Originally created 06/07/01

Technologist shares his vision of future

He doesn't have a crystal ball, but that didn't stop William Dwyer from predicting the future of health care when it comes to genetics, pharmaceuticals and computer technology.

Human clones, internal computer chips dispensing medication and life spans of more than two centuries were among his predictions to a crowd of about 250 people at the Augusta County Club on Wednesday.

The Abbott Laboratories senior director of strategic marketing said that some of these things might not emerge in the near future but that his predictions eventually will become realities.

"What the future holds, no one really knows," said Mr. Dwyer, who presents his Technology Futures Report program once a week at locations across the country. "But I hope these ideas help you redirect some of your uncertainties about possibilities of the future."

One of Mr. Dwyer's areas of focus was the Human Genome Project - an endeavor to map the human genetic code that resulted in a first draft this year. Mr. Dwyer said that a final draft is expected by 2003 but that research using findings already is under way.

Mr. Dwyer said he expects the most improvements in asthma, cancer, heart disease and ulcer research as a result of the genome project.

"The most significant advancement in the biological world in the last 50 years came from a small research farm in Scotland - the cloning of a sheep, Dolly," he said.

Another innovation Mr. Dwyer highlighted was the use of diagnostic genetic chips. Eventually, people will have their DNA encoded on a computer chip that doctors can use to diagnose their predispositions to cancer, heart disease and the flu.

But with the technology, Mr. Dwyer said, come important ethical issues that are not keeping up with the science.

"We have some genetic discrimination laws state by state, but we do not have a federal law yet," he said.

Two doctors, one a former University of Kentucky researcher, the other an Italian physician, have plans to clone a human in an "unnamed Mediterranean country" by 2003, Mr. Dwyer said.

New medication and ways to get that medication into the body also are on the horizon, Mr. Dwyer said.

Among those are needle-free injections. A microchip with the medication could be imbedded in the skin of the patient. A phone could trigger a message to the chip, and the patient would receive the drug.

Internal computer technology already is a reality, at least for astronauts, Mr. Dwyer said. When John Glenn was in space last year, he swallowed a pill every day that transmitted a body-temperature reading back to NASA researchers.

Mr. Dwyer's lecture is the first in a newly endowed series funded by the University Hospital Foundation in honor of longtime University Health Care System board member, Frank Dennis.

Reach Teresa Wood at (706) 823-3765.


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