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Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The hottest topics in science in a format to fit your lifestyle — from the Editors of Scientific American.
By The Editors
One hundred years ago, most of the medical treatments and technologies that we take for granted hadn’t even been imagined or were found in the pages of science fiction novels rather than medical journals. Today, on the other hand, medical research often sounds like science fiction. This eBook, Tomorrow’s Medicine, looks at some of the more fascinating areas where technology that could transform health is being developed, including cybernetics, regenerative medicine, nanotechnology and genetically tailored treatments. Although many of these advances may not be ready to treat humans for many years, some of them may someday profoundly change—and extend—our lives. In “Bionic Connections,” for example, D. Kacy Cullen and Douglas Smith discuss synthetic limbs that function as well (or better) than our own. Echoes of the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage abound in “Nanomedicine Targets Cancer” by James Heath, Mark Davis and Leroy Hood, who examine how miniaturized tools can both measure the molecular interactions of disease and deliver targeted therapies. Several articles discuss different approaches for regeneration, including “Grow Your Own Eye,” in which author Yoshiki Sasai illustrates how his lab successfully grew a retina from stem cells to “A Sweet Solution for Replacing Organs,” in which Katherine Harmon describes how a speaker at a recent TED talk used a 3-D printer to create a kidney. A century from now, will the sight of an amputee be a rarity, with cybernetic limbs controlled by thought and nearly indistinguishable from the biological ones? Perhaps most people will have their genomes read for indications of future disease and take steps to prevent it – or even to cure inherited disorders. Will we replace some drugs with tiny machines, fanning out inside the body to repair damage? As exciting as these possibilities are to extend both the length and quality of life, immortality – or at least agelessness – may be forever out of our reach. As Thomas Kirkwood notes in his piece, “Why Can’t We Live Forever?” death might be the price we pay for our complex biology. Even so, the doctors of a century past would surely be impressed by what medical science has accomplished in the past hundred years: antibiotics, organ transplants and the elimination of smallpox, to name but a few. The next century should be equally impressive, and with the various types of new technologies on the horizon, many of us have a good chance of seeing it happen.