Tomorrow's medicine might look very different from today's.
In part, that's because of our increased ability to manipulate living cells—both our own and those of the microbes that live within us. New targeted therapies, regenerative medicine, and microbiomics may change our definitions of health. Such possibilities fuel societal questions about social justice, such as who has and doesn’t have access to treatments? And on an existential level, they ask us to reconsider illness, death, and identity, aspects fundamental to the human condition.
Rethinking bone transplants, EpiBone uses a patient’s own bone cells to grow replacement bone tissue. This process could lower the risk of complications from inserting foreign tissue into the body. The company is currently testing its implants. LEARN MORE
Living diagnostics techniques
E. Chromi, Alexandra DAISY GINSBERG and JAMES KING, 2009 CAMBRIDGE IGEM TEAm
The 2009 Cambridge iGEM team engineered bacteria to secrete a spectrum of colors. Designers Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and James King experimentally worked with the team to explore the implications of this new technology, while it was being developed in the lab. As a provocation, they proposed a fictional probiotic yogurt drink that would detect the chemical signals of different diseases in the gut, and produce colored pigments. Available in the supermarket, patients in this future might simply analyze their health by examining the rainbow colors of their stool samples. Interestingly, a study published a few years later from Harvard University Medical School proved that such a test might one day work. LEARN MORE
Lung-on-a-Chip, Wyss Institute
Combining microfabrication techniques with modern tissue engineering, the iconic “Lung-on-a-Chip” offers drug screening by mimicking the complicated mechanical and biochemical behaviors of a human lung. Lung-on-a-Chip won the prestigious Design of the Year in 2015 from London’s Design Museum. LEARN MORE
HIV therapy, Sangamo BioSciences
HIV infects white blood cells by exploiting a receptor on their membranes called CCR5. Sangamo uses a gene editing technology called zinc finger nucleases to delete the gene responsible for CCR5. When the virus encounters edited white blood cells, it has no point of entry and can’t spread. To make this into a medical treatment, Sangamo takes a blood sample from the patient, makes the edits in the lab, and then re-infuses the blood back into the patient. This therapy is currently in Phase 2 clinical trials. LEARN MORE
CAR T-cell receptors, Several Companies
Scientists have engineered Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARs) within the immune system to identify different types of cancers by their cell signals and destroy them. Last summer in a Phase 1 clinical trial, one CAR therapy put 24 of 27 leukemia patients into remission. LEARN MORE
Cultured Artemisinin, Amyris
Amyris bioengineered yeast to produce artemisinic acid, a precursor of artemisinin, an effective anti-malarial drug. The drug is now competing on the market with artemisinin traditionally derived from the sweet wormwood plant grown in East Asia. LEARN MORE
Gut microbiome linked to heart disease, Cleveland Clinic
A recent study tied a subset of bacteria in the gut to heart disease. These bacteria digest L-carnitine, found in meat and sometimes energy drinks, and produce compounds that when absorbed into the blood lead to heart disease. Vegetarians, who did not eat meat and therefore had less L-carnitine in their guts, did not carry these bacterial populations and were therefore less likely to have heart disease. LEARN MORE
Mother Dirt, AOBiome
AOBiome has created a mist spray containing microbes to keep your skin and hair clean by replacing unhealthy bacteria that would otherwise colonize the skin with bacteria that enrich it. This product has caused some controversy over the value of soap and shampoo. LEARN MORE
Banner image: Wyss Institute at Harvard University, Lung-on-a-Chip.