2017 was an amazing year where science and medicine were concerned. Here is a breakdown of the year’s advances; some of my favorites, my comments, and some toothsome Friday totty follow.
- March 3: Terminal cancer patients go into complete remission after groundbreaking gene therapy.
There is a history of cancer in my mother’s family, and the Old Man was lucky to catch an incipient colon cancer very early, so this one hits close to home. Cancer is a horrible disease, but at its heart it’s a genetic disorder; a gene therapy that could destroy tumors would be earth-shaking. Let’s hope this one is as promising as it seems.
- March 8: Scientists discover new state of matter called ‘Time Crystals’ – time crystals seemingly break the rules of normal time-keeping and potentially pave the way for quantum computers and quantum sensors.
I’m not sure what practical use this has, but it’s cool. The thing about discoveries of this sort is that nobody really knows all the implications until the whole thing is not only discovered but analyzed and integrated into our current technology. But I still like things like this just because they’re interesting.
Like a lot of folks, I have elderly parents. The Old Man (94) has positional vertigo, which means he can lose his balance if he turns quickly or stands up suddenly; that could lead to a bad fall, and at 94, falls frequently mean broken bones from which there may be no recovery. This kind of thing has big implications for quality of life for the elderly.
- September 23: Newly engineered antibody could kill off 99 per cent of HIV strains.
HIV is still a killer, although for most folks in developed nations the life expectancy of HIV+ patients has increased a great deal. Still – this sounds like a cure.
- November 24: Cancer breakthrough: Potential cure could be ready as early as next year.
See my comments above on cancer. Cancer treatments have come a long ways in the last decade, and it looks like they will be going a lot further in the next decade or two.
- December 11: Tasmanian tigers aren’t extinct (or at least they won’t be for long!) – Scientists unlock mysterious creature’s DNA – and plan to clone it bring the beast back to Australia.
Another one that’s interesting just because it’s cool. And if we can do this for thylacines (the proper name for the Tasmanian ‘tiger’) why can’t we do it for, say, passenger pigeons? Dodos? Great auks? Quaggas? Mammoths? Neandertals? OK, that last presents a host of moral and ethical dilemmas, and that’s interesting in and of itself; if we cloned a Neandertal, what would that person’s status be?
It’s a fascinating time to be alive, True Believers. It’s popular in some circles to wax nostalgic for the “Good Old Days” but in many ways the good old days weren’t all that good. The Old Man still talks of the evening in 1928 when his younger brother died of pneumonia. My Uncle Lee was three years old; today he probably would never have been in any danger, but then, he died.
What will 2018 bring? Any guesses?