Medical Breakthroughs of 2016

As we come to the end of 2016, I thought I would talk about a few of the medical advances we have seen over the last year, such as the new prostate cancer treatment, three-person babies, and a new way to approach neurosurgery.

In the last couple of weeks, we have seen the new prostate cancer treatment come into the news. It involves a drug that is made from bacteria that live on the sea floor, in complete darkness. These bacteria become toxic when exposed to light. As for the procedure, this drug is injected into the bloodstream of the cancer sufferer, and then fibre optic lasers are inserted through the perineum into the cancerous prostate. When the laser is switched on, it provides the light source this drug needs to kill the cancer cells, and then leaves behind a healthy prostate gland.

A trial was completed on 413 men with prostate cancer across 47 different hospitals. 49% of the men had no remaining signs of cancer. Usually 30% of men with prostate cancer need their prostate removed, whereas only 6% required it who undertook the new treatment.

The first three-person baby was born in Mexico and the process has just been approved in the UK, with the hope of the first baby being born at the end of 2017. The aim is to prevent children being born with genetically lethal diseases such as mitochondrial diseases meaning children have insufficient energy to keep their heart beating. There are two ways in which this can be done. The first is to fertilise two eggs-one from the mother and one from the donor-and remove the nucleus from the mother’s egg and it is inserted into the other egg in replace of the donor’s nucleus. This egg will have the healthy mitochondria and so the child will grow up without the inherited disease. The other method is to insert the mother’s nucleus into the donor egg before fertilising. Both methods will ensure the child has the majority of genetic material from the mother and father; a very small amount of mitochondrial DNA will have been passed down by the donor.

A new combination of drugs for cystic fibrosis has been tested this year. These drugs prevent really thick mucus being made and of the people that this drug was tested on, lung decline per year decreased from 2.3% to 1.3%. This is extremely promising in the development of treatment for cystic fibrosis.

A man who had tremors in his right hand underwent brain surgery but instead of using conventional surgery equipment, an MRI scanner and ultrasound waves were the chosen pieces of equipment. More than 1000 ultrasound beams are focussed onto specific points in the brain and they can generate enough heat to destroy the abnormal brain tissue. An MRI scanner is used to monitor the process and the patient remained awake throughout. The man experienced immediate recovery and clearly there were none of the risks associated with the usual way of performing neurosurgery. The man no longer had any tremors and many people think that this method could be used in the future to treat multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological diseases.

The final thing I am going to talk about is also a type of surgery. A man who had lost his central vision in his right eye had surgery. The surgeon completed the operation using a joystick that controlled a robot arm with a thin needle attached that can even filter out the surgeon’s tremors. With this joystick, the surgeon removed a membrane covering the centre of the retina that was only 1/100th of a millimetre thick. The hole left in the retina later closed up and his vision had fully recovered. The surgeon said that the ‘robot performed better than the human hand’. This method shall hopefully be used more often in the coming years.

2016 has seen some incredible medical advances and I’ve just picked out five of them. I hope those of you who have taken time to read all the way to the end (sorry for the length) have found something interesting in here. Finally, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! 🙂

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