It's improvements in infrastructure - generally not all that flashy individually - that make all the difference to quality of medicine and speed of research, and infrastructure is built of tools and processes. Better tools and processes move medicine forward. With that in mind, here are two good examples of the type:
An MU researcher has created a device to find defects in tissue-engineered blood vessels. Mark Haidekker, an assistant professor of biological engineering, spent two years creating the machine, which reduces the production time and cost of creating these vessels. It is the first machine of its kind, according to Haidekker.
Each vessel is grown individually, making it a costly process; each needs to be constantly monitored without breaking the culture. Haidekker's machine can check vessels in the culture within a few minutes and is relatively inexpensive to make. It monitors the quality of the manufactured tissues and vessels by examining them for defects and alerts the screener to problems such as inadequate cell thickness, keeping defective vessels from being used in a patient.
Solidus Biosciences of Troy, New York, sandwiches drug candidates between liver enzymes on one microscope slide and cells from various human organs on another. The enzymes break down the drugs, exposing organ cells to the metabolites and revealing any toxicity.
In another, somewhat broader approach, a San Diego company called Kalypsys uses a robotic arm to fill 1,536 tiny wells with a mixture that includes human cells and up to 1.5 million different chemicals per day. The resulting data show toxicity, purity, and metabolic activity.
You really need to look at the big picture of what's going on in the body to know if a drug works," says Affymetrix's John Blume. "In the late '80s, we could look at eight or 12 genes at a time. Now we can look at more than 30,000."
Medical research and biotechnology are fields in the midst of energetic, complex revolution consisting of of tens of thousands of advances just like those above, making the formerly impossible reliable and cheap, step by step. This is the engine that enables us to plausibly discuss the creation of real anti-aging medicine in our lifetime.