Health Care’s Voyage
One of the most important efforts in health care research over the next decade will be to integrate advances in biology, material sciences, and chemical and bioengineering to create a revolutionary new generation of medical devices and drug delivery systems. Indeed, the main challenge facing researchers in these diverse fields may not be a lack of scientific progress, but rather a shortage of adequate interdisciplinary training.
A key area for research will involve tissue engineering, which generally involves combining the cells of mammals (including stem cells) with polymer-materials to create new tissues or organs. It is now estimated that nearly half a nation‘s health care costs can be attributed to tissue loss or organ failure. The ability to create new livers, spinal cords, hearts, kidneys, and many other tissues or organ-based systems could radically decrease hospitalization time, relieve suffering, and prolong life.
The challenges here are, of course, huge. In particular, an appropriate source must be found for producing a large enough supply of differentiated cells quickly enough. Stem cells represent a potentially important potential source, but problems in controlling their differentiation and growth must first be overcome, as must rejection by the human immune system.