I’m a big fan of Cracked.com. It’s an excellent site that features an excellent combination of comedy and intelligence in their writing, on topics ranging from pop culture to movies, science, and ridiculous tidbits from actual history. Like many other sites out there, their feature articles take the form of “4 things that you never expected from XYX” or some such. Whatever the topic, the articles are either informative, intelligent, or both, and always funny. And every once in a while, they touch on something that gets this casual futurist excited. Like this article:
5 Mind-Blowing Ways Science Has Hacked the Human Body
Each entry on this list is interesting for its own reasons, some with more potential importance than the others. Let’s go in the order in which they’re presented in the article, counting down from 5.
5. Change your Eye Color
Frankly, I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for scientists to come up with this one. Ever since learning why eyes are blue in the first place when I was in grade school, I figured that meant it was possible to alter eye color. To be more specific, this procedure can only go from brown eyes to blue eyes, and is pretty much permanent. For those who don’t know, the short version is that everyone’s eyes are blue, except that most people have a layer of brown stuff in front of the part that’s blue, making those eyes brown. So, in this procedure, you just remove the brown part and end up with blue eyes. Simple enough…and not that interesting. Great for cosmetic reasons, but nothing too world-altering, in my opinion.
4. Regrow your Teeth
Now this one seems pretty cool. Using dental stem cells (that don’t come from embryos), scientists now say they can regrow teeth within a couple of weeks. Teeth, unlike many other parts of the body, are a one-time-deal kind of body part: you lose them, they don’t come back. As such, dental care takes on a certain importance that also comes linked with a kind of fear (if you’ve ever had a nightmare where you’re losing your teeth, you know what I mean). The ability to regrow a body part that is permanent is certainly a breakthrough, and could mean wonders for dental treatments in the future. Everything from accidents involving lost teeth to the elderly being able to regrow lost teeth could be solved by this.
3. Stay Alive without Breathing
Yup, that’s exactly what it says. Essentially, scientists have developed an oxygen-rich suspension in liquid form that can be directly injected into the bloodstream. As such, when the trachea is completely blocked off, all that would be needed is an injection of this liquid and your body will get the oxygen it needs for a good amount of time. As pointed out in the Cracked article, the most fascinating application of this development is for emergency use, where EMTs, who can already tap veins and start IV drips and such, can just inject this ready-to-fluid into a non-breathing patient and not have to worry about the alternatives that only doctors can do (opening up the trachea with a cut, for example). It is also much quicker to simple inject a syringe. This is clearly a potentially life-saving development.
2. Instantly End Addiction
By “hacking the brain” and turning off a single receptor in the brain’s immune system that is responsible for addiction, scientists now say that can cure addition in one fell swoop. On top of this, the procedure seems to have no other side effects or ramifications. While I’m sure this isn’t quite as too-good-to-be-true as it sounds, it’s certainly close, if it can be perfected. But I do wonder what this would do to the drug trade. Would heroin one day become legal if you could just remove the inevitable addiction at will? Can the anti-addiction pill be abused just as much as drugs themselves? What would its availability look like? There are several curious questions raised by this one, though on the basic level it is an amazing breakthrough to be able to cure addiction outright.
1. Modify your Genes with a Lotion
Essentially, this is topical gene therapy. Gene therapy itself has shown incredible promise for years in treating all sorts of disorders, yet most other methods of gene therapy, as I understand it, are systemic. To invent a gene therapy technique that is local and non-invasive seems like a very modern, almost sci-fi kind of breakthrough. But I wonder at the details left out here: Can you actually change systemic genetic diseases with this topical cream application medium? Or is it only good for skin or local afflictions? Granted, being able to treat skin cancers, psoriasis, and any other skin afflictions is fantastic, I want to know if the applications are truly more widespread like the scientists claim. If so, this has fantastic potential for easily applied medicine in the future.
All of cutting-edge research yields a very nice picture of the future of medicine, yet still raises many questions of applicability, usability, and practicality. It is also unclear just how far away these techniques are from mainstream use (though the Cracked article implies you can get your eye color changed already for a hefty price). Further research is clearly needed to determine the efficacy of these methods as well, but all definitely show excellent promise and enlighten us to the new and innovative ways modern medicine is approaching traditional conditions.