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12 April 2019

Ageing research inspires science fiction

Dr Claire Steves' work on ageing and frailty in twins inspires science fiction short story

Genomic medicine
Genomic medicine

How could a future healthcare system based on personalised medicine affect different people?

This is the question posed by Stephen Oram in Zygosity Saves the Day, a short story featured in Biohacked & Begging, published today.

Stephen Oram is a science fiction writer who creates short stories set in the near-future that explore where science and technology may be taking us – for better or for worse.

Zygosity Saves the Day explores a future world where people are offered full health assessments and a personalised medical plan to keep them in good health as they age. Those who take up the offer and adhere to their tailored medical plan are able to access good healthcare facilities, but those who do not end up in a cold state healthcare system run by robots.

“I’m quite interested in the idea that maybe in the future, the human contact will be the thing that is expensive, and all the machines and automation will be the things that are cheap,” said Oram.

Dr Claire Steves, Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology and Consultant Geriatrician, studies ageing and frailty in twins to understand why some people become frailer sooner than others.

For this project, Oram spent a day with Dr Steves discussing her research and visiting the clinical research ward where he was impressed by a pair of twins who were in for their regular TwinsUK health check:

“What really stood out on the morning I spent here was the bond between the two sisters – how they were checking on each other and they really cared for each other. The thread of the story is very much around that sisterly love.”

Dr Steves was initially shocked by the short story:

“It’s quite a shocking story! But then I reflected on the fact that that’s what we talked about – as we start to think about technologies to predict future health, we need to make sure that it’s equally available and fairly available, and consider what happens if it’s not the right time for someone to make those choices about their health.”

Oram stressed that he intended the story to be provocative – but it’s not all doom and gloom. Featured in Biohacked & Begging is a comment piece from Dr Steves in response to Zygosity Saves the Day, where she discusses what we need to do to ensure that we don’t end up with the frightening healthcare system described in Oram’s story.

Dr Steves summarised:

“It’s that human love and compassion that will save us from this kind of dystopia.”