I’ve never been attracted by medicine as a science or profession. But I’ve become interested in the field recently, in a vague sort of way, because, well, I know I’m going to get sick one day. Everyone dies, right?
Disregarding outlandish (but hopeful and tempting) theories involving nanobots to replace our organs (Ray Kurzweil), and even an “anti-aging singularity”, after which the rate at which we can prolong people’s lives exceeds their actual deterioration due to ageing (Aubrey de Grey), there’s still huge amounts of progress still to be made in the field. This point is made so very clearly in an article in the New Yorker, “The Checklist”, discussing the huge improvements that can be made in intensive care simply by following checklists when performing tasks, rather than relying on memory and experience:
In the Keystone Initiative’s first eighteen months, the hospitals saved an estimated hundred and seventy-five million dollars in costs and more than fifteen hundred lives. The successes have been sustained for almost four years—all because of a stupid little checklist.
Boggles the mind, really. It’s sweating the details like these that will be keeping us alive longer on average. For something even more amazing, again via the New Yorker, check out this speech on Regenerative Medicine. It’s now possible to grow bladders from scratch (from a sample) and implant them in the patient whose original requires replacing; kidneys are almost there as well (the bladder is the easiest because it’s hollow). This had just reached the implementation stage now. And this is the stuff that can be done without stem cells. Fifty years ago, we couldn’t even transplant organs.
I don’t have a clue how these people do it. And I’ll no doubt never learn. But I can’t wait to live to see where we end up.