10 top Australian scientists predict major medical advances
Within a decade Australians will be able to find out how good their genes are at fighting disease, which environmental risks they are susceptible to and steps they should take to prevent the onset of ill-health. And by the turn of the century it will be commonplace to have a bad combination of genes repaired to avoid disease.
'Then, Now…Imagine', a new report compiled by Research Australia in consultation with 10 of the country's leading health and medical researchers including two Nobel Prize winners and four Australians of the Year, predicts individual gene profiling from blood samples will revolutionise healthcare within ten years.
2006 Australian of the Year, Professor Ian Frazer, who discovered the technology that led to the newly released cervical cancer vaccine, said the upshot will be the ability to develop personalised healthcare plans – a roadmap for health from the day of birth.
"Doctors will be able to predict what health problems we might get so we can take appropriate precautions. They will also be able to assess what treatments will work best on an individual basis to achieve optimum health results. Long-term it will be possible to avoid certain diseases altogether through gene therapy," he said.
Sponsored by MBF, the report has been released by Research Australia to commemorate "Thank You" Day (14 November 2006), Australians' annual opportunity to send personal messages of appreciation to medical researchers whose work is special to them via www.thankyouday.org or 0428THANKS. "Thank You" Day is held each year with the support of the Macquarie Bank Foundation.
Five other key forecasts are: Growing new body parts
Further advances in understanding how 'blank' or 'uncoded' cells in their very early stages of development switch on to become specific types of cells, like liver, skin and nerve cells, mean cures for diseases like Parkinson's, Diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis will be entirely possible. With the right prompts these 'stem cells' – which everybody has - can develop into organs and tissue to replaced damaged areas.
As a result of DNA technology 'smart drugs' will increasingly be used to target cancer at the source. Current chemotherapy attacks all cells in the body with healthy ones recovering first. One of the first smart drugs, Herceptin, binds to the surface of specific breast cancer cells and slows their ability to reproduce. With further research, more smart drugs with increasing power will be available for all manner of cancers, reducing the trauma of treatment and dramatically improving outcomes.
A Raft of New Vaccines
The world-first cervical cancer vaccine is only the first of its kind. Scientists predict viruses will be found to play a role in many other cancers and in the course of the next few decades we can expect a raft of new vaccines to prevent their onset.
Therapeutic vaccines are also well advanced in development and involve re-educating the immune system to recognise cancer cells as intruders and attack them.
And over the next few decades we are likely see vaccines for many viral infections like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and for major diseases like diabetes. In fact Melbourne's Diabetes Vaccine Development Centre is about to start clinical trials for a new vaccine for Type 1 Diabetes.
Building New Nerve Pathways
Australian-invented bionic ears, or Cochlear implants, that allow deaf children to hear will be further advanced to deliver high-fidelity hearing, with a carbon tube built molecule by molecule carrying the electricity needed to stimulate nerve cells.
This technology will also be applied to other disabilities. We will be able to reconnect electrical wiring in damaged spinal columns, stimulate nerve growth and allow messages to be relayed to the brain. Further into the future, this could ultimately allow quadriplegics and paraplegics to walk again. Other applications are likely to include correcting the faulty circuits that create epileptic episodes and creating transport systems for slow release of insulin to diabetics.
Operating before birth
Advances in microsurgery and the capacity of ultrasound to monitor development will soon see unborn babies undergoing complex surgery to correct abnormalities like holes in the heart and facial malformations, strengthening their chances of survival and improving their quality of life.
Jackie Crossman | EurekAlert!
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