Questions move the world forward
According to Plato and Aristotle, philosophy begins in wonder. You start to question the shape of the clouds or why ants work in hives, the next thing you know you are already contemplating about geography or social psychology. Examining the “natural” order of things helps us explain the world, see our environment in new, different ways and move forward. That’s why it is a great honor to get questions, and why The Medical Futurist loves to get questions even more than giving keynotes.
As you know, The Medical Futurist is a frequent flyer. From Pittsburgh to Lisbon, from Tokyo to Melbourne, giving hundreds of keynotes before hundreds of audiences. But the excitement is always highest at the end of the speeches when the questions pour down like rain. Medical professionals, industry experts, young entrepreneurs, students, and patients have raised more than a thousand issues over the last decade.
So, we decided that these questions were just too good just to only be answered on the stage and collected the 40 most exciting ones with illustrations and infographics in an e-book (PDF). Here’s a glimpse of it.
When will we find the cure for cancer?
Medical students ask how they can prepare for the future. Patients ask about ethical issues and what they should do for their own health. Physicians ask whether robots and algorithms will replace them. Industry experts inquire about business opportunities. Engineers ask about practical solutions in design, and how devices might be better used at home. Many-many fascinating and timely topics, relevant issues.
One time The Medical Futurist spoke at a conference in the Netherlands. After the talk, a patient raised her hand and explained how there were many incidents of cancer in her family. She wanted to know when we would finally find a cure. Her tone suggested that she was optimistic one would be found eventually.
However, she was not happy with the answer. Every patient’s cancer is unique and genetically different. Each of us is genetically different from the others and thus reacts to diseases in an idiosyncratic way. Finding a “cure for cancer” implies that cancer is a single disease. But it is not.
Precision medicine, nanorobots, and social media to change the nature of cancer
Modern medicine has strived to describe the background of cancer for decades. After cardiovascular diseases, it is the leading cause of death worldwide. Lung scans, tumor markers in the blood, and simple dermatological tests can all identify cancer at an early stage. Early cancer detection can be based either on molecular features or symptoms. Imagine if specific blood tests became so inexpensive that it would be worth checking these on a regular basis. Alternatively, perhaps nanorobots swimming in our bloodstream could keep an eye on these indicators regularly.
Another approach is precision medicine: developing treatments that can either assist the immune system or target cancerous cells directly. The former is promising, but a greater effort has been put into the latter. Therapies have been designed that target cancerous tissue based on its genetic composition. Tissue from a lung cancer patient can be genetically analyzed today, and treatment options selected by its genetic background.
However, cancer is not just about finding effective treatments. Dealing with cancer is sometimes a decades-long affair. Patients need ongoing emotional and social support, and here is where the long–tail effect of social media comes in. Patients who have a rare disease are unlikely to meet like-minded individuals where they live. However, finding them online is quite possible. Online community sites such as Inspire or Smart Patients have been around for years. In these communities, patients share medical issues with one another as well as personal stories. The real goal is to make cancer a short bump in life instead of a life event that might lead to death. We won’t cure cancer as one disease, but we have better technologies to make the life-event-to-bump transformation happen. Until then, keep an eye on the distressing symptoms.
Want to know more? What do you think can artificial food put an end to famine? Will robots take our jobs in healthcare? Could we 3D print or grow organs in the future? Might people measure vital signs at home? Will nanorobots swim in our bloodstream? Shall I get my genome sequenced?
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