Your implant will diagnose you now: a vision of medicine in the 21st century

IT IS A DREAM for some, a nightmare for others. Designer babies, "Star Trek" medical devices, brain implants and womb transplants may sound like fantasy but could all become commonplace in the next half century.

Rather than visiting the local GP, we will increasingly live in "intelligent houses" which monitor our health through body implants and consult the Internet to find the expert in our problem.

But alongside the array of technological breakthroughs, the darker side of future medicine conjures up a picture of a Brave New World, where brain function could be assessed in the womb and parents who continue with pregnancy knowing their child carries an illness could face stigma and be forced to meet the costs of treatment.

These are some of the predictions made in "Clinical Futures", an analysis of likely changes in medicine over the next 50 years, published today by the British Medical Journal publishing group.

According to David Delpy, Professor of Medical Physics at University College, London, an instant diagnostic device might well work using near- infrared light which can penetrate deep layers of body tissue. "Given developments in computing, allied to the ability of near-infrared light to distinguish the absorption arising from different molecules in the body, we may yet see the day when, like Dr McCoy in Star Trek, the doctor merely waves a machine with flashing lights over the patient to make an instant diagnosis," said Professor Delpy.

He added that there would be increased growth in patients looking after their own health. "Technology is going to push diagnosis right down to the local level," he said. "People are going to diagnose themselves, buying small testing kits in Boots, and monitor their own health, driven increasingly by healthcare insurance."

He suggested there might be lower premiums or no claims bonuses on healthcare insurance for those who monitored their own health carefully. "People are also going to be consulting across the Internet, finding the consultant who has the most expertise in their particular problem and then dashing around Europe to get themselves treated. This also means the role of doctors is going to change quite significantly."

Professor Delpy foresees a world where body implants would monitor blood pressure, heart rate and other health indicators. They could be linked to the "intelligent house" which would continuously monitor data from the implants, spotting anything from a cold to an impending heart attack.

Seen as particularly useful device for elderly people living alone, the house could look after its inhabitant by booking appointments with doctors or adjusting a diet by controlling the ordering or cooking of the right foods.

"Everybody will be so interlinked that a large part of routine functions will go on around you without you knowing," said Professor Delpy. "Your car will be driven out ready for you in the morning and your breakfast will start cooking itself."

In cancer treatment, one specialist predicted that a "golden age" of drug discovery and gene therapy would begin.

Early forms of gene therapy for cancer are being attempted and more would be tried. One approach would be to tag cancer cells to make them more visible to the body's immune system. Alternatively, cancer cells could be tagged with genes that make them better targets for anti-cancer drugs.

With an ageing population, cancer incidence will inevitably rise. But Karol Sikora, Professor of International Cancer Medicine at the Imperial College School of Medicine, said that by 2020 concerted action against smoking could reduce cancer incidence by 20 per cent, and dietary modifications a further 20 per cent.

Leslie Iverson, Visiting Professor at the department of pharmacology at Oxford University, predicted remarkable developments in brain and nerve repair. Brain cell transplants, when foetal cells are injected into the damaged area of the brain, would help tackle degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

New techniques will also be used to regenerate nerve fibres, by finding ways to bridge the scarring between damaged nerves, using powerful chemical promoters of nerve cell growth. "The prospect of making the blind see again and the deaf hear will remain an elusive but not impossible goal in this field of research," he said.

For those with weight problems, anti-obesity drugs which target the centres of the brain which control weight could be developed. Then it may be possible to provide a treatment regime that would permanently readjust the body weight control system downwards (or upwards for anorexics).

Genes that predispose people to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, manic depression, and even addiction to drugs or alcohol, would be identified and screened out.

But Catherine Peckham, Professor of Paediatric Medicine at the Institute of Child Health, said that the advances in technology must be accompanied by a debate on the influence this had on society.

She predicted that artificial wombs could become a reality within 10 years. And by cloning sections of DNA that contribute to physical or mental fitness, and screening out unwanted characteristics, genetic engineers would have the ability to produce designer babies. "I think they could become a possibility, but I hope they won't," she said yesterday.

Because of the inherent risks in multiple births, pressure to abort one of naturally occurring twins could be brought to bear in order to reduce the risk of disability.

Increased knowledge of how childhood development affects adult health might promote aggressive state "nannyism".

"In an era when adoptable children will become increasingly scarce, child confiscation might become the preferred method of enhancing living conditions for children, rather than attempts at across-the-board improvements," she said.

Despite this the scientists all said they saw the future as optimistic. "There is great potential and it is very exciting," said Professor Peckham.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker