What this is not, is an exhaustive list, as technological advancement has translated into a lot of development in health and science. What it is, however, is a list of things I intended to write on towards the end of 2017 but the universe rolled on too fast.
In no particular order:
- CAR-T therapy
This was the icing on the cake for 2017. This cell therapy treatment aims to use the patients’ immune system to attack tumours. T cells, that play a huge role in immune responses are extracted from the patient and programmed to produce synthetic receptors (Chimeric Antigen Receptors) that bind to specific proteins on tutors.
It is currently in clinical trials mostly with blood cancers. Two of such therapies, Kymriah for leukaemia and Yescarta for B-cell lymphoma, were FDA-approved in the second half of 2017. The field is still growing with a lot of promise.
2. Gene modification of human embryos
I discussed this when it was initially licensed. While it holds great potential for treatment of certain genetic diseases that may be passed on to future generations, it holds equal weight to the ethical and social concerns around it. Editing of genes to create genetically modified humans opens unchartered zones.
3. Citizen science
Call it crowd science or volunteer monitoring but absolutely everyone can now add on to the science knowledge pool and reduce the effort and time used in science projects.
You can volunteer your computer’s downtime and in turn, contribute to mapping the millions of bacterial genes in your digestive system; geotag litter in your area to identify problem areas in the environment, and map bird species in your area.
4. 3D printing
3D-printing graduated from just printing clothes and model houses to producing limbs, artificial skin to avoid animal testing in the cosmetic industry and bionic skin that could be used for surgical robots and possibly even print electronics on human skin.
The use of 3D printed prosthetic limbs in Sudan, mostly for victims of war, is one success story of this technology.
There is still a lot of scope to be covered in the production of consumer goods, regenerative medicine and in the pharmaceutical industry. It is an area estimated to be worth $1.4 billion by the year 2027.
5. Artificial Intelligence
AI and machine learning are everywhere: your smartphone assistant, driverless cars.
It is currently used to mine scientific information from the millions of research papers in publication and will possibly be used to accelerate the drug development process and/or repurpose drugs by creating algorithms that find patterns in research data.
In November 2017, a low-cost drone completed a 19km flight in Malawi, delivering medicine; technology that could be used to send life-saving supplies in war-torn and hard to access areas.
Elon Musk even backed a venture that intends on fusing a device into the brain that “aims to merge biological intelligence and digital intelligence”… but that is a conversation for another day.
PS: For all the quinoa lovers, they finally decoded its genome. Yaay science!