In case you hadn’t noticed, science is awesome. It surprises us all the time with new discoveries and turns the stuff of dreams into realistic, workable inventions that we can often take for granted in our fast-paced world. Medical science, in particular, is progressing at such a quick rate that some of the stuff we’re used to seeing in science-fiction films may soon find its way into our healthcare system.
According to a panel of top doctors at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and research conducted by many of the world’s leading universities and medical institutes, the following innovations have the power to change the face of the healthcare industry and the potential to transform the lives of millions of people.
From human head transplants and cancer catchers to new ways of treating depression, these medical game-changers will be a reality in 2017. The notion that these innovations will soon be available is astounding – whether they work or not is an exciting prospect. If any of these advancements seem hard to believe, remember that until recently, technology such as video-calling, smartphones and regular space travel were all once works of science-fiction.
By this time next year, these medical marvels will not only be possible, but many could also be incredibly successful. For those that are, the landscape of human health could be irreversibly changed forever. Here are 15 reasons to get excited for scientific innovation in 2017 and why each one will take a giant leap in medical history.
15. FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources)
Many hospital billing departments and health insurance companies around the world have been under enormous pressure for years and almost close to breaking point due to a needlessly complicated system. As a result, patients often face a frustrating delay when it comes to paying medical bills and even making a simple doctor’s appointment.
Thanks to a new tool known as FHIR, healthcare systems will be able to function a lot more easily in 2017. FHIR or Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources aims to act as an interpreter between two healthcare systems. This will help streamline the process of things like billing and retrieving clinical data. Why is this so revolutionary? Because the quicker life-saving data and technology can be shared with other health departments, the more lives it will ultimately save.
14. Wireless Health Monitors
Smart watches may be able to track your fitness levels and help you stay in shape, but how about wearable tech that may actually help to save your life? In 2013, a team of Swiss biologists announced that they had developed a tiny implantable device that can monitor substances in the blood and send these results to a mobile phone. Researchers are now hopeful that this implantation device could become commercially available by 2017.
The device is just 14mm in length and its surface is partially covered with an enzyme that can detect chemicals like glucose and lactate. In essence, this little guy can monitor your health in real time – possibly being able to warn patients of a heart attack hours before it happens. Though still in its early stages, the potential of this mini body laboratory is astounding!
13. Improved Car Safety And Driverless Models
If the idea of driverless cars makes you anxious, consider the grim statistics involving human-driven cars. More than 38,000 car crashes each year are fatal and those that aren’t leave many survivors severely disabled – costing the US Health Department billions of dollars annually.
Thankfully, car safety is getting smarter by the day and whether or not all future cars will be driverless, one thing’s for certain – your four-wheeled friend will be looking out for you. Automated features such as collision-warning sensors, smoother cruise control and anti-drowsiness alerts will find their way into mainstream car manufacturing in 2017. Slowly but surely, car safety technology aims to remove all human error when it comes to driving.
12. Tooth Regeneration
Don’t tell your kids this, but rotten and decaying teeth may be able to regenerate by 2017. A group of Japanese cell biologists at Tokyo University have demonstrated bioengineered tooth regeneration in mice and believe that with further research, this could now be available to humans.
Using a combination of stem cells and certain tooth germs from mouse embryos, the team were able to successfully re-grow teeth in the jaw of a mouse after 36 days, complete with roots, an inner pulp and an outer layer of enamel – just like the real thing! Once this dental procedure is available to humans, we’re guessing this is likely to set you back a small fortune. As tempting as it sounds, you may not want to view tooth regeneration as the dental equivalent of liposuction!
11. The Microbiome
Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria and these break off into separate communities in the body known collectively as the microbiome. What’s both scary and amazing about these microbes is that they can emit chemicals in the body which interfere with the way you digest your food, how medicine reacts or how a disease might spread. Yikes.
Thankfully, in recent years, researchers and biotech companies have been looking at ways to control the microbes behaviour to ensure they fight for good rather than evil. The development of new diagnostics and probiotic products may he able to prevent the dangerous microbe imbalances in 2017. Expect the probiotic drinks market to plummet.
10. Diabetes Drugs To Reduce Heart Disease
For decades, diabetes has been a hot-button health issue to crack. Those with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or suffer a stroke than those without the condition. However, thanks to two newly approved drugs, patients stand a better chance of living a long, healthy life with diabetes than ever before.
A trial of the two new drugs – Empaglifozin and Liraglutide – have been shown to significantly reduce heart-related complications that come with diabetes and have seen mortality rates drop a considerable amount. And this is just the beginning. These positive results have left experts hopeful that 2017 will see a considerable shift in the range of medication to treat diabetes.
9. Liquid Biopsies That Seek Out Cancer
Normally, to detect cancerous cells in the body, a biopsy is performed, which involves taking a sizeable tissue sample from the patient. Fortunately, a less painful and costly form of biopsy is on the horizon. A ‘liquid biopsy’ is essentially a blood test that reveals signs of cancerous DNA which sheds from a tumour into the bloodstream.
This incredible leap means that if signs of a tumour can be revealed in blood, then its only a matter of time before it can be detected in other bodily fluids such as spinal fluid and even urine! Early testing kits are in development for further studies to be carried out next year. With advances like this, it’s not so hard to imagine that cancer could soon be eradicated.
8. CAR-T Therapy For Leukaemia
Chimeric Antigen Receptor-T cell (or CAR-T) is a form of cellular immunotherapy and this means ground breaking change for leukaemia patients. The therapy involves removing a patient’s T-cells and genetically modifying them to seek and destroy cancer cells. Once the T-cells have killed foreign cancer cells, they remain in the body to prevent the risk of a relapse.
This unique treatment could spell an end to chemotherapy in future and is expected to tackle even advanced stage leukaemia. To that end, official treatment for a case of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is to be presented at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration next year.
7. Bioabsorbable Stents
600,000 patients a year are fitted with traditional metal stents to treat a coronary artery blockage. Once the stent has done its job of widening the artery, it remains in the body forever and in rare cases, this can cause complications down the line such as blood clots. Ironically defeating the purpose of having a stent fitted.
Luckily, a new self-dissolving stent is in town that will leave thousands of patients less reliant on blood clot medication and with far healthier arteries. This new stent – made from naturally-dissolving polymer – widens the clogged artery much like a traditional stent and remains for only two years before being absorbed into the body. The first bioabsorbable stent was approved in the US in July of this year, with plenty more to come in 2017.
6. Ketamine Treatment For Depression
Even in 2016, so little is known and understood about depression and its varying effects on people that it remains one of the most difficult conditions to treat. Unfortunately, as much as one third of patients suffering from depression don’t respond to traditional medication – meaning a lack of research and development is actually costing lives.
However, a ray of hope does exist in the form of Ketamine. Formerly well-known as a ‘party’ drug, Ketamine contains properties that help to target and restrain N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in nerve cells. These receptors are largely responsible for depression symptoms and studies have already revealed that 70% of patients with treatment-resistant depression saw an improvement in their symptoms in 24 hours.
The successful effects of Ketamine in these patients has prompted the FDA to develop other NMDA-targeting medications, increasing the availability of more effective treatment for depression in 2017 onwards.
5. Self Administered HPV Tests
Strains of the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV are responsible for as much as 99% of cervical cancer cases. What’s equally disturbing is that there are many women around the world that could be at risk of dying from cervical cancer and will not even be able to have it diagnosed.
Currently, preventing and treating HPV has been restricted to women with access to HPV tests and vaccines -leaving a startling portion of the female population in the dark when it comes to identifying this dangerous virus. Fortunately, scientists plan to extend the same level of care and peace of mind to more women in 2017, thanks to the development of self administered HPV testing kits which allow patients to mail their sample back to a lab.
4. 3D Visuals in Surgery
Surgery is incredibly complex at the best of times, but for many brain and eye surgeons, their work is made more difficult as it is carried out on such a minute scale. In these fields in particular, attention to detail is literally a matter of life and death. It doesn’t help matters that many surgeons have to perform this intricate work with their heads down for hours looking into microscopes and causing their back and neck and muscles to strain.
This way of working in the long-run is neither conducive to surgeon nor patient, which is why new 3D cameras have been developed to benefit surgeons and their colleagues during complex operations. These 3D cameras produce visuals that are essentially holographic images of their subject’s anatomy – allowing surgeons to work more comfortably. Rishi Singh, a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic’s Cole Eye Institute, has worked with the new technology for six months, remarking that it widens his field of view and provides greater comfort. Knowing the surgeon is comfortable will no doubt make patients feel more at ease too!
3. HIV Vaccine
Between 1983 (when HIV was first characterised) and the early 2010s, the HIV/AIDS virus had claimed the lives of over 35 million people around the world. Many millions of people still live with the virus. A workable HIV vaccine, therefore, is seen by many as a medical holy grail. Continued trials of a vaccine which came about in 2012 are thankfully leading us closer and closer towards that holy grail.
The 2012 vaccine, known as SAV001, showed success in animal subjects and began its first phase of human clinical trials in Canada. The vaccine was administered to infected men and women aged 18 to 50 – with positive results. The patients experienced no side effects or reactions to the injection and even displayed a boost in immunity. The vaccine has since progressed to phases 2 and 3 with similarly positive results. It is hoped that the vaccine will become commercially available in 2017.
2. HIFU Prostate Cancer Treatment
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death for men in the US and is most common in men over the age of 50. What makes prostate cancer such a deadly cancer type is the fast rate at which it can spread to other body parts, including the bones and lymph nodes.
Mercifully, prostate cancer survival rates may see a significant spike in the years to come, thanks to an effective new form of treatment. High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) was used in a 2012 study which resulted in cancer cells being killed and 95% of participants left cancer free after 12 months. HIFU works by targeting tumour tissue the size of a grain of rice and heating it to 80-90 Degrees (176-194 Fahrenheit). This effectively kills the cancerous cells in one area without damaging any of the surrounding healthy tissue.
Since then, larger scale trials have been conducted with similar rates of success. This remarkable treatment is expected to be offered on the NHS in 2017 and in many countries worldwide – potentially saving the lives of thousands of men each year.
1. Human Head Transplant
You’ve heard of hair and face transplants. Now, an ambitious Italian surgeon wants to attempt the first human head transplant. Sergio Canavero even has a willing volunteer for this incredibly risky and complex procedure – a 31-year-old Russian man, Valery Spiridonov, who suffers with severe muscular atrophy and has been wheelchair bound all his life.
This record-breaking operation is said to take place by December 2017. The procedure will involve roughly 150 medical staff and take around 36 hours to complete in which time, the head and donor body will be frozen at -15 degrees to prevent the brain cells from dying.
Since Spiridonov’s current quality of life is so poor and his life expectancy limited, he views this procedure as a risk worth taking. For his sake and for the sake of scientific progress, let’s hope Dr. Canavero can pull it off…(and re-attach it correctly).