Within a decade Australians will be able to find out how good their genes are at fighting disease, which environmental risks they are susceptible to and steps they should take to prevent the onset of ill-health. And by the turn of the century it will be commonplace to have a bad combination of genes repaired to avoid disease.
'Then, Now…Imagine', a new report compiled by Research Australia in consultation with 10 of the country's leading health and medical researchers including two Nobel Prize winners and four Australians of the Year, predicts individual gene profiling from blood samples will revolutionise healthcare within ten years.
2006 Australian of the Year, Professor Ian Frazer, who discovered the technology that led to the newly released cervical cancer vaccine, said the upshot will be the ability to develop personalised healthcare plans – a roadmap for health from the day of birth.
"Doctors will be able to predict what health problems we might get so we can take appropriate precautions. They will also be able to assess what treatments will work best on an individual basis to achieve optimum health results. Long-term it will be possible to avoid certain diseases altogether through gene therapy," he said.
Sponsored by MBF, the report has been released by Research Australia to commemorate "Thank You" Day (14 November 2006), Australians' annual opportunity to send personal messages of appreciation to medical researchers whose work is special to them via www.thankyouday.org or 0428THANKS. "Thank You" Day is held each year with the support of the Macquarie Bank Foundation.
Five other key forecasts are:
Growing new body parts
Further advances in understanding how 'blank' or 'uncoded' cells in their very early stages of development switch on to become specific types of cells, like liver, skin and nerve cells, mean cures for diseases like Parkinson's, Diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis will be entirely possible. With the right prompts these 'stem cells' – which everybody has - can develop into organs and tissue to replaced damaged areas.
As a result of DNA technology 'smart drugs' will increasingly be used to target cancer at the source. Current chemotherapy attacks all cells in the body with healthy ones recovering first. One of the first smart drugs, Herceptin, binds to the surface of specific breast cancer cells and slows their ability to reproduce. With further research, more smart drugs with increasing power will be available for all manner of cancers, reducing the trauma of treatment and dramatically improving outcomes.
A Raft of New Vaccines
The world-first cervical cancer vaccine is only the first of its kind. Scientists predict viruses will be found to play a role in many other cancers and in the course of the next few decades we can expect a raft of new vaccines to prevent their onset.
Therapeutic vaccines are also well advanced in development and involve re-educating the immune system to recognise cancer cells as intruders and attack them.
And over the next few decades we are likely see vaccines for many viral infections like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and for major diseases like diabetes. In fact Melbourne's Diabetes Vaccine Development Centre is about to start clinical trials for a new vaccine for Type 1 Diabetes.
Building New Nerve Pathways
Australian-invented bionic ears, or Cochlear implants, that allow deaf children to hear will be further advanced to deliver high-fidelity hearing, with a carbon tube built molecule by molecule carrying the electricity needed to stimulate nerve cells.
This technology will also be applied to other disabilities. We will be able to reconnect electrical wiring in damaged spinal columns, stimulate nerve growth and allow messages to be relayed to the brain. Further into the future, this could ultimately allow quadriplegics and paraplegics to walk again. Other applications are likely to include correcting the faulty circuits that create epileptic episodes and creating transport systems for slow release of insulin to diabetics.
Operating before birth
Advances in microsurgery and the capacity of ultrasound to monitor development will soon see unborn babies undergoing complex surgery to correct abnormalities like holes in the heart and facial malformations, strengthening their chances of survival and improving their quality of life.
You can download the full 'Then, Now…Imagine' Report from www.thankyouday.org. From 9 October until 17 November you can also send you personal message of thanks to Australia's health and medical researchers via the website or you can text it to 0428THANKS.
Scientists Who Contributed To 'Then, Now…Imagine'
Dr Robin Warren, Nobel Laureate 2005 - with Barry Marshall, proved a bacteria called helicobacter pylori caused gastritis and stomach ulcers and that most ulcers could be permanently cured with antibiotics.
Professor Peter Doherty, Nobel Laureate 1996 – Discovered that T-cells, the foot soldiers in our bloodstream, were expert at killing cells that had viruses locked inside. This has led to new and better vaccines, healthy organ transplants and better treatment of conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and Diabetes.
Professor Ian Frazer, Australian of the Year 2006 – Gained international fame for developing the world's first vaccine to combat cervical cancer.
Dr Fiona Wood, Australian of the Year 2004 - Headed up the team of doctors who treated the burns victims of the 2002 Bali bombing. Her use of 'spray on skin' sped up the recovery process for those who had suffered horrific burns.
Professor Fiona Stanley, Australian of the Year 2003 - With Carol Bower, as part of an international collaboration, discovered the link between folate intake and spina bifida. This led to women being advised to increase folate intake before and during pregnancy and supplementation of some foods with folate.
Sir Gustav Nossal, Australian of the Year 2000 – Discovered the magic 'one cell-one antibody' rule which led to the development of effective new therapies for heart disease, breast cancer and severe arthritis.
Professor Terry Dwyer - Led the team which proved the link between a baby's sleeping position and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They found that a baby sleeping on its stomach has ten times the risk of SIDS than babies who sleep in other positions.
Professor Graeme Clark - Pioneered the multiple-channel cochlear implant which has brought hearing and speech understanding to tens of thousands of people with severe-to-profound hearing loss in more than 70 countries.
Professor Judith Whitworth – Discovered how steroids raise blood pressure. Former Chief Medical Officer for the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services and current Chair of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Advisory Committee on Health Research.
Professor John Shine – First to clone a human hormone gene and discovered a gene sequence, the Shine-Dalgarno sequence, which is important for the control of protein synthesis. Former Chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council and current member of the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering & Innovation Council.
Research Australia is a unique national alliance of more than 180 member and donor organisations with a common mission to make health and medical research a higher national priority. For more information on Research Australia visit www.researchaustralia.org.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.