Vol. 189 March 15, 2018 Future Medical Breakthroughs

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Some predictions from the internet (“fake news?”) and some from investors ( “real news?”)


This first set of predictions, though reported on the internet, is from an interview with the CEO of Mercedes Benz who listed Tesla, Google, Apple, and Amazon as his current competitors, not other auto companies.

The Tricorder X price will be announced this year:  “There are companies who will build a medical device (called the “Tricorder” from Star Trek) that works with your phone, which takes your retina scan, your blood sample, and you can breathe into it. It then analyses 54 biomarkers that will identify nearly any disease.  It will be cheap, so in a few years everyone on this planet will have access to world-class medical analysis, nearly for free.  Goodbye, medical establishment.”

3D printing:  “The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within 10 years.  In the same time, it became 100 times faster.  [3D medical devices like heart valve replacements are already being used in some major medical centers] All major shoe companies have already started 3D printing shoes.”

Alternative protein source:  “There are several startups that will bring insect protein to the market shortly. It contains more protein than meat.   It will be labeled as “alternative protein source” (because most people still reject the idea of eating insects).”

“All in” on smart phones:  “If it doesn’t work with your phone, forget the idea. There is an app called “moodies” which can already tell in which mood you’re in.  [MGH is currently testing such an app’s ability to accurately monitor cell phone self-reported feelings by high-risk psychiatric patients, so that any imminent suicide action can be identified and treated.] By 2020 there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions, if you are lying.  [Current face-recognition programs at airports already are used to spot “potential terrorists”.] Imagine a political debate where it’s being displayed when they’re telling the truth and when they’re not.”

Longevity:  “Right now, the average life span increases by 3 months per year. Four years ago, the [U.S.} life span used to be 79 years, now it’s 80 years. The increase itself is increasing and by 2036, there will be more than one year increase per year.   So, we all might live for a long time, probably way more than 100.”

That’s it for the “pie in the sky” walk, but it’s money that talks. Where is it going?

Lab-cultured burgers
Edible animal protein that is brewed from animal stem cells in a bioreactor has passed the “taste test” for beef, chicken, fish, and duck, so that “this potentially trillion-dollar market opportunity” has attracted several Venture Capitalist funds. MosaMeat, the creator of the first “clean burger”, has received millions of dollars of VC investments. “The biggest challenge is taking what’s in the lab and making it commercially viable.” A pound of Memphis Meat costs about $2,400 to produce in the lab. That is about $600 for a Quarter Pounder. The company aim is to get it down to $5 – a true Value Meal. (Wired March 2018, pg.15)

Surgery-free biopsies looking for cancer
The detection of cancer cells circulating in our blood by identifying bits of cancer DNA shed into our blood by tumors is already used to “personalize” (i.e. adjust type of chemotherapy agents) in patients already diagnosed with cancer.  VC’s are currently investing billions (yes, that is a “b”) in several companies that are racing to develop DNA and genome-sequencing identification technics to detect tiny, currently non-suspected cancers in healthy people, all from a simple non-invasive blood sample.  The hope is to make an even earlier diagnosis of cancer. “Liquid biopsy detection” is still years away from being patient-ready, but it is not lack of money that is blocking sight of these “blood unicorns”; it is basic biology. (Wired, February 2018, pg. 16)

“Transparent Larry” guides robotic operation on real Larry
Larry Samrr (there should be a terminal “t” in his last name, but there isn’t) is an astrophysicist and astronomer at the University of California Davis who has been keeping precise records of his intake, energy output, and excretions (another output measure) for years. That data along with periodic MRIs, frequent blood and stool analyses, annual colonoscopies (real and virtual), and complete DNA sequencing (genome identification) data has been entered into a super computer at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, (Calit2).  The super computer produces a constantly-updated 3D image of Larry’s insides, “Transparent Larry.” The computer made the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease in Larry way before clinical symptoms appeared. In 2016 it guided the removal of a diseased portion of his colon. The “Larry Transparent” image was fed directly into a da Vinci Xi robot his surgeon was using. It reduced the operation duration by about an hour. “Experimenting with fancy new technology is not always a surgeon’s top priority.” It helped that Larry’s surgeon was from a family of engineers and was immediately intrigued by “Transparent Larry”. (The Atlantic, March 2018, pg.28)

Nanoinfusions of DNA to regenerate, restore, and reprogram cells
Cells can be reprogrammed to do different functions by injecting them with different mixtures of DNA, RNA, and proteins, usually delivered by a virus. Such a method can produce indiscriminate immune responses to the virus, unintended injection into non-target cells, and other undesirable effects. Scientists have developed a tiny electronic chip (“nanochip”) that creates holes by electric current in only a portion of a mouse cell surface, so that a reprogramming mixture can be inserted at a precise dose  without “upsetting” the entire cell (“nanotransfection”). In mice this has allowed skin cells to build new blood vessels to help heal a damaged limb and to restore brain cells damaged by a stroke. “Human trials may begin in a year.” (Scientific American, December 2017, pg. 20)

I see by the old clock on the wall that I have run out of time (I seem to be about an hour late everywhere I go this week for some reason), so I can’t go on about other future medical breakthroughs in wearables, probiotics, medical marijuana, robotics, cryptocurrencies for your health insurance plan, obesity control, understanding teens’ brains, and, of course, many, many more apps.


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