Beta-thalassemia…

We are already living in the “Age of Miracles”… After the break…

Beta-thalassemia…

I’m not a medical expert at all. I never got past the “dissect a frog” part of science class. I never even liked the whole “dissect a worm” part, either. Those poor worms – thousands of worms all being grown and being killed just so that a bunch of middle and high-school students can lose their lunch trying to dissect them. Ew. Gross. My chest is tightening up just thinking about it.

I’ve lived long enough to know that we have lived through some tough times as a planet when it comes to plagues, diseases and viruses. I know about the political and religious ramifications of HIV/AIDS but, even stripping that part out… They’re still people. They’re still dying. I remember the era where, if you were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the spring, then you were dead by the fall. Your life expectancy early on with HIV/AIDS was measured in weeks, not months, not years.

Even today, we’ve got a whole lot of deadly medical killers out there that puts movie slasher monsters such as Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers to shame. Pancreatic cancer is an absolute beast. It’s killed Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, actor Patrick Swayze and comedian Bill Hicks just to name a few. Antibiotic resistance is on the rise; There are acronyms out there like MRSA that, quite honestly, do not put me to sleep at night. West Africa is still suffering from the worst case of Ebola infections that the world has ever seen.

Yes, we’ve come a long way from the time that polio killed you. We need to go farther, though. It’s sometimes tough to believe that, in the 21st century, we’re still dying from ailments such as the common cold or flu. We have smartphones and televisions with screens so large that we are beginning to dwarf the living room walls that they are placed against. We have global communications that make 1950s and 1960s sci-fi films feel quaint in comparison. We have photo-realistic computer graphics that can fool even the toughest experts. We have peered into outer space farther than our predecessors could have possibly wished. We’ve been able to transmit thoughts electronically from one person to another without writing or speaking or even blinking.

In many ways, we are living in the age of miracles. In several other ways, we need to work harder. Medical science has never been able to keep up with electronic gadgets. It can’t – The human body has often been called the most complex machine that humanity has ever examined. We have been “backwards engineering” the human body ever since the beginning of time and, only within the past few decades, have we begun to be good at it.

And recently, we got just a little teeny-tiny bit better.

I didn’t know what beta-thalassemia was until a day or so ago. It is, apparently, a blood disorder. I’m no doctor (see above) but I’m pretty certain that there’s no such thing as a “good” blood disorder. If you’ve got a blood disorder, that’s a bad thing. The typical way of stopping beta-thalassemia from killing you is through a lot of blood transfusions. A lot of blood transfusions, though, can lead to a lot of other bad things that you don’t want, either. It’s a “darned-if-you-do, darned-of-you-don’t” situation.

A company called “Bluebird Bio,” though, has apparently made a gene therapy treatment for beta-thalassemia. You don’t want to throw around the word “cure” because, when you do that, it gives people with these ailments a false sense of hope. However, when four of the seven people you treat with this new procedure are essentially cured of this ailment… That’s a good thing. And of those other three, they were treated too recently for the treatment to be judged yet.

Don’t go running out to the store or your doctor just yet. As with all medical procedures and the whatnot, I’m guessing that this treatment won’t trickle down to people like you or me anytime soon. But it’s there… And it’s working.

This is the future. It’s the future we’ve been waiting for, right alongside the jetpacks and the robot maids and the flying cars. It’s not a fancy new electronic gadget; It’s even better. Living longer, living happier, living healthier.

I hope that there’s no serious side effects to this new treatment, that the treatment is as advertised. I don’t suffer from this ailment, I don’t want to suffer from this ailment and I hope that I never, ever do. However, I love it that we are finding solutions to these longstanding medical problems. Treatments for the Ebola virus are also in the works. That’s a positive sign as well.

No one is going to just “give us” our jetpacks and robot maids and flying cars. We’re going to have to earn all of that ourselves, down to the very last bolt and circuit. I’m glad, though, that we’re beginning to solve some of these problems. When you hear about someone else’s success, it makes you want to work just a little harder as well.

I didn’t know what beta-thalassemia was until a day or so ago. Someday, I hope that the only way that people learn of things like this is either at a museum or reading a history book. Don’t laugh – Just look at what we’ve done to polio over the past half-century… And now imagine what we could do over the next half-century as well.

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