Your health in 2001 and beyond

by ROGER DOBSON, Daily Mail

This year will see extraordinary progress in the medical world. New treatments for cancer, spinal cord injuries, dementia, Parkinson's and a range of other diseases are expected to go into development.

Here is our insider's guide to other advances in medical science in 2001 and beyond.

Edible Vaccines: Trials of a genetically modified cherry tomato designed to eliminate a bug that causes illness in thousands of babies and children are due to start. Scientists have successfully changed the genetic code of the tomato so that when it is eaten it works as an edible vaccine to protect children against the respiratory virus known as RSV.

Liver Disease: A new therapy for thousands of children and adults with life-threatening liver disease is underway. Immature donor liver cells will be injected into patients in or near the liver. As these cells then grow they will rebuild the damaged or diseased liver.

Designer Babies: Two children who were conceived so that stem cells can be harvested from the umbilical cord and transplanted into older siblings with blood disorders are due to be born this year. Once implanted, these stem cells will grow into blood cells and replace those that are diseased.

Genes: With the human genome fully mapped, hundreds of new drugs and tests for diseases will begin to appear. There will also be DNA-based drugs, matched to a patient's genetic profile, so that doctors will know in advance that there will be no side effects.

Strokes: Trials using antioxidants to treat patients who have suffered a stroke or who have bronchitis are expected within the next few months.

Artificial wombs:

Scientists are successfully growing parts of a human womb in a pioneering development that could soon lead to whole uteruses being cultivated in the laboratory and transplanted into patients. For women without a fully functioning womb, it could improve their chances of having a baby.

Transplants: Tissue engineers who have already grown skin, bone and cartilage are focusing on whole organs such as the heart, kidney and lungs. The availability of off-the-shelf organs would mean patients would no longer die waiting for donors.

Sight: Scientists are to run tests using sophisticated silicon chips which are planted inside the eyes of some blind people to bypass damaged retinas and send electrical signals directly to the brain.

Diagnostic chips: Living bio-chips that will help doctors to tailor drugs for individual patients are being developed. The tissue on the chip means that drugs can be tested on them rather than on patients, without the risk of side-effects.

Hearing: An implantable bionic ear promises to revolutionise life for babies who are born deaf. The ear, operated by a battery with one millionth of the power of a domestic light bulb, is small enough to go inside the ear of a newborn baby, allowing the hearing part of the brain to develop.

Cancer: Prospects of a universal vaccine have been given a boost by researchers who have shown that the immune system can be taught to attack cancer cells in the same way that it fights off other infections and diseases.

Limbs: Developments are expected to produce the most precise artificial hand yet, where four fingers and a thumb will be made to move by electric current generated by the patient moving the tendons in the upper arm.

Designer oestrogens: Drugs that will protect women from a range of diseases will not only give protection against osteoporosis, but also shield women from coronary heart disease, high cholesterol levels, ovarian and other gynaecological cancers.

Contraception: Researchers are looking to create antibodies in women that will attack the sperm, just as the immune system kills or disables foreign bugs that get into the body. The goal is for this to be done through an annual injection.

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