What if we finally found a cure for cancer and HIV? What if we could prevent certain illnesses altogether? We may be closer to these things than you might think. Here are ten medical breakthroughs we could see in our lifetime.
10. Limb Regeneration
Over 180,000 amputations occur each year in the U.S. alone. But, what if there was a way to regrow those lost limbs rather than having to replace them with prosthetic ones? Scientists are working on a way to make that happen.
A special type of salamander called “axolotl” has been the focus of recent medical studies. The axolotl can regrow its limbs, lungs, and even eyes! As scientists begin identifying the genes that give this amphibian its restorative powers, they hope to one day recreate that same effect in a drug that could help humans regenerate organs and body parts as well.
9. A Cure for Cancer
According to a Reader’s Digest article, we’re closer to a cure for cancer–certain cancers, anyway–than we might think. Otis Brawley, MD, MACP, chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, said in the article that some forms of leukemia and lymphoma “are already essentially cured.” “Sometimes the disease goes away altogether when we treat it and other times we can use medicine to keep the cancers in check, just like we can do for diabetes and HIV, the AIDS virus,” he said.
8. Saving Premature Babies
Ten percent of babies in America are born prematurely. Less than one percent (about 4 in 1,000) will die from being born too early. The rest are likely to face a lifetime of health problems. As a result, scientists who have already helped save premature lamb fetuses are now turning their focus to human babies. Last year, researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia created artificial wombs for premature lambs. After four weeks in the artificial wombs, the lambs’ organs were more developed, they started growing wool, and some of them opened their eyes. Researchers are hoping that a similar technique could be used to help premature human babies fully develop after birth.
7. Testing for Parkinson’s with a Phone Call
Did you know that there’s no simple blood test that can be done to diagnose Parkinson’s disease? There is a neurologist test you can have done, but it’s very costly. So, researchers have been working on a way for patients to get diagnosed while saving on healthcare costs at the same time. As a result, they’ve launched the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative.
It’s important to note here that Parkinson’s not only affects the limbs, but the vocal organs too. Symptoms include vocal tremors, weakness and rigidity. Therefore, the purpose of the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative is to collect voice recordings from people across the globe. The researchers will then use these recordings to gather more data for improvements in Parkinson’s diagnoses.
Here’s how it works: You call in and leave a recording. They’ll give you simple instructions to follow during the call. For example, you’ll be asked to make certain vocal sounds. They’ll also ask for personal information, like your gender, age, and whether you’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The call takes about three minutes, on average, and you can register to receive feedback on your recording. You won’t get a diagnosis, however, since this is just the research stage.
By the way, the test is 99 percent accurate.
6. Curing HIV with Lasers
According to TED Fellow Patience Mthunzi, lasers may work better at treating the HIV virus than pills. That’s because medication becomes diluted when it’s swallowed. As it makes its way through the blood and finally to the HIV viral reservoirs, it’s even more diluted. As a result, some physicians have begun using “laser pulses to poke or drill extremely tiny holes, which open and close almost immediately in HIV-infected cells, in order to deliver drugs within them,” Mthunzi said in a 2015 TED Talk. “We shine a very powerful but super-tiny laser beam onto the membrane of HIV-infected cells while these cells are immersed in liquid containing the drug. The laser pierces the cell, while the cell swallows the drug in a matter of microseconds. Before you even know it, the induced hole becomes immediately repaired,” she added.
At the time of the TED Talk, they were testing the technology in test tubes and Petri dishes, but hoped to soon be able to apply it to HIV treatment in humans.
5. 3D Organ Printing
We’re in the midst of a major health crisis. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of people awaiting an organ transplant is much larger than the number of donors. One solution is to print transplantable human organs. The organs would be built using devices called bioprinters. And, instead of ink, the 3D printers would use human cells. Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina and a surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, has already made use of this technology. He and his team of researchers use modified 3D inkjet printers to produce biological tissue. We have developed “eight cell-based tissues we put into patients,” he said in a BBC article. As for printing actual organs, Atala says you would “need to know how to make these organs by hand, then the bioprinter is really a scale-up tool.” He added that flat structures like skin would be easy to print while printing solid organs (e.g. hearts, lungs, etc.) and hollow organs (e.g. bladders) would be more complex.
4. Vaccine Patches
Australian biomedical engineer Mark Kendall has developed the Nanopatch, a bandage-like contraption that sticks to the skin and delivers vaccines directly to the body’s immune system, making it much more effective than traditional needles and syringes.
According to the Australia Research Council, polio cases are on the rise, in part because storing and transporting vaccines requires refrigeration. The good news about the Nanopatch is that because the vaccine is dry-coated to the patch, it doesn’t have to be refrigerated. As a result, the World Health Organization has partnered with the makers of the Nanopatch to test new polio vaccine techniques.
Meanwhile, researchers here in the U.S. are working on a flu patch. To use it, you would simply press the patch to your skin and self-dissolving microneedles would deliver the vaccine. Micron Biomedical, the company manufacturing the patches, hopes to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If approved, we could see them in clinics in three to five years.
3. Using Genomics to Prevent Diseases
Genomics is the study of a person’s genes and their interactions with other genes and the person’s environment. Scientists hope to tap into this information to prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia, diabetes, and muscular dystrophy. A report by the Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property & Science unit said that we were on track for making these diseases preventable by the year 2025. By that time scientists will have developed “a workable platform for genome engineering that will allow us to edit and repair DNA in humans, not just in bacteria and mice. Modification of disease-causing genes in humans is simply the next step,” an Inc. magazine article said.
2. A Cure for Heart Disease
You’d think that since heart disease is preventable there would be a cure for it. However, it continues to be the number one killer in the United States. In fact, one in every four deaths in the U.S. each year is due to heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death among both sexes, although it affects men slightly more. There are several risk factors associated with heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor diet, obesity, diabetes, and so much more. But, according to a Reader’s Digest article, there are new techniques and technologies (one treatment seeks to eliminate the inflammation that causes cardiovascular disease) that could make it possible to predict and even cure heart disease. You can read more about these new techniques here.
1. Patient Self-Management
Thanks to technology, we could see patients in complete control of their own medical care in the coming years, Dr. Jonathan Teich, former Chief Medical Informatics Officer at Elsevier Clinical Solutions, said in a YouTube video. “I think technology is going to make it possible for consumers to regulate and control a lot of their stuff — start picking up their own medications, start deciding on things for themselves because they’ll have the tools to do so. Just like we have Quicken, now where I can make my own financial decisions, we will be able to have ‘Sicken,’ where we’ll be able to make our own medical decisions,” Teich said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Edelstein, the current Chief Medical Officer of Elsevier Clinical Solutions, thinks we’ll probably be accessing our own genome data on our smartphones in the future. John Lynn (founder of HealthcareScene.com), on the other hand, thinks we’ll have personal robots that’ll track this data for us.
What medical breakthroughs would you like to see soon? Let us know what you’d like to see and why it’s important to you.