Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Medical Megatrends –Expect These Advances in Medicine Soon
Here are some of the advances in biological sciences. Genomics is at the heart of many. : Drug companies will be able to develop drugs that are designed from the beginning to be “targeted” to a specific problem – custom tailored. Already there are a number of new cancer drugs that fit this model such as Gleevec for chronic myelocytic leukemia. Today a physician must prescribe a drug knowing only that it works in “most” people but not whether it will work in you nor whether you will be among those to get a side effect. With genomic information, doctors will frequently be able to prescribe a drug for the individual knowing that first it will actually work and second that it will not have unexpected side effects. That will be a major advance. Genomics is already helping to subcategorize patients with the same type of cancer into those with good or poor prognoses – the former may need less aggressive treatment and the latter more aggressive approaches. Genomics also helps in early diagnosis. Imagine taking a sample of pus and knowing in less than an hour if it is infected with “staph” and whether it is resistant to antibiotics or not – a multiday process currently. And being able to predict what diseases a person might develop later in life [e.g. heart disease or colon cancer] would mean that a “prescription” for life style changes could be started to prevent or slow the disease occurrence [e.g., diet, exercise]. Or a drug might be prescribed early in life [e.g., statin to reduce cholesterol] or a procedure begun sooner than usual [colonoscopy for the person at high risk of early colon cancer.] All of these will mean more custom-tailored medicine for you and will change today’s medical paradigm from “Diagnose and Treat” to “Predict and Prevent.” And all of this will occur regardless of whatever healthcare reform emanates from Washington.
Other scientific advances are those of immunology which are making it possible to create new vaccines and improve our ability to transplant organs. There will be more vaccines to prevent many troublesome infections such as the new vaccines that prevent the “shingles” in older individuals and rotavirus diarrhea in infants. There are already vaccines that can prevent hepatoma, a type of liver cancer caused by one of the hepatitis viruses, and cervical cancer, usually caused by the human papilloma virus. And I will predict that there will be vaccines to prevent others cancers soon such as some types of leukemias and lymphomas and perhaps stomach cancer and some cancers of the head and neck. Look for vaccines to prevent or treat some of the most important chronic illnesses such as atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s – these will be major advances. As to transplants, some day it will be possible to transplant an organ from a pig into a human without it being rejected. No longer will someone have to wait for another person to die to receive a heart, a lung, a kidney or liver.
Engineering and computer science is also advancing medicine rapidly. The new CT and MRI scanners give incredible images of our anatomy in a completely noninvasive manner. This means that diagnosis is much easier and more accurate and a surgeon knows exactly what he or she will find during surgery – a major advance.
Simulators - like those used by airline pilots for practice – will assist trainees before they ever approach a patient and will be used to test for competency and certification.
New technology in the OR will mean less invasive yet more effective surgery with a shorter recuperation time.
And there are many medical devices that have meant a restoration of normal function for many people. Think of the new heart pacemakers that regulate the heart’s rhythm or the defibrillators that prevent sudden death. Look for major advances here in the coming years. And similar devices can be used to reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures and even assist in treating depression.
In time, all medical information will be digitized and this will mean that there will finally be an electronic medical record – one that is available anytime, any place. This will mean much better health care for you, a big improvement for the doctor and a lower cost of care.
These are but some of the advances coming in the next few years. They will mean more custom-tailored medicine, better prevention, an increased ability to repair, restore or replace damaged organs, a medical record that is instantly available anytime or place and much safer medicine. It will be an exciting time to watch as medical care improves for all of us.
Praise for Dr Schimpff
The craft of science writing requires skills that are arguably the most underestimated and misunderstood in the media world. Dumbing down all too often gets mistaken for clarity. Showmanship frequently masks a poor presentation of scientific issues. Factoids are paraded in lieu of ideas. Answers are marketed at the expense of searching questions. By contrast, Steve Schimpff provides a fine combination of enlightenment and reading satisfaction. As a medical scientist he brings his readers encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. As a teacher and as a medical ambassador to other disciplines he's learned how to explain medical breakthroughs without unnecessary jargon. As an advisor to policymakers he's acquired the knack of cutting directly to the practical effects, showing how advances in medical science affect the big lifestyle and economic questions that concern us all. But Schimpff's greatest strength as a writer is that he's a physician through and through, caring above all for the person. His engaging conversational style, insights and fascinating treasury of cutting-edge information leave both lay readers and medical professionals turning his pages. In his hands the impact of new medical technologies and discoveries becomes an engrossing story about what lies ahead for us in the 21st century: as healthy people, as patients of all ages, as children, as parents, as taxpayers, as both consumers and providers of health services. There can be few greater stories than the adventure of what awaits our minds, bodies, budgets, lifespans and societies as new technologies change our world. Schimpff tells it with passion, vision, sweep, intelligence and an urgency that none of us can ignore.
-- N.J. Slabbert, science writer, co-author of Innovation, The Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st Century Global Economy (with Aris Melissaratos, director of technology enterprise at the John Hopkins University).