What Will Health and Medicine Look Like in 2050?

No one can see the future, but that won’t stop us from trying. We asked UCSF faculty and alumni to score these predictions for likelihood and impact.

By UCSF Faculty and Alumni UCSF Magazine


The Future // Will It Happen?

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Image of four-quadrant graph with Game-Changing label at top, Overhyped label at bottom, Fiction label at left, and Prediction label at right. Upper-left quadrant, Game-Changing and Fiction predictions, clockwise from upper left: The end of cancer next to image of cancer cell and quote “The idea that cancer is one disease and we are going to cure it has slowly turned into ‘Cancer is many diseases, and we’ll cure some of them and keep working to make the others manageable.’” Zena Werb, PhD. Werb has studied cancer for 40 years. See our Q&A with her on pg. 42.; Bionic eyes banish blindness next to image of bionic eye; Mental health drugs are as precise and effective as antibiotics next to image of multi-colored pills; Mental illness without stigma next to illustration of human head with multi-colored shapes inside; Dentistry integrated into primary care next to illustration of giant tooth with health care professionals examining it; Gene editing creates a new category of human next to image of the actor Ethan Hawke in the movie Gattaca. Upper-right quadrant, Game-Changing and Prediction predictions, clockwise from top: Universal health coverage in the U.S. next to photo of rally with person holding up sign that reads “Medicare for all”; Global pandemic wipes out millions next to photo of three people in yellow hazmat suits; E-health records interoperability solved next to clinician in scrubs holding a tablet; Fully cybernetic limbs next to cybernetic hand; Male contraceptives go mainstream next to standard symbol for male and birth control pills; A pill to treat obesity next to a measuring tape wrapped around pills and quote “We are getting closer and closer to being able to engineer a solution. I’m not sure it’ll be a pill, though. It might be a biologic or maybe even cell therapy. Whatever the therapy, I bet there will still be a role for good old exercise.” Joanna Balcerek MD, PhD; Cell and gene therapies made affordable next to image of DNA strand; Lab-grown organs make human donors obsolete next to image of human heart; AIDS eradicated next to image of sign reading “Stop AIDS”. Bottom-right quadrant, Overhyped and Prediction predictions from top center: Injectable nanobots deliver targeted therapies next to illustration of nanobot; Microbiome therapies make billions next to conceptual illustration of microbiome organisms next to call-out “Microbiome research at UCSF is moving at breakneck speed. Whether today’s science translates into blockbuster corporate profits remains to be seen, but the potential to expand our knowledge and create game-changing therapeutics is undisputed. Visit microbiome.ucsf.edu.”; Amazon runs the world’s largest HMO next to photo of Amazon president and CEO Jeff Bezos; Implanted electronic health records next to photo of arm with photoshopped image of implanted device and quote “This idea was in vogue a decade ago. Given the advances in cloud and mobile technology, it’s far more likely that the future of the patient-controlled medical record will be one in which patients will carry their medical records on their smartphones, or they will be stored in the cloud, rather than being implanted.” Robert Wachter, MD; California’s nurse shortage solved next to photo of a group of nurses. Bottom-left quadrant, Fiction and Overhyped predictions, from top left: Humans and AI merge (aka “the singularity”) next to an image of the futurist and inventor Raymond Kurzweil; Cure for the common cold next to photo of a woman blowing her nose; Ability to regrow teeth next to photo of tooth made from flowers; AI “doctors” deliver primary care next to photo of the character Baymax from the movie “Big Hero Six”; The rich stay forever young with antiaging therapies next to cartoon of the actor William Shatner’s head in a cryogenics device next to quote “This will just add to the stigma in our death-phobic culture, where the wish to live forever is often a transmuted wish to simply live better.” Alex Trope, MD ’15; Instant disease diagnosis via your smartwatch next to photo of smartwatch whose face reads “You are not dying.” Medical residents work 40-hours work weeks next to photo of the actors Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey from the television show “Grey’s Anatomy”; The U.S. is the healthiest nation next to arrow labeled “The Far Outlier” and photo of a group of people, one draped in an American flag.

Did we nail it? Get it horribly wrong? Share your predictions for the future of health at [email protected] or tag #UCSF2050 @UCSF. Create your own and share with a screenshot.

Cover of UCSF Magazine Winter 2020: Special Issue / The Future. Collage of futuristic image of gloved hands with high-tech parts.

UCSF Magazine

Dive into the future of health in this special issue of UCSF Magazine.

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