2016 was a notable year in science with new discoveries and advances in our understanding. The two that stand out most for me come from the area of life science as immunotherapy started to deliver some notable results in oncology trials. CRISPR also came to the fore as a way to edit genes that could have huge implications in the treatment of disease and conferring disease resistance in plants — just two examples for the use of this technology.
Now we are in 2017, though. What can we expect in a further twenty years’ time? In 2037, what will the advances be in science and how can we expect these advances to be aiding our everyday lives? What will be the implications for the instrumentation and tools we will use to conduct science? And finally, what will be the personal and societal impacts of these new discoveries and developments? In this article I will peer in to my crystal ball and offer my opinions.
Scientific Advancements by 2037
Whilst I’m not predicting any huge advancements or discoveries by 2037 nor cures for major diseases or ailments, I believe that many smaller and incremental advances in science and particularly medicine will mean that by 2037 personalised medicine will have become standard. As we unravel the genome, proteome, metabolome, etc. over the next 20 years and develop the tools to be able to quickly and accurately analyse these different biological systems, it will become normal to tailor treatments to the individual that will give the best outcomes, with fewer side effects, as opposed a one-treatment-fits-all approach. It will also be used to monitor disease progression so, again, treatment can be adjusted to align with the body’s biomarkers in real-time.
The second area in science that I see changing by 2037 doesn’t involve any big breakthroughs or even a scientific advancement, but will impact science greatly. This is the area of regulation and safety concerns. I predict that by 2037 we will see increased regulations to ensure that anything we consume or come in to regular contact with is safe, not adulterated and what it says it is — be it a food, a biopharmaceutical or the socks you are wearing! As we increase our knowledge of what is harmful and at what levels the effects occur, then regulations will be put into place to ensure we are not exposed to the associated risks.
Implications for Analytical Instruments
With both a shift to personalised medicine and increased regulations to guarantee product safety, these put an increased burden on the analytical instrumentation and software to allow these to become reality. In both cases, I see the same pressures being applied to analytical instruments; speed and throughput, sensitivity and accuracy/reproducibility.
Speed and Throughput – This is always going to be required, especially in personalised medicine where a number of biomarkers will need to be assessed and quantitated in a few hours so that a decision can be made as to what the next treatment regime should be. The volume of samples that need to be analysed will also be immense so there will always be a need to analyse samples quickly and have rapid data interpretation. The more samples that can be analysed in the least amount of time will also be a benefit in terms of the monetary costs. This is all likely to mean more automation.
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Sensitivity – Most of the really interesting compounds and molecules you are looking for are likely to be present in only trace amounts. For example, the pesticide that is harmful in minute quantities or the biomarker of disease progression that only differs from the non-biomarker by a single phosphorylation of an amino acid. Instrumentation will have to be capable of detecting such trace components, often within a complex mixture with a wide dynamic range of concentrations.
Accuracy and Reproducibility – The requirement for more speed and lower cost per sample brings reproducibility in to play. If you can’t achieve reproducible results then it will mean that you have to repeat the analysis, which will lower the sample throughput and increase costs. With both personalised medicine and increased regulatory surveillance of products, accuracy is critical as a false or inaccurate result could have serious implications for the health of the person.
So, as we head towards 2037, it will be essential that we consider whether our analytical instruments will have the speed, sensitivity and accuracy to keep pace with the increasing demands. It may also be that certain analytical techniques, such as LC-MS, will be more suited to the modern laboratory than current established technologies such as immunoassays (see this review article for a comparison of LC-MS to immunoassays). Alongside the instrumentation there will also be increased data integrity requirements from the software to ensure the generated data is secure and stored correctly – something that we are already seeing today.
How will this affect YOU?
You have probably read this and thought, well it might have a few implications, but nothing too different is going to happen to me. If you told me this a few years ago, then I would probably have come to the same conclusion, but that was before I read a very interesting book by Professor Lynda Gratton called ‘The Shift’. The book looks at how our work is changing and what impact this will have on our working lives. When I read the book, I found it riveting, but thought it’s a bit science fiction….but it’s not. Over the past few years, in my own working life, I have started to realise that some of the predictions Lynda made in the book are actually beginning to happen to me. The changing analytical science landscape will probably have an impact on you as well.
With increased throughput and automation of instrumentation it is likely that physical, hands-on instrument time will be reduced and remote working will become more common as sample running and data analysis can be performed remotely. Today’s working week and work patterns may change as the need for information and results becomes more immediate. Add in the pace of technological change and advancements and you will soon see that the way we work will fundamentally change in the next 20 years and that will have an impact on you and society as a whole.
I’ve tried to predict the future, I might not be right (my wife often tells me I’m not!), but I am confident that whichever direction analytical science moves by 2037, the requirements for throughput, sensitivity and accuracy from analytical instruments will be there and our working lives will change. 2037 seems a long way off, but we can start to prepare ourselves now. When considering analytical instrument purchases, consider whether your system of choice is future-proofed and will offer improved throughput, sensitivity and accuracy. I also recommend a read of ‘The Shift’; you might be surprised as to how much in this book is already starting to creep in to your life.
- The Thermo Scientific Vanquish UHPLC platform is such a future-proofed UHPLC system, review how it can offer additional throughput, sensitivity and accuracy at our Vanquish site.
- Next generation mass spectrometry technology can be found in our Orbitrap LC-MS systems. Learn more at our Orbitrap product page.