10 Futuristic Breakthroughs That Are Saving Millions of Lives

It’s almost mind-boggling to think that between 1900 to 2017, global life expectancy more than doubled, with a majority of people living past the 70-year mark. The cause of this uptick in human life expectancy is linked to a number of advancements, from pasteurization to development of vaccines just to name a few. Technology is having a radical impact on today’s medical and environmental advancements as well, resulting in humankind’s ability to save even more lives.

Here are 10 breakthroughs that are currently saving, or likely will save, millions of lives down the road.

1. Brain Mapping

The brain remains the most mysterious organ in the human body; but through brain mapping, scientists are learning more about its function than ever before. Brain mapping is defined as a set of neuroscience techniques predicated on the mapping of “biological quantities or properties onto spatial representations of the brain.” According to John Hopkins School of Medicine, it has the potential to be instrumental in understanding and treating strokes and brain tumors, as well as Alzheimer’s.

2. Drones

While news reports and movies might often make drones machines of death and destruction, the reality is that drones are saving many lives on a daily basis. They have helped countless search and rescue teams locate lost people in need of help. Drones are not just being used to help those stranded in the wilderness, but are also working to get life-saving medical supplies to those in need. In Rwanda, a company called Zipline is using drones to deliver blood to remote clinics, reducing the amount of transport time it would normally take – and saving lives in the process.

3. Renewable Energy

From solar to water and wind, renewable energy isn’t just an answer to save the planet; it’s a method to save millions of lives. A study published in the journal Nature Energy analyzed the impact of solar and wind energy, and found that the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions not only saved the U.S. between 29.7 and 112.8 billion dollars, but prevented 3,000 to 12,700 premature mortalities. With around 2.2. million deaths linked to air pollution in China and India, it’s essential that we continue to advance the use of renewable energy if we are to prevent further loss of life.

4. Genetic Mapping

Our DNA is a map tracing every molecule of our genetic makeup, and there’s likely a lot about it that you’re unaware of. Having your DNA tested for the purpose of finding out your ancestors’ countries of origin is fine, but the real benefit is the insight to your genetic likelihood of developing diseases like cancer or Parkinson’s. DNA mapping company 23andMe, for example, allows people to test their DNA for around 100 dollars and provides knowledge that founder Anne Wojcicki calls “empowerment.” Referencing a preventable disease like Type 2 Diabetes, genetic mapping not only allows people to foresee a needed life change, but prevent unnecessary medical costs. “The reason I wake up every day and do this is because people email me all the time and say, ‘You saved my life’ and ‘Having my genetic information revolutionized things for me’,” Wojcicki said.

5. Artificial Organs

It’s a sad fact that the list of those in need of an organ donation outweighs the number of available organs. That cruel injustice will likely come to an end though, with science’s growing abilities to produce not just organs, but limbs through a variety of technologies. It might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but scientists have recently grown noses, ears and even lungs in the lab. The day when scientists create a lab-grown kidney might not be that far off.

6. 3D Printing

Equally impressive are the advancements that 3D printing is making in the medical field. Take the story of 4-year-old Mia Gonzalez for example. Mia had a malformation in her aorta that prevented her from doing many normal activities of a child her age. Mia’s physician, Dr. Redmond Burke at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, was able to study an exact replica of Mia’s heart made from a 3D printer. The model better allowed Burke to decide on the proper incision for the heart surgery that would save the young girl’s life. “Without the model, I would have been less certain about (operating on Mia) and that would have led me naturally to make a larger incision that could possibly cause more pain and a longer recovery time,” Burke told CNN.

7. Single-Dose Antimalarial Drug

Mosquito-spread malaria is one of humanity’s greatest killers, accounting for over a million deaths a year. It can be a difficult disease to stamp out because of the pests’ capability to build up a resistance to some drugs. A single-dose of the antimalarial drug, OZ439, will be able to knock out resistant strains before they have time to develop against the infectious disease. “I think it’s the only new example I know of a drug that seems to have such a wide range of activity against the parasite,” said Brendan McMorran, Associate Professor at the John Curtin School of Medical Research. “It certainly does a lot more than any of the current ones used clinically.” Its potential to wipe out the disease that affects much of the third-world could be monumental.

8. Augmented Reality

Forget about the cool factor of augmented reality in gaming and entertainment, the real benefit is in hospitals. Augmented reality is and will continue to be used in healthcare in a number of revolutionary ways, from the simple tasks of assisting a nurse taking blood by projecting a map of peripheral veins onto the skin’s surface, to operating room assistance. Virtual maps of a patient’s organs while lying on the operating table will also allow surgeons to perform complex procedures more carefully, saving lives in the process.

9. Robotic Surgery

Robotic-assisted surgery was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000, and has since been used to treat everything from back to cardiac conditions. The real benefit of bringing robotics into the operating room is to help reduce the chances of human error. Robotic-assisted surgery allows doctors to perform complex procedures with greater precision and control than through traditional surgery. This, of course, translates to quicker recovery time and fewer deaths on the operating table. Surgeons can manipulate robotic arms to use surgical instruments remotely, and through three-dimensional images taken by a camera, they have a more magnified field of vision for procedures.

10. Self-Driving Cars

Like it or not, your days of actually driving your car are numbered. While some might mourn the era of learning to drive a car coming to an end, a lot of lives will be saved with self-driving cars. In 2013, 32,719 people died on U.S. roads from traffic accidents, and 94% of those were the result of human error. Self-driving cars could potentially reduce auto-related fatalities by up to 90 percent. Yes, there have been people killed by self-driving cars in recent tests, but with the potential to save up to 1.5 million lives over the course of 50 years, autonomous driving cars are something that society will eventually benefit from.

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