There is a fine line between falling for the delusion of the next ‘magic pill’ and getting excited about the promise of the newest medical technologies. There is a risk in thinking too optimistically about the idea that whatever is wrong now, will be fixed later by technology or medical advancement. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, this way of thinking can lead to shirking responsibility in the present and even sacrificing quality of life in the here and now for the, sometimes false, promises of there being better things to come.
Yet, at the same time, without the hope or aspirations that come with the promise of medical advancement and that future therapies may be more effective than what our current technologies allow, progress may never be realized. So, it is with this word of caution in mind, that we will be reviewing some of the newest and most exciting medical technologies that are headed our way. The following three developments are well researched and have the potential to make huge improvements in many of our lives.
Nasal cartilage used to repair the knee: A type of stem cell therapy in which nasal chondrocytes are harvested, replicated, then grafted onto damaged joint surfaces is showing tremendous potential to restore the health and integrity of joints. Joint degeneration of knees, hips or even facet joints of the spine – which can cause debilitating joint and/or back pain – may all be treated by this new technology that would allow doctors to re-surface worn out joints. This approach is being tested in Sweden and in admittedly small sample sizes, is showing incredible results. If this technology continues to prove it’s reliability and value, it may be the end of joint replacement surgeries around the world.
Bone marrow stem cells to repair meniscal tears: If conditions involving the degeneration of joint surfaces are some of the most common orthopedic issues we collectively experience as we age, damage to soft tissue structures, like the meniscus in the knee or the labrum in the shoulder, are runners up. Another stem cell technology – this time using stem cells harvested from one’s own bone marrow is showing the potential to non-surgically repair these soft tissues. Researchers in Great Britain have demonstrated the potential of stem cells to be turned into a “cell bandage” that was able to heal meniscal tears that would otherwise require surgical intervention to simply remove or repair in order to treat.
CRISPR: Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, otherwise known as CRISPR, is the common name for a gene editing technology based on a loophole found in our DNA which allows scientists to very precisely and very specifically cut and edit gene sequences. This technology literally allows us to re-write our genetic codes in a safe, relatively cheap, and extremely effective way. The promise of this technology is difficult not to overstate, but it has already demonstrated the potential to cure otherwise incurable genetic diseases like muscular dystrophy and sickle cell anemia. Other potential applications are basically unlimited – as are the ethical implications of having this much power.
Regardless of what new technology is being developed in the wings, it is critical to remember that whether you are currently experiencing pain from arthritic knees or suffering from an autoimmune disease, there are libraries of research to support the benefits of currently available therapies. Physical therapy, specifically, has something to offer anyone looking to move or feel better - and is available right now!