Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Science Fiction is Inspiring Medical Technology

Noninvasive surgery, personalized cancer treatments are new frontier, Michael Milken says

spinner image deforest kelley in his dr. bones mccoy costume on the set of star trek
Patients won't have to wait long for Star Trek level noninvasive technology in health care, philanthropist Michael Milken says. In some instances, that future is already here.
CBS via Getty Images

Fans of the original Star Trek won’t have to wait for the 23rd century to experience many of the medical advances that viewers saw in the 1960s TV series, according to billionaire philanthropist Michael Milken.

Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy waved his tricorder over a patient to diagnose a multitude of medical problems immediately. When he performed surgery, no scalpels were used nor blood shed — convenient for television but an inspiration for some of the devices and techniques being developed or in use already.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership

Join AARP for $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine

Join Now

In the decades since Star Trek, “surgery has evolved, for many things, to minimally invasive surgery. Today, you're in the hospital less with less trauma, less blood.” says Milken, chairman and founder of the Milken Institute think tank that focuses on physical, mental, financial and environmental health.

He and AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins had a wide-ranging discussion Jan. 7 about the future of health care and the world’s aging population as part of AARP’s AgeTech Summit in conjunction with the CES technology trade show in Las Vegas . Milken’s book, Faster Cures: Accelerating the Future of Health, will be available April 11.

The goal: noninvasive surgery

These days, laparoscopic surgery, now common to remove gallbladders and endometriosis with a few small incisions, uses a camera to show a doctor the inside of the abdomen. Laser surgery removes tumors, treats eye problems and stems blood loss. Robot-assisted surgery allows doctors to see smaller areas with high magnification and do colorectal, heart and other operations with greater precision. 

Milken, on the board of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation based in Charlottesville, Virginia, sees promise in this ultrasound procedure, which uses high-intensity sound waves to treat conditions including essential tremorParkinson’s disease and uterine fibroids without any cutting.

Milken has donated millions of dollars to health-related research and educational causes. In 1990, he pleaded guilty to securities fraud and served nearly two years in prison.

Cancer runs in his family, Milken, 76, has said. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993, and this year will mark 30 years since it was detected.

Technology & Wireless

Consumer Cellular

5% off monthly fees and 30% off accessories

See more Technology & Wireless offers >

“That potential future here … [is] that we can just clean out your body and get rid of the mutated cells” with focused ultrasound, he says. People stay out of the hospital and sleep in their own beds at night. “And the ability to solve many of these issues is going to change health as you get older.”

Potential cures for today’s fatal diseases

In 1900, the average life expectancy at birth in the United States was less than 50 years. The top three causes of death were tuberculosis, pneumonia, and diarrhea plus intestinal inflammation, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

spinner image michael milken and aarp ceo jo ann jenkins sit behind a desk that reads aarp
Philanthropist Michael Milken, left, and AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins talk about health care and the world’s aging population.
Linda Dono, AARP

By 2021, the average U.S. lifespan had surpassed 76 years. And if you were 65, you could expect to live beyond your 83rd birthday.

As medical advances such as antibiotics and vaccines tamped down the risks of dying from many diseases, heart disease, cancer and COVID-19 took the top spots in 2021, preliminary CDC numbers show. But while more than 600,000 people died of cancer that year, millions more are living with the disease.

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

“There's more than 16 million people in the United States living normal, fairly normal lives that have had cancer,” Milken says. “If you went back just 30 years and you told someone you had cancer, they thought it was a death sentence.”

Immunotherapies, treatments that use parts of a person’s immune system, are showing what the National Cancer Institute calls “impressive results” in some people with melanoma whose skin cancers have metastasized and can’t be removed with surgery. People whose cancer responds to the treatment find that their tumors shrink or disappear, including for melanoma that has spread to the brain.

Now more than 9 of 10 people diagnosed with melanoma, one of the most aggressive cancers, are expected to live five years or more, according to the National Cancer Institute. The odds are better when the cancer is localized and drop significantly when it has spread to multiple places in a person’s body.

Inclusion is an important ingredient

As time passes, research promises more medical breakthroughs for all diseases. But a vital part of accessing those potential cures is having more people of all races, ethnicities and income levels participate in clinical trials, Milken says.

Allowing researchers to analyze your medical data, even anonymized in a group, also is something that can lead to more medical advancements, Jenkins says. More inclusiveness has the potential to help lessen health disparities, an area that AARP is working to address.

A combination of advancing age, poor diet, little health care access, low income and unhealthy housing can result in a change in life expectancy of as much as 20 years between neighborhoods as few as 5 miles from one another, according to a Virginia Commonwealth University study. And just as knowledge is power, lack of knowledge can have lasting health effects.

“Just because we have a solution for your disease doesn't mean you know about it. It doesn't necessarily mean your doctor knows about it,” Milken says. “And doesn't mean we might have access to it.”

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?