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Medical Breakthroughs: Year's Top Health Stories

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By    |   Tuesday, 26 December 2017 10:09 AM

It’s the season of giving and while we delight in the presents we offer and receive, the real gifts are the medical advances that honor us all. Among the biggest health stories of the year: New developments in genetics, immunotherapy, stem cell treatments, medical-technology breaks, and Alzheimer’s research.

“The key word in the current world of medical research is genetics,” Dr. Richard Stein, a renowned cardiologist and spokesperson for the American Heart Association, tells Newsmax Health. “By finding the genetic markers that put us at risk for certain conditions and diseases we can adjust lifestyle changes and provide support before a catastrophic event occurs.”

For example, one of Stein’s patients, a 22-year-old woman, passed away from sudden death syndrome, a form of cardiac arrest that often attacks people under the age of 35.

“We tested her 18-year-old brother and found that although he passed all the normal heart function tests with flying colors, he had the genetic marker for SDS and we put him on a defibrillator that would kick in if he developed potentially deadly arrhythmia,” he says.

“Finding those genetic markers and even finding ways to delay or prevent their full expression is the wave of medical research today and one of the biggest advances of this past year.”

This pattern also appears in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia research says Niles Frantz, a spokesman with the Alzheimer’s Association.

“There have been significant strides in several areas of research such as biomarker advancement or early detection and lifestyle intervention to reduce risks,” he tells Newsmax Health.

Here are some highlights of the medical breakthroughs in 2017:

Genetics advances. Liquid biopsies are currently used to detect changes in people with metastatic cancers. But now scientists are developing the technology that will help physicians find cancer in its earliest, treatable stages by detecting DNA from tumors in the blood, even before symptoms appear.

New drug for ovarian and breast cancers. A new type of drug called a PARP inhibitor can sometimes delay the progression of ovarian cancer for up to two years and may also be effective against breast cancer. PARP inhibitors work by preventing cancer cells from repairing their damaged DNA after treatment. Three of these drugs are currently on the market. Zejula, the most recent PARP, was approved this year for all ovarian cancers – not only for those with genetic mutations.

Immunotherapy breakthroughs. For 100 years, the idea of enlisting body’s own natural defenses to combat cancer and other illnesses has been the dream of conventional and alternative-medicine doctors alike. Now that dream is becoming reality with advent of immune system-boosting drugs like Keytruda, used to eradicate President Jimmy Carter’s cancer last year. The Food and Drug Administration approved Keytruda for patients with a genetically linked form of lung cancer. It is the first immunotherapy drug designated as a first-line treatment for patients with advanced cancer — over chemotherapy. And many experts believe it’s just the beginning of a new era in medicine. More than 2,000 immune system-boosting agents now in development, the Cancer Research Institute reports.

Alzheimer’s risk can be reduced. The Lancet Commission’s report, presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, found that more than one third of global dementia cases may be preventable through addressing lifestyle factors that impact and individual’s risk. At the same conference, experts announced promising results for a blood test for beta amyloid protein, one of the key factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease and its progression.

EKG at the touch of a sensor. Dr. Kevin Campbell, a cardiologist from North Carolina applauds the Food and Drug Administration’s approval for the Kardia Band device made by Alive Core for Apple watches. “This device allows you to record a real time EKG and continuously monitors your heart rhythm — all from a smart watch — simply by pressing your thumb on its sensor,” he tells Newsmax Health.

Easier insulin monitoring. Diabetes sufferers may no longer have to prick their fingers to draw blood to monitor their glucose levels. The Medtronic MiniMed closed-loop system is worn externally and communicates with a sensor on the abdomen, administering insulin through a pump as needed.

Keep a cool head. A hair saving device was approved by the FDA to help breast cancer patients keep their hair while going through chemotherapy treatment. It’s a scalp cooling cap which could prevent chemo-related hair loss in 800,000 Americans.

Glasses that help you breathe. Chuck Negron, a former Three Dog Night singer, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. He was reluctant to go on stage with an oxygen tube up his nose and but can now breathe better using the Oxy-View eye glass frames which conceal the tubes to his nose. This device can help the 16 million Americans suffering from COPD get the oxygen they need without embarrassment.

Drug-free pain relief. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency this year, with life expectancy falling in 2017, in part due to painkiller overdoses. But an innovative new Quell pain relief band, worn around your calf, offers an alternative to dangerous drugs to eas pain. The technology taps into your natural pain blocking centers with electrodes that are controlled by an App. The electrodes last about two weeks and are replaceable.

Bionic eye restores vision. The FDA recently put the Orion bionic eye on fast track for approval for patients with all types of blindness. Currently its predecessor, the Argus II system, has been approved for those with retinitis pigmentosa. The tiny implanted camera can enable people to see the outlines of people and objects as a series of blinking lights.

Nasal spray for depression. A fast-acting depression drug could help the nearly one-fifth of patients who currently do not get relief from prescription drugs. It’s called ketamine and is used as an intravenous anesthesia drug. Researchers at Massachusetts Medical School are developing a nasal spray that could alleviate depression in minutes. They are currently evaluating potential side effects.

Deep brain stimulation for stroke victims. This promising therapy is being tested by the Cleveland Clinic and to date has shown positive results in restoring motor function, leaving fewer people paralyzed or faced with other disabilities. Nearly half of the 5.5 million Americans who have strokes are unable to perform daily activities without assistance.

No-drill tooth repair. Scientists at King’s College in London have made a breakthrough that could make fillings obsolete. They used a material called tideglusib, an Alzheimer’s drug currently in clinical trials, and found that it promotes the growth of dentin—the material under the enamel that can repair the tooth—and jump start tooth regeneration.

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New developments in genetics, immunotherapy, stem cell treatments, medical-technology breaks, and Alzheimer’s research were among the biggest health stories of the year. Here's a look at the top medical advances of 2017 and projections of what's likely to be big in 2018.
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2017-09-26
Tuesday, 26 December 2017 10:09 AM
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