For a lot of us, 2016 has been a very strange year. No matter what the worldwide social, cultural and political landscape may look like, there is still a very large scope for excitement. Some of our scientific discoveries within this year have been nothing short of incredible, and we’ve gone incredible lengths to ensure that the human body can be as fit, functional and exceptional as it can be. There have been discoveries in genetics, with large scale experiments and exciting discoveries galore. Yet, what might this mean to us in the long run and what are these discoveries?
Science never fails to throw up even the slightest breadcrumb of clues in the quest for better medicine and a stronger human species. This year has indeed been no different. And the most exciting thing is that most of the discoveries this year are in relation to how we can treat disease and how we can improve life. There’s the odd biological discovery too— check out the sections about the human eye— but a lot of this year’s science boils down to prevention and cures.
There is no doubt that there are huge breakthroughs in human science that we’ve yet to discover. We may not know all there is to know about the human body, but until we’re as far gone as we possibly can be, scientists, think tanks and charities will continue to look for biological breakthroughs that surprise, startle and amaze us. Take a look below for 15 of the most mind-blowing discoveries in the human body this year.
15. Paralyzed Man Feels Again
With another sci-fi mirroring break-through here, a previously paralyzed man who could not feel his limbs has been given that luxury once more, through the use of a technological chip implanted in his brain that allowed him to feel and move his robotic arm. This discovery not only emphasizes the growing influence of technology and robotics in medicine, but also pushes the barrier of life that the human brain can contain. We always knew the brain was strong, but to have an outside technology within the most important part of the human brain is a massive breakthrough. The idea of what the future could hold for people who lose limbs and feeling has now become much brighter, and while the emotional pain will be there always, if this type of medical breakthrough continues, it will hopefully become commonplace and allow a greater quality of life to many.
14. The Eye “Resets” Itself When Looking At Rotating Objects
In August of this year, scientists looking into the development of the human eye discovered that there is another type of movement that they had previously not known of. Associated with the movement of the eye when looking at a rotating object (which is a very niche action and probably why it took scientists so long to discover), this discovery has proved that the eye ‘resets’ itself when looking at moving objects. This might not be the most Earth-shattering discovery of all time, but it is certainly exciting to know that the research group who conducted the initial experiment— which included tiny wires attached to the cornea— were doing this experiment for other reasons, only finding this reset action by chance. This proves that there is still so much to find out about the human body, and any experiment may prove crucial to our biological knowledge. Which is extremely exciting!
13. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Actually Did Something
In one of the most socially important discoveries of the last 12 months, scientists researching the mechanics of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) have discovered a new gene that is associated with the disease, and they have attributed it directly to the money raised by the world-famous internet sensation the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Often criticized as a social fad, this did two things. It further encourages unique ways to raise money for worthy causes, but also has helped the research directly, proving that the money we raise makes a real difference and could in fact change people’s lives going forward. The gene NEK1 has been found in 3% of ALS sufferers. There is no known cure for ALS at present, which only proves this discovery to be more vital than ever. The need for knowledge to find a possible end to the disease was vital, and with this piece of the puzzle, we may find further groundbreaking announcements to do with ALS.
12. Stem Cells That Could Reduce Blindness
Another discovery related to the eye, and another discovery by scientists in Japan, this time in association with creation of stem cells that could help reduce blindness and eventually lead to doctors being able to replace part, or all, of a human eye. The breakthrough, which has been aided by previous advances in stem cell creation, has found that human eye tissue can be made in a lab with only the help of a small piece of adult human tissue. This raises amazing questions as to whether there can be a long-term cure for blindness, but in the short-term offers hope to anyone suffering from serious eye injuries. While the scientists here have only grown corneas at present, the further knowledge gained from this may help other fields, and in time become a huge part of medical procedures going forward.
11. We’re Getting Taller!
This year, a scientific study into the height of males and females across the world stated that over the last century, both sexes have grown taller than previous generations by up to 11cm! Although this is quite a leap, the advances in nutritional information known to us now as opposed to the turn of 20th century mean this fact isn’t all that surprising, but it’s a nice, light-hearted fact of life. Some fine news for us, though, is that standing taller is a great sign, as life expectancy is associated with height, so we’re all going to live longer! The height change varies dramatically, and if you’re from mainland Europe, it looks like you might have grown the most.
10. Human Editing
Huh? Yes, you read that right. This year, one of the biggest discoveries in human biology related to a recent finding that genes within the human body can be edited, cut and reformed to make way for more ‘desirable’ traits within our human make-up. This has the potential to be huge, but also massively questionable. Affecting the natural make-up of our bodies offers up a question as to whether or not this type of control is ethical. And while being able to treat diseases is of course a brilliant thing, changing DNA to improve ability is otherwise a little science-fictiony for me. Exciting, but a tad scary! This discovery is also holding the torch for non-human benefits, too. In crops and plants, scientists are developing traits that can, eventually, help the human race, when used correctly. Could this be the dawn of biological breakthrough? It is, but how it is used will determine the importance of this breakthrough.
9. Higher Education = Higher Health Risk?
The health risks around education has always been seen as something to look at from a stress perspective, with harder work relating more to mental health rather than physical. However, a recent study from Sweden has found that the number of brain tumors suffered by people of higher intellect is actually larger than that of others. This might seem a little unusual, but it makes sense. The study suggests that women who attend a full course at university are over 20% more likely to suffer a brain tumor than a woman who does not attend university, meaning these stats are pretty damn damning. As for males in the same situation, the numbers are a little lower, landing in at 19% compared to males who do not study at university. While this may not be reason to avoid your class lectures just yet, it is definitely some food for thought.
8. A Blood Test To Detect Early Stages Of Skin Cancer
Cancer is one of the world’s biggest killers, and because of the advancement of the disease itself, it’s become one of the toughest and most frustrating medical problems facing doctors and researchers right now. Yet one recent discovery could change things drastically— the discovery of a blood test that can catch skin cancer in stages much earlier than other, more expensive tests. This blood test, which tracks development through a specific cell protein, can tell doctors about the recurrence of skin cancer in enough time to plan for higher rates of successful treatment earlier. What is interesting is that the protein discovered within the cancerous cells doesn’t appear in the cells of healthy people, which means doctors can now use this as a clue to almost look into the future of their patients to preempt cancer.
7. A Three-Parent Baby
This next discovery has more to do with the miracle of the human body, than something we’ve found hanging around. This year, laws have been passed for a new type of conception that involves the removal of parts of an unhealthy egg to be replaced with a third, healthy donor to ensure that the baby is born healthy and free of any previously possible health conditions. What is exciting about this is that thousands of parents a year are denied the ability to have children because of previous genetic problems that mean the risk is much too great. This is an exciting and mind-blowing discovery that will allow the joy of parenthood to spread further and wider than previously thought. This year wasn’t the first time this has been done, but this new method is more reliable and has now been passed by law in some countries, including Britain.
6. Stroke Patient Walks
This year, scientists further discovered the human body’s capabilities to intake stem cells, through scientists injecting stroke patients with new cells helping them to show signs of recovery, including walking. This discovery, which could have massive implications for the treatment of victims of strokes globally, is being heralded as a major breakthrough. And it’s easy to see why— of the 18 patients, all showed long-term signs of improved quality of life and none saw negative effects from the treatment. If this becomes tested on a much larger scale, we could see a huge revolution in the way we treat people who have suffered from a stroke. Many of us have relatives or loved ones who have been unfortunate enough to have this happen, and while further research goes on into prevention, this type of curative measure will be acknowledged with open arms across the globe.
5. New Genes To Identify Intellectual Diseases In Children
Canadian scientists focusing on the development of intellectual diseases in children have discovered ways to treat and manage these diseases, which could very well prove to offer hope to millions of families. These diseases, which can often cause children to be unable to talk or communicate properly, have previously been troubling for researchers, but right now there could be light at the end of the tunnel. The discoveries, which identify 11 new genes, have meant that 40% of children tested have been able to come away with specific, targeted treatments that improve quality of life. This research will help sufferers two-fold. Firstly, there is real hope of effective treatment, but this new knowledge also offers hope for previously undiagnosed diseases, which in this field is surprisingly common. Diagnosis can be hugely important for the implications of funding and further research. This breakthrough will hopefully have real-life effects for children all over the world.
4. We Can Now Track & Monitor Kidney Disease Like Cholesterol
Another cell discovery, this time in bone marrow, could be a huge piece in the jigsaw that means early detection, curability and even prevention could be just around the corner for the often fatal kidney disease. The discovery of suPAR within myeloid cells helped scientists identify that these cells which help circulate the protein are markers for kidney disease, meaning doctors can more easily track suPAR around the body. As stated within the source, this discovery is mind-blowing because it will eventually allow doctors to track suPAR levels around the body in the same way that they can currently monitor cholesterol and other bodily markers. Kidney disease was often identified through means such as urine samples, but these signs are often spotted too late, by which time the disease has become too strong, and sometimes fatal, so this discovery is a really exciting find for 2016.
3. Genetic Links Found In Risk Factors For Heart Disease
Through a huge level of research (called the imputation panel project) scientists have used 20 known risk factors for heart disease (as well as other diseases) to identify genetic links between these factors and have also made this information widely available to the scientific community, in a hope to advance the common knowledge and predictability between patients and risk factors through the commonality in their genes. Such a large piece of research (it involved 36,000 test patients) has allowed researchers to plug massive gaps in previously unknown aspects of the disease, something a smaller test pool would not have been able to do. What is most exciting about these genetic discoveries is what it could mean for future research experiments which hold detection, as opposed to cure, at the forefront of thinking. Such a freely available amount of information may inspire others to look into the links between risk factors and human biology.
2. Medicine That Could Grow Muscle Cells And Erase Scar Tissue In The Heart
2016 has been a key year for discoveries in heart problems, as seen above, but it has also seen key breakthroughs occur in the development of medicine that may be able to help our bodies grow muscle cells and erase scar tissue, a study has found. The regeneration of heart tissue is an exciting thought, given that heart disease is the world’s biggest killer. The hope is that eventually, doctors will be able to give us medicine that will aid with the speedy recovery and prevention of heart disease, cutting out one of the largest medical concerns today. This would not only be used for hearts, if advancement continues. The ability to help the body naturally regenerate muscle tissue has widespread implications across the field of medicine, from limb and organ regeneration that could save lives, but also improve biological living conditions in non-fatal cases.
1. New Cell Knowledge
First on the list is a discovery that could eventually lead to the help, prevention and cure of many, many diseases that have otherwise proven difficult to break down and fight. In Japan this year, scientists discovered a previously unknown protein mark within human cells that has only been discovered in plants before. This mark, H4K20ac, is thought to be associated with the repression of genes and in turn could be a factor in the development— or lack thereof— of countless diseases that have become tough to fight against. H4K could in theory be used to suppress the development of diseases such as diabetes and even cancer. What is so exciting about this discovery is that we could see an increased rate of new knowledge that could help scientists find out-and-out cures to diseases that had previously gotten a grip over the medical world. It’s a very exciting discovery and one which we might be hearing a lot more about in the future.