A Brave New World

Brave New World: Humans are entering an exciting, scary new era of medicine

• Humans enter exciting, scary new era of medicine

By Victor Thorn

In this week’s edition of AMERICAN FREE PRESS, we are featuring an in-depth look at what we are calling a Brave New World of medicine. It’s an incredible time where the latest technological advances in the field of healthcare are giving Americans control over their own health by taking us to places only once imagined in the pages of science-fiction novels.

For example, David F. Williams, Ph.D., a professor of regenerative medicine at Wake Forest University, is convinced that some time in the near future humans will be capable of regrowing fingers and lungs, while also regenerating diseased kidneys. In this same field of study, “tricorder” devices will—from a distance—scan, record and analyze the body’s vital statistics before rendering a diagnosis. Such things as biopsies, endoscopies and invasive exploratory surgeries will be relegated to the annals of history.

When it comes to medicine, pills will soon contain microchips that are easily ingested. On July 30, Amy Maxmen, a blogger on Nature.com, described this latest advance in digital medicine: “A sand-particle sized sensor consists of a minute silicon chip containing trace amounts of magnesium and copper. When swallowed, it generates a slight voltage in response to digestive juices, which conveys a signal to the surface of a person’s skin where a patch then relays the information to a mobile phone belonging to a healthcare-provider.”

AT&T helped develop Vitality Glow Cap that lights up, emits a ring tone and sends messages to a patient’s cell phone when they’re supposed to take their medicine. And, even more futuristic, nanotechnology is currently being researched that allows devices to be implanted within a person that, when wirelessly turned on, inject drugs into the body at predetermined intervals. In this sense, a brighter future awaits diabetics, who will no longer have to take daily injections. Dexcom is promoting a high-tech sensor that, when implanted through the skin, monitors glucose levels and then forwards the results to the patient.

Are we approaching an era where gadgets will be able to read our minds? That’s precisely what neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D. envisions. By connecting the brain to a computer and then downloading its contents, Nicolelis feels that amputees or paralytics will greatly benefit from advances in sophisticated prosthetics that are “reconnected” to the brain via technology.

In this same vein, scientists want to entirely decode our brainwaves through complex mind-reading machines. Dr. Philippe G. Schyns, a professor of visual cognition at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, compares this process to everyday household items.

“It’s a bit like unlocking a scrambled television channel,” he said. “[or] like radio waves coding different radio stations at different frequency bands. This work has huge potential in the development of brain-computer interfaces.”

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When it comes to cancer, the UK’s Cambridge Research Institute is identifying “mother cells” that have previously been resistant to chemo-radiation treatments. But now, as they close in on these miniscule clusters of out-of-control cells, a possible cure may be on the horizon. On August 1, the UK’s Daily Mail science correspondent Fiona Macrae wrote about this procedure. “Some scientists liken the killing of cancer stem cells to pulling dandelions out by the roots rather than merely removing the heads.”

Burn victims also face brighter days. With developments in artificial skin that contains nanoparticles of silver that are released over a number of days, infections are greatly reduced. Another technique involves skin printing that is based on the concept of ink-jet printers. In essence, skin cells are carried in a vial and, quite literally, printed onto the damaged limbs of soldiers, firemen or crash victims. Amazingly, these techniques will be performed at the site of an accident, saving valuable time, rather than transporting patients to an emergency room.

If surgery is required, so-called “snake-hole” ports will allow doctors to only make one small incision in the body. Like a plumber does through piping, they will feed a retractable “snake” to the critical area to find clogged arteries and other problems.

Even those debilitated by Alzheimer’s will be granted greater freedom via personalized GPS sensors that monitor their actions. If an elderly citizen happens to wander off without anyone knowing, the device emits an electronic SOS so they can be quickly located.

Taken to its furthest limits, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that humans may reach a point where—through interchangeable robotic limbs and organs, in addition to our minds being transferred to super-computers—we can attain functional immortality.

Can Technology Replace the Family Doctor?

By Victor Thorn

During an August 2 interview with this writer, Eric J. Topol, M.D., author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine, made an interesting assertion: “I don’t need a stethoscope anymore. I haven’t used one in two-and-a-half years. Instead, with high-resolution ultrasound, I can know everything I need to know in a minute.”

As the former chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, Topol now serves as director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California. He was also one of the first physicians to question the safety of Vioxx, a move that ultimately forced that drug’s removal from the marketplace.

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As someone on the cutting edge of a new frontier in healthcare, Topol remarked, “We’re finally seeing the digital world intersect and converge with the medical community. With smart phone ‘apps,’ wireless sensors or other devices embedded into our bodies, we’re beginning to digitize human beings.”

“Apps” refers to software applications on personal computers, smart phones and tablets. They are computer programs that have been designed to perform specific functions like writing letters or keeping a calendar or even flying airplanes.

When it comes to medicine, Topol told AFP: “Apps will be able to detect when the first cancer cells develop in your body, so patients can attack them before they increase any further. Our bodies will be like cars filled with sensors. We’ll have a diabetes app, a heart disease app, a cancer app and many others. It’s especially exciting because this far-reaching technology exists right now.”

The effect on humans, as Topol notes, will be profound. “We’re going to gradually increase our lifespan to beyond 90. Right now it’s around 80. Although we’re still in the early phases, major radical changes in innovation are happening today. Patients won’t need to make a doctor’s appointment if their child gets an earache. Instead, they’ll check to see if they have an ear infection with their smart phones. These same smart phones have the ability to monitor glucose, blood pressure, brainwaves or even make asthma predictions.”

That’s not all, Topol continued: “People won’t be required to visit an optometrist for a new eyeglass prescription. Apps will perform the exam for them. Plus, innovations in ‘telemedicine’ will allow physicians to remotely oversee surgeries via an Internet connection. On the other end, robots will perform the precise operations, with the doctor—many miles away—guiding them.”

Topol agrees that the possibilities are nearly endless.

“Soon, all of us will know our genome sequencing, whereby we’ll more easily determine which drugs work and which ones to avoid,” he said. “Medical students of today will be the digital doctors of tomorrow.”

How to be ready for anything

This last point hints at the crux of Topol’s argument: the creative destruction of medicine.

“The medical world is remarkably resistant to change,” he said. “Younger doctors ‘get it’ much more than do the older Luddites, who are unwilling to embrace this new technology. In the middle are doctors like myself, who I call digital immigrants. We’ve had to learn how to enter this new world. Today, there’s a different way of interacting with patients, such as through email, video and online video chat services like Skype. Online Facebook health forums are highly interactive and add another novel dimension to medicine. The future is incredibly exciting.”

The Dark Side of Medical Advancements

By Victor Thorn

In Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, the ruling elite utilized a drug called “soma” to create state-sanctioned cognitive therapy for the masses. If subjects became a bit unruly, or the government needed them to be more supportive of an upcoming war, Big Brother scientists would alter the dosage or the chemistry of the drug. Patients would go to sleep and take a short soma vacation. Eventually, they would wake up after their break, and return to their servile condition and willingly follow the government’s dictates.

Not unlike the book, America today has been transformed into a society hooked on prescription medications. According to an April 5 Associated Press article by Chris Hawley: “Nationwide, pharmacies dispensed the equivalent of 69 tons of pure oxycodone and 42 tons of hydrocodone in 2010…. That’s enough to give 40 5-mg Percocets and 24 5-mg Vicodins to every person in the United States.”

This trend starts early. Estimates place the number of school-aged children taking Ritalin—sometimes beginning in the first grade—at 5M, while others boost that figure up to 8M. Oftentimes, these Ritalin kids continue their regular dependence on pharmaceuticals into adulthood. On April 9, Victoria Bekiempis of the UK’s Guardian newspaper penned an article entitled “America’s prescription drug addiction suggests a sick nation.”

“In fact, so many people have died from medication overdoses of late that they come to exceed car crashes as the U.S.’s top cause of accidental death – a first since the government started tabulating such data in 1979, according to the LA Times,” she wrote.

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The negative impact of Brave New World social control extends much further. One trend that stretches around the globe involves the creation of so-called designer babies.

Basically, a sperm donor in Britain could find an ideal Eastern European woman who’s willing to donate her eggs—for a price, of course. These “ingredients” will then be shipped to an American lab, where embryos are created. Finally, the test-tube embryos are flown to India and implanted inside a surrogate mother, who carries the child to term.

Another chilling development associated with computerized medicine is privacy. As each patient’s personal history is stored in data banks, secrecy will no longer be sustainable.

During AFP’s August 2 interview with Dr. Topol, the noted doctor observed, “The downside of a digital dystopia is that, if smart phones are able to capture every detail of our vital signs, then this information could also be stolen by outside parties.”

Indeed, similar to hacking into a computer, each person’s most intimate medical secrets will no longer be guarded in a doctor’s filing cabinet, but readily accessible in cyberspace to those inclined to violate one’s privacy.

The most grisly example of how sinister this Brave New World has become can be traced to China. There, human baby flesh from aborted fetuses is ground up into a powdered pill form. After being shipped to countries such as South Korea, Asians consume these pills, believing they are a miracle panacea. In early May 2012, South Korean police stumbled upon some 17K pills containing ground-up fetuses that purportedly originated from China. The Chinese have denied that the pills originated there, but authorities aren’t convinced.

On May 7, Richard Shears and Rob Cooper of the Daily Mail described this gruesome procedure:

“The tiny corpses are then bought, stored in household refrigerators in homes of those involved in the trade before they are removed and taken to clinics where they are placed in medical drying microwaves. Once the skin is tinder dry, it is pummeled into powder and then processed into capsules along with herbs to disguise the true ingredients from health investigators and customs officers.”

Although medical science undeniably offers remarkable advances in healthcare, we should also be wary of those who turn this field into a religion, offering up visions of a supposedly better world. When such doctors practice without restraint, their dreams frequently turn out to be nightmares.

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Victor Thorn is a hard-hitting researcher, journalist and the author of over 30 books.

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