What is the future of medicine?

We live in a time of increasing threats to our health. From global warming and new epidemics to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria and an aging population, it is clear we’ll be facing many challenges over the next few decades.

Medicines have always been the most frequently used method in fighting illness and disease, and it is expected that medication use will increase in the future. The good news is that we stand on the threshold of huge leaps in medicinal care. Here are some of the advances that will dictate the future of medicine.

Individualised medicine

In the past, medicinal treatment has tended to be given using a “one size fits all” approach. You feel ill, you see your Doctor, and he prescribes a medicine. The next person comes in with similar symptoms and is prescribed exactly the same medicine. In the future, genomics will be at the heart of medicinal therapies. Everyone’s DNA will be mapped, and analysis will reveal an individual’s genetic predisposition to chronic and potentially deadly diseases. A single blood test will be enough to find out what diseases a person is at risk of and a programme of completely individualised treatment can be used. Side effects will be reduced as tests will identify potential negative reactions allowing for alternative drugs to be used. Many diseases and conditions will be pre-empted before they take hold.

Nanomedicine

Future medical care will take place on a microscopic scale, with nanotechnology revolutionising healthcare. Nanoparticles are tiny – thousands could be fit on the head of a pin. These minute particles can interact directly with cells and manipulate them at the molecular level. Nanoparticles will be used to identify miniscule amounts of viruses, bacteria and cancer cells in a way that’s currently impossible. Not only will they be used to detect diseases but also to cure them. Genetic mutations will be corrected while nano-sized robots will be used to directly deliver drugs to targeted cells and organs.

Stem cell medicine

Stem cells are unique – they have the ability to develop into specialised cell types. In stem cell therapy, these cells are used to replace damaged or dead cells in other parts of the body, enabling diseases and chronic ailments to be treated. Although the therapy has already been used to treat a wide range of conditions – for example MS, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy – the science is still in its early years. As research uncovers further uses of the therapy, it will become far more generally used and many more health issues will be targeted; diabetes, heart disease, Parkinsons and even cancer. One day stem cells will be used to grow new organs in the lab for transplant without the need for donors and free of the risk of rejection.

Medical marijuana

The use of medical marijuana has boomed since Canada legalised it for medical treatment in 2001. The potential of the plant to treat many conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, Crohn’s disease and stress disorders has been known for many years, but there has been stigma preventing widespread use for medical matters due to negative press with concern to recreational use of the drug. However, as research uncovers more diseases and symptoms that can be treated – epilepsy, cardiovascular diseases and cancers for example – regulatory rulings around the world are easing, allowing the enormous health benefits of marijuana to open up to millions. Cannabinoid therapies are already being used to treat conditions where conventional medicines have failed. In the future, cannabinoid therapies will become completely commonplace, treating a huge number of illnesses and relieving pain for countless millions across the world. Canada and the US are leading the way – in the US, people simply head online and find out how to get a medical marijuana card in Florida or in the other 35 states where medical use is legal.

Digital healthcare

In the future, whatever medicine you need, advances in digital healthcare may mean no humans are involved in diagnosing your condition and prescribing a medicinal remedy. “Smart bodies”, where sensors constantly monitor health levels in individuals, will allow for early warnings should problems arise. Meanwhile, “chatbots” will be used to provide ongoing virtual care to relieve Doctors in non-emergency situations, and the enormous generation of patient data will be used to identify and manage illnesses worldwide. Eventually, even surgery could become virtual, with machines being used to perform procedures controlled by a surgeon many miles away.

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