Looking ahead to 2050 – The end of incurable diseases

Schematics of CRISPR/Cas9 fragment analyser. Credit: Advanced Analytical

In the middle of the last century the almost miraculous effect of antibiotics and vaccination along with progress made in surgery generated the expectation that a cure was at hand for any disease and I still remember headlines in the 1960ies promising the end of diseases in the new century.

We are now in the new century, diseases are still with us, with quite a few still incurable, but the sequencing of the genome and technology to manipulate genes (CRISPR/Cas9), the application of immunotherapy to fight cancer, the 3D printing of organs, and advanced vaccination (like the one to stop Ebola) are fuelling a renewed confidence that the end of incurable diseases is in sight and should be accomplished by 2050.
Even pathologies like Alzheimer, autism, ALS seem to be on the verge of being understood and conquered.

I do not share this confidence, although I am ready to admit that we made amazing progress in medicine and even more are within reach.

The point is that it is like chasing the end of the rainbow. It seems within reach but as we get closer the pot of gold moves farther away, still outside of our reach.

As we get better in fighting diseases we grow older and with age we will find ourselves confronted with new diseases that were not an issue as people died younger.

Besides, I won’t be surprised that genetic manipulation will lead to unexpected side effects including the rise of new diseases. If my suspicion is true, the more effective we will be, the more unexpected side effects will pop up.

A foreseeable trend for the coming decade is the augmentation of human capacity, the rise of symbiotic machines, IoT and computers becoming part of our bodies, chips improving our eyesight, transforming our hearing, enhancing our mind.

All of this is completely new and it is likely to generate new kinds of issues. Will the breaking down of an embedded chip be seen as a “disease” in the 2050? Rather than saying that you have diabetes you might end up saying that the lab on a chip substituting your pancreas is not working properly and “doctors” have to find out if that is a problem with the chip (the new software release may be?) or a problem in the communication protocol with some other chips embedded in your body.

Will symbiotic machines (we) be prone to hacking? Could this be seen as the next epidemic?  The point is that all these issues are no longer in the domain of science fiction, rather they are becoming part of science, even though we are not ready for them.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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