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30 July 2010

The future of medical breakthroughs

Six leading researchers talk about their hopes for future advances.

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Six leading researchers talk about their hopes for future advances.
By HELEN SANDSTORM and HELEN SIGNY for Reader's Digest magazine

Professor Jennie Brand-Miller

Dr Brand-Miller, author of The New Glucose Revolution, revolutionised our understandingof carbohydrates and food with her work onthe glycaemic index (GI).

The most exciting medical breakthrough of the past 12-18 months? The discovery that “irritable bowel syndrome” can be traced to gluten intolerance in people who don’t have coeliac disease.

The medical discovery you wish you had thought of? Cochlear implants. I’m a beneficiary – I have two bionic ears.Our greatest medical achievementby 2060? Stem cell therapy holds theanswer to type 1 diabetes, spinal injuries,Parkinson’s disease and many otherconditions, such as deafness and blindness.

Your dream discovery? Stem cell therapy for deafness – my 22-year-old daughter has the same gene for deafness.

Area of health most in need of a breakthrough? Obesity and type 2 diabetes

Professor Ian Frazer

Immunologist Dr Frazer has led research into the human papillomavirus and the development of a cervical cancer vaccine.

The most exciting medical breakthrough of the past 12-18 months? The sequencing of the human genome. If we can build a map explaining why some people respond to therapies and others don’t, we have a much greater chance of tackling disease.

The medical discovery you wish you’d thought of? All the vaccines I haven’t already been involved with! Vaccines are the most important health defence we have.

Our greatest medical achievement by 2060? Getting the message out thatwhat we do impacts on our risk of disease.If people don’t smoke, don’t go in the sun,don’t get overweight, they won’t die at50 or 60, they’ll die at 80 or 90.

Your dream discovery? A therapy that delays the onset of the chronic diseases of ageing, particularly dementia.

Area of health most in need of a breakthrough? Mental health. If you sumthe burden of disability, it’s at the top of the list.

Salim Abdool Karim

Clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist at the Centre for the AI DS Programme of Research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr A bdool Karim is one of the world’s pre-eminent researchers into HIV /Aids.

The most exciting medical breakthrough of the past 12-18 months? The finding thatmedical male circumcision can reduce HIVincidence by about 60%.

The medical discovery you wish you’d thought of? Two separate studies,one in the United States and one in Uganda,provided the evidence that antiretroviraldrugs taken by pregnant women canprevent their newborns from becominginfected with HIV.

Our greatest medical achievement by 2060? An AIDS vaccine remains ourgreatest hope against HIV infection.

Professor Judith Whitworth

Expert in hypertension.

What’s the most exciting medical breakthrough of the past 12-18 months? The British government has worked with thefood industry to reduce salt in processedfood and reduced cardiovascular disease.If we can reduce salt intake substantiallyaround the globe, we will prevent manymillions of deaths (as well as disability).

The medical discovery you wish you’d thought of? The revolution in bioinformatics, which is transforming biology and medical care through the ability to link and manipulate data of all types.

Your dream discovery? To understand the brain and mind as well as we understand the body. To link knowledge of how single nerve cells work with supercomputing to understand the networks of billions of nerves in our brains, which will revolutionise every aspect of our lives and reduce the burden of dementia and mental illness.

Professor Stephen O’Rahilly

Professor of clinical biochemistry and medicine, University of Cambridge. He is one of the world’s leading researchers into the genetic and physiological causes of obesity.

What’s the most exciting medical breakthrough of the past 12-18 months? Genetic studies that show the pathwayswithin the body responsible for controllingthings such as body weight and bloodglucose. If we can understand how the caris put together, we’re much more likely tobe able to tinker with the process.

The medical discovery you wish you’d thought of? Work led by Dr JeffreyFriedman that identified leptin, a hormonalsignal made by fat cells that regulates foodintake and energy expenditure.

Our greatest medical achievement by 2060? The ability to understand the humangenome. By 2060 we will have much greaterunderstanding of the basis of a lot of diseases.

Your dream discovery? Finding ways of predicting or preventing psychiatric disorders by understanding biology more.

Read more:

2010 medical breakthroughs

(This is an edited version of an article that originally appears in the July2010 edition of Reader's Digest magazine. The current edition is on sale now.)

 
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