Children born in 2020 will grow up in a time where they take many medical miracles for granted: devices and treatments that just a few short decades ago were unknown and desperately needed.
As recently as the 1980s, diagnostic tools like MRIs and treatments such as angioplasty were unknown. Doctors worked much more in the dark about what was going on with their patients, and they had to resort to much more invasive treatments or much less effective methods of treating illness and injury.
While we may worry about many other issues in the present, we really should celebrate the amazing medical advancements of the last 40 years. So we’ve put together a short list of some of the most remarkable and life-changing medical miracles that were invented and perfected over that time.
Angioplasty Balloon Catheters: 1980s
One of the leading killers in the world is heart disease, and blocked blood vessels and arteries around the heart were a leading cause of death for many men and women around the world. When caught in time and diagnosed correctly, in the years before the 1980s, the most viable way to repair blocked vessels was bypass surgery, a major procedure that carries significant risk, pain, cost and recovery time. The development of coronary angioplasty by the German cardiologist Andreas Gruentzig, which uses an inflatable balloon to open the blocked vessels, has saved countless lives while offering a low-risk procedure. The balloon is inserted through an artery in your leg or arm and travels through that artery toward your heart, where it is inflated to open the blocked vessel. The type of major surgery where your chest is opened is then not necessary.
Medical Lasers: 1990s
The use of laser technology, which began in the 1990s, has revolutionized a wide array of medical treatments. Lasers, which as late as the 1980s were the stuff of science fiction, allow physicians to use extremely small focused light to treat or remove tissue with remarkable precision. Far from the blasters or weapons of the movies of the 1970s, medical lasers are used in vision treatments, dental and general surgery treatments today to cauterize blood vessels to produce less bleeding and to make precision cuts in procedures like LASIK that are simply not possible with scalpels.
HIV and AIDS Treatment: 1990s-2000s
Children born in 2020 will likely never know the nearly universal fear of HIV and AIDS that those who lived through the 1980s and 1990s experienced. From a high in the early 1990s where tens of thousands of people died from AIDS in the United States every year, antiretroviral drug therapy treatments, like the once a day Atripla pill for those living with HIV infection, have improved to such an extent in the U.S. that patients are living full lives in 2020 and death rates have plummetted.
Face Transplants: 2000s
Again an idea that might seem straight out of science fiction, the idea of being able to offer a whole face transplant to a patient who was injured in a fire, accident or assault is no longer fiction. In the early 2000s, successful partial face transplants were completed by French surgeons, and then full face transplants were completed by Spanish surgeons in 2010. These successful procedures give hope to victims of acid attacks, soldiers wounded in war and many other types of patients. The first face transplant in the U.S. was performed on the victim of an electrical fire and was paid for by the U.S. Department of Defense, who saw the potential to help wounded soldiers.
Stem-Cell-Based Organs Grown in Labs: 2010s
Finally, at the very cutting edge, in 2013, Japanese researchers managed to create a functional human liver from stem cells in a lab. Those researchers joined a team of scientists in the USA who had also grown a kidney in a lab: a kidney that was actually producing urine. If these results could be replicated, this would mean amazing things for our ability to create replacement organs for those damaged by disease or accident and revolutionize the way we can treat failing organs as we all grow older or for those born with birth defects.
These are just a few of the amazing medical miracles that we’ve seen in the last few decades. What will the 2020s and beyond bring? There is no way to know. As we know more about the human genome, we expect breakthroughs in gene therapy and stem cell research. Perhaps, however, there will also be other inventions and revolutions that we cannot predict.