Home Life How SciFi has caught up to our health

How SciFi has caught up to our health

The future of health and medicine includes a lot of science fiction that is getting real—fast.

GEOGRAPHY used to be about mapping the world, cereal was breakfast food and robots built cars on the assembly line. Now, maps are used for genetic code, cereal provides a better boost than Viagra, and robots can dig you out of a natural disaster. Every day the stuff of science fiction creeps closer to reality. Ray Kurzweil is doing it, lab tests on men prove it, and with stores such as Wal-Mart selling it, you can afford it!

Read on for a laundry list of cool technologies that point the way to a new era of health and medicine.

Eat this: Bio printed meat

First on the list is bio-printed meat. The idea of synthetic meat first appeared on an episode of Star Trek: Jean Luc voices his desire for meatloaf and seconds later a plate of better-than-mom’s meatloaf material- izes. That was almost 20 years ago. But now, Modern Meadow, a Columbia, Mo.-based start-up, is making it a reality. Bio-printing has been used to build three-dimensional organ structures for the purposes of regenerative medicine. But now the technology will be used to feed people.

As a food technology, bio-printing will display the amino acid sequence of meat proteins on special, edible paper. This bridges ethical and religious issues to improve health because people who would avoid meat and all the nutrients for these reasons can now get a full nutrient profile. This could help solve world hunger as it becomes an alternative for those who avoid meat because of religious conventions, such as people restricted to Hindu, Kosher or Halal diets.

3D printing is environmentally friendly because it omits the resource intensity of everything that traditionally goes into your burger, stopping what many have called an “environmental train-wreck.” A hamburger at a food chain might cost you 99 cents but the environmental costs associated with production and the obesity-related health care costs triple that amount. Bio-printed meat will be an environmentally friendly alternative to animal protein, providing a complete protein source for ethically concerned individuals.

Essentially, bio-printing will increase the nutrient density of many people, improving their health and increasing their immunity and life expectancy

Project Hexapod: Stompy lives

Project Hexapod is all about robots. A group of gung-ho researchers is fundraising and canvassing to make large-scale robots practical. “Stompy” is their pet project. He is

an 18-foot wide, 4,000 pound, six-legged hydraulic, jack-of-all-trades robot who can walk over broken terrain, climb mountain- ous areas, dig through rubble piles and wade hydraulically through water up to eight feet deep. Stompy is extraordinary and different simply because he can go most places existing ground vehicles cannot.

Moreover, this robot can do it all, carrying 1,000 pounds at a speed of 3 mph, a feat that ground vehicles cannot match. In a natural disaster, he can reach people easily, saving hundreds of lives. Project Hexapod argues that Stompy could have helped many of the people who died in the quakes of Haiti or in the aftermath of 9/11. Basically, it’s the “support us because we save lives” story we hear from everyone who wants funding. You decide.

The tumour tailor: Genome Sequencing
A new method of genome sequencing called “whole genome sequencing” is creating enormous possibility at Washington University. Just as pathologists use blood cultures to prescribe antibiotics, researchers are using genome sequencing to determine the specific drugs that might stop cancer. As one researcher says, “we have been sending generals into battle without a map of the battlefield. What we are doing now is building the map.” The novel approach could tailor drugs to the mutations of an individual tumor, just as a tailor alters each shirt sleeve separately because even limbs of the same person are asymmetrical. Each part of a tumor mutates differently, so having a drug that responds to each one separately has a tremendous advantage. It’s all about more “individual attention.”

Moreover, these new medicines function like HIV treatment, which uses several different drugs at once to strike a virus based on where it occurs. This gives hope to researchers who have seen success in treatment HIV However, whole genome sequencing is incredibly complex and expensive: Just a day’s worth of drugs may cost $330. That’s a lot considering they are unable to offer a money-back guarantee.

Cereal as foreplay: The quantified self

The quantified self is a lifestyle philosophy: The path to self-realization comes through a vigorous tracking of everything you do and “fixing” the broken bits. It’s basically a mirror that reflects things that industry sees as wrong with you. But don’t worry, because they have a product designed for everything that needs to be fixed.

To quantify the self, you track everything from calories burned and hours slept to miles run and water lost through urination. All of this tracking and monitoring requires gadgets. And once you know what is “wrong” with you, there is a multitude of food and fitness products you can buy to get “better.”

The Basis B1 Band is one such way the quantified self turns people into “innovative specimens.” It is a wrist-mounted body monitor with five built-in sensors. The optical device works by shining light through your skin to measure blood flow so you don’t need to wear a chest strap—especially appealing
to men who hate wearing a “bra” to exercise. The device also comes with thermometers for measuring skin and ambient temperatures, galvanic skin sensors for detecting sweat levels, and an accelerometer that records movement. All of the data gets uploaded with a USB or Bluetooth. You get a snapshot of everything that needs fixing and a shopping list to help you out.

Once you have quantified that your sex life could be better (and it can always be better), look to General Mills for the answer. The company now markets gender-specific cereal. “Wheaties Fuel” builds on stereotypes about men who need nutrients such as iron for endurance. Their advertisements feature buff bodies with swooning women, and some cereal articles feature cereal as a “sex-boosting” food. Women’s cereal is

marketed as low-calorie and full of nutrients like vitamin B12 for “energy.” These cereal ads feature women indulging in a spoonful so satisfying it causes her to close her eyes and moan—the “climax” of her day. This suggests that cereal makes great foreplay.

While quantifying things can be fun, it just seems like fodder for low self-esteem rather than self-actualization. And if I want to improve my sex life, perhaps I could spend more time having sex and less time debating in the cereal aisle.

Eye of the beholder

These technologies and philosophies are newsworthy and a healthy life—generally and sexually—is something we all want. But is it all worth it? Robots and drugs that save lives are difficult to argue against. Health, the environment, bigger biceps and a smaller waist are trendy yet worthy goals and aspirations. But if you spend your entire day collecting data, food and gad- gets that make you better, what are you actually getting better at? Depends on your point of view. For some, it’s about having a better life. For, others it’s just a list of things designed to make you better at buying stuff. Once again, it’s all about your values. You decide.

More Insight: Check out this great article on mobile apps for wellbeing and personal health.

Author: Jennifer Graham is a freelance writer who writes for Optimyz and Silver Magazines.