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Futuristic Predictions: Personalized Medicine

Organ printing (2016)

Whether you call it organ printing, bio-printing, bio-manufacturing or computer-aided tissue engineering, it sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

Researchers have been using inkjet printers filled with cells instead of ink to manufacture organs that can be transplanted into humans. Dr. Anthony Atala, the director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, gave a fascinating TED talk last year in which he showed the audience a kidney that had been printed that day (but with a warning that it was an early, experimental prototype years away from functional and clinical use).

As Atala says, there are still many challenges to overcome before printing organs becomes standard practice, so the 2016 tag is pretty optimistic.

“In the future — maybe 50 years from now — we will be able to make very complex organs and bones, and very complex tissues,” Dr. Vladimir Mironov, researcher and associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, said in an interview with ABC News last year.

Synthetic blood (2018)

A molecule that can transfer oxygen throughout the body has been in high demand, especially in trauma and military settings, where blood is in short supply or isn’t readily available. The Department of Defense, for one, has doled out millions of dollars in grants for development efforts.

But it’s been a troublesome process. Safety concerns have kept companies including Northfield Laboratories and Biopure from winning U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval (and causing them to shut down). Researchers have trekked on, though. Numerous other companies including OPK Biotech and Arteriocyte are working on substitute blood products, and researchers are still coming up with new approaches.

A research team at Edinburgh University thinks its artificial red blood cells could be ready for clinical trials within the next two years, but that’s intended to be used only to hold patients over until real blood can be used, according to Wired.

Personalized medicine (2020)

Providing the right drug to the right patient at the right time. This one might not seem so far-fetched given that we’ve alreadyreduced the cost of sequencing the human genome to about $1,000, seen FDA approvals of a few personalized medicines and companion diagnostic tests, and had many companies form (and raise serious cash) around the idea of personalized medicine.

But such a paradigm shift takes time and affects not only researchers, doctors and patients but also insurers and government regulators. As we continue to see researchers overcome the clinical barriers to personalized medicine, identify more biomarkers and develop more tests and therapeutics, issues with accuracy, affordability and policy will come into play.

Stem cell treatments (2026)

From blindness to cancer to lung disease to heart failure, stem cells are being applied in hundreds of clinical trials across the world. Last year, the FDA hit a big milestone when it approved HEMACORD, the first umbilical cord product for use in stem cell transplants.

In a nutshell, “extensive use of stem cells as therapy is still in its infancy,” wrote Dr. Stephen Schimpff, an author and professor of medicine and public policy, in a recent series of posts about the state of stem cells in medical research. See that series here: 1, 2 (the third installment is yet to be published).

Other interesting predictions

  • Smart drugs that improve mental functions by 2019

  • Gene therapy by 2030

  • Hybrid-assisted limbs that are embedded in the wearer’s body by 2032

  • Drugs that reverse or slow down aging by 2038

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