Health in 2005: What May Come (cont.)

Envisioning 20/20 Vision

"There's no question about it: The first sign of mortality is diminished vision," says ophthalmologist Cary Silverman, MD. And baby boomers will not take this lightly -- the good news is they won't have to because of new implants for your eyes. "These focusing implants are one of the hottest topics today," he says. The FDA has already approved one such implantable lens, the Verisyse lens, and others are in the pipeline.

"In the past, we only used implants to treat cataracts, but now we are using them for better focusing," he tells WebMD. "Some people will still be wearing contact lenses," he says. "Just as not everyone gets LASIK eye surgery, not everyone will do this, but it's certainly a lot easier and a lot more convenient than traditional contacts." These lenses are helpful for people who are not good candidates for LASIK because they have extreme nearsightedness or their corneas are too thin.

Many doctors will also begin to further refine vision with LASIK after these lenses are implanted, he says.

Bidding Goodbye to Blindness

In late 2004, the FDA approved Macugen for wet age-related macular degeneration, a disease that affects the central vision. This drug helps preserve vision and limit progression of wet AMD to legal blindness. Another such drug, Retaane, is also up for FDA-approval. Macular degeneration is deterioration or breakdown of the macula, a small area in the retina at the back of the eye that allows you to see fine details clearly, read and drive. There are two types of macular degeneration - "dry" and "wet." The condition almost always starts as the dry form, but about 15% of those with dry AMD eventually develop the wet form, which progresses faster and therefore causes more severe vision loss. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness for those aged 55 and older in the United States, affecting more than 10 million Americans, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Cancer Made Easier

"We will start seeing more targeted and less toxic therapies in 2005," predicts Robert Morgan, MD, a physician in the division of medical oncology & therapeutics research at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif. "This has been exploding so much in last five years, and we will see much more in the next 12 months." Unlike standard chemotherapy drugs, which attack good and bad cells alike, targeted therapies attack only specific cancer-causing cells. For example, the already approved leukemia drug Gleevec blocks a protein, called BCR-ABL, which is responsible for the overgrowth of mature and immature white blood cells in the bone marrow and blood of people with a certain type of leukemia. Another approved example is the colon cancer drug Avastin, which shuts down the blood vessels that feed tumors, effectively starving the tumor. "These therapies will continue to be combined with traditional therapies, leading to better outcomes and fewer side effects." And doctors, especially oncologists, will start to embrace some alternative therapies, as they may no longer have a choice. "We are going to have to try to incorporate what patients are doing along with traditional programs," he says.

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