July 4, 2013

The Five Phases Of Medicine

In many respects, medicine has come a really long way, and yet in other ways it seems like it still has so far to go. 

For example, while antibiotics are used to routinely treat many bacterial infections, there are few antiviral treatments currently available--and we are left with the proverbial, "take two aspirin and call me in the morning."

Similarly, heart attacks, strokes, cancers and so many other ailments still take their victims and leave the bereaving family asking why?

In thinking about medicine, there are five major historical phases:

1. Do nothing: Get hurt or ill, and you're as good as dead. You shudder at the words "There is nothing we can do for you." Average lifespan for folks, 30s.  If you're lucky (or wealthy), you may make it into your 40s or even reach 50. 

2. Cut it: Diseased or damaged limb or body part, chop it off or cut it out surgically.  I still remember when the people in my grandparents generation called doctors, butchers. 

3. Replace it: When something is kaput, you replace it--using regenerative medicine, such as stem cell therapy (e.g. for bone marrow transplants or even for growing new tissue for teeth) and bioprinters (like a 3-D printer) to make new ones. 

4. Heal it: Envision a future with self-healing microbes (based on nanotechnology) in the blood and tissues that detect when a body part is dangerously ill and deploys repair drones to fix them.  There is no need to cut it off or replace it, you just fix it. And perhaps with DNA "profiling"(don't like that word), we'll be able to tell what a person is predisposed to and provide proactive treatments. 

5. Eliminate it: Ok, this is way out there, but could there come a time, when with technology (and of course, G-d's guiding hand) that we can eradicate most disease. Yes, hard to imagine, and with diseases that adapt and morph into other strains, it would be hard to do--but that doesn't mean it's impossible. 

I still am shocked in the 21st century with all the medical advances and technology that we have that the doctors still say for everything from routine colds, to viruses, sores, growths, and more--"Oh, there's nothing we can do for that." 

Yet, there is what to look forward to for future generations in terms of better medicine and perhaps with longer and better quality of life.

My grandfather used to say, "No one gets old without suffering"--let's hope and pray for less and less suffering with future medical technology advances. ;-)

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

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