The Ten Biggest Medical Successes of 2013
"One of These Rivals the Original Proof that Penicillin Works," Says Medical Trend Guru Stephen Shrewsbury
Medical science had a banner year in 2013, including a development, according to Dr. Stephen Shrewsbury, that offers the first long-term proof that a much-discussed new medical technology can work, at least with one disease.
- The Long Term Success of a Gene Patch That Allows Boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy To Remain Walking. Gene patch technology, where drugs correct the ill effects of defective genes, had its first big breakthrough. Sarepta Therapeutics' drug, eteplirsen, generated a missing protein in boys with DMD, which allowed the boys in this study to stabilize their walking for 96 weeks. Without this protein, their muscles would waste and they'd become unable to walk. "This patch is the first to claim such a lengthy success," says Dr. Shrewsbury, author of Defy Your DNA: How the New Gene Patch Personalized Medicines Will Help You Overcome Your Greatest Health Challenges. "This breakthrough shows that gene patch technology is a valid approach to genetic diseases. It's like proving that penicillin works."
- The Creation of Beating Human Heart Cells Grown in a Petri Dish! As first reported in Nature Communications, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh used mature human cells from the skin—not embryonic stem cells. They changed those cells into embryonic human heart cells, which then successfully grew in a mouse's heart stripped of its vital cells, turning it back into a functioning, beating organ. The ultimate goal of this research is to create tissue that can be used to fixed damaged sections of human hearts.
- A Step Towards a Drug That Can Fight Alzheimer's. Researchers discovered a chemical to stop brain tissue from dying, a necessary precursor to a drug that can treat Alzheimer's. "Though a drug is years away," says Shrewsbury, "this lays the groundwork for eventual success."
- A High Blood Pressure Treatment that Zaps the Kidneys. This treatment lowers blood pressure by disabling kidney nerves with radio waves, giving hope to blood pressure patients who don't respond to drugs.
- FDA Approval of an "Artificial Pancreas" For Diabetes Patients. Diabetes sufferers may soon be able to give up pin pricks and injections—with the "artificial pancreas" developed by Medtronics. The patient wears what looks like an iPod on their waistband. This device monitors blood glucose and then adjusts the amount of insulin delivered by a pump, like a healthy pancreas in a non-diabetic.
- An Artificial Retina Restores Sight to Certain Blind People. Second Sight Medical Products has developed a system that makes it possible to see via electrical impulses—tiny cameras stimulate remaining healthy cells within the damaged retina to send visual messages to the brain.
- Your Complete Medical History Became Something You Can Permanently Carry With You. MedicTag and other companies have successfully developed products that put your complete health record on a flash drive. "These products should reduce the number of deaths that occur each year due to medical mistakes," says Shrewsbury.
- A Pacemaker That Zaps Your Migraines Away. Migraine Treatment Centers of America launched a procedure that implants a device in your head to stimulate the nerves involved with migraines. The electrical signal is sent via a remote control and stops or lessens migraine pain.
- A Handheld Scanner for Melanoma Skin Cancer. Roughly 1 in 8 skin cancer patients will die from the disease in 2013. When caught early, 99% of patients survive. If diagnosed late, only 15% survive. A new FDA-approved device uses missile-guidance technology to analyze moles. In a trial, it correctly identified 98 percent of melanomas. This could dramatically reduce the death toll from skin cancer.
- A New, Faster Way to Identify Specific Bacteria via Mass Spectrometry. Correct identification of bacteria from culturing can take weeks. But clinical microbiology laboratories are now investigating a new mass spectrometry technology that provides rapid organism identification that is more accurate, more rapid (minutes) and less expensive than current methods. This will allow doctors to prescribe the most appropriate antibiotic sooner instead of broad-spectrum agents that drive antimicrobial resistance. That could improve "cure" rates and reduce antibiotic resistance, lowering healthcare costs.
Dr. Stephen B. Shrewsbury is a physician and Chief Medical Officer at a leading biotech firm. He is the author of Defy Your DNA: How the New Gene Patch Personalized Medicines Will Help You Overcome Your Greatest Health Challenges published by 10 Finger Press. Since 2009, he has served on the Oligonucleotide Safety Working Group (OSWG), an international working group devoted to the safe development of gene patch medicines.