The Future of Medicine

Cancer-killing nanoparticles, fat-fighting nucleic acids and more breakthroughs set to transform health care
A way to turn off the genes that are making us fat The Prescription: What if a simple injection could silence the genetic culprits that fuel weight gain, coercing cells to burn more fat and be more responsive to changing insulin levels? That´s precisely the sort of treatment now being developed by biochemist Michael Czech and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The key to their approach is a technique called RNA interference, or RNAi, one of the body´s natural self-defense mechanisms. In broad strokes, when a virus, for instance, invades a cell, it passes on its genetic code through double-stranded RNA. The cell recognizes the RNA as an invader, dices it up into tiny pieces called short-interfering RNA, and attacks any genes that bind to it. In the past year, Czech has used RNAi to silence 1,000 genes in cultured adipose tissue, a.k.a. fat. The process would have taken them decades without RNAi-now they simply introduce bits of RNA that match the target genes, inducing the cells to shut the genes down. With certain key genes disabled, the researchers learned that the tissue can be more responsive to insulin levels, suck more glucose out of the blood, and actually burn fatty acids instead of storing them as new fat cells.
When?: 2010 or later. Rajeev/Medi-Mation

We´ve seen the future of medicine-and it´s tough on the eyes. The secret to radically improved health care lies at the cellular level, ground zero for disease, where everything is roughly 1,000 times as small as the period at the end of this sentence. Dial out a decade or so, and doctors will wield molecular tools to switch genes on and off, taming
diabetes and obesity, among many ills. Researchers will
harness tiny proteins to ward off any strain of influenza.
Bye-bye bird flu. Precision-guided cancer killers will lay waste to tumors without so much as grazing the surrounding healthy tissue. No more chemotherapy side effects.

From a nano-sewing kit that mends severed nerves to a genetic switch that turns off fat genes, the future of molecular medicine looks bright. And that’s no small thing.


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