Modern medicine is a wonder. It’s amazing we’ve survived as a species when an infected ingrown toenail might’ve led to death in the Middle Ages. Science continues its progression towards longer and healthier lives. And while some of these emerging possibilities are only glimmers of hope, others are more along in the pipeline and could be literally life-changing. Some even seem like sci-fi. Here are ten of the most mainstream medical breakthroughs.
New Way to Control High Blood Pressure
According to Kiplinger.com, about half of the 1.2 billion people worldwide with high blood pressure aren’t controlling it through traditional means. Researchers discovered that certain radio frequencies can disable specific nerves in the kidneys to lower blood pressure. We wish it were as easy as listening to the radio, but surgery is required by inserting a catheter through an artery in the groin. The technical name is “catheter-based renal denervation.” The treatment has been approved in Europe; it should arrive stateside in about two years.
Live long enough and you’ll know someone who was devastated by this disease. Researchers at Eli Lily finished a Phase III double-blind study in 2012 and developed a new drug, called solanezumab, believed to slow the progression of the disease. Said Maria Carillo of the Alzheimer’s Association, “It’s certainly not the home run we all wanted, but we’re very encouraged by these results” (HuffPo). The drug still needs more testing before reaching the market.
Old Muscles Becoming Young
Researchers from King’s College, Harvard and Mass General Hospital have found a key factor responsible for muscles that decline with age. In mice, they found that a protein called FGF2 stimulates cells to divide (normally a good thing, but FGF2 activated cells even when not needed). Once doctors used a drug to inhibit FGF2, they were able to prevent the decline of muscle stem cells in mice. What does this mean for you? According to Dr. Albert Basson, “Preventing or reversing muscle wasting in old age in humans is still a way off, but this study has for the first time revealed a process which could be responsible for age-related muscle wasting…we may be able to enable people to live more mobile, independent lives as they age” (FutureTimeline.net).
Deep Brain Stimulation
A surgical treatment involving the implantation of a device called a “brain pacemaker,” which sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain, DBS was approved for chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease and tremors in 2002. That’s exciting as is, but researchers are now starting work on a trial for patients with depression; those who haven’t responded to any other treatments, such as antidepressants or electroshock therapy. With this technique, researchers are contemplating treatment for any disease that has roots in the brain, such as Tourette syndrome, eating disorders, memory loss and Alzheimer’s.
Active Bionic Prosthesis
Maybe the “Six Million Dollar Man” isn’t too far off. Research is being done at the Cleveland Clinic, UC Santa Cruz and other facilities to allow a user to wear a robotic orthotic device. Some devices are even outgrowths of Pentagon-sponsored research into robotic devices to help soldiers carry heavy payloads (think of the movie “Aliens”). According to newsobserver.com, “The civilian model was developed to help people who use wheelchairs to stand and walk again."
No, there’s not a silver bullet in the war against cancer, but there is hope. Lung cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer among men and women. Sadly, there is no effective screening method. When it appears on an X-ray, it has usually already spread. That may change with the introduction of “low-radiation-dose spiral computed tomography (spiral CT).” It’s a high-tech scan, and when tested, studies showed it was the first screening for lung cancer that can save lives. Patients now only need to wait to see if the results of the test will lead to changes in lung cancer screening guidelines.
Helping the Blind See
A company called Second Sight has introduced The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System. It’s intended to “provide electrical stimulation of the retina to elicit visual perception in blind subjects with severe to profound retinitis pigmentosa.” Translation: it’s basically a bionic eye that could help restore vision by using a mounted camera to feed visual information to electrodes in the eye. It has been commercially available in Europe since 2011.
And according to the Maura Arsiero, PR Manager of Second Sight Medical Product: "Till now we implanted a total of 51 patients with the Argus prosthesis (1st + 2nd generation) and the device is available in Italy, Germany, UK, France, Switzerland for now. We are constantly looking for new appropriate centers of excellence for allowing new patients to receive this system."
Male Birth Control
Men have very few options when it comes to habits in the bedroom. Condom, vasectomy or abstinence, and men generally hate all three. As published in the journal "Cell," researchers found a compound that may offer a birth control pill for men. Said James Bradner of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: “This compound produces a rapid and reversible decrease in sperm count and motility with profound effects on fertility.” Maybe one day women will be asking us, “Are you on the pill?”
Proteus Digital Health, Inc. has developed an electric sensor that helps people manage their drug intake. Patients would swallow a tiny digital sensor that checks the ID and timing of prescribed drugs in the patient’s system. Then the data gets transmitted (including heart rate, body position, level of activity) to a mobile app, which allows doctors to provide better, data-driven healthcare (Money Morning). Eric Topol, an American cardiologist and geneticist, says, “About half of all people don’t take medications like they’re supposed to. This device could be a solution to that problem, so that doctors can know when to rev up a patient’s medication adherence (io9)."
Next: 10 Unbelievable Medical Miracles
Healthpoint Biotherapeutics has created a spray-on treatment made of donated skin cells and anti-clotting agents that promise to help wounds heal faster. Regarding a study on 228 patients with leg ulcers, Dr. Robert Kirsner said the result was “superior healing and a faster time frame than anything else we’ve seen in the treatment of venous leg ulcers (The Week)." Kirsner is enrolling people in the U.S. and Europe for a Phase III clinical trial.