Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 20, 2013

Medical breakthroughs improve quality of our lives

Still, let’s hope we don’t all need them.

By Ed Vasicek
Tribune columnist

— Today’s article is not about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but I did want to start there.

Dr. King led a movement that lives on; we live in a day and age when African-Americans are finding themselves in positions of influence and authority from the White House on down. I especially want to salute the many physicians, surgeons, nurses and medical personnel who are of African-American heritage and serve their fellow humans (of all races) so well.

But many things beyond the racial/ethnic makeup of our medical teams has changed: Medical treatments have changed, too. True, antibiotics are still a mainstay, but consider how different things are from 50 years ago. We take Tylenol to reduce fever, but reserve aspirin for blood thinning only. Instead of prescribing pills, our physician might prescribe specific exercises. Modern physicians often incorporate nutritional supplements rather than mock them. Surgeries that once meant two weeks of bed rest in the hospital now result in getting up the same day and perhaps home the next. Giant scars that bring back scenes from the Frankenstein movies have been traded for tiny incisions.

According to the media, more changes are on the way. In today’s column, I would like to highlight a few possibilities that we might even label as eventual probabilities.

The Bible records many accounts of Jesus’ miracles, but only a few garnered more attention than restoring sight to the long-time blind. Two thousand years later, medical researchers may soon make significant strides in this direction. The BBC reports, “Totally blind mice have had their sight restored by injections of light-sensing cells into the eye, UK researchers report.

“The team in Oxford said their studies closely resemble the treatments that would be needed in people with degenerative eye disease.... Experts said the field was advancing rapidly, but there were still questions about the quality of vision restored.

“Patients with ‘retinitis pigmentosa’ gradually lose light-sensing cells from the retina and can become blind.... It’s the first proof that you can take a completely blind mouse, put the cells in and reconstruct the entire light-sensitive layer.” Amazing.

We all long for the day when simple, painless tests will diagnose our diseases at an early stage. Help may be on the way. According to The Futurist magazine:

“The Single Breath Disease Diagnostics Breathalyzer is being developed by a team of scientists at Stony Brook University in New York, led by materials scientist Perena Gouma. The device uses sensor chips coated with nanowires to detect chemical compounds that may indicate the presence of diseases or infectious microbes.

“While the first such ‘medical breathalyzers’ will be specific to one type of disease (for instance, to monitor diabetes), future hand-held devices will allow individual users to self-monitor and detect diseases ranging from lung cancer to anthrax exposure.”

One of my favorite fictitious book titles is about doing your own surgery. It’s called, “Suture Self.” On the serious side, though, we are at the point where we could be our own organ donors! Note this article from Foxnews.com:

“Scientists have been working to grow organs and other body parts from stem cells — cells which can become any type of cell and can be used to repair damaged tissue. Commonly, stem cells are harvested from a patient’s bone marrow and then used to grow more in a laboratory setting, but now, researchers have found that they can harvest them from the skin. This type of treatment has already been done to replace organs like trachea and bladders, and now scientists are trying to apply it to heart valves and intestines. Growing organs from the patient’s own cells will likely eliminate rejection of a transplant and the need for immune-suppressant drugs after surgery.”

The answer to immortality lies in a realm well beyond medical research. But the medical world is making great strides in its attempt to improve the quality of our lives, as well as their duration. Like you, I hope I will not need these breakthroughs! But we never know.

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@att.net.