What will they think of next? The next ten years will radically change the way major diseases are diagnosed, treated, even cured. Take a sneak peek at the budding breakthroughs.
1. Birth control for men: When it comes to developing a male Pill, most scientists have pursued two strategies: Either find a (reversible) way to block hundreds of millions of sperm from reaching the egg, or (temporarily) prevent the swimmers from being produced in the first place. Research has been slow-going, but recent studies have shown that a combination of testosterone and progesterone appears to inhibit sperm production—making option number two a real possibility.
When we might see it: Five to ten years. The World Health Organization is currently sponsoring a clinical trial of a hormonal injection, and a U.S. study is testing a hormonal gel that's absorbed through the skin.
2. Healing burns using spray-on skin: Traditionally, treating severe burns has required skin grafting—cutting out large swaths of healthy skin and transplanting them over the burn. But scientists have developed a new technique that allows them to harvest skin cells from a small biopsy and suspend them in a solution. The resulting mixture is sprayed directly onto the burn, where the cells rapidly divide and migrate to cover a wound up to 80 times larger than the donor site.
When we might see it: Less than five years. The technology is already available in Europe, Australia, Canada, and China, and is being tested for FDA approval.
3. Contact lenses that perform health checkups: You may soon be able to check your blood sugar with the blink of an eye. The contacts of the future may contain sensors that measure biomarkers on the surface of your eyes—for instance, blood glucose or cholesterol levels—giving patients an easy way to monitor their health, says Babak Parviz, PhD, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington.
When we might see it: Five to ten years. Parviz's team has created some of the lenses' main components and is now testing the sensors. "Extremely complex microsystems must be integrated for this to work," he says, "so it's likely at least five years away."
4. A computer that can read your mind: The stuff of science fiction is edging toward reality: A researcher uses functional MRI to measure brain activity as a patient views different images, and then feeds the data into a computer program. The software then works to reconstruct the images based on the associated brain activity. The technique may one day be used to communicate with those who can't speak as the result of a stroke.
When we might see it: Twenty years. "It's going to be a slow evolution, but as brain-scanning devices improve, we'll be able to decode images and thoughts with greater precision," says Jack Gallant, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley.
New stem cell research that could change the way we treat heart disease
From the May 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!