In 1966, American television was taken by storm with a different kind of series — enter “Star Trek.” It explored “brave new worlds” beyond what we knew on Earth, and dared to take curious young minds on an intergalactic mission to seek out new life and new civilizations. It “boldly went where no man had gone before” by leaving an indelible mark on pop culture with multitudes across the globe, including myself, proudly proclaiming their status as devoted Trekkies.
“Star Trek” came at a time where burgeoning technologic advances were well underway in our society, and the advanced “out of this world” gadgetry utilized by Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew reflected our wildest aspirations. At the time, space travel was within our grasp; while humanity has broached space exploration, WE as humanity have not fully explored that which makes us, US.
We are at a point in time where huge technological strides have been made in understanding, healing, and evolving mankind, as we know it. Let’s explore.
In the beginning — Enter the Human Genome Project.
In 1990, the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Department of Energy joined forces with international partners to take an inward voyage and sequence all 3 billion letters in the human genome and better understand genetic factors in human disease. Completed in 2003, the project essentially provided a blue print for what makes us human, discovering more than 1,800 disease-causing genes, which facilitated the development of 2,000 genetic tests and enabled the initiation of clinical trials on more than 350 biotechnology-based products.
With the advent of this genetic research, medicine can now evaluate diseases at their fundamental core as opposed to concentrating on treating symptoms. DNA based tests can quickly clarify and enable geneticists to detect familial diseases. Via genomic study, medical researchers now have the tools to create new classes of drugs, immunotherapeutic techniques and possibly augment or replace defective genes through gene therapy. Prolonging life, or making super humans via gene manipulation is no longer a fantasy; the science exists now for that to become an actuality.
Two’s company, three’s a crowd… right?
Mitochondria are small components within our cells designed to produce the energy our bodies need from food consumption. In every human, our mitochondria arise strictly from our mothers. Certain incurable diseases exist, which result from mitochondrial dysfunction. With a process known as “cytoplasmic transfer,” mitochondria from a female host are extracted, and via in vitro fertilization, three-parent babies are created.
These babies have three genetic components — from the mother, the father, and the female mitochondrial donor. First legalized in Britain, this procedure prevents incurable mitochondrial based diseases from evolving and being passed on to future generations.
Ice, Ice, Baby
Egg freezing is becoming a new norm in the realm of human reproduction. Three decades have passed since the first human was born from a frozen egg; in present day freezing eggs, or “oocyte cryopreservation” has materialized as a formidable biotechnology to preserve reproductive potential in women. Despite the numerous births that occurred because of this medical advance, controversy still exists in relation to financial, ethical, and societal support of this fertility advance.
An “Apple” a day…
Technologic advances have begun to transform not only the medical aspect of health care, but also in how health care is delivered. Recently, Apple unveiled its newest gadget, ResearchKit, a software designed for medical and health research to help doctors and scientists gather data more frequently and accurately and better study health and wellness and disease — with the first research apps looking at asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease — via the iPhone.
These systems hold promise in allowing doctors to monitor patient health data like blood pressure, glucose, or respirations and to intervene BEFORE a medical problem becomes acute.
So in the final analysis, who are we as humankind? What are we evolving into? Where will science take us next?
The technology that we were accustomed to seeing on shows like “Star Trek” is no longer science fiction, but is now a reality. Space is NOT the final frontier, delving into the essence of humankind, as we now know it, is.
I guess Mr. Spock was indeed a visionary when he proclaimed, “Live long and prosper.” We just might do that. We just might.