Technology moves at lightning speed, and the medical field is at the forefront of much of today’s medical innovations. Every year, new drugs, new vaccines, new surgical techniques, and new diagnostic methods make headlines on a regular basis.
Do not expect 2017 to be any different. In fact, there are already some amazing breakthroughs in healthcare that researchers plan to announce and physicians plan put into practice.
1. Treating Leukemia and Lymphoma with Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. In 2017, industry experts expect researchers to request FDA approval on chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy as a means of fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The treatment involves removing the T-cells from the patient’s immune system and then reprogramming those cells to seek out cancer cells and destroy them.
Studies completed in 2016 showed an astonishing success rate, with over 90 percent of ALL patients going into remission after treatment. This immunotherapy treatment was even successful with patients who failed to respond to traditional ALL treatments. Researchers hope FDA approval leads to immunotherapy approval for other blood cancers, with the ultimate goal of replacing chemotherapy with immunotherapy.
2. Miniaturized Pacemakers
Pacemakers first hit the medical field in 1960. Since then, they have saved countless lives, but have changed very little. A cardiologist recommends the device for patients with a block in the electrical conduction system that helps regulate heart rate.
As beneficial as the pacemaker is, it comes with two significant drawbacks. First, placement requires invasive surgery. Second, infection sometimes strikes the wires connecting the pacemaker to the patient’s heart. Researchers developed a miniature pacemaker that is expected to receive FDA approval in 2017. The cardiologist inserts the pacemaker through the patient’s femoral vein via catheter, negating the need for invasive surgery. It also uses no wires, eliminating the risk of infection.
3. Home HPV Tests
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine made headlines a few years ago, with politicians and activists on both sides debating its merits. Politics aside, scientists discovered over 100 different strains of HPV, 13 of which are known to cause cancer, with over two-thirds of cervical cancers caused by two HPV strains.
Scientists created a self-administered HPV test and plan to market it in 2017. The goal is to allow women without health insurance to perform the test at home, and then send the sample to the lab for analysis. Afterward, a healthcare professional informs the woman whether she has HPV and, if so, whether it is one of the cancer-causing strains. The kit includes a swab, test tube, and box for shipment to the lab.
4. 3D and Augmented Reality Technology in Surgery
Everyone knows that surgery requires extraordinary precision and a steady hand on the part of the surgeon. This is especially true in ophthalmology and neurology, two fields requiring incredible concentration, where current technologies, such as microscope oculars, work wonders but do not replace the human eye.
An additional challenge for the surgeon is the head-down posture that surgery requires, which strains neck and back muscles and limits peripheral vision. This type of strain leads to discomfort, making life-threatening errors more likely. Advances in augmented reality (AR) and 3D technology, though, led to the creation of high-resolution 3D representations of the patient. Surgeons may now operate in an upright position, reducing strain and therefore risk to the patient. It also leads to greater efficiency in the operating room and assists with training medical residents.
5. Treating Depression with Ketamine
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 18 million Americans suffer from some form of depression every year. Of those, nearly 6 million do not respond to traditional treatment, such as prescription medications.
To treat these cases, researchers began experimenting with ketamine, commonly used for sedation and anesthesia, but also as a tranquilizer. The drug inhibits NMDA receptors in the patient’s nerve cells. In tests, major depression patients unaffected by other treatments responded well to ketamine infusions, with some subjects experiencing symptom relief within 24 hours after the first dose. These studies led the FDA to approve research into other medications that inhibit NMDA receptors.