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November 28th, 2009
Beyond 2009: How technology may impact our daily lives
The future of medical care will be writ in sub-molecular language, researchers say.
Nanotechnology, which deals in infinitesimally small structures and pathways, will provide the maps and means for treatment in the decades ahead. And central to such minimalism will be finding the least invasive methods of treating diseases.
Dr. Hans Stricker, a urologist and chief of surgery at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield, says microscopic research is already well along in gene therapy for treating prostate cancer. At the core of that investigation is gene therapy -- a super high-tech method of designing viruses that can be injected into a patient to attack rogue cells.
"When I lie awake at night and think about how I would want my own treatment to go in 20 years," says Stricker, 47, "I see a guy who gets a cancer diagnosis, comes in, we inject him with the virus and he's on his way. He has flulike symptoms for a couple of days and that's it. The cancer is killed."
Stricker says his scenario is not a mere dream. "Is it really possible? A couple of years ago, I would have said no," he says. "But today, I can see a combination of radiation and gene therapy 10 years from now -- and five years after that, gene therapy alone."
The ideal of minimal invasiveness extends to general screenings, says Stricker. He sees a day when you can just have a body scan to check for health problems instead of submitting to a lot of annoying probes. "The real upside is that we'd have a lot more people signing up," says Stricker. "The problem is cost. One of the key challenges will be to figure out how to do noninvasive screening that is inexpensive."
Another goal of nanotechnology is the development of "intelligent biomaterials," artificial tissue that can be inserted where damaged tissue needs to be restored. A prime application would be the repair of damaged organs.
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