Ted's teaching tips

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Miraculous surgical techniques such as this remote-controlled operation would have seemed straight out of Star Trek two decades ago, but remarkable scenes such as this are becoming commonplace. It raises issues about health, medication, robotics and the future.


Can you think of some medical treatments that might not have been available to your grandparents when they were young (transplants; bypass operations; keyhole surgery; numerous drugs for treating conditions such as tuberculosis - a killer in the early 20th century)? What sort of treatments do children receive to avoid disease (vaccinations for measles, whooping cough and so on)? How do vaccinations work (sometimes a weakened or related form of the disease is used to make the body's natural defences active)? What is keyhole surgery (making a tiny incision to repair a hernia, remove a gall bladder or appendix) and why is it an advance (day-surgery enables people to go home straight afterwards because little damage has been done to the body and the muscles, compared with earlier operations)?

Robot technology

How can using computers and robots help (computers allow robots to follow the movement of the surgeon's hands. It could also be safer, less infectious and produce fewer tremors)? How could you operate on someone thousands of miles away (a surgeon in London could control a robot in New York)? How does the robot work (it has joints or "fingers" just like human arms, only stronger. This allows human movement to be passed on to the machine and then imitaed, or even steadied)?

Heart disease

What are the common forms of heart disease (blockages from arteries "furring up"; malfunctions, such as irregular beats; valves that don't work)? How can the risks of heart disease be reduced (avoid smoking; take regular exercise, such as aerobics, running or vigorous dancing for 20 minutes at least three times a week; eat a healthy, balanced diet, avoiding too much animal fat)? What treatments are available (exercise and diet; pills that improve circulation or lower blood pressure; insertion of a pacemaker; bypass operations and transplants in extreme cases)?


Imagine you live 100 years in the future. Describe the medical developments that have taken place since 2001 (head transplants; memory pills take the place of school; gene therapy to avoid diseases, anti-ageing drugs).


Medicine is vital, but do we over-medicate ourselves nowadays?


Breast implants and anti-depressants are examples of treatments that could be avoided if attitudes, behaviour and lifestyles were different. Pharmaceutical companies make billions and sell us pills we don't need. We have become a pampered and neurotic society.


People live far longer now that we have medical treatments that have wiped out diseases. The last thing good doctors do is medicate people unnecessarily. No one would want to abolish vaccinations or operations, and these are used only when essential.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at the University of Exeter

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