Every few months, the cosmetic surgery industry creates a new bizarre, over-the-top procedure: Toe-besity? Grannyplasty? Eyelash transplants? It makes you wonder, what's next?
In the next 10 years, I suspect that today's 'extreme plastic surgery' treatments will seem like run-of-the-mill procedures. The future is likely to bring us astonishingly advanced, and increasingly unusual ways to enhance our bodies.
There are a few reasons for this. For one, plastic surgeons are running out of places on the human body that can be modified, manipulated or enhanced. This is why we've seen a rapid growth in recent years of fringe treatments -- toe-tucks, dimpleplasty, eyebrow transplants, and more. Science is also moving us rapidly into the future with stem cell research, cloning, bionics, and implantable medical devices. Then there's the "biohacking" movement which is trying to expand the human potential with technology -- it may be a fringe movement today that sounds more like science fiction, but it just may catch on and become increasingly important over the next several years.
The convergence of all of these trends is driving us toward a brave new world of medicine. How weird will it get? Here are my predictions for six extreme procedures to expect by 2022:
- Implantable Bras -- If this sounds far-fetched, early versions are already out there -- like the Breform mesh bra in the UK. Similar to the mesh implant in hernia surgeries, the Breform is placed inside the breast to help hold it up. Over the next 10 years, expect different types of body implants to become even more widespread. For example, we could also see elective heel implants to make walking more comfortable (think of all the nurses and waiters who'd benefit).
- Elective Bionics -- The 2012 Olympics witnessed the first double amputee sprinter ever to compete. Oscar Pistorius's legs, amputated below the knees, were augmented with Flex-Foot Cheetah carbon fiber prostheses. Today's research is mostly focused on solving real problems: prosthetics to replace damaged or amputated limbs; neural implants to stimulate a brain with Parkinson's disease; cochlear implants to counter deafness; optic implants to improve sight. All of these technologies are in their earliest stages, but where could they take us in 10 years? There's a good chance that as these fields develop, they will offshoot into elective treatments as well. The elderly are an obvious market -- but so too is anyone who wants to enhance their physicality, senses or performance, like athletes, artists, soldiers, etc.
- Cog-Enhancers -- See the movie Limitless? Cognitive enhancement drugs, or 'cog-enhancers' or 'nootropics,' are already being researched today and by 2022 we might see these as a tempting option for people looking to get ahead - whether they're students, employees or a retiree who decides to learn Italian. Today, ADHD drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are already widely used by students to help with concentration, but in the future we could see a diverse array of cognitive enhancer pills specially designed for the normal person who wants a mental boost -- specifically for IQ, memory, concentration and productivity.
- Stem Cells -- Scientists are already using stem cells in bone marrow transplants -- and they've just started to use them in plastic surgery, including stem cell breast augmentation and facelifts currently available overseas. At the present time, many questions remain as to the safety of cosmetic stem cell treatments -- will they increase the risk of cancer? Are there other side effects we don't yet know about? By 2022 we'll hopefully know the answers to these questions and stem cell procedures will likely become a mainstream treatment for a wide range of issues, from breast enhancement to facelifts to burn treatments and more.
- Designer Babies -- If this sounds disturbing, it should. Genetic engineering is a science that continues to advance and, while the idea of designer babies has been bantered about since the 1990s, by 2022 it's likely that the science will be more actionable for doctors and patients. The potential treatments for genetic engineering are vast -- disease-proofing, gender selection, boosting intelligence, etc. Not to mention manipulating everything from eye and hair color to height. The potential ramifications, both ethically and physically, are scary.
- Body Modification -- Currently an underground trend, an ever-increasing group of mainly younger people are undergoing cosmetic alterations to their bodies that are far from the typical breast augmentation or tummy tuck. Body modification experts, who are typically not physicians, are forking tongues, implanting metal horns, and reshaping ears to look elf-like. While still a fringe movement, I expect that the next decade might bring real plastic and cosmetic surgeons into this realm of extreme surgery. Could we see doctors creating webbed toes, bat-like wings, and even sharp claws for our hands like the comic book character Wolverine? We'll see!
What changes do you think the next 10 years will bring for elective medicine? Leave your answer in the comments section below.
Follow Anthony Youn, M.D., FACS on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tonyyounmd