Doctors give forecasts for 30 years to comeAccording to a recent survey by the Korean Medical Association of 114 of its members, today’s most troubling diseases will be easily treated or cured during the next 30 years. The physicians cited the rapid advances in medical technology.
Modern medicine has made significant inroads in recent years in the treatment of cancers, AIDS, heart disease and other once seemingly unstoppable killers, the doctors say. But progress on brain and bone diseases, like Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis, has lagged.
In the next 30 years, about 25 percent of Koreans will reach 65 years of age. The mental and physical well being of those senior citizens will depend heavily on how well their brains and bones function.
Here is the medical association’s list of the five most significant health issues for the next 30 years.
1. Brain and bones
Alzheimer’s, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system characterized by premature senile mental deterioration, and arthritis, a painful inflammation of the joints, are two prominent degenerative diseases directly linked to aging. There is no effective treatment for either, and both figure to become larger problems as society ages. Some new Alzheimer’s medications have been released recently, but their efficacy is still questionable. Dr. Han Seol-hee of Chungbuk National University College of Medicine says, “Patients can reduce the likelihood of their getting Alzheimer’s by taking precautions against high blood pressure and diabetes, which can damage blood vessels in the brain. Also, reading regularly and learning new things helps.”
Some studies suggest that hormone therapy and taking folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements can also help prevent Alzheimer’s.
To guard against osteoporosis, doctors recommend periodic bone-density tests, especially for older women, who are more likely to suffer from the disease. Getting bone-density tests is important, doctors say, because osteoporosis does not cause the patient pain, unlike arthritis.
Most doctors say working out regularly to build strength and flexibility can help prevent both conditions.
2. Better treatments
While doctors will probably never have the cure for everything, they are getting better at treating and controlling chronic diseases. Cancer is a good example. Up to now, cancer treatment meant destroying as many cancerous cells as possible through radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery. But many normal cells are killed in the process, deteriorating a patient’s quality of life. Strategies for cancer treatment are likely to change soon, the doctors surveyed say. Some cancer cells can be allowed in the human body as long as their presence does not disrupt one’s daily life. The key is developing new medicines.
As Professor Kim Joon-suk of Korea University says, “Some medicines, such as retinoid receptors, are capable of neutralizing many cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells intact. Although the treatment is still in the early stages, I believe it will end the assumption that cancer cells need to be completely eliminated for the disease to be successfully treated.”
3. Growing new organs
In the future mass production of synthetic organs will become common. Eventually, even blood donations would not be necessary thanks to man-made blood; synthetic retinas will bring sight to the blind; artificial livers and kidneys will replace damaged ones.
Oh Bum-suk of the National Genome Research Institute says, “Embryo cloning and genome stem cell culturing will be common in labs in the future. The ‘crop of cells’ they produce will be very helpful in curing diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord damage, heart disease and muscle problems.”
Of course, how far governments will allow such research to go, because of the ethical and moral questions it raises, remains open to speculation.
4. Happiness from a pill
Professor Kim Chang-yoon of Asan Medical Center predicts a bright future for drugs like fluoxetine hydrochloride, an antidepressant better known by the brand name Prozac. Dr. Kim says drugs can be very effective in treating many mental diseases such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. As research on the human brain progresses, even people who do not suffer from these ailments might be able to control their thought processes and emotions simply by taking a pill.
5. No more colds, no more flu
Viruses still perplex modern medicine. Because viruses constantly mutate to adapt to new treatments, there still is no cure for the common cold. Some doctors, however, believe that research into AIDS and other viral infections will offer new insights into these organisms.
Professor Baek Soon-young of The Catholic University of Korea College of Medicine says, “Vaccines to prevent Papilloma virus, which causes uterine cancer, and hepatitis viruses that lead to liver cancer are expected to be developed soon along with an AIDS vaccine.”
by Hong Hye-geol