The Technology Of Medicine
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | August 14, 2007

The future of medicine is going to use technology from fields you would never expect. If you’ve ever had a CAT scan or even a relatively simple electrocardiogram, the technology is amazing. But get ready to get blown away--this Newsletter is going to show you that you haven’t seen anything yet.

In the movie “Fantastic Voyage,” the idea was to shrink a submarine and its occupants down to a size that would allow them to move about the body through the bloodstream. While no one is shrinking any people, nanotechnology applied to medicine is seeking to create technology small enough to explore the body in ways only science fiction envisioned.

The trick is to make something small enough to investigate the smallest areas inside the body. How small is that? Something about the size of a red blood cell--20 nanometers. If you want to get an idea of how small that is, check out the website Cells Alive (2). They have a cool slide show that begins with the head of a pin and ends up at the size of a red blood cell.

Why would you want to invent something so small? The article talks about two primary reasons: discovery and delivery. For discovery, the goal would be to inject nanos to look for something specific that’s far too small to be measured with current technology; one example is the proteins given off by cancer cells. For the most part, cancer cells take years to develop, but as they grow, they give off proteins or markers. By the time the markers can be measured, the tumor can be a significant size and problematic to treat. The new technology would allow the nanos to be injected, to collect data, and then be recovered to examine the information they collect.

The delivery part follows discovery. Nanos could be designed carrying specific chemotherapy that would target only cells giving off the cancer-producing proteins. In effect, the treatment would occur before the disease manifested itself in any physical way.

There are an infinite number of possibilities for nanotechnology--these are just two.

In an interview with USA Today, CEO Wendell Weeks talked about technology that Corning Incorporated is developing (3). Corning is a leader in glass and ceramic technology. Biophotonics utilizes these components to examine cellular activity. In an example, Weeks talked about medications that interact with target cells. The technology will be able to see which cells interact with medications and other substances because of the difference in the way light is reflected--the biophotonics equipment can be sensitive enough to examine reflected light that small. The benefit would be enormous. Pharmaceuticals can be tested to see whether they affect only target cells or other cells as well. As the technology develops, even parts of cells may be able to be examined to see what receptors on the cells react with what medication.

The Brain
You may be wondering--what kind of technology is the brain? It’s one that exceeds the potential of any other type of technology. The most exciting recent discovery is that the brain never stops developing. No matter the age of the individual, the brain can be trained to learn new facts, learn new physical skills, learn to re-route pain, and probably more important than anything else, learn to modify responses to environmental cues that are integral to lifestyle.

How effective this last technology becomes is primarily determined by the individual. Here’s a single example. In a study conducted in New York City schools, researchers trained students to have what they term a “growth mindset” (4). The basic idea conveyed to the children was that the brain is like a muscle--you can continue to train it and get smarter. “You won’t learn it overnight and you will fail a lot, but if you persist, you’ll get it,” the researchers told the students. The students who were trained with that mindset exceeded the performance in mathematics than those who were not trained.

The key to this technology is that the pathways of the brain and nervous system are not set in stone; everything can be retrained to do things a different way. Whether it’s a physical task such as flexibility or managing pain, or a psychological task such as learning to resist high-calorie food, you can retrain your brain for a healthier lifestyle. In the end, that’s the most exciting technological advancement today.

Bottom Line
While technology continues to be developed that will help us when we’re sick--and maybe even before we know it--we already have the best technology in the world: it lies in the six inches between our ears. All we have to do is train it for our better health. Like the children in the study, we’ll stumble and fall, but as long as we continue to try, our better health is only a thought away.

  1. Decuzzi, P and Ferrari, M. Fantastic Voyages. Mechinaical Engineering. 2006. October. Pps 24-27.


  3. USA Today. February 17, 2007.

  4. Blackwell, L. et al. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, January/February 2007; 78 (1)246--263.
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