5 Important Medical Breakthroughs
2013 was filled with medical advances that could have a resounding impact on your life.
From HIV research to a controversial government program, here are the top five medical breakthroughs of 2013.
Baby "cured of HIV"
In October, doctors in Mississippi were convinced that they put HIV into remission in a baby born with the AIDS virus. The report, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, announced that the girl, then 3, showed no active infection despite stopping AIDS medicines 18 months ago. Tests find “no detectable level of HIV-1 RNA” in her blood, according to the report.
The formerly HIV-positive Mississippi baby drew widespread interest in March when doctors first announced the case. The child was infected in the womb and got her first dose of three powerful antiretroviral drugs just 30 hours after she was born. That swift and aggressive move had apparently knocked out HIV in the baby's blood before it could establish hideouts in her immune system.
The Affordable Care Act
Online glitches and media drama aside, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was landmark legislation that benefited the millions of uninsured Americans. Loop21's Nurse Alice Benjamin explained how women are no longer charged more for having the same health benefits as men, people with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage, people who are up to 26 years of age can stay on their parents’ family health insurance plans, seniors will pay less out of pocket for medications, and Medicaid services have expanded in several states. She continued, "Thanks to Obamacare, health exchange plans now ensure that all Americans will receive services and screenings targeting conditions such as heart disease, cancer and HIV."
More reasons to get some shut-eye
Researchers announced in the journal Science that major changes occur in the brain while we sleep to flush out waste products linked to Alzheimer's and dementia.
This study not only offers an explanation as to why we spend a third of our lives asleep, but could also aid in treating neurological disorders. Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center found in lab mice how cellular waste was flushed out via the brain's blood vessels into the body's circulatory system and eventually the liver. The waste products included amyloid beta, a protein that is a driver of Alzheimer's disease.
The study also revealed that the brain’s cells shrink about 60% while we sleep to wash away the cellular garbage, allowing the fluid to move faster and more freely through the brain.
Cure for baldness?
Scientists have discovered a possible cure for baldness...as long as you're OK with having baby foreskin on your head. The AFP reported that discarded infant foreskins from circumcision procedures may be the key to hair loss treatment. The method could be more effective than any other wacky treatment on the market and better than using drugs like Rogaine or undergoing a hair transplants.
Angela Christiano, a professor at Columbia University Medical Center, headed the preliminary study. For the study, harvested papilla cells from human hair donors were injected into foreskin that was grafted onto the back of the lab mice. Scientists then waited for new hair follicles to sprout up, and they did on five of the seven grafts. Remarkably, tests indicated that the new hair was from the human donors, from from the lab mice, as reported by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Mind-controlled bionic leg
A holy grail of prosthetics, according to a study announcing published in The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists developed the first ever prosthetic leg that communicates with the wearer’s mind. Zac Vawter, 31, who lost his leg just above the knee in a 2009 motorcycle accident, has been fitted with the first bionic leg that can complete common tasks like going up the stairs or down slopes -- all with his mind. Vawter told Bloomberg in an interview, “In my mind, it’s still the same thing in terms of moving my ankle down or up, or extending my leg forward or back. It’s just walk like I would normally walk. It’s not special training or buttons or tricks. That’s a big piece of what I think is groundbreaking and phenomenal about this work.”
A San Diego-based medical research company made a huge step toward growing full-size transplantable organs with the first-ever 3D human liver. The liver tissue, developed by Organvo, is only half a millimeter deep and just four millimeters wide. The company did this by bioprinting -- a new technology that is similar to the way a computer printer layers ink on the surface of paper, though much more complex. The liver has the ability to naturally regenerate, which makes it an ideal match for bioprinting. This doesn't mean you can drink all the alcohol you want now because you can just get a new liver printed, as human use is "years away," said Keith Murphy, Organovo's chief executive officer. The printer liver functioned for 40 days in the lab.
What do you think was the most amazing medical breakthrough this year?