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Today’s Keys to Tomorrow’s Health

Genetic, cellular, chemical and information technologies now in their infancies will someday help to ensure personal health

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Today’s Keys to Tomorrow’s Health

Imagine a lazy Saturday in 2025. You sleep late, eat some eggs and biscuits, drink coffee, walk the dog around the block and spend a few hours on your couch, reading news and views from a computer-like screen that simply appears in midair.

In the afternoon, slightly concerned about your sloth, you check the data from the metabolism meter, which is integrated into your watch. Its internal accelerometer has been tracking your every move since you woke up. Its camera has been snapping pictures of every morsel consumed, comparing each with a massive image database of foods of different portion sizes and their caloric values. Sophisticated algorithms chug all of these numbers and calculate your minute-to-minute energy flow. At your request, it spits out a recommendation: cardio exercise for 45 minutes. You head to the gym.

That’s the kind of future scenario that could be the answer to today’s obesity epidemic, says Kong Chen, director of the metabolic research core at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, who is working on developing such a device. For the last 30 years, our increasingly processed food supply and sedentary lifestyle have made two-thirds of the U.S. population overweight or obese. “I think technology helped us to be in this boat to begin with,” he remarks. “Hopefully, technology will help us get out of it.”

Pathways recently asked pioneers of health science: what’s in store for the next 15 years? Like Chen, many said that the answers to our largest health problems—from the slow death of drug development to the unknown costs of chemical exposures—will emerge from technological innovation. In addition, tomorrow’s healthcare will turn increasingly patient-specific.

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