Get out your tea leaves. Dust off your Tarot cards. Or just flip through that big stack of medical journals and periodicals you've been dog-earing all year for precisely this moment.
Because it's time to give us the skinny on what the next year in health and medicine is going to look like.
Dr. Prescott prescribes
I usually save the crystal ball for presidential races and stock tips. But with election done and the looming fiscal cliff making any investment decision feel like a game of chicken, why not take a shot at medicine and health?
5. Bionics: Although it took $6 million and a top-secret military program to rebuild Col. Steve Austin, staggering advances in engineering and neurobiology have made affordable, highly functional technology available to anyone unfortunate enough to lose a limb. Coming soon: big leaps in bionic technology to restore hearing and sight.
4. Adult stem cells: Forget the controversy over “embryonic” stem cells. Researchers are moving full-speed ahead in the quest to transform malleable cells from our own immune systems into individualized first-aid kits for each of us. In 2013, expect big breakthroughs in the lab — and, perhaps, even in human clinical trials.
3. The $1,000 genome: When the federal government completed the first sequence of the entire human genome in 2003, it cost taxpayers nearly $3 billion. In the decade since, technological advances have made 2013 the year when any one of us will be able to spit in a tube, pay $1,000 (or less), and then learn the precise order of the 6 billion base pairs that make us who we are. Still, that doesn't mean this information will do us much good … yet. We may have to wait until 2023 before researchers figure out how to use these data to lengthen lives and more effectively prevent and treat disease.
2. Cancer immunotherapy: Dr. Ralph Steinman spent his career conducting research on how to reprogram the body's immune cells to defeat cancer. When he contracted pancreatic cancer, he used himself to test his theory of concocting treatments from the body's own ingredients. His efforts netted him the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine — three days after the disease had claimed his life. Although it didn't save him, Steinman's work blazed a path that will yield a wave of new cancer treatments that mobilize patients' own immune systems. And these treatments could be game-changers in a field that sorely needs them.
1. Another fad diet: Had enough of the Atkins? Done with Dukan? Ready for a year in which people will abandon fad diets altogether? Don't hold your breath. As surely as it will bring complaints about politicians and taxes, 2013 will deliver a new “miracle” diet endorsed by a celebrity. And — this I can see clearly in my magic orb — it will ultimately prove no more effective than eating healthily and exercising.
Happy New Year!
Prescott, a physician and medical researcher, is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Cohen is a marathoner and OMRF's senior vice president and general counsel.