Medicine is in a perpetual state of genesis. Everyday scientists discover new techniques and build upon past discoveries to invent methods that revolutionise and propel the ways we use medicine. Thus follows a list of five recent medical breakthroughs significant to society today and the society of the future.
1. Grow Your Own Body Parts.
Scientists have recently managed to develop a technique in which they transplant a trachea, grown from a patient’s stem cells. These cells are harvested and placed on what is essentially plastic “scaffolding”. This procedure has taken place on occasion over the last few years, in one instance on a patient with cancer who had to have his trachea removed, and on another on a toddler born without a trachea. The procedure invokes removing stem cells from the patient and seeding them onto a plastic scaffold in a laboratory, where they are given time to multiply and generate the basis of a new windpipe.
Once this is done the trachea is then implanted into the patient, where scientists believe the stem cells send other cells from the body to the organ which then continue to multiply and grow the right tissues around the plastic tube. What is so revolutionary about this method is that there is no real fear of the body rejecting the transplanted organ as it is technically a product of that person’s body. Whilst this procedure has only really been used on tubular organs as the method continues to grow and expand the way in which the transplants work, by using the patients own cells, could mean a much higher instance in successful transplants and a highly decreased need to find compatible organ donors.
2. 3 Person Baby.
Mitochondrial replacement is a technique to allow people with mitochondrial defects to give birth to healthy babies by removing the mother’s mitochondria (the area of a cell surrounding the nucleus) and replace it with another woman’s healthy one. Mitochondrial diseases include muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, mental retardation and heart problems, and are only passed down through the mother as the sperm’s mitochondria is not used in the making of a baby, this process circumvents this occurrence by removing the unhealthy mitochondria and replacing it with another woman’s.
This process has led to much debate over the rights of the woman donating her DNA, and the potential impetus in the creation of genetically modified children, however it seems the UK government plans to allow mitochondrial replacement. The donated DNA actually only quantifies a minuscule amount of the DNA that goes into the creation of the child, and the replaced DNA acts only as a means of preventing illness. Tests into this technique so far have worked well in monkeys, and has seen some success in human embryos though, as of yet, none of these embryos have been transplanted to a mother to gestate.
3. Personalised Medicine.
Being heralded by medics as the further of medicine a personalised approach could mean the genesis of an age of incredibly safe and effective treatment for patients. Currently the way treatment and drug distribution works is that companies produce billion-dollar blockbuster drugs meant to work for the masses and propagate them. Only effective to a point it generally means that, as people are so diverse, with hugely varied responses to drugs, not only are cures often ineffective (particularly when it comes to treatment of cancer) but also extremely expensive as doctors are led to adopt a trial and error approach to healthcare.
This advance, however, would mean the rise of genetically tailored medicine in which treatments could be specifically adapted to patient’s genetic information by analysing Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP’s) ascertaining which medicines pose risks to patients and which would be the most beneficial. As the cost of genome sequencing drops the prevalence of personalised medicine should hopefully increase, let’s just hope the pharmaceutical companies are as positive about the potential of this technique as those who wish to use it.
4. HIV Treatment and Prevention.
Scientists have found a highly effective means of reducing the likelihood of healthy people contracting HIV. Truvada is a combination of two antiviral medications that, if given to those with HIV before or at the beginning of contraction can dramatically reduce the spread. Previous studies which supply preventative drugs to those with HIV alongside counselling, free condoms and so on have found that between 42-75% reduce their risk of spreading HIV to a partner, and one study even showed that risk was reduced by 96% with only one couple out of the entire group passing on HIV.
Whilst being slightly less efficient studies into the prevention of HIV amongst needle users has still found that only 49.1% of the control group, if again also provided with non medical assistance such as clean needles, counselling and methadone treatment etc will end up passing on HIV. Whilst some are worried that it will reduce the amount of care and responsibility that is needed when dealing with HIV this breakthrough provides those living with it a chance to have some semblance of normalcy, as long as it continues to be paired with sound advice, and tools to ensure responsible attitude and actions this breakthrough will continue to be a wonderful and significant one.
5. Countering Autism.
Recent work in early behaviour therapy has shown that it can help to normalise the brain patterns responsible for autistic behaviour in children. Those with autism typically display higher brain activity when interacting with an inanimate object, like a toy car, than with personable images like a face. The Early Start Denver Model program found children within the autism spectrum and, using overt social and linguistic interaction with toddlers managed to alter the way these children perceived faces and objects.
After 2 years instead of the children displaying typically autistic brain activity were actually close to mimicking that of a “normal” child, responding with increased brain activity to faces and people rather than inanimate objects. Whilst this treatment involves engaging the autistic person from a very young age one is still able to see the positive benefits it could illicit by engaging the toddlers in therapy and social interaction resulting in the effects of autism can be strikingly reduced and potentially reversed.