5 Enduring Mysteries and Disasters That May Be Solved in Our Lifetimes

Before we know it, cancer might not even be a thing anymore
5 Enduring Mysteries and Disasters That May Be Solved in Our Lifetimes

Imagine someone with an average-ish life expectancy who died in 2023. They lived from the time when everyone had polio and restaurant portion sizes were reasonable right through to the era of deepfake porn. Technology is only moving faster, so provided we eat our vegetables and stop snorting cocaine cut with espresso (we call it a speedier ball), we might just live to see…

Cancer Vaccines

If the idea of a vaccine for cancer sounds like a sci-fi story written by someone who doesn’t understand vaccination or cancer, keep in mind that we kind of already have one. Young people have been getting vaccinated against a virus that causes cervical cancer for decades, but that was an easy one, seeing as we know what causes that cancer and it happens to be a virus. We don’t know what causes most cancers, outside of, like, smoking and eating asbestos.

In the very near future, however, we might not have to. Moderna (you know, the guys who made the less cool COVID vaccine) thinks they can have personalized mRNA injections to treat your very own special tumor up and stabbing by the end of the decade. The way it theoretically works is by taking a biopsy of said tumor, identifying mutations that don’t exist in your healthy cells, and using that information to develop an injection to teach your immune cells to fight those asshole cells. The company thinks these types of injections could treat everything from heart disease to arthritis, if we can actually convince people to get them this time.

Alzheimer’s Cures

The brain is, like, super complicated. It wasn’t until relatively recently that we found out Alzheimer’s disease appears to be caused by a “complex interplay” of certain proteins in the brain, and even that doesn’t tell us what to do about them, and you really can’t play guessing games with the brain. It’s like a sweater: Pull one wrong thread and the whole thing comes apart.

There are, however, several drugs currently in development targeting both of those proteins. One type clears the buildup of them out of the brain, slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s by up to 56 percent. One form of it is already approved by the FDA, but these drugs only wipe out the protein clusters, not prevent them from forming in the first place. Another type is a “gene-silencing” drug that turns off the gene responsible for the other type of protein, keeping it from spiraling out of control at all. It’s still in human trials, but so far, the results are so promising we’re wondering if we can sign up in advance.

Spinal Cord Injury Cures

In an inspirational movie, someone might become paralyzed from the neck down but slowly learn to walk again through a combination of physical therapy and hope, but that doesn’t really happen in real life. Once paralysis sets in, there’s not a lot that can be done about a spinal cord injury. That’s a big problem because, though the number of spinal cord injuries each year is relatively small, each patient costs millions and millions of dollars to care for over their lifetime. Basically, there’s a real incentive to throw money at the problem.

And it’s been well spent. Eventually, stem-cell therapies could permanently rebuild damaged spinal cords, but in the meantime, electrical stimulation via surgical implants has proven crazy promising for restoring some movement and even, yes, allowing some patients to walk again. The treatment is so ready to go that some labs have turned to developing clothes that can deliver the electricity as an alternative to surgery, potentially leading to a future in which you can say to someone, “Hang on, I have to put on my walking pants.”

Exercise in a Pill

For as long as exercise has been something we’ve had to talk ourselves into doing, we’ve been dropping money on gimmicky ways to avoid it, from devices to electrically stimulate or shake the six-pack out of us to giving up and going Spanx. Of course, diet pills have been a thing, but they mostly just killed us because they were mostly just speed.

But now, scientists have zeroed in on specific amino acids and enzymes produced in huge quantities in the blood during exercise that could be the key to reaping the benefits of going for a jog without getting up. When administered to mice on a high-fat diet, the mice lost weight and their blood sugar levels improved, though they also lost the taste for cheese, so at what cost?

Addiction Cures

Speaking of the misery of no longer enjoying cheese, you’ve probably heard of Ozempic, a drug intended to treat diabetes that’s starting to be prescribed for weight loss, most sensationally to reality TV stars and tech billionaires. Many of those who have used it have reported a curious side effect, however. In addition to no longer feeling the urge to demolish a value menu, they’ve stopped feeling, well, any urges. All sorts of addictive and compulsive behavior, from excessive drinking to nail biting, just disappeared.

It turns out semaglutide (the science name for Ozempic and other brand names) works on the brain as well as the belly. It affects the reward pathways in the brain to the point that, say, a roll of the dice or bump of a speedier ball no longer gives you the same dopamine hit that it did before, so you just stop doing it. We still need a ton of clinical testing before we pinpoint exactly how and why this works and how it could possibly be harnessed, but there’s a real possibility that we can medicate away the problem of human impulsivity. 

Sure, we’ll lose all fun and art and the joy of feeling alive, but… There’s a but, right?

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