Every year, medical technology further evolves, and new discoveries are made. This brings hope to those suffering from grave medical conditions. Health24 covers these advances on an ongoing basis, and the following are a few of the biggest breakthroughs of the decade in a nutshell:
1. 3D-printed organs
The past decade has seen a number of medical headlines involving 3D-organ-printing, up to the point where, recently, researchers managed to create living skin, complete with blood vessels, as well as hearts. While many of these advancements need more research before they can be used in a clinical setting, 3D-printing is set to become more prevalent over the next the next decade, which will make transplanting easier for those in need.
2. Gene therapy
Health24 published several stories about gene therapy over the last ten years. And while there were restrictions placed on gene therapy research in the early 2000s, there's been a strong resurgence, as illustrated by this study focusing on gene therapy in the fight against leukaemia.
Despite a number of setbacks, there were some successes that could translate to treatments in the future. One of the most recent development involves the first clinical trial of its type. Researchers used CRISPR to edit the DNA of people’s immune systems to help treat certain cancers.
While only a small number of patients were involved in the Stage 1 clinical trial, experts believe that this was an important step, in that it proved that the technique is safe to use.
Read more about gene therapy here.
3. The role of gut microbes
The focus on gut health and our microbiome (the collection of bacteria in the gut) has never been stronger. In the past, researchers didn’t pay much attention to the role of the bacteria in our gut, and it's been mainly during the past 15 years that researchers have been studying this concept.
According to the BMJ, the gut microbiota is crucial for essential processes in the body, such as the fermentation of non-digestible dietary fibres. It does more than that, though, and plays a role in many key areas of human health, from our immunity and appetite to the way we digest our food.
This helped researchers to explore the role of gut bacteria in areas like depression. An article in the BMJ reports on changes in the gut microbiota in the case of not only obesity, diabetes, and liver disease, but also cancer and even neurodegenerative diseases.
In fact, a study covered by Health24 links gut microbes to chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that has been baffling experts for decades.
4. Breakthroughs with HIV and Aids
HIV and Aids remain important public healthcare topics in South Africa. During the past decade, antiretroviral treatment has improved and become more readily available. In fact, the virus is currently controlled so well that the viral load in many patients' blood has become virtually undetectable.
According to Pharmaceutical Technologies, various studies over the past decade found that treatment with antiretroviral therapy has also reduced the risk of spreading the infection to HIV-negative partners – in both homosexual and heterosexual couples.
A few months ago, Health24 published a story about a man simply known as the “London patient”, who became entirely free from HIV following stem cell treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He was the second patient to demonstrate this phenomenon.
In 2017, a man known as the “Berlin patient” had two copies of the CCR5-delta32 genetic mutation. The patient stopped his ART 16 months following a bone marrow transplant, and his blood viral load was still undetectable 18 months later.
5. Immunotherapy for cancers
Cancer is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with approximately 14 million new cases reported annually, according to the World Health Organization. Experts say immunotherapy is a promising new development, and ongoing research has been conducted over the past decade.
In one of the latest studies, Dr Christopher E. Rudd, a researcher at the Centre de Recherche de l'Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont (CR-HMR) and Université de Montréal, discovered a new cell therapy approach that boosts the immune response of T lymphocytes to malignant tumours. The results of the study were recently published in the respected journal Nature.
Image credit: iStock