Remember the Bionic Man? How about Ironman? Imagine if medical innovations really could replace a heart with something that turned you into a superhero, or an eye that saw for miles. What if you were squashed under a subway train and the military turned you from a weedy guy into a Robocop-style super human?
Unfortunately medical inventions, or innovations, have not yet come this far, but you never know. Each year the Cleveland Clinic has a summit to show off the last 12 months’ best new medical breakthroughs — whether a device, medication, or simply a lab test. Past innovations have included a new migraine therapy, a helmet that measures concussions in athletes, medical apps for mobile devices, a handheld optical scan for melanoma, a modular device for treating complex aneurysms, lung cancer early detection CT scans and more.
Huge investment in the medical industry yearly means innovations are rapid and impressive. Despite all our grumblings about our respective health care systems, the fact is that many of us have access to much more advanced treatments and therapies than ever before. Even the impoverished in remote regions of the world sometimes have access to virtual treatment thanks to technological advancements. The efficacy of these remote treatment apps and aids may be limited by medication and equipment, but they still represent an improvement. There are medical researchers and personnel working every day to improve the health of our race, along with the great people and companies that help with funding. Among the many advancements, the following are the 10 biggest medical innovations for us to celebrate this year.
10. B-Cell Receptor Pathway Inhibitors
B-cell malignancies include cancers such as CLL, or Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. B-cells are those that create antibodies used in fighting infection. When B-cells get out of control, they can become cancerous. Having a high lymphocyte count while fighting viral infection is normal. Having a high count for extended periods is not, and can indicate a leukemia (meaning that the B-cells are out of control). In the last decade cancer therapies have been moving away from traditional chemotherapy. Chemotherapy targets all rapidly dividing cells, including healthy ones, hence the therapy’s ravages on the body. Scientists have found ways to inhibit out-of-control B-cells without harming other autoimmune cells, which – if successful on a widespread level – could limit the nasty side effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients.
9. TMAO ASSAY: New Biomarker for the Microbiome
Measuring cholesterol levels by CRP (C-reactive protein) levels has been one way to reduce heart attacks in people known to be at risk. These people have long been treated with diet and exercise. Although this has been useful, heart disease is still the number-one killer in America. There has been no other way to test people without known risk factors, until now. Scientists have discovered a new biomarker for heart disease: TMAO, or trimethylamine N-oxide, which can be created during the digestion of choline (found in egg yolks, red meat and dairy products) by intestinal bacteria. Treatments may include diet, probiotics and TMAO inhibitors – which are probably being finessed right now.
8. Computer-Assisted, Personalized Sedation Station
This term is exactly as it sounds. That’s right—your very own, non-human anesthesiologist. Colonoscopies are more expensive than appendectomies and as a procedure have increased dramatically in number in recent years. People are electively opting for the test as a preventative measure. Traditionally, an anesthesiologist has had to be present for the procedure, costing the medical system billions annually. A new device has been approved for doctors’ use wherever there’s an anesthesiologist on hand for emergencies – although the procedure is reputedly simple, as long as doctors are trained on the machine. The drug propofol is used, which is gentler on our bodies and should reduce instances of hypoxemia – low blood-oxygen levels – related to anesthesia.
7. Relaxin for Acute Heart Failure
About 5 million Americans per year experience heart failure, with roughly a half million diagnosed annually. If infused over a 48-hour period following acute heart failure, Serelaxin, a synthetic version of the human hormone Reactin (associated with pregnancy) increases blood flow throughout the body and reportedly allows a low-functioning heart to work more effectively. The hormone is also an anti-inflammatory, so Serelaxin can help with inflammation related to heart failure. Expected to be FDA approved soon (a Feb. 13 meeting was cancelled due to weather), this drug will become the first breakthrough treatment for acute heart-failure in twenty years.
6. Fecal Microbiota Transplantation
Clostridium or C. difficile is a bacteria found naturally in our gut flora (the bacteria in our bowels). After a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics, usually administered in hospital before surgery, many of the body’s natural bacteria are killed off. This can cause C. diff to proliferate, as “friendly” bacteria are not there to keep things in check. Once diarrhea begins, this infection is hard to get rid of. The bacteria, highly contagious outside the body, can last on dry surfaces for months, making hospitals a danger zone. There are 500,000 cases reported in the U.S. each year, with 15,000 deaths. Gastroenterologists have found that those who do not respond to antibiotic treatment may respond well to “transplanted” fecal matter from a healthy individual (usually a family member), given by enema or colonoscopy.
5. Perioperative Decision Support System
This new computerized system helps anesthesiologists in critical decision making and consistency of care from pre-op through post-surgery. It records the body’s physiological responses in real time and gives professionals immediate readouts of heart-rate, blood pressure and so on – all displayed in one place. In the past, several different machines and display systems had to be referred to simultaneously, and subsequent readouts had to be referred to separately. This system also cuts down on subjective analysis by assisting with every aspect of the pain management process, taking some of the guesswork out of things, speeding up human reaction time, and cutting down on costs.
4. New Era in Hepatitis C Treatment
Affecting 4 million people in the U.S., the common liver disease Hepatitis C is contracted through sexual contact or infected blood. As symptoms may not present for a long time or can initially be minimal, this disease is insidious, often showing its face when things are more advanced. Roughly 15,000 people die of related illnesses every year in the U.S. alone. Until 2011, if a patient didn’t respond to traditional treatments there wasn’t much else to be done – but that has changed. The most recent medication, Sofosbuvir, is the first all-oral hepatitis treatment. It’s in the final stages of FDA approval, works faster and has higher cure rates than previous medications.
3. Responsive Neurostimulator for Intractable Epilepsy
2.8 million Americans are affected by the fourth-most common neurological disorder, epilepsy. Worldwide, that total reaches 65 million. 30% of Americans with the condition have what is called intractable epilepsy, meaning their seizures are not improved by methods used on the other 70%. They have had to wait their seizures out while loved ones hope for the best as the misfiring electrical impulses in their brains take a toll – hopefully not fatally so. In 2013, the FDA approved a new neurological device that’s implanted. Like a pacemaker for the brain, this device has greatly decreased the occurrence of seizures, reducing the instances of episodes by up to 53%. Great news for people with this debilitating condition.
2. Genome-Guided Solid Tumor Diagnostics
Studying how groups of genes interact with particular cells and diseases has resulted in this method of cancer diagnostics. It’s more accurate than the methods preceding it in providing professionals with complex details of a cancer’s growth, making it easier for doctors to decide what the best course of treatment will be. People who may have formerly had two or more types of treatment (surgery, radiation or chemotherapy) might actually need only one. Instead of an “attack-from-all-angles” approach, this branch of medicine is reducing extraneous challenges on the body as well as increasing patient comfort. Patients are still monitored closely, but doctors have access to more targeted information. Better yet, this approach can also catch aggressive cancers that previous testing may have shown as low-risk.
1. Retinal Prosthesis
Almost like a bionic eye, this prosthesis is for people with RP, or retinitis pigmentosa i.e. inherited eye diseases that affect the eye’s rods and cones with the end result being total or almost total loss of vision. The device consists of surgically implanted electrodes used in combination with video-camera enabled glasses. The glasses are hooked up to a small processing pack that is carried or worn at the waist. Video is recorded, sent through an antenna and translated into data that is sent to the prosthesis, which then sends data to the brain. The brain interprets this digital data much in the usual way. The prosthesis cannot as yet replace vision, but enhances it, allowing navigation through light and dark and making shape recognition possible.
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