Another year is almost over, and we have been blessed with a lot of new medicinal drugs and healthcare discoveries, with the healthcare and biomedical sector trying harder than ever to come up with medicines for the upper-tier diseases and disorders. We have had significant contributions from the leaders in the industry and many breakthrough drugs were approved and introduced in the market, as we continue to fight the anomalies of the human body. Cancer, epilepsy, melanoma, hyperkalemia, asthma – the biomedical R&D left no stone unturned to try and eradicate many major diseases that put an end to the lives of millions of people across the globe. As we prepare to enter 2016, let’s take a look back at the major innovations in healthcare this year.
1. Tiny Robots to fight diseases in blood
Although there is still some time before we would be using these, very tiny robots known as nanobots are being developed that would be introduced in our bloodstream to destroy bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. These mini robots will function on their own propulsion systems and sensors, as they will be able to deliver treatments like chemotherapy at a very high intensity, while avoiding many side-effects caused by the drugs.
How do they work?
These nanobots consist of two halves connected by a latched hinge. When the nanobot detects a sign of distress by virtue of the proteins present on its surfaces, the two halved open up and release powerful (although tiny) cargo of drugs or antibiotics.
These nanobots might turn out to be the most innovative introduction of all times, as it aims to solve a multitude of diseases – almost everything that we take a pill for today. It is speculated that the bots will be utilised primarily for cancer treatment and chemotherapy. About 650,000 people receive chemotherapy every year in the United States, out of which almost all experience the side-effects and repercussions of the therapy that ranges from nausea and loss of weight, to death in some cases. Administering these drugs via the nanobots will tremendously ease the therapy on patients.
A lot of companies, along the likes of Google, are working on the development of the ideal nanobots. Uncanningly similar to the space race and nuclear arms race, a race for the development of nano has surfaced over the past few years, with giant corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, Siemens, and Northrop Grumman working in the research and development of nanobots.
Here is a video to get an insight to the the world of nanomachinery:
2. Blood tests without needles
The days of blood diagnostics being conducted with the help of a 2 inch syringe pricked inside your vein might be over soon, as many companies are designing methods to conduct blood tests with very small samples of blood – only a thousandth of the regular blood draw. Along with better patient experience, a huge cost reduction in lab fees can also be expected from this innovation.
Check out this interesting Ted talk on this topic by Mark Kendall, inventor of the Nanopatch.
Another company, Theranos, has claimed that it can use one small vial of blood and use it to run 30 tests. Theranos has listed the pricing on its website: blood typing, $2.05; cholesterol, $2.99; iron, $4.45. The CEO, Stanford drop out Elizabeth Holmes claims that if all tests in the US were performed at those kinds of prices, it could save Medicare $98 billion and Medicaid $104 billion over the next decade in the US alone.
3. Prosthetic limbs controlled with brain
Approximately 2 million people are living with amputated limbs in the United States alone, with nearly 185,000 amputations occurring every year. While the cause of these amputations vary from diabetes to accidents, the general solution is the attachment of a dummy prosthetic limb. However, this prosthetic limb cannot be controlled at all, with the maximum movements being the bending of the limb.
Perhaps the most exciting innovation in the healthcare sector, researchers have managed to developed prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by your mind alone!
How do they work?
These prosthetic limbs determine how the mind manages its connection with the limbs, learning the pattern the human brain uses to control them. Thus, the limbs pick up the sensory signals from the human brain and send them to the sockets that controls the motor functions of the prosthetic limbs.
There are a lot of scientists working on this ambitious project. One of them is an engineering team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab where they have developed a robotic arm that has 26 joints, can curl up to 45 pounds and is controlled with a person’s mind just like a regular arm. Patients of varying disabilities have tested the arm in the lab and helped push the design forward.
Meanwhile, in another corner of the world, Icelandic orthopedics company Ossur has developed prosthetics that can be controlled by the brain, thanks to tiny implanted myoelectric sensors (IMES) surgically placed in a patient’s residual muscle tissue.
4. Artificial skull and rib-cage
At first glance, it might come across as a bad sci-fi movie, but in a unique case of a Spanish 54-year old man suffering from cancer, the doctors determined they would need to remove his sternum and part of several ribs and replace them with a prosthetic sternum and rib cage, and decided on titanium. These implants aren’t new, but the complicated geometry of the bone structure makes it difficult to build them. So they used 3D printing.
The team of surgeons knew that an average 3D printer wouldn’t do it, so they enlisted Australian firm Anatomics (yes, the same company that designed a 3D printed skull implant to replace nearly all of a patient’s cranium last year) and made use of CSIRO’s cutting-edge 3D printing workshop, Lab 22, to design and manufacture the implant.
The two successful surgeries has put on tremendous hopes on the procedure, as the doctors believe that the procedure is the future of reconstructive surgeries. Since the procedure does not require much research and development as of yet, we can expect to see a lot of surgeries of this kind in the coming year.
Engineers made the implant with a metallic 3-D printer that melts titanium powder.
5. Two-Dad Babies
Lighting up the hopes of thousands of homosexual couples across the globe, scientists have managed to develop sperm and eggs from stem cells, which are undifferentiated cells that can differentiate into specialized cells, irrespective of the gender of the donor. The process is a major advancement in the IVF sector for couples who struggle with fertility, although it could be used for in vitro fertilization for couples of the same-sex as well.
This might be the end of infertility as we know it. The team, from Cambridge University in the UK and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, built on previous work where baby mice were successfully raised from mouse skin cells that had been converted into what’s known as primordial germ cells – the precursors of egg and sperm cells.
The pioneers agree that it is still too early to predict its impact on the way we reproduce, but it sure does feel like the not-so-distant future will offer a whole lot more options to the kinds of people who are struggling to have a baby today. The movie ‘Knocked Up!’ might not be a funny unrealistic satire anymore!
Beside these healthcare innovations, many discoveries and approvals were made in the pharmaceuticals. While a lot of drugs got approval for being introduced in the market for individual use, many new drugs were discovered with claims of revolutionizing the treatment of many diseases. Although some of these drugs are yet to be approved, here is a summary of the major drug advancements this year.
1. Melanoma or Skin Cancer
Melanoma, or skin cancer, is the fifth most common type of cancer. Predominant in women, the cancer becomes inoperable in its advanced stages. According to a research conducted by the National Cancer Institute, there were approximately 76,000 new cases and 9,700 deaths reported due to melanoma in U.S.A. in 2014.
Drug: Opdivo (Nivolumab)
Cited as the most globally anticipated drug of the decade, Opdivo is an anti-PD-1 inhibitor antibody medication that was launched this year. Clinical trials of the drug were extremely successful, with as many as 73% of the patients receiving treatment still being alive after a year of the treatment. The drug is still under study and is predicted to fight a variety of other cancer types. Source: http://www.opdivo.bmscustomerconnect.com/gateway
2. Heart Failure
The leading cause of cardiovascular death in many countries, heart failure is estimated to be the cause of fatalities for nearly 5 million people in the United States alone. It is estimated that one in nine death is a result of heart failure, with the survival rates of cardiac arrest being extremely low as well. Until now, Vasotec was the most popular drug being used to treat patients of heart failure.
Another highly anticipated drug, LCZ696 is highly promising drug to treat cardiac arrest. In the clinical trials of the drug where it was compared to Vasotec, it reduced the fatality rate of heart failure patients by 20% as compared to those treated with Vasotec. Undoubtedly a groundbreaking innovation, the drug will be the first after many years that prevents hospitalization and death of cardiac arrest patients. Source: https://www.novartis.com/news/media-releases/novartis-new-heart-failure-medicine-lcz696-now-called-entrestotm-approved-fda
3. Breast Cancer
The leading type of cancer in women across the globe, breast cancer accounts for 25% of cancer cases in women. In a study conducted in 2012, an estimated 1.68 million cases of breast cancer were reported along with 522,000 deaths. Primarily affecting women only, the cancer was usually treated by the drug letrozole until now.
Developed by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Ibrance is their next major drug that has shown promising results in clinical trials. When paired with letrozole, the drug significantly inhibited the progression of symptoms in women compared to those treated with letrozole alone. Source: http://www.pfizer.com/news/press-release/press-release-detail/pfizer_announces_fda_acceptance_of_ibrance_palbociclib_supplemental_new_drug_application_with_priority_review_in_hr_her2_metastatic_breast_cancer
Innovation: Revolutionary use of body’s immunity system
Being cited as the biggest innovation for cancer treatment after chemotherapy, Immunotherapy, or the usage of the body’s immunity system to attack cancerous cells, could revolutionize the way cancer is treated today.
4. Plaque Psoriasis
An inherited inflammatory diseases, psoriasis causes immune dysfunction with the most visible symptom being plaque of inflamed skin. Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of the disease, where the patient develops raised areas of inflamed skin, accompanied by severe scratching, pain, and swelling. As of now, there is no cure for psoriasis, with the existing treatment being symptomatic control of the disease. The diseases affects around 4% of the global population, being equally common among both genders.
Being cited as the first ground breaking drug for the treatment of Plaque Psoriasis, Cosentyx is a first-of-its-kind drug that is a human monoclonal antibody that neutralizes the key cause of inflammatory and defense diseases. Current drugs to treat Plaque Psoriasis faced tolerance difficulties among the patients, therefore Cosentyx is a highly welcomed drug for the treatment of the disease. Source: https://www.novartis.com/news/media-releases/novartis-receives-two-landmark-european-approvals-cosentyx-treat-patients
Role of Global Foundations and Organizations in Healthcare:
While the pharmaceutical institutions and other research centers fight the constant battle against the fatal diseases, there are many global foundations and organizations that are helping to speed up the development of these innovations by contributing at a global level. Other than contributing in the research and development for the fight against fatal diseases such as cancer and AIDS, these organizations also fight against diseases that have a geographical concentration, such as Ebola in the African countries and Malaria, Polio, and many others on the list that are affect the developing and the underdeveloped countries.
Here is a list of such global foundations that share a single altruistic motive of eradication of diseases:
1. Care International
About: Care International is one the largest and oldest humanitarian aid and development organizations, founded in 1945.
Contribution: The CARE foundation aims to fight HIV and AIDS, along with focusing on the improvement of the global maternal health. The foundation reached nearly 38.6 million men and women last year across the globe, providing services and information such as family counseling and planning, neonatal and maternal care, and emergency obstetric care to improve the health of families across the countries. The foundation reached out to nearly 173,000,000 people, providing access to health care and education for the prevention and management of HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, among many other diseases.
2. FHI 360
About: Established in 1971 and serving more than 70 countries across the globe, FHI 360 aims to improve lives by using locally-driven, advanced solutions in lasting ways.
Contribution: FHI 360 fought a major battle against HIV and for the betterment of maternal health across the globe, with the annual health expenditures by the foundation reaching $42 million. As an innovative solution to family planning problems, the foundation released a family planning mobile app this year that adhere to the guidelines of the medical eligibility criteria given by WHO. The foundation also conducted major research upon HIV treatment and contraception in Vietnam to reduce costs, along with partnering with the Nigerian government to achieve country ownership of HIV/AIDS. The efforts are anticipated to greatly control the condition of the STD in the countries.
3. The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation
About: The largest private foundation in the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation was founded in 2000 by the billionaire couple Bill Gates and Melinda Gates. The foundation focuses on human development across the globe, that includes healthcare.
Contribution: The foundation was one of the top contributors in the healthcare sector, fighting a global war against HIV, Malaria, Pneumonia, and Tuberculosis, along with other Diarrheal and infectious diseases that affect the global population. The foundation is working in nearly 100 countries, contributing an estimated 4 billion dollars through grants this year for the treatment of these diseases in the underdeveloped countries. The sum was evenly distributed as grants in small amounts throughout the world as an attempt to fight the diseases and declining health bound by geographical barrier.
4. Concern Worldwide
About: Ireland’s largest aid and humanitarian agency, Concern Worldwide was founded in 1968 and currently fights for long term development and relief in nearly 30 countries across the globe.
Contribution: The foundation spent an estimated of $40 million this year to support health programs in many countries, spending more than $8 million to prevent HIV in patients at risk.
In a nutshell, 2015 has been an exciting year for healthcare. The world has come together in the fight against diseases, as technology and automation has begun to intersect with the healthcare sector to form an unassailable force. These breakthrough innovations and drugs will undoubtedly go down as transformational discoveries towards our fight against diseases. If the rate of healthcare development until now is to be followed, the following years are going to see the introduction of many revolutionary drugs and products over the counter, as the world works together with a unity and pace that has never been seen before in the history of mankind. Here’s hoping!