Generally people are healthier, wealthier and live longer today than they did 30 years ago.
In recent years chemistry has been at the heart of huge advances in healthcare and medicine across a range of different areas and diseases, in diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure.
The modern world has brought new issues, however; as the population lives longer, the proportion of people suffering from age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s has risen dramatically. With cheaper and faster opportunities to travel abroad, the spread of contagious diseases throughout the world can happen all the more quickly, as was demonstrated with swine flu in 2009.
Drugs and therapies
Chronic diseases, including cardiovascular, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases, cause twice as many deaths per year as infectious diseases, maternal and perinatal conditions, and nutritional deficiencies combined. Developing drugs and therapies that can target specifically these diseases have the potential to save a huge number of lives worldwide.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that controls how much sugar flows into and out of cells. Sugar is very important to supply the body with energy, however too much sugar can be very damaging; if blood sugar levels remain high over time this can cause damage to your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels. Type 1 diabetes occurs when someone’s pancreas is unable to produce insulin, and so cannot control their blood sugar level on their own. Type 1 diabetes can be treated with regular injections of insulin. The goal of insulin treatment is to control the amount of insulin in the bloodstream so that glucose levels are kept normal.
For people with type 1 diabetes to be able to control how much insulin they need, it is important they can monitor how much sugar is in their blood; home testing of blood sugar levels – nowadays by pricking a finger, putting a drop of blood onto a test strip, and placing the strip into a meter that displays your blood sugar level – has only been introduced in the last 50 years. Before home testing was available, it was very difficult to monitor blood sugar level on a daily basis, making it impossible to carefully control how much insulin was required. Since scientists have introduced home-testing, patients with type 1 diabetes are able to manage their sugar levels much more effectively, which has significantly reduced the risk of long term complications.
Chemical scientists in the next 10 years hope to introduce more self diagnosis and self-monitoring for a whole range of diseases that currently require regular visits to hospital, helping to improve patients’ quality of life.