Will Science Cure the World?
WILL modern science cure the world? Do the Bible prophecies of Isaiah and Revelation point to a time when man himself will bring about a world without sickness? In view of the many accomplishments in health care, some feel that this is not a far-fetched notion.
Governments and private benefactors are now working together with the United Nations in an unprecedented campaign against disease. One concerted effort focuses on the immunization of children in developing countries. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, if countries achieve their goals, “by 2015, more than 70 million children who live in the world’s poorest countries will receive each year life-saving vaccines against the following diseases: tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, rubella, yellow fever, haemophilus influenzae type B, hepatitis B, polio, rotavirus, pneumococcus, meningococcus, and Japanese encephalitis.” Measures are also being taken to provide basic health necessities, such as adequate access to clean water, better nutrition, and hygiene education.
Scientists, however, aspire to provide much more than just the basics in health care. Cutting-edge technology is revolutionizing the medical field. It has been said that about every eight years, scientists double their medical knowledge. The following is just a sample of some of the latest technological achievements and goals in the fight against disease.
▪ X-ray imaging For more than 30 years, doctors and hospitals have been using what is known as the CT scan. The acronym CT stands for computed tomography. CT scanners produce three-dimensional X-ray images of the inside of our bodies. These images are helpful in diagnosing disease and examining internal abnormalities.
While there is some controversy over the dangers associated with radiation exposure, medical experts are optimistic about the future benefits of this advancing technology. Michael Vannier, a professor of radiology at the University of Chicago Hospital, says: “In just the past few years, the progress is enough to make your head spin.”
CT scanners are now faster, more accurate, and less costly. The speed of the newest scanning methods is an important advantage. This is especially true when scanning the heart. Because the heart is constantly beating, many X-ray images of it used to come out blurry, making them difficult to evaluate accurately. As New Scientist magazine explains, new scanners take “just a third of a second to rotate around the body, faster than a single heart beat,” thus creating sharper pictures.
With the help of the latest scanners, doctors can not only capture the anatomical details of the inner body but also examine the biochemical activity of specific areas. This application may make it possible to detect the presence of cancer in its early stages.
▪ Robotic surgery Sophisticated robots no longer remain in the realm of science fiction—at least in the medical field. Already, thousands of surgeries are taking place with the help of robots. In some cases the surgeons operate with the use of a remote-control device that allows them to manipulate several robotic arms. These arms are equipped with scalpels, scissors, cameras, cauteries, and other surgical instruments. The technology allows surgeons to perform extremely complicated operations with incredible precision. “Surgeons who use the system have found that patients have less blood loss and pain, lower risk of complications, shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery times than those who have open surgery,” reports Newsweek magazine.
▪ Nanomedicine Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnology to the medical field. In turn, nanotechnology is the science of manipulating and creating microscopic objects. The unit of measure used in this technology is called the nanometer, which is one billionth of a meter. *
To put such a measurement in perspective, the page you are reading now is about 100,000 nanometers thick, and a human hair about 80,000. A red blood cell is about 2,500 nanometers in diameter. A bacterium is about 1,000 nanometers long, and a virus about 100 nanometers. Your DNA measures about 2.5 nanometers in diameter.
Proponents of this technology believe that in the near future, scientists will be able to build tiny devices designed to perform medical procedures inside the human body. Often referred to as nanomachines, these little robots will carry microscopic computers programmed with very specific instructions. Amazingly, these fairly complex machines will be built with components no bigger than 100 nanometers. That is 25 times smaller than the diameter of a red blood cell!
Because they are so small, it is hoped that nanodevices will someday be able to travel through tiny capillaries and deliver oxygen to anemic tissues, remove obstructions from blood vessels and plaque from brain cells, and even hunt down and destroy viruses, bacteria, and other infectious agents. Nanomachines may also be used to deliver drugs directly to specifically targeted cells.
Scientists predict that cancer detection will improve dramatically with the aid of nanomedicine. Dr. Samuel Wickline, a professor of medicine, physics, and biomedical engineering, said: “The possibilities are enormous for finding very small cancers far earlier than ever before and treating them with powerful drugs at the tumor site alone, while at the same time reducing any harmful side effects.”
Although this may sound like futuristic fantasy, nanomedicine is very real in the minds of some scientists. Leading researchers in this field expect that within the next decade, nanotechnology will be in use in repairing and rearranging the molecular structure of living cells. One proponent claims: “Nanomedicine will eliminate virtually all common diseases of the 20th century, virtually all medical pain and suffering, and allow the extension of human capabilities.” Even now some scientists are reporting good success in the use of nanomedicine on laboratory animals.
▪ Genomics The study of gene structure is known as genomics. Every cell in the human body is packed with many components that are vital to life. One of these components is the gene. Each of us has about 35,000 genes that determine hair color and texture, skin and eye color, height, and other features of our individual physical appearance. Our genes also play an important role in determining the quality of our internal organs.
When genes are damaged, they can have an impact on our health. In fact, some researchers believe that all diseases arise from genetic malfunction. Some defective genes are inherited from our parents. Others are damaged by exposure to harmful elements in our environment.
Scientists hope that they will soon be able to identify the specific genes that predispose us to disease. This can allow doctors to understand, for instance, why certain individuals are more prone to cancers than others or why a type of cancer is more aggressive in some people than in others. Genomics may also reveal why a drug proves effective for some patients while not for others.
Such specific genetic information may give birth to what is being called personalized medicine. How might you benefit from this technology? The concept of personalized medicine suggests that medical care can be tailored to match your unique genetic profile. For example, if a study of your genes were to reveal that you are predisposed to develop a certain disease, doctors could detect such a disease long before any symptoms appeared. Proponents claim that in instances where the disease is not yet present, the right treatment, diet, and changes in behavior might even prevent the disease altogether.
Your genes may also alert doctors to the likelihood of your having an adverse reaction to medication. This information may give doctors the ability to prescribe the precise kind of medicine and the dosage needed in your particular case. The Boston Globe reports: “By 2020, the impact [of personalized medicine] is likely to be far more sweeping than any of us can envision today. New gene-based designer drugs will be developed for diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and many other conditions that take a high toll on our society.”
The above-mentioned technologies are but a sample of what science promises for the future. Medical knowledge continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. But scientists do not expect to eradicate sickness completely anytime soon. There are many hurdles that still seem insurmountable.
Seemingly Insurmountable Hurdles
Human behavior may slow down progress in the eradication of disease. For example, scientists believe that human-inflicted damage to certain ecosystems has resulted in new, dangerous diseases. In a Newsweek magazine interview, Mary Pearl, president of the Wildlife Trust, explained: “Since the mid-1970s, more than 30 new diseases have emerged, including AIDS, Ebola, Lyme disease and SARS. Most of these are believed to have moved from wildlife to human populations.”
Additionally, people are eating less fresh fruits and vegetables and more sugar, salt, and saturated fat. This together with a decrease in physical activity and other unhealthy habits has resulted in more cardiovascular diseases. Tobacco smoking is on the increase, causing serious health problems and death to millions globally. Every year some 20 million people sustain serious injuries or die as a result of automobile accidents. War and other forms of violence kill and maim countless others. Millions suffer ill health as a result of alcohol or drug abuse.
The fact is that regardless of the cause, and notwithstanding all the advancements in medical technology, some diseases continue to take a heavy toll. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ‘more than 150 million people suffer from depression at any point in time, about 25 million from schizophrenia, and 38 million from epilepsy.’ HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, malaria, measles, pneumonia, and tuberculosis infect millions, killing countless children and young adults.
There are other seemingly insurmountable hurdles standing in the way of disease eradication. Poverty and bad government are two big obstacles. In a recent report, WHO stated that millions who die of infectious diseases could be saved were it not for government failure and lack of funding.
Will scientific knowledge and the dramatic improvements in medical technology help overcome these hurdles? Will we soon see a world without sickness? Granted, the factors outlined above provide no clear answer. The Bible, however, sheds light on this question. The following article will discuss what the Bible says about the prospect of a future time when sickness will be no more.
^ par. 10 The prefix “nano,” from the Greek term for dwarf, means “one billionth.”
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Clearer, more accurate images of the human body may help detect illness at its early stages
Robots equipped with surgical instruments help doctors perform extremely complicated operations with incredible precision
© 2006 Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
Man-made microscopic machines may enable doctors to treat illness at the cellular level. This photo shows an artist’s conception of nanomachines that would mimic the function of red blood cells
Artist: Vik Olliver (email@example.com)/Designer: Robert Freitas
By studying an individual’s gene structure, scientists hope to detect and treat illness even before the patient experiences any symptoms
Chromosomes: © Phanie/Photo Researchers, Inc.
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Six Undefeated Foes
Medical knowledge and related technologies continue to advance at an unprecedented rate. In spite of this, plagues of infectious diseases are still ravaging the world. The killer diseases listed below remain undefeated.
Some 60 million people have been infected with HIV, and about 20 million have died of AIDS. During 2005 there were five million new infections and more than three million AIDS-related deaths. The victims included more than 500,000 children. The vast majority of HIV victims have no access to adequate treatment.
With about four billion cases every year, diarrhea is described as a major killer among the poor. It is caused by various infectious diseases that can be spread by contaminated water or food or a lack of good personal hygiene. These infections result in a yearly death toll of more than two million people.
Annually, some 300 million people get ill from malaria. About one million victims die every year, many of them children. In Africa one child dies of malaria about every 30 seconds. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “science still has no magic bullet for malaria and many doubt that such a single solution will ever exist.”
During 2003, measles killed more than 500,000 people. A leading cause of death among children, measles is a highly contagious disease. Every year some 30 million people contract measles. Ironically, an effective and inexpensive vaccine against measles has been available for the past 40 years.
More children die of pneumonia than of any other infectious disease, claims WHO. About two million children under the age of five die of pneumonia every year. Most of these deaths take place in Africa and Southeast Asia. In many parts of the world, limited access to health facilities prevents victims from getting lifesaving medical treatment.
During 2003, tuberculosis (TB) caused the death of over 1,700,000 people. Of great concern to health officials is the emergence of drug-resistant TB germs. Some strains have developed resistance to all major anti-TB medications. Drug-resistant TB strains develop in patients who undergo poorly supervised or incomplete medical treatment.
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Alternative Forms of Medicine on the Rise
There are a wide variety of healing methods that are not generally accepted by practitioners of conventional medicine. These are generally known as traditional medicine and alternative medicine. In developing countries the majority of the population rely on traditional medicine for their health needs. In poor areas many cannot afford conventional medical treatments, while other people simply prefer traditional methods.
Alternative forms of medicine are also thriving in wealthy countries. Among the most popular types of alternative treatment are acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, and herbal medicine. Some of these practices have been scientifically studied and proved beneficial for certain conditions. The effectiveness of certain methods, however, has not been adequately established. The increased popularity of alternative types of medicine has raised some safety issues. In many countries such healing therapies are not regulated. This provides an environment where harmful self-medication, counterfeit products, and quackery can thrive. Although being well-intentioned, friends and relatives lacking sufficient training often become self-appointed practitioners. All of this has resulted in adverse reactions and other health hazards.
In several countries where regulations are in place, alternative forms of therapies are gaining acceptance in the conventional medical community and are offered by medical doctors. Still, there seems to be no valid claim that these methods will ever bring about a world without sickness.