24 Amazing Medical Breakthroughs of 2018
Medical advances happen so fast we may take for granted how recently they came about. The flu shot only became common in the '90s, and we had no Viagra before then, either. Hopefully some of our deadlier diseases will be eradicated in the near future. Here are 24 medical breakthroughs of the last year that bode well for a future of long life and more comfort.
Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative condition. Researchers studying the apolipoprotein (APOE) gene, which is an Alzheimer's indicator, focused on the APOE4 gene that damages the brain. They also developed a "structure corrector" to make it function like the more beneficial APOE3, essentially fixing an Alzheimer's gene. In the U.K., University of Warwick researchers also discovered the presence of certain iron substances in Alzheimer's patients' brains, a breakthrough that could lead to improved treatments.
Swiss doctors developed an electrical implant that allowed three paralyzed men to walk again, while stimulating growth in damaged nerves. The implant boosts the signal from the brain to the legs, and larger trials in Europe and the U.S. are expected within three years.
Migraines are such a common ailment, it's surprising it took this long to find preventive treatment. There are treatments to take once you get a headache, but Aimovig is a monthly injection that blocks a neuropeptide involved in migraines. It has reduced one or two migraines per month in patients during early studies, but any fewer migraines are a relief.
Don't worry about Babe. Not just any pig can give humans transplants, but scientists have created genetically engineered piglets that are free of viruses that prevent organ transplants with humans. The scientists used a gene-editing tool called CRISPR and say pig-to-human organ transplant clinical trials could happen in the next couple years.
You know how romaine lettuce got recalled this year due to E. coli outbreaks? Well, the CDC and FDA are working on it. Pretty soon they'll be able to identify the bacteria causing foodborne outbreaks and track down the source. This can help prevent illnesses and get safe foods back on the market faster.
Manchester University Ph.D. student Dr. Nathan Hawkshaw may have stumbled onto a cure for baldness. The drug WAY-316606 stimulates the protein that promotes follicle growth in as little as two days. Another study by Dr. Mayumi Ito stimulated a pathway between cells that got hair growing in four to nine weeks. So multiple teams are working on this follicle crisis.
A new sensor worn around the throat could expedite stroke treatment exponentially. As stroke patients seek to regain speech, the wireless, stretchable throat sensors measure vocal cord vibration, which is much more accurate than external microphones. They also monitor swallowing ability and are described as a potential "game changer" in measuring rehab outcomes.
Endometriosis is a painful condition in the reproductive organs that affects 1 in 10 women. The only way to diagnose it is a painful invasive procedure. But DotLab's non-invasive diagnostic method, with the catchy name DotEndo, tests saliva. As it rolls out, DotEndo can not only save women pain and recovery time but also help with earlier diagnosis before symptoms become more uncomfortable.
A relatively new public-health threat, Zika is especially harmful to babies if a pregnant woman contracts it. Doctors recommend against travel by pregnant women to Zika-affected areas, but now a new cure may be on the way. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases began a vaccine trial in August. Like other vaccines, this involves using a weakened form of the bug, just enough to stimulate Zika antibodies in the patient.
Technically, the baby was born Dec. 15, 2017, but researchers waited until late 2018 to release findings. There have been births from uterine transplants from living donors, but according to the researchers' findings, it's the first case of a successful birth following a transplant from a deceased donor. This means that the uterus could remain a viable organ for transplantation after death for future cases.
Is there nothing the Apple Watch can't do? Now there's an Apple watch-based heart monitor app that could literally save your life with electrocardiogram data. Readings take less than 30 seconds, can be saved in PDF form, and they can be checked with iPhone's Health app.
The best defense against cancer is early detection. Liquid biopsies could give patients a new way to detect cancer while it is still treatable. Instead of taking out a piece of a tumor, these tests detect cell-free circulating tumor DNA that tumors release into the blood. The latest tests cover so many cancers that the doctors don't even need to give specific tests. If they find circulating tumor DNA, the patient will likely want a formal biopsy for further options.
So far, virtual reality has allowed people to experience 360 degrees of nature footage or fictional environments. Now it may be able to provide pain relief without medication. If you've ever tried to get a kid to hold still for a shot, you'll appreciate the benefit of putting a headset on them while the doctors administer treatment. If effective, VR can provide an alternative to medical marijuana or opioid painkillers.
Fighting fire with fire may work for cancer, too. Researchers have been able to extract natural immune system T-cells from cancerous tumors. Then, they copy those cells and replenish the patient with armies of anti-cancer cells. In one test, it took eight weeks to grow the cells. Some 2.5 years later the patient was in remission. Scientists are excited by the possibility that such treatments could work against multiple types of cancer.
3D printers are incredible. Now they can print implants to replace portions of vertebrae or the sacroiliac joint. The implants from Emerging Implant Technologies have been approved by the FDA. Their patented selective laser leaves openings for bones to regrow through the implant, and it works on several types of spinal injuries, which took it a step forward in the FDA's eyes.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers of all, so anything offering earlier detection gives patients a better chance at fighting it. Researchers have identified a key protein that a particularly aggressive form of pancreatic cancer needs to grow and spread, a discovery that could lead to new treatments.
Antidepressants are lifesavers for patients struggling with depression, but they can still take days or weeks to be absorbed in the blood and provide any relief. The IV anesthesia ketamine has been shown to lift depression in hours. While not officially approved by the FDA for treatment of depression, doctors are prescribing ketamine "off-label" for some patients. Research about safe long-term dosages is underway, and one possibility is a nasal spray.
Ketamine again may prove to have additional uses beyond depression and pain relief. University of Arizona scientists are testing ketamine to treat the uncontrollable jerking and shaking that are side effects of Levodopa, a drug used for treating Parkinson's disease. They stumbled on this just by treating Parkinson's patients for pain. Ketamine ended up controlling their other symptoms, too.
While Google is working on selling us content through our glasses, these contact lenses are designed to save lives. Sensors in the lenses turn them into health monitors for diabetes. Researchers have developed smart lenses that measure the sugar in tears. For diabetics, this could mean no more sticking their fingers for a blood-sugar test. The researchers believe the lenses could be further adapted to deliver medicine, too. Big-name health and tech companies like Novartis, Google, Sony, and Samsung have been working on them and could be releasing such products fairly soon.
Nobody likes getting stitches. Pretty soon surgical stitches may be a thing of the past if this squirtable surgical superglue works. MeTro squirts onto a wound and can seal it in one minute. It has been effective in tests on animals, and human testing comes next.
So-called PARP inhibitors are a common treatment for BRCA cancers, most commonly breast cancer. Now, research is finding that PARP inhibitors can fight other forms of the disease, as well, such as ovarian cancer. PARP inhibitors alone may not be enough, but combinations of PARP inhibitors and chemotherapy may open new doors for treatments.
The Mayo Clinic studied links between the voice and coronary artery disease (CAD) to figure out how slight changes to our voices could tell how our heart is doing. Researchers published results of the 2015-2017 study this year, after finding that vocal changes could be an early indicator of heart disease even if you're only talking to a patient by phone, which could be significant in the growing area of telemedicine.
Regrowing lost limbs used to be the realm of science fiction. Now Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT) uses a small chip that can reprogram skin cells to repair organs and blood vessels. It doesn't even require surgery. Loaded with RNA and DNA, the chip delivers the new genetic info in less than a second.
The fountain of youth may not require any water at all. Researchers have used a molecule called nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) to reverse the effects of aging in mice. Mice given NMN showed increased endurance compared with mice that did not receive NMN. They haven't determined if it's safe for people yet, which may take a few years to establish.
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