Wired covers the National Cancer Institute’s goal to cure cancer by 2015, with the use of nanotechnology.
“It’s 21st-century medicine,” said Vicki Colvin of Rice University’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology. “It sits at the intersection of some of the greatest achievements in many different areas of science, from material science to cell biology to physics and advances in imaging.”
Indeed, the National Cancer Institute, which recently announced two waves of funding for nanotech training and research, sees nanotechnology as vital to its stated goal of “eliminating suffering and death from cancer by 2015.”
To anyone familiar with the long, often fruitless search for cancer’s cure, or the unfulfilled promise of nanotechnology, this may seem far-fetched. But in recent years, scientists have learned more about how cancer works at the cellular level. They have also learned to build molecules that could detect and destroy cancer cells, making today’s painful and often-ineffective treatments a thing of the past.
This is exactly what you’d expect from exponentially accelerating progress.
Many people assume that cancer won’t be solved for another few centuries, simply because we haven’t gotten very far yet in all these decades of research behind us. But that is incorrect. Because of the fact that progress is exponential, it is entirely possible to be very close to a complete solution for any given problem, while it seems you are still very far away in terms of ‘actual-work-done-so-far’.
This basically means that you are at the knee of the exponential curve, where it’s about to skyrocket into theoretical infinity.
You can compare it to solving a Rubik’s cube. If you don’t know any of the smart tricks available to solve one of those things quickly, it might take you years, if not decades, to solve one of those babies.
However, if you were familiar with some of the tricks to solve one, you can solve it in a few minutes.
No joke. I’ve actually seen a guy do this.
To sum it all up: science is starting to understand cancer’s secrets. Their desire to solve it by 2015 is, in my opinion, realistic.
NCI itself also realizes the implications of exponential growth.
From their 2015 target-date page:
Why is this goal feasible?
Dr. von Eschenbach: This is feasible because the intersection of exponential growth in biomedical research and the explosion of enabling technologies has resulted in a “new science” of oncology. This goal is also feasible because the fruits of cancer research since the signing of the National Cancer Act of 1971 have taught us a tremendous amount about cancer and brought us to a turning point.
We are now in the era of molecular oncology. We have more cancer researchers and more financial resources than ever before in the history of medical research. I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to align our resources, our enabling technologies and our knowledge of cancer to achieve this goal.
And cancer research is not progressing in a vacuum. It contributes to, and benefits from, progress in all of the life sciences.
For more information on NCI and its 2015 target-date, visit the NCI Challenge Goal 2015-page.
For some extra information on the implication of exponential growth, see the Singularity FAQ.