Sometimes, the simplest technologies are the most important. For example, soap, which has had a great influence on health and human society. What we call soap today was invented at the end of the 18th century. Its long molecules are attached to dirt at one end and water on the other, thus removing dirt and bacteria from the bodies. Soap has been effective in reducing diseases.
The ancient Romans already used a type of soap. The ancient Greeks and Romans laid the foundations of modern medicine, developed surgical instruments that are still in use and adopted a more scientific approach to diseases. Other cultures based medicine on a combination of magic, herbs and primitive surgery. It was believed that diseases were caused by evil spirits and the treatment was applied by a priest or a magician. The headaches, for example, were solved with trepanation, that is, the patient’s skull was drilled. Some remedies cured common evils, but in general it was pure chance.
The development of the microscope in the seventeenth century revolutionized medical knowledge. This tool, made with finely polished curved lenses, allowed to discover bacteria and blood cells. The body stopped being an object animated by spirits and happened to be seen as a series of mechanical and chemical processes. Vaccines, an invention of the late eighteenth century, allowed doctors to fight infectious diseases, such as smallpox. New advances transformed medicine in the next century. The antiseptics used to clean the wounds and the surgical material reduced the number of deaths due to infection. Anesthesia put an end to pain in the operations and allowed doctors to devote more time to complex procedures.
The discovery of X-rays, at the end of the 19th century, made it possible to see through human tissue without the need for surgery and to examine, for example, broken bones. Today, modern scanning techniques, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, have allowed doctors to better understand the human body. Technology has transformed other medical fields. Thus, robots allow complex operations, causing minimal damage to the patient; Thanks to automated laboratories and powerful computers, scientists have mapped the 30,000 human genes that make up our genetic fingerprint.
Despite the various medical advances of the last century, no cure has yet been found for many diseases, from HIV / AIDS to the common cold. Also the brain remains a mystery. However, technology is already giving us some answers. As exploration techniques become more complex, scientists learn more about the body and better understand how it works.
“Great advances in imaging technology allow doctors to see the inside of the body in great detail.”
The human body is the most complex machine on the planet. It has about ten trillion cells: more cells than there are stars in the visible universe. The new technology will have a crucial effect on our ability to control and repair this amazing mechanism.
With nanotechnology, the science and technology of the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules, we can create devices called “molecular machines”. Those machines, or nanorrobots (a nanometer is a million times smaller than a spelling point) could reproduce and perform tasks that far exceed the scope of current medical technique. The nanorobots could locate and destroy cancer cells one by one, without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue, repair damaged cells, reverse the aging process, or clean up harmful clumps inside the walls of the arteries.
Also, “microelectromechanical systems”, or MEMS, can greatly affect medical treatments. They work with tiny sensors and motors engraved on a silicon wafer finer than a human hair. Today they are already used in airbags, and could be used to repair blood vessels before 2020.
There are animals, like lizards, that can regenerate a leg or tail, lose it. Humans, of course, do not have this ability. However, some cells are separated and applied to a kind of “scaffolding”, organs such as liver or heart could be regenerated in a laboratory. At the end of the century, almost all organs (except the brain) could be replaced if they fail.
Cloning is another technology that offers new ways of focusing on health and medicine. This process involves taking genetic material from an adult or an embryonic cell and fusing it with an egg that develops later. This technique is called therapeutic cloning. However, the use of human embryos for medical purposes is controversial. In spite of them, cloning continues and in the future complete organs could be created from single cells or damaged cells. Cloning could also be used to create genetically modified pigs that could develop suitable organs to perform human transplants. It is what is called “xenotransplantation”.
Gene therapy has already successfully treated some ailments derived from our genetic information. This technology, which locates and repairs defective genes, can be used in the future to treat and prevent cancer and diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis or heart disease.
Perhaps the most important advance of all will be something simpler than all these extraordinary medical technologies: clean water. Annually, millions of lives could be saved if the entire planet were to have access to clean, potable water. And the technology that is needed? A simple water purification system.
“It is possible that the nanorobots travel through the body, with chemical tools, to destroy viruses and bacterium.”