Friday, November 30, 2012

The Two Sides of Medicine

Last week, I got to attend a lecture by a PhD who has developed some revolutionary tools in medicine. He talked about the various 'omics' -- genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and others that I had not even heard of. He talked about new technology that could measure as little as 300 molecules of something in a body fluid. Back in the day when I went to graduate school, we had learned about Moles, millimoles, micromoles as the smallest quantities of something. Apparently, there is now a picomole and a femptomole (which I have heard of) but also an atomole and a zeptomoles -- newer units of measurement to keep pace with a technology that can measure them.

He spoke of a day within, say, the next 20 years when we will be able to wave a wand instrument in front of a patient and get measurements of key molecules in their system to tell us what the probability will be that they will get this or that cancer, or whether they are infected with that or that virus.

For a while, I felt I was watching star trek or some other futuristic science fiction show, as he showed us slides of the technology, the results and its potential. It was truly amazing.

Of course, at the end of the presentation, I went back to my clinic where in an examining room I used my rubber tube filled with air with a flat plastic and metal disk which I placed on my patients' chest and back to listen to their heart and lungs to make a diagnosis.

I find it curious and sometimes get culture shock when I go between the world of the future with these promising new tecnologies and the world of primary care in underserved areas where basic healthcare is still an unobtained goal. Oh Well.