Living is the greatest gift and perhaps the greatest challenge in the mortal realm. With the evolution of medical science and the pharma industry, we are heading towards better opportunities for surviving. Let’s take a closer look at the twelve recent medical discoveries that can reduce vulnerabilities and increase the human body’s resilience toward diseases.
Haven’t we come a long way from the time when humans were completely in the dark about the cause of sickness and the ways in which diseases spread? Undoubtedly, today the world understands a lot about the human body and diseases. Not only this, but the accidental discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928, opened a new route to treat an array of bacterial infections. In fact, the work of Louis Pasteur in the 1850s and the discoveries of Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch made it evident that germ theory was indeed a reality.
A marked rise in the global expenditure on pharmaceutical R&D was observed over the last decade from 137 billion USD in 2012 to 212 billion USD in 2021. According to Statista, global spending is further estimated to increase up to 254 billion USD by 2026. The major contributing factor to the expansion of R&D expenditure is due to the pressure on big pharma to innovate seamlessly, given the limitation on the patent protection duration of therapeutic agents.
Thus, in this blog, we will unravel the twelve recent medical discoveries that can solve the mysteries around diseases and improve our overall chances of survival.
12 recent medical discoveries and breakthroughs in patient care
Below-mentioned is a sneak peek into the twelve futuristic recent discoveries in medicine.
1. Breakthrough diagnosis tests for Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s, a progressive neurological disorder causing atrophy of the brain is estimated to affect about 44 million people all across the world. In the US alone, there are about 5.5 million Alzheimer’s patients belonging to all age groups and is the sixth leading mortality-causing disease.
Although extensive research is being conducted to find a cure for Alzheimer’s yet the methods for its diagnosis are still quite primitive, primarily limited to some basic blood tests, CT, MRI, and PET scans. Hence the focus has simultaneously shifted to finding groundbreaking diagnostic tests first that are accessible, reliable, and affordable.
In 2018, Cecilia Lee, a researcher at the University of Washington, published a paper establishing the fact that eye conditions such as glaucoma or macular degeneration could be linked to Alzheimer’s. Various other companies such as RetiSpec, Neurovision Imaging, and Optina Diagnostics are trying new imaging methods to identify amyloid plaques.
In 2020, researcher scholars at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, came up with a minimally invasive biomarker identifying blood test that was capable of detecting the presence of amyloid and phosphorylated tau protein (p-tau181). The abnormal accumulation of these proteins significantly leads to degenerative processes in the brain. The study was conducted on 1100 subjects from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimage Initiative (ADNI).
2. Gene-editing to treat sickle cell disease
Sickle-shaped red blood cells prevalent in Africans primarily lead to hemolytic anemia, pain, and progressive organ damage. Now it has been observed that the BCL11A gene represses the expression of γ-globin and HbF (erythrocyte fetal hemoglobin) production in adult erythrocytes. Consequently, it leads to erythrocyte sickling and sickle hemoglobin polymerization.
So, an open-pilot study was conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital and the paper was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in January 2021. The investigational therapy comprised infusion of autologous CD34+ cells transduced with the BCH-BB694 lentiviral vector to encode shRNA (short hairpin RNA). This was further utilized to target BCL11A mRNA embedded in a microRNA (shmiR). Thus, it permitted shmiR-based gene knockdown. The results of following-up patients for a median of 18 months showed stable induction of HbF.
3. Non-hormonal male contraceptive
What were the options for male birth control other than condoms and vasectomy until now? But a game-changing non-hormonal oral compound known as YCT529 might soon undergo human trials for evaluating its efficacy, potency, and adverse events.
A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota presented their initial findings to the American Chemical Society Spring 2022 meeting on March 23, 2022.
Researchers have identified that eliminating the RAR-α gene in male mice can cause reversible sterility in them without causing significant other side effects. The retinoic acid receptor alpha is a protein belonging to the family of three nuclear receptors that help in retinoic acid (a form of Vit. A) binding. Retinoic acid is key to cell growth, cell differentiation (inclusive of sperm formation), and embryonic development.
Further, they identified the YCT529 compound, which when administered orally to the lab animals inhibited RAR-α specifically, thereby reducing reversible sperm count.
4. Use of 3D printing in the field of medicine
3D printing saw the dawn of the day back in the 1980s and was invented by Chuck Hull. But its application in the field of medicine is a fairly new concept. When it comes to real-time applications, 3D printed casts are worth mentioning in this list of recent medical discoveries. This is because they are thin, waterproof, breathable, customizable, and easily removable. These casts can also prevent bacterial infections and muscle atrophy. Studies conducted in 2017 indicated that these casts provide enhanced patient comfort.
Another team of researchers in Australia 3D printed a set of microneedles to monitor blood glucose levels. Besides being minimally invasive and less painful, these needles helped with constant glucose monitoring.
5. Implementation of AI and analytics in medicine
Artificial Intelligence in the global healthcare market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 39.8% from 2020 to 2026. With the help of AI algorithms, a new tool can detect sepsis quite early. It is equipped to track a patient’s electronic medical records to identify if the patient is susceptible to getting a septic shock.
With the help of machine learning, physicians are able to decide better on medicine combinations for hypertension. Further, forecasting analytics is being employed to predict cardiovascular morbidities in patients with hypertension.
PathAI, a leading provider of AI-powered technology tools, is using machine learning and deep learning to detect cancers more accurately.
6. Cystic fibrosis treatment with oral antibiotics
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a hereditary disorder that makes people susceptible to bacterial infection caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This disease is characterized by chronic lung infections and causes damage to the lungs, digestive system, and other body organs.
A study conducted by research scholars from The University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine and funded by NIHR was published in 2020 in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal. About 286 patients from 70 cystic fibrosis centers across the UK and Italy participated in the research. The research indicated that oral antibiotics were just as much as effective as IV antibiotics to treat bacterial infection in patients with cystic fibrosis, thereby making patient care possible from the comfort of their homes.
7. Cell-based therapy to repair liver bile ducts
70% of liver transplants in children and about one-third in adults occur due to damaged bile ducts. Liver transplant has always posed a challenge in front of the medical fraternity due to a scarcity of donors. When discussing about the recent medical discoveries we cannot leave mentioning about this finding behind.
Therefore, a study was conducted with the aim of finding an alternative to transplants. The NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre supported this research. During the research, a new technique was discovered to form mini-bile ducts. The biliary cells from the gallbladder could be formed into bile ducts cells in the lab and these could be used to replace the malfunctioning liver bile ducts.
8. Portable MRI machine
Raymond Damadian invented the first magnetic resonance scanning machine in 1977. But the traditional machine is huge, utilizes powerful magnets, and requires a lot of power, extensive cooling, and skill to operate.
Yale Medicine’s and Hyperfine’s Swoop MRI is a portable MR imagining system that has made it possible to carry it anywhere beside the patient’s bed and take snapshots of the patient’s body conditions in real-time to help with quick diagnosis and treatment. It is quick to evaluate a patient’s cerebral pathologies with the help of weaker magnets that don’t consume much power.
The Swoop MRI was approved by FDA in August 2020 for utility in hospitals. This portable machine has also reduced the cost to acquire it.
9. New drug to treat Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria syndrome
The discovery of this new drug can be considered among one of the greatest recent medical discoveries. Lonafarnib marketed under the brand name Zokinvy can prevent the accumulation of the defective protein called progerin in the carrier, thereby helping to minimize the damage and treat Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria syndrome. Besides prolonging the lifespan, it can also minimize cardiac and bone troubles.
HGPS is a rare genetic condition characterized by the rapid and dramatic appearance of aging in the carrier since early childhood and adolescence. The prevalence of HGPS is 1 in 20 million, thereby impacting 400 children approximately in the population at a given point in time. A genetic mutation causes a protein called progerin’s shape to change in the nuclei of the patient, thereby causing premature cell death.
10. First vaccine for malaria approved by WHO
As per the 2021 World Malaria Report by CDC, about half the world’s population lives in malaria-prone areas, and in 2020 almost 627,000 deaths were reported due to malaria.
Although not one of the recent discoveries in medicine, Dr. Joe Cohen’s team at GSK, discovered the first malaria vaccine candidate RTS,S in 1996. The promise exhibited by the vaccine candidate paved the way for more than two decades of multiple clinical trials in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2019, a pilot study conducted in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi distributed the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine to 900,000 children. Thus, based on the results of this pilot program, the WHO approved it to be used in the prevention of P. falciparum malaria among children, residing in malaria-prone regions. So far, 2.3 million vaccine doses have been administered in the above-mentioned African countries and more is to be rolled out soon.
11. Use of implants to treat severe paralysis
An implantable brain-computer interface technology, labeled by FDA as a “breakthrough technology” is another recent discovery in medicine that can treat severe paralysis.
To help patients regain lost motor control, the technology utilizes implanted electrodes to read movement signals from the brain and decode them into movement commands. Thus, it helps to restore voluntary motor impulses.
12. A groundbreaking medicine for obesity
Obesity, the root cause of diabetes type 2, some cancers, cardiac conditions, and various other complications of the human body, is estimated to impact two billion adults all over the world as per Statista. Also, it causes up to 5 million deaths worldwide annually.
Semaglutide, a synthetic form of GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) analogue was initially used to treat Type 2 diabetes. However, later Novo Nordisk, conducted clinical trials at much higher doses to treat obesity. 2.4 mg Semaglutide was administered subcutaneously once a week during a trial. This study on 2,000 patients showed that recipients lost up to 15% body weight and it is also found to be 1.5 to 2 times more effective than other weight loss medications in use currently. Although Semaglutide is not among the recent medical discoveries yet its application as an obesity medicine is a remarkable new finding.
Since times immemorial, humankind has strived to find ways to live longer, be healthier, and improve the life expectancy at birth. Long have humans pursued the elixir of life, drank Somras, sought for magical herbs, and what not to not be limited by the Hayflick Limit.
In retrospect, we can today safeguard ourselves against tuberculosis, undergo various organ transplants, use prosthetics, and have babies with IVF.
But when Covid-19 broke out two years ago in the wet market of Wuhan, China, it established the dire need for extensive pharmaceutical research & development. Furthermore, it also ascertained the fact that humankind constantly needs to evolve and adapt for survival as per Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Hence the aforementioned twelve recent medical discoveries have the potential to pave the way for a better future. Do subscribe to our blog for catching up with everything scientific that piques your interest.