Just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential; not yet fully developed.
Three nascent sciences, gene therapy, stem cell use and nanotechnology, will come of age in the next 20 years.
Each of these sciences are in their own right pregnant with the seeds of revolutionary change, and when combined they hold the promise of curing nearly every thinkable illness. Whereas these treatments are experimental and expensive today, 20 years from now, they will be common and affordable.It’s difficult to say exactly how these technologies will converge, but combinations of any or all of these could become panaceas before long.
Stem cells are like blank slates. They’re cells that don’t yet have an identity, a role. But we can assign roles to stem cells, and tell them whether to become a skin cell, a brain cell or a part of any organ we want. Granted, we’re only beginning to learn how to do this, but we’ve already grown functioning livers, bladders, ears, and lungs in laboratories by dripping little drops of stem cells onto molds. So stem cells can be used to repair damages in organs and tissue, or to simply replace faltering organs altogether. They will soon obviate the need for organ donors. We’ll instead have organ factories that make hearts, eyes, kidneys; you name it, on demand and off the shelf. Read about one man who was cured of AIDS using stem cells
Ray Kurzweil has said that computers that used to take up a whole room in the sixties, now fit in his pocket, and that these same computing powers will fit inside a blood cell within a generation. When processors are so small that they can be injected into your blood stream, you can send in billions of them to repair and regenerate tissue as it degenerates, enabling a continuous rejuvenation of all organs. If a malignant tumor is discovered somewhere in your body, a billion strong army of well trained nanobots could be deployed to defeat it. Nanotech will also enable the implantation of microchips in our brains, where they have already cured depression and anxiety disorders in test patients.
And then, of course, there is gene manipulation, which can take both a proactive and a preventative nature. Through accurate alterations in a fetus’ or baby’s genetic makeup, hereditary diseases would be precluded from ever causing any trouble in the first place. If, upon analyzing your child’s DNA, your doctor finds it predisposed to Down’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, or ADHD for instance, he will have the ability to change or fix the relevant chromosomes. One man was cured of a blood disease through gene therapy.
Which diseases will we cure?
Diseases that in 20 years will either be eliminated or that people will be able to live with via treatments:
- Most cancers
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
This list is by no means exhaustive, and when looking back in 2030, it could be much, much longer.
Social Darwinists, religious fundamentalists and other skeptics towards game changing science will do their part to decelerate this progress, as they did with in-vitro fertilization (which continues to give the joy of parenthood to millions), gene modified crops (which continues make food increasingly affordable to the hungry masses without the prophesized side effects) and on countless other accounts.
But in the end, reason and compassion will prevail, as it always does in time.
Disease eradication goes hand in hand with prosperity. Many poverty stricken populations, notably in sub-Saharan Africa, suffer needless deaths from Malaria, AIDS and Polio. Those are all perfectly treatable diseases (indeed most HIV positive patients from the industrialized world are now able to live full lives), yet, without the most important prerequisite for medical progress – wealth – many Africans remain defenseless in the face of for instance Malaria. They can’t afford to keep their cattle in barns, they have no houses with sealed windows behind which to hide at dusk and dawn, and they can’t afford treatment once infected. Africa will be the last continent to reach economic prosperity, and subsequently the last to enjoy the health benefits that accompany affluence.
But that day too will come – in our lifetime.
EDITORS NOTE: As a futurist, I make predictions of what I think will happen based on my research. These are predictions I hope I will live to see. There is a good chance that these treatments will extend my life long enough to allow me to see my predictions come true!