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Emerging Biomedical Technologies and their Promise

Emerging Biomedical Technologies and their Promise

emerging-technologiesDo you remember how around ten years ago, gene therapy was supposed to cure various inheritable diseases? Or how various discoveries herald the expected development of new vaccines (AIDS being a notable example)?

Most scientists would agree that they try to ‘sell’ their research to publishers and foundations by exaggerating the importance of findings or forthcoming studies, to advance their careers. And the media, doing their jobs by reporting the news and trying to sell advertising space, is accomplice to that. Those aside, there really is something to the tendency to optimistically search for the simple answer to a given problem, and to accept the simple solution unquestioningly. Or young researchers will jump into such a field that is going through a ‘fad,’ hoping to get carried away with the success of promised new advances.

With actual emerging biomedical technologies, the importance of discoveries and ‘fad’ research is not that simple. That is, ‘potential’ and ‘reality’ are not necessarily the same things when it comes to research and development. Some of the time, the potential of basic research may fall short of reality because of its focus on fundamental understanding and not real-world application; or the potential of clinical or applied research may fall short because of the “You won’t know until you test it” effect.

I mention all of this because I’m writing proposals again, and a potential position at a Bone Marrow Registry. There, I would be implementing emerging molecular diagnostic technologies for clinicians specializing in hematological malignancies. I would also be studying the data accumulated with newly implemented technologies in comparison with existing diagnostic tools, and making clinical recommendations regarding diagnosis, prognosis, monitoring, and therapeutics for various leukemias. One of the key aspects to this project is to evaluate these new versus old technologies.

I’m still to an extend ‘stuck’ in the basic research mindset, being trained as a molecular biologist and not as a clinician, and the shift in mindset from basic to applied is challenging. Yet that’s the goal – to impact the real world. We’ll see how I do.

For more, check out this 2008 special report from MIT Technology Review on 10 Emerging Technologies that are being used for, among other things, better enzymes for making biofuels from cellulose and illuminating the web of neural circuitry. And then we can take guesses on what the future will bring for these potential technologies.

1 Comment

  1. Nick on March 26, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    My bet for the most likely success in this group is the cellulolytic enzymes, mainly because there is such a massive driving force behind their development.

    The only future for biofuels is to make them from waste products – use of food crops is not a viable option in the long term – and the development of cellulolytic and other enzymes that convert waste products into usable feedstocks for fuel generation will allow that.

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