'THE MEDICINE OF STAR TREK - ARE WE MAKING IT A REALITY?'

Issue date: 10 October 2001


‘The Medicine of Star Trek: Are we making it a reality?’ is the title of the inaugural lecture to be given by UWE Visiting Professor Paul Goddard MD, FRCR on Thursday 11 October 2001.

The lecture will look at some of the more recent ‘high-tech’ developments in medicine in the light of the science fiction medicine portrayed in the cult TV series Star Trek (see abstract below).

As well as being Consultant Radiologist at Bristol Royal Infirmary, head of training in radiology in Bristol, a widely published academic and a medical publisher, Paul is the leader of a jazz band and a science fiction fanatic. He has been a pioneer in the science of radiology for more than twenty years. His initial work was in the use of Computed Tomography* in chronic chest disease - work which has underpinned such investigations worldwide. In the 80’s he turned his attention to MRI and with the able assistance of his colleagues in Bristol initiated its use in the diagnosis and management of head and neck tumours, chest disorders and widespread secondary malignant disease in bone and soft tissues. His recent clinical research has included the first published work on MRI of the teeth.

One of Paul’s interests is in computer assisted diagnosis. With colleagues in the University of Bristol, Faculty of Engineering he has overseen post-graduate research into the use of neural nets and chaos mathematics in analysis of images.

He is a member of the council of the British Institute of Radiology and is the President Elect of the Radiology Section of the Royal Society of Medicine.

-ENDS-

Editors notes
The following visuals are available by emailing Jayne.Andrews@uwe.ac.uk
1. j peg image of Professor Paul Goddard attached.
Caption: Professor Paul Goddard, Consultant Radiologist and Star Trek enthusiast.

2. The lecture, to an invited audience, will take place at 6pm on Thursday 11 October in room 1F11 in the Faculty of Health and Social Care, Glenside Campus, Blackberry Hill, Bristol.

3.*computed tomography – is a scanning technique that displays details of a plane cross section usually through the length of the body.

4. An abstract from Paul’s lecture follows:
“In the 1960’s a new television series was devised by Gene Rodenberry. This series, Star Trek, whilst by no means the first science fiction TV programme, was to have a profound effect on a generation of would be scientists, leading amongst other things to the naming of a space shuttle after the fictional Starship Enterprise. But how did the medicine of Star Trek compare with the medicine of the 1960’s and how do we shape up in comparison today?

“The science fiction of an era tells you more about the aspirations of the novelists and scientists of that age than it does about the fictional age it is supposedly set in. Thus we should not expect Star Trek to tell us about the future. It is, after all, only fiction. But it does tell us about the ideas in the minds of the sci-fi writers regarding medicine.

“In the 1960’s the application of computing and microprocessors to medicine had not occurred. Medicine was resolutely ‘low tech’. In the field of radiology, then only 70 years old, there had been a relatively slow advance. It is true that tomography provided a crude form of blurred sectional imaging and that contrast media studies including barium and iodine containing examinations had been developed. But in clinical use there were absolutely no scanners - no ultrasound, no computed tomography, no magnetic resonance imaging, no gamma camera and PET scanner.

“In contrast, the medicine of Star Trek is set in a ‘high tech’ future. Scanners are employed that tell the user the patient’s vital parameters and automatically display the diagnosis. Monitoring devices are utilised which constantly watch the patient’s condition and alert medical staff if something is amiss. Special emergency blankets are used to maintain body temperature. Surgery in Star Trek has advanced such that brain transplants are possible.

“It is clear that much of the above is being developed in modern day medicine and if brain surgery does not yet involve brain transplantation it is not for want of trying; certainly nerve cells have been transplanted into brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease with mixed results.

“In radiology the development of scanners and digital equipment has revolutionised the role of the radiology department. The X-ray department is now central in the diagnosis, planning, treatment and follow-up of most patients. So much so that many of us are wondering when the more routine tasks will become automated.

“Automatic devices for measuring and analysing blood and serum have been in use successfully for some years. Computers now undertake ECG analysis and defibrillation devices will analyse a patient’s condition and decide whether a shock is required. The device will then tell the attendants to stand back and will deliver the required shock.

“In radiology the automatic analysis of images has been developed experimentally and is being introduced into clinical practice.

“I have been fortunate to have trained and pursued my career in radiology in Bristol. Bristol has a reputation as a pioneering centre in diagnostic imaging and this has occurred because of close liaison between innovative radiologists and medical physicists ably assisted by motivated radiographers. Bristol has pioneered the use of ultrasound, computed tomography, SPECT and MRI and recently in automatic analysis of images. I will show examples of our work in these fields.

“Just as the crew of the Enterprise had enemies so do the medical profession. The obvious fight is against disease, disability and trauma but the hidden enemies include error and cost. The future of medicine will only reach its maximum potential if it is able to obtain the necessary funding and if error can be minimised. These contentious areas will also be addressed.”

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