LEAVING the European Union creates huge challenges and opportunities for the UK. What is clear is that the biggest challenge for science is to maintain cooperation with other EU countries. Partnerships both professional and personal have built up over years of interaction and coordination for continent-wide research projects. After Horizon 2020 expires we simply need to have a deal for skilled people from Europe to carry on working here and for joint funding of big projects.
Almost every advance made in life science has been achieved through either genetic manipulation or by the use of animal models, especially mice. We should take the Brexit window to explore how to ensure regulations in these areas, including genome editing, are sound without being smothering. We are competing with Asia in a way we never imagined even ten years ago and our framework must allow us to remain innovative in the future.
Euratom governs a lot of research projects and as we leave Euratom we will need an analogous agency to carry on this essential role. Black holes can be discovered far away but we should not be in the habit of making them in regulation!
There is some amazing work being done now across Scotland and the UK that will make tackling infectious diseases in the third world and at home completely different to how we do so now. I believe given advances in virology and the discovery of drugs to awaken viruses buried within our genes that ten years from now HIV will no longer be a significant health issue. The same applies for life threatening cases of malaria in pregnancy and, quite possibly, advances in proteomics will create a step jump in treatment outcomes for Alzheimer’s in the way dopamine did for Parkinson’s disease decades ago.
Stem cell research will allow whole organs to be available at a point where they can be transplanted; islet cell transplant to cure diabetes is a whisker away from commercial development using stem cells. Repairing damaged heart tissue and growing new large arteries from scratch will revolutionise recovery from heart attacks and how we treat aneurysms.
Within ten years we should achieve, if it’s ever possible, controlled nuclear fusion at ITER in France. The impact of unlimited clean power on roadside air quality, heating of homes and general living standards will lead to reductions in serious chest problems that now put thousands in hospital every winter.
Electric vehicles that need no driver will make healthcare accessible to the most vulnerable. A GP appointment will no longer need a home visit, and a hospital discharge will no longer need a paramedic to drive you home. The savings in staff time will be ploughed into maintaining a world leading health service.
The more regular use of digital apps, floor sensors and “labs on chips” will allow real time continuous testing of sugar levels in diabetics and assessment of injury at home so an ambulance will be on its way the moment elderly people fall and break their hips. Distance between you and your doctor will collapse in real time.
Open bed MRI will become cheaper and accessible, enabling mental health services to be planned and monitored by patterns in our brain making the relationship between doctors and patients far less subjective than now and finding the right drug the first time round.
Finally targeted, personalised therapies for cancers and inflammation will mean more people will benefit from chemotherapy than now because of far fewer side effects and much better clinical outcomes.
Looking ahead it sometimes can be hard to be positive, unless you know a scientist or two to show you life really will be better in the future.
Dr Jonathan Stanley for the Scientific Alliance