Healthcare, medicine & pharmaceuticals

Ageing science

In 1901 the average lifespan in Britain was 45 for men and 49 for women. By 2002 these figures had jumped to 76 and 81 respectively due to, amongst other things, the widespread use of antibiotics and other medical advances.So the obvious question, surely, is will life spans keep increasing and what, if anything, is the upper limit? A widely quoted figure is 120 (the record so far being 122 years and 164 days) but to some extent absolute length of life isn't the point. Anti-ageing drugs and antioxidants like resveratrol may have a useful by-product, which is that they will almost certainly retard the key diseases associated with ageing - Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancer and so on - meaning that people may not enjoy significantly extended life spans but will possibly enjoy a higher quality of life for a longer period.Ageing science is more or less split into two camps these days. In the pessimistic corner are those experts who feel that ageing broadly follows the second law of thermodynamics and decay is inevitable. In contrast, in the optimistic corner, are those who believe that ageing is genetically determined and that the 'death program' or process that causes ageing can, in theory, be switched off or at least be amended. One well-known way to extend life is the use of a calorie restricted (CR) diet or a reduced protein diet. Moreover, tests on animals have shown that the effects of CR can actually be obtained by using drugs that mimic the effects of CR, which opens up all sorts of pharmaceutical possibilities. This market has been estimated at US $25 billion in the US alone. According to some experts there is a 50% chance that such drugs will be available by the year 2025 whereas other more optimistic observers believe that they will be available within a decade.Of course, if they do come into existence such drugs may have profound consequences on society. For example, if people were to live to 100 or 110 people might wait until they were 60 to have children. Significantly extended life spans could also wreak havoc on marriage with "until death do us part" taking on a whole new meaning. Equally succession within families and at work could be slowed down and society could potentially become overrun with conservative, cynical, innovation-stifling old fogies.
Ref: Prospect (UK) January 2007, 'Can ageing be stopped', P. Hunter and Fortune (US) 5 February 2007, 'Live Forever?' D. Stipp
Search words: ageing, lifespan
Trend tags: ageing
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Molecular diagnostics

Medical advances closely mimic technological innovations and when several new medical technologies happen more or less simultaneously there is often the opportunity for breakthrough medical advances to occur. Such is the case with new imaging technology and biotechnology. Clearly the earlier that physicians can detect disease the more treatment options are at their disposal, which in turn increases survival rates. The problem historically is that unless clinical symptoms are indicated there would be no reason for examination, especially if such an examination were invasive. One trend that will impact on healthcare in the future is earlier diagnosis and this will have profound effects on the speed of treatment and hence recovery rates. Molecular diagnostics testing is a relatively new area of medicine whereby blood or tissue testing can reveal certain risks factors that could indicate future trouble spots. In other words testing can identity not whether you have something now but the probability that you will have something in the future that needs to be screened for on a regular basis. Another emerging field is the use of markers. This is where a molecule is created that is combined with a marking agent, which then attaches itself to, for instance, a known tumour type. Advanced imaging technology can then be used to track the presence and development of such tumours. There is even the future possibility of attaching a serum to these biomarkers that will effectively 'turn off' any tumours once they are found.
Ref: Harvard Business Review (US) February 2007, 'Big ideas for 2007:
'Seeing is treating, K. Kleinfield and E. Reinhardt.
Search words: biotechnology, diagnosis, screening, risk factors, markers
Trend tags: biotechnology
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Implantable medical devices

The pharmaceuticals industry has grown into a US $600 billion giant largely on the basis that historically drugs have been amongst the cheapest ways of delivering treatment to the human body. However, rapid advances in other forms of technology, most notably data processing, data storage and remote monitoring, most of which are dramatically falling in cost, are opening up another way to treat the human body's myriad illnesses and diseases.We have already seen implantable brain devices to treat depression and Parkinson's disease, implantable defibrillators to treat early stage heart attacks and implantable glucose monitors to keep an eye on sugar levels and insulin delivery. But that's nothing compared to what's coming in the future. What's up next includes: bone growing implants (to stimulate cells into re-pairing damaged or re-growing missing bone), devices to suppress hunger (electrical trickery to make the stomach think it's full), remote control insulin pumps, remote control defibrillators, migraine neutralizers and next -generation brain implants to control drug resistant depression.
Ref: Business 2.0 (US) January/February 2007, 'SA new RX for the body: Implantable devices', M. Haiken.
Search words: implantable devices
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The other global epidemic

Worldwide there are 246 million people with diabetes and, according to the International Diabetes Federation, diabetes is "out of control". In the US diabetes rates have doubled since 1980 and 21 million people - 7% of the entire US population - suffer from the disease. The cost of diabetes in the US was estimated - conservatively - at US $132 billion five years ago and if you project the disease forward a decade or two treatments will be simply unaffordable. Diabetes in turn increases the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes by 100% and is the main cause of blindness, kidney failure and non-traumatic amputations in America.Type-1 diabetes accounts for around 5-10% of all cases and is rising but it's type -2 diabetes that is really out of control thanks to our sedentary lifestyles and the increased prevalence of obesity. Indeed, Type-2 diabetes used to be called Adult-onset diabetes but this term has been largely abandoned because so many children now suffer from the disease.
Ref: The Economist (UK) 17 February 2007, 'An American Epidemic',
Search words: diabetes, obesity
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Medical smart cards

A company in Macon Georgia (US) called Emergency Medical Information (EMI) has created a smart card developed with the help of Dallas-based CEO IQ that can hold vital information about a person's medical history.The card is roughly the same size as a standard credit card and features a wafer-thin battery and even earphone connectivity. The card can carry the full medical history of a person including medical conditions, allergies, prescriptions and contact information. The card also features a picture ID and will also carry up to 2 hours worth of video content - for example x-rays or forms of moving medical imagery. The card is definitely interesting but one wonders whether it isn't a rather intermediate technology. Surely the real prize here is to develop a tiny chip that can hold all this information inside the person's actual body or trigger information on an external screen. Then again, if the aim is to get people to carry this information around the thought of having it implanted might be too much for people.
Ref: Red Herring (US) 22 January 2007, 'Video on cards', M. Cohn.
Search words: smart cards, online medical records
Trend tags: online records
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