Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ankleing* our way into the future

An intriguing article in the New York Times Health Guide on the current state of medical technology, specifically the human ankle joint.

I found certain aspects of the interview to be of particular interest:

In orthopedics, the problem with cartilage, the translucent rubbery material that covers and protects the ends of bone, is that it doesn’t want to regenerate. We can get bone to regenerate, but not cartilage in the same way. When cartilage is damaged, the body often attempts to repair it with weaker fibrocartilage, but this is not as durable as the original cartilage. However, we are now actively at work in the laboratory looking to use adult stem cells to repair damaged cartilage, restore surface geometry and function, eliminate pain and delay or prevent further joint destruction.

Did someone say something about a lack of stem cell research in the USA? Sorry, had to get the snark out of my system before it created a blockage or something. I feel better now.

That aside, this paragraph offers hope for more than just ankle joint ailments and injuries. Cartilage exists in every skeletal joint in the human body; being able to repair/regrow it would be an essential capability to achieving the stated goals of SENS I would think.

Research is also being carried out using small molecules that can be used as drugs to stimulate cellular signaling pathways to trigger local cartilage cells to turn on and create more cartilage. We are in the early stages with this exciting research, but as we gain a better understanding of the fundamental biology and the mechanics of the foot and ankle, I expect that we will be very advanced in the next 10 years.

I keep seeing that time period being suggested. Just for the sake of discussion, let's round it up to the year 2020. Without being too specific, that's the year when I will qualify for full benefits status as a recipient of social security and medicare.

What I find particularly compelling about the good doctor's prognostication is that by the time I'm old enough to apply for retirement benefits (I'm deliberately foregoing editorialising via scare quotes), it appears a reasonable expectation that I might well be physically healthy and capable enough not to want to do any such opportunity-limiting thing at all.

Many years ago now, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich popularised the phrase "Opportunity Society". One of the tenets that concept stipulated was that we each would need to make ourselves better informed about the (medical in this example) alternatives available to us resulting from technological advances as our personal condition demanded. Our personal experts (the professionals who's services we individually retained) couldn't be expected to keep that degree of specific knowledge immediately on-hand at all times. We were going to have to assume some portion of proactive responsibility in guiding our personal regimen, whether that be health related, financial, whatever the topic of interest might be. We will still need the specialised expertise to fully implement whatever course of action is ultimately settled upon, but we each would take a more involved approach to initiating and guiding that determination process.

So, in the present example, it falls to each of us to make ourselves sufficiently informed enough of medical advances to offer reasonably specific suggestions to our personal physician regarding our particular medical condition. Should each of us be successful in doing so, it would appear that we might have a reasonable expectation of living to see some aspect of singularity transpire after all (whatever form that might eventually take).

All a part of staying out from under the bus as I see it.

NYT article via Instapundit.

* English english slang for walking.

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