Dear Medical Science: What's Taking You So Long?

When I was a little kid, I had a lot of faith in you guys. Maybe I watched too many Star Trek episodes, but I figured by now -- 50 years later -- you'd have invented some miracle laser-like gizmo that could cure everything. The patient would lie down on a diagnostic bio-bed. Then the doctor would wave the gizmo over the illness-ridden body and -- presto! -- the affliction would magically vanish.

Where's the gizmo, guys? We want the gizmo. Okay, forget the gizmo. I'll settle for a Miracle Pill that does the same thing.

For decades we've been throwing money at you and, I hate to say it, I was kind of hoping for something more by now. Okay, I'm an impatient patient. Sue me.

That's not to say you haven't made some amazing advances. You've given us meds for cholesterol, ED, depression, AIDS, blood pressure and a host of other ailments; there are bionic hands, heart transplants, new vaccines, nerve regrowth, facial reconstruction, MRIs, laparoscopy and a whole lot more.

But, to cite a few examples, you still can't cure Alzheimer's; cancer, in all it's many delightful forms, still mystifies you; you haven't put the kibosh on multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, diabetes or heart disease; hell, you haven't even rid the planet of hemorrhoids yet.

Guys, we don't want to go through all that suffering anymore. We're sick of getting sick. It's the 21st Century. Stem cells were discovered in 1978. You promised us limitless possibilities, yet here we are, 36 years later, still twiddling our thumbs.

Here's how primitive we still are: Kidney patients still have to be hooked up to washing machines; basal cell carcinomas still have to be dug out by hand; skulls still have to be drilled to get to brain tumors; casts are still used for broken limbs; we still repair wounds with thread or staples; tooth extractions still require a set of pliers; amputations still involve saws; hoses explore our digestive systems; we still use catheters (the last major improvement was the flexible catheter, invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1752, hello.)

Let's take cancer. If you are unlucky enough to get pancreatic, ovarian or lung cancer, you can pretty much put a down payment on a tombstone. After decades of research, here's what we have in the arsenal: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Not very impressive guys. Surgery is still horrible no matter how you... um... cut it; radiation is... well... radiation. Then there's the wonder of chemotherapy (invented in the 1940s.) Good job there, fellas. Poison the victim and hope that the cancer succumbs and the patient survives. What a breakthrough. Remember the old medical practice of bleeding patients to cure them of just about everything? Today, we ridicule that boneheaded procedure as hopelessly medieval. Ha ha. Guess what? A hundred years from now, scientists will get a huge guffaw out of chemo.

Where are the Pasteurs, Flemings and Salks of yesteryear? If it had taken the estimable Dr. Salk as long as it takes you, half the world's population would still think the iron lung is a marvel of ingenuity.

Here's what really bothers me: Everyday we read about your latest earthshattering breakthroughs. "Scientists Build Liver Out of Stem Cells!" "Scientists Solve Mystery of Aging!" "Researchers Discover New Drug that Shrinks Tumors!" Wow, I say excitedly. Finally.

Then what happens? Nothing. It seems as if none of these exciting new medical miracles ever make it from the lab to the hospital. They just seem to... disappear. We never hear about them again. What happened? Was it all just optimism? Is there a need to publish something to justify the investment? Is the FDA dragging its feet? Is Big Pharma quashing them? Are the rats faking it? What?

All I know is that my internist did not offer me a new liver the last time I saw him, not that I need one. Yet.