Medical researchers now study diseases, often seeking ways to prevent or reverse them by blocking a key step in the disease process. The resulting knowledge has helped physicians greatly: they now prescribe insulin to compensate for diabetes, anti-hypertensives to prevent stroke, penicillin to cure infections, and so on down an impressive list. Molecular machines will aid the study of diseases, yet they will make understanding disease far less important. Repair machines will make it more important to understand health.
The body can be ill in more ways than it can be healthy. Healthy muscle tissue, for example, varies in relatively few ways: it can be stronger or weaker, faster or slower, have this antigen or that one, and so forth. Damaged muscle tissue can vary in all these ways, yet also suffer from any combination of strains, tears, viral infections, parasitic worms, bruises, punctures, poisons, sarcomas, wasting diseases, and congenital abnormalities. Similarly, though neurons are woven in as many patterns as there are human brains, individual synapses and dendrites come in a modest range of forms—if they are healthy.
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