Anticipating 2025 – Part Two: The Future of Medicine

Part two of Anticipating 2025 will summarize the second section of the book. This section focused on three broad topics:

  1. Will advancing technology make doctors unemployed?
  2. The future of medicine and the convergence of nanotechnology and biology
  3. Rejuvenation Biotechnology program

It is fascinating to view this section through a disruptive and transformative lens. The acceleration of scientific advancement intensifies the degree and speed of change, thus positioning the type of paradigm shift that we have not seen since the steam engine. As this recent Forbes article points out, even The Acceleration is Accelerating.

The first topics author is Maneesh Juneja, Digital Health Futurist, and Founder of the Health 2.0 London Chapter. In the opening discussion, the author focuses on technology advancement and the future role of doctors. He describes a backward healthcare system that focuses on treatment versus prevention, and the difficulties of solving this problem when there is no profit in prevention. In researching systems from the past, the author looked at ancient China, where it is said that doctors only received payment while their patients stayed healthy. The author then explores the technologies projected to change the practice of medicine:

Healthcare Technology

Beyond technology, the foundation for transforming healthcare is data. The author believes that data from our bodies is likely to become one of the most valuable commodities in the 21st century.

“It’s of value to so many entities, governments, health insurers, pharmaceuticals, researchers, consumer brands, and even to cyber criminals.”

That last piece is a reminder that data streaming from sensors to doctors via the cloud represents massive risk. As these technology trends converge, it could lead to unemployment for some doctors; those most likely disrupted are the frontline general practitioners. Resistance is expected, as a PwC survey from 2012 found that 64% of doctors are resistant to mobile health technologies because they would make patients too independent.

The author then explores the future role of Doctors. Given the role of data and technology, he wonders if future doctors need to also be data or computer scientists; a phenomenon that has potential impact across many professions. Do we all need to be more proficient at gleaning insight from data? In looking at the future role, the author concludes that regardless of technology advancement, the aspects of hope and compassion cannot be delivered by a machine or algorithm. While machines will ultimately diagnose or help to prevent disease, human beings will hold our hands. The author sees issues arising around the continued need for doctors to undergo intensive training, and the cost of their services. 

The future of medicine, and the convergence of nanotechnology and biology

The author for this topic is Sonia Contera, co-director of the Oxford Martin Program on Nanotechnology. The author describes how new powerful techniques enable visualization and manipulation of nanomaterials, and her belief that these scientific advances will lead to applications that have the potential to transform manufacturing, energy production, access to clean water, pollution reduction and prevention, and more functional materials that are stronger, lighter, and cheaper. Two of the areas where she believes nanotechnology will make a substantial and more fundamental scientific and industrial impact are biology and medicine.

The convergence of a number of forces means that the fields of biology and nanotechnology will evolve and feed off each other in the future. The author describes a virtuous cycle where scientists use nanotechnology to learn the fundamental processes of biology, and in turn nanotechnology learns from biology. In the end a completely new material science emerges, incorporating knowledge from both. The author focuses on several key areas of impact.

Nanotechnology Areas of Impact

The author describes an interesting set of challenges. The establishment is conservative and not interested in radical change, and progress in this field can only be achieved by highly skilled individuals who feel comfortable working across disciplines. The disruptive nature of many of the possible applications of new technologies in biomedicine threatens the current industrial models, and this situation is worsened by the influence of big business interests. This set of challenges clearly describes the current problem with many of our institutions.

Rejuvenation Biotechnology Program

The final topic was authored by Peter Morgan, Researcher, and Data Scientist. Per the author, aging currently kills 100,000 people a day. Rejuvenation biotechnologies are targeted therapies that slow down the accumulation of aging damage in our tissues, and remove, repair, or replace the damaged cellular and molecular machinery. With every round of therapy, a person becomes more youthful and healthy in their structure and function.

Aubrey de Grey, the Chief Science Officer at SENS Research Foundation (SRF) proposes that we treat aging as just another medical challenge, and not as inevitable. SRF is a biomedical research charity which aims to understand and overcome the aging process in humans in order to reimagine aging. Aubrey de Grey argues that aging can be analyzed as a range of particular diseases and disabilities which are amenable to treatment if approached as an engineering problem. His project is to identify all the components that cause human tissues to age, and design remedies for each of them – averting disease and eventually pushing back death. This work moves us from the notion of healthy life extension, where we live longer, healthier lives, to radical life extension, where we eliminate debilitation and death entirely. These technologies would not only slow age-related physiological decay, but could actually reverse it, leaving us one step ahead of the aging process indefinitely.

That wraps up part two of this look at 2025 based on the book Anticipating 2025. Part three will focus on re-designing artificial intelligence. Go Here to read the first part of this series.

Futurist contributing to the book include: David Wood, Mark Stevenson, Rohit Talwar, Calum Chace, David Pearce, Sonia Contera, Natasha Vita-More, Anders Sandberg, Ben McLeish, Amon Twyman, Iva Lazorova, Maneesh Juneja, Peter Morgan, Martin Dinov, Elias Rut, Zolton Istvan, David Levy, Andrew Vladimirov, Michael Nuschke, Alex Zhavoronkov, by Riva-Melissa Tez, Victor Anderson, Jerome Glenn

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