Using Medicine Of The Future

Some of the world's top doctors gave the British Medical Journal a preview Thursday of medical advances they expect within a few years.

For instance, they anticipate brain scans that can diagnose mental illness, biochips to improve eyesight in elderly people, microsensors that sniff out disease bacteria and genetic research to predict, prevent and treat disease. In fact, some of that future is already here, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

Homer Gumm is being taken on a trip to the future of medicine: genetic medicine. Because his 59-year-old blood-starved heart cannot take a surgical bypass operation, doctors are injecting in him a gene that will tell his heart to grow its own bypass.

It's a dose of Veg-F, the human gene that stimulates the growth of blood vessels. With six pinpoint injections, Gumm's heart should sprout new arteries, Dr. Jeffrey Isner says.

"They are supposed to grow outÂ…around the blockage and head for the part of the muscle that's not getting enough blood flow," Isner says.

Once an unreachable fantasy, gene-based medicine is here. In another experiment, doctors use the gene that heals wounds to make a protein and then spray it to heal Bernice Bauer's leg.

While some genes can help treat disease, gene testing may help eradicate it. Already parents with heredity diseases like Huntington's can go to an in-vitro lab for a gene test on embryos just 8 cells old. Doctors then implant in the mother some embryos tested and found to be free of the disease.

"This technique has the ability to eliminate this disorder in the population, because if it's not transmitted to the next generation, the disease stops right there," says Dr. Harvey Stern.

In the millennium, the ability to exploit gene function will change medicine.

For example, in Bill Hazeltine's freezer are the essential components of the human body. His company, Human Genome Sciences, has isolated tens of thousands of genes.

"We have virtually [a] complete collection at our disposal," he says.

And with those genes they are inventing a new class of drugs. Like the gene injected into the heart, the new drugs won't heal the body chemically. Instead they will send the body the genetic codes to heal itself.

"We're tapping the body's innate capacity to repair itself," Hazeltine says. This involves growing cartilage, brain tissue and bones.

But genetic treatments harbor risks, including death. In September, 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger died while undergoing gene therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. And while the university investigates the mystery, every researcher in America is reminded that this amounts to messing with the cde of life.

"Part of the challenge here is anticipating how this foreign genetic material is going to interact with an individual's biological constitution," Isner says, adding that he is worried about the cases where gene therapy can go wrong.

But this is the medicine of the future, already being made in factories of the future – fermenting the genes that will tackle disease and brewing the genetic magic that just may rescue heart patients like Gumm.


For more information read "Racing To Map Gene Blueprint."

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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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