A rant on diseases and their future
And here I find myself today, alone on my couch with no one around on a Saturday evening, my head spinning from dizziness and my body full of pain, burning up from the fever. Reading this, you might think that I have something serious. That I must consult a doctor. After all it is never a bad idea to be careful. But If I tell you my other symptoms, you won’t be so worried. You see, I have been sneezing and coughing and also I’ve been blowing my nose out like a french horn. Now you get it. It is just a cold, it will pass. No need to worry.
We humans take the common cold/flu for granted. We know we might get it at some point in our life but that’s fine. You just take the medicine which will control your symptoms and just move on. People come to work with a handkerchief, when they sneeze you say bless you. Some people stay away from the fear of catching it and those infected are advised to cover their face and nose so that they won’t spread it but no one questions the fact that even in 2017, we have no cure for the flu. We have cured smallpox and eradicated polio but for some reason we can’t cure the flu. The cold is one of the leading factors for short term leaves taken by employees and it is estimated that it causes more than 87 Billion Dollars in total economic burden per year in the US alone. There are no vaccinations for the virus for common cold. We have made vaccinations for influenza virus but the virus mutates so fast that the vaccination is issued every 6 months and its effects depends on the viral strain of the season. And we don’t even know if the vaccination is effective in those aged less than 2 or more than 65 years old.
Knowing all this I started wondering, Is all hope lost in humanity’s fight against influenza and common cold? Are our descendants doomed to die from a mutation of the influenza virus like H1N1? This is when the effects of my medicine start to kick in and I begin to feel a little better, So I thought, Is it really that bad? And decided to dig a little deeper. A quick google search for new research for the cure for flu tells me inroads have been made and a cure is just around the corner. All the talk of new advancements in science made me wonder about the future of medical care in general. Would our descendants be threatened by diseases the same way we are or would they face something else entirely? I started searching for more broader advancements in medical technology, anything that could help us fight diseases.
The future looks hopeful. There are a couple of potential technologies that captured my imagination. One is CRISPER. This is a system used by bacteria to protect themselves from viruses. The bacteria remembers the genetic profile of any harmful virus that enters its system and cuts it out the next time it finds the same RNA in its system. Scientists realised that they can program the same system to cut out any genetic sequence they want. This is a significant breakthrough which brings down the cost of gene editing and simultaneously improves the accuracy of the process. Couple this with the advancements made in gene mapping, we can screen for and edit out diseases from embryos so that no one needs to grow up with painful diseases encoded within their existence.
Second is nano technology. Although the applications of nano technology are immense, one of the most interesting one would be in medicine. Imagine a swarm of nano-bots swimming in your blood stream, protecting you from harmful foreign substances. Our own artificial immune system. One that doesn’t need evolution to grow, which can be programmed to detect and stop any threat remotely. These bots would swarm through your body and could identify and kill known bacteria, viruses and even mutations in cells like cancer.
Can you imagine a combination of these two? Imagine if these bots can use CRISPER to neutralise any threat. Scientists could just identify the genetic makeup of the new threat or disease and upload them to these bots which would then kill those bacteria on first contact. Essentially making you immune immediately. Any spreadable disease like the common cold or flu would be a thing of history. As soon as the virus mutates, we upload the latest RNA profile and everyone becomes immune again. Maybe the future will be disease free after all.
You might think this is all too far fetched, that I have an overactive imagination and a too perfect view of the future or maybe I didn’t take the right medicine. That is a possibility but to that I would say, if we went back a couple of hundred years and told someone that the device you are reading this on will exist in the future, he would have called you crazy too. It took humans only 66 years to go from Wright brother’s first flight in 1903 to the moon landing in 1969. The rate of growth of technology is only increasing. The first step towards such technology has already been taken. We have a human embryo edited to take out harmful disease causing genes and 3 parent babies in this world already. And research in this field is only accelerating. I expect we will see some significant breakthroughs in this field in the coming decades.
I could leave it here on a positive note. But the skeptic inside me wouldn’t let me. It is possible that we will concur the conventional method of human illness but would that be enough? What new challenges will we face in the future? I have a few thoughts on that too. Remember the point I made earlier about technological progress at lighting speeds and impossible things happening in short time? Keep that in mind when you read the next part, because it is going to get a whole lot crazier.
If you want to imagine the non-conventional diseases that people in the future might have, you first need to think of all the ways people would modify their body first. That’s what I did. Today we are increasingly dependent on our information devices. A study recently found out that people now spend more time on their phone/laptops than sleeping. We get the information that we want by looking at a screen and we are already cyborgs. I’ll let Elon Musk explain why. He has recently launched a company called Neural Link which plans on creating a high bandwidth connection between the brain and the internet. So that searching on the internet can be as quick or simple as remembering something. You can do a video call just by closing your eyes. And with this assumption, we come to the diseases of the future. Would we get rid of all the disease causing bacteria and viruses, only to get sick from computer viruses? Just think of the ‘out sick mails’. “Infected with Wanna Cry, can’t access my files. Had to send this mail physically. Hence taking sick leave today”. Would we actually live in a world where computer viruses infect human beings? Your guess is as good as mine.
I think I should take a nap now. Because until we get rid of this disease, taking some rest seems to be the best remedy. Good night!