routine, for example, our health will be constantly monitored through wearable devices –such as smartwatches or digital tattoos–, which will give us an alert whenever they detect any sign that something is not right. This information will be stored in the cloud and analyzed using algorithms and artificial intelligence, making it possible to quickly prescribe medicines. The data can also be shared in real-time with our doctor, giving us the chance to treat any problem right at the beginning.

In hospitals, genetically based diseases will be easily cured by using new drugs and therapies based on the revolutionary CRISPR gene-editing technique, which makes it possible to edit our DNA with unprecedented precision. Cancer treatment will also benefit from this technology, enabling healing in virtually just one session.

2.Is it possible for humans to stop aging?

In the last 100 years, the emergence of drugs such as penicillin, the spread of vaccines and better general hygiene conditions – both in hospitals and in terms of access to basic sanitation – have resulted in a boom in life expectancy. If in 1900 the average life expectancy in Europe was just over 40 years, by the end of the 2010s it had passed 80. This advance, of course, was due in large part to a dramatic reduction in infant mortality rates.

The challenge of medicine today, apart from continuing to raise the life expectancy of the population, is to ensure that people get older healthy, independent, and with quality of life. The promises for the coming years are many. From wearable and powered exoskeleton robots for people with reduced mobility to nursing robots that will care for the elderly and assist them in their daily tasks. From synthetic tissues that enable lab-grown or 3D-printing organs, to nanomedicines that can revolutionize the way we treat severe diseases.

The biggest expectation, however, lies in a process called cellular reprogramming, which researchers claim is capable of turning back the clock on our body's cells and making them biologically younger. Research in this area has already attracted investments worth millions of dollars, including from Google and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos. On the other hand, the idea also raises ethical questions regarding the access to this type of technology and the effects that the high cost of these therapies may have on a society with large income disparities.

3.Will there be a cure for cancer?

According to The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), cancer is a disease made up of more than 200 main types, and a plethora of other molecular subtypes, which makes it very unlikely to ever have a single cure.

However, new drugs and treatments developed in recent decades have dramatically changed the survival rate of people affected by different types of cancer. In the U.S., for example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1999 to 2019, cancer death rates went down 27%, from 200.8 to 146.2 deaths per 100,000 population.

For the next decades, science is betting on new approaches that may radically change the way we fight cancer. One example is a gene-editing tool called CRISPR, which can work like a pair of scissors, capable of cutting our genome precisely.

4.Will cancer drugs and treatments get cheaper?

While new technologies have led to a dramatic improvement in survival rates in recent years, the costs of new cancer drugs and treatments have grown exponentially, generating a discussion about the need to make them more affordable.

A study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that the average cost of a new orally administered cancer medicine in 2014 exceeded $135,000 a year, up to six times the cost of similar drugs approved in the early 2000s. A Nature article published in 2020 affirms: "Early signs suggest that the issue of unsustainable drug pricing is beginning to attract the attentions of policymakers."

5.What is CRISPR therapy?

Genome editing is a group of technologies developed in recent decades that give scientists the ability to alter the DNA of an organism, allowing the addition, removal or alteration of genetic material at particular locations in the genome.

Among the various techniques developed for this purpose in recent years, the one that most raises expectations for the future is CRISPR-Cas9, because it is faster, cheaper, more precise, and more efficient than all other existing methods.

The discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 "genetic scissors" in 2012 earned scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier, from France, and Jennifer A. Doudna, from the U.S., the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. For the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, this technology has a revolutionary impact on the biological sciences, contributing to the development of new therapies against cancer and bringing us closer to the dream of curing hereditary diseases.

6.What is biohacking and do-it-yourself biology?

Biohacking is a movement that aims to extend life or improve the performance of the human body and mind through technological innovation and a bottom-up and open source approach borrowed from hacker culture. Among the technologies used by biohackers we have:

  • Gene editing, which provides the possibility of transforming one's own DNA through Crispr technology
  • The study of new vaccines
  • Blood transfusions of young people to alter the aging process

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