With the mapping of the human genome, medicine will become increasingly preventative. David Elvin, a pediatrician who teaches at Harvard Medical School, says infants today are tested at birth for genetic diseases, but these tests primarily screen for ailments that appear in infancy and early childhood. Elvin predicts that in 10 to 15 years, children will be routinely tested at or before birth for the common diseases that tend to manifest later in life. If a child shows a predisposition to a disease, he or she could be treated with specific drugs before any symptoms occur. A child not prone to obesity but predisposed to lung cancer, Elvin says might be told, “Don’t worry too much about Ben & Jerry’s, but don’t ever pick up a cigarette.”
And Bostonians of the future may not have to worry about cavities. Martin Taubman, head of the Department on Immunology at Boston’s Forsyth Institute, a nonprofit biomedical research organization, has been working on a vaccine that targets bacteria that cause tooth decay. He says he hopes it will be available by 2015. “It will be a pediatric vaccine for children 12 to 24 months,” Taubman says. “We think it will have the potential to prevent all cavities.”
What doctors will be doing more of is cosmetics. A typical 60-year-old today looks as healthy as a 40-year-old did at the beginning of the last century, says Dr. William Adams, a plastic surgeon in the Boston’s Back Bay. “I think in another 20 years, you’re going to be seeing 80-year-olds who look like they’re 60.” Not because more people will get plastic surgery, he says, but because rejuvenating one’s appearance will become integrated with the prevention and treatment of the aging process that usually concern primary-care physicians and specialists.