As 2016 winds down, the medical community is already looking toward the future — 2017, to be exact. Now in its 11th year, Ohio’s esteemed Cleveland Clinic is releasing its Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2017. (1)
More than 100 doctors and researchers pored over nearly 200 nominations of medical innovations that have a high chance of healing and extending life. In order of importance, check out my thoughts on the top 10 medical innovations to keep your eyes on in the coming months.
Top 10 Medical Innovations to Watch Out for in 2017
1. Using the Microbiome to Prevent, Diagnose and Treat Disease
This is the most exciting innovation of the year — and it’s well deserved. The mainstream medical community is finally acknowledging what we’ve known all along: our health begins largely in the gut.
Our bacteria that make up our microbiomes, or “genetic footprints,” help determine our DNA, predisposition to diseases, our body types and more. In fact, it’s been said that 90 percent of all diseases can be traced back to our gut and the health of the microbiome.
That’s why taking care of our gut health is so important. When toxins like gluten, bad bacteria and undigested food particles get stuck in our digestive tracts, it leads to inflammation, which causes symptoms like bloating, food allergies, skin issues and even autoimmune disease symptoms.
There is one thing that concerns me, though. The Cleveland Clinic has identified the microbiome as a marketing opportunity “gold mine.” Expect to see shelves flooded with products claiming to improve or heal your gut. Many of these could be low-quality, untested products. Instead, I’d suggest you start by taking the leaky gut test to determine what shape your gut is in, then trying the leaky gut diet and treatment plan or the healing foods diet. Good old-fashioned bone broth or powder made from bone broth is also a great starting point for improving gut health.
2. Diabetes Drugs that Reduce Cardiovascular Disease and Death
In 2012, 29.1 million Americans suffered from diabetes, and 27.85 million of those cases were type 2 cases. Those stats are scary enough, but when you factor in the fact that diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the country, they’re downright terrifying. (2)
So it’s exciting that in 2017, we can expect to see new medications for the disease that will alleviate some of the comorbidities that come along with diabetes, like cardiovascular problems and kidney issues. Emagliflozin, for example, has been called a game changer for dealing with kidney disease in type 2 patients, while in trials, liraglutide was found to lower deaths from cardiovascular causes in patients. (3, 4)
While it’s terrific that diabetes patients will have new, more effective options to treat the disease, I do worry that drugs aren’t treating the underlying causes of type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar, and that drugs are becoming the first option patients and doctors are turning to, instead of a last resort.
3. Cellular Immunotherapy to Treat Leukemia and Lymphomas
As medicine becomes more personalized, immunotherapy is becoming a more viable option for certain types of cancers, mainly leukemia and lymphomas. For young people and their families in particular, this is exciting news, as more than a quarter of the 16,000 children and adolescents with cancer have leukemia.
Immunotherapy is a way to stimulate a person’s own immune system to restore strength to the immune system and provide the power necessary to attack cancer cells. While it comes with its own challenges, immunotherapy has proven to be especially effective in treating leukemia and lymphoma.
In one trial published in 2016, 93 percent of patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL, went into complete remission after immunotherapy treatments, even when multiple other treatments had previously failed. (5)
These advances are exciting for patients with these types of cancers, but also benefit the larger medical community; it’s likely that more studies and trials will occur on immunotherapy, hopefully finding treatments for other types of cancers as well.
4. Liquid Biopsies to Find Circulating Tumor DNA
Tumor biopsies have long been a necessary evil of cancer care. They’re used to confirm diagnoses, identify a tumor’s cell type and, in the last several years, whether a tumor has genetic alternations that will make the patient a candidate for targeted therapy. (6)
But tumor biopsies also require invasive procedures, including surgery. Not all patients are in the right state of health to undergo a tumor biopsy, and often the tumor location makes it impossible.
With the advent of liquid biopsies, these complications might become a thing of the past. The largest study of liquid biopsies to date produced results extremely similar to traditional biopsies. Not only that but in some cases, the liquid biopsy identified mutations linked to treatment resistance that weren’t detected with a traditional biopsy. Talk about an important medical innovation.
While 2017 probably isn’t the year that tumor biopsies will become obsolete, these early results are incredibly promising. It might not be too long until a simple blood test can look for and identify cancer. (7)
5. Automated Car Safety Features and Driverless Capabilities
Medical costs related to auto accidents add up to almost $23 billion a year in the U.S. But car manufacturers and technology companies are hoping that can change. They’re adding automatic features, like drowsiness alerts and collision warning systems, that they hope will reduce car accidents and human error.
With nomophobia, a smartphone addiction, afflicting more of us each day, any efforts that can reduce accidents and auto deaths is a great idea. (Of course, biking or walking instead of driving is always the healthiest option!)
6. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources
It might surprise you that many people avoid going to the doctor for many reasons that have nothing to do with their health or financial situations. Between navigating different offices, long wait times or hours on the phone with insurance companies, sometimes it seems best to avoid those regular check-ups until there’s something really wrong.
One of 2017’s most interesting innovations is a new tool that will allow different healthcare systems to “talk” to one another. This means clinical data, like images and medications, along with administrative data like billing and demographics, can be shared easily between offices. While the effects might not be visible, this just might mean fewer headaches when it comes to seeing your physician.
7. Ketamine for Treatment-Resistant Depression
More than 15 millions Americans over the age of 18 suffer from depression — that’s 6.7 percent of the adult population. (8) And while there are some natural remedies and prescription medications available, for nearly one-third of depressed patients, they don’t work. Unfortunately, for about 43,000 people, the answer becomes suicide.
The medical world believes there is new hope in ketamine for these extreme, treatment-resistant cases. For the last few years, the animal tranquilizer and sometimes-party drug has been studied and trialled as a treatment for major depression when other options have been exhausted, and the results are promising. Of course, I am an advocate for natural depression treatment and improving mood and brain structure through food and exercise, but in some cases, even that fails to work.
Numerous studies have found that ketamine is extremely effective in treating major depression, sometimes as quickly as in 24 hours after just one dose. (9) Serial ketamine infusions seem to be even more effective at treating the mental disease. (10) It works by targeting and inhibiting NMDA receptors in nerve cells.
Thanks to the ketamine studies, the FDA has fast tracked the development of medications that focus on NMDA receptors, like the ketamine treatments do. With any luck, these treatments will be available in 2017 to transform lives if other treatments don’t seem to work.
8. 3-D Visualization and Augmented Reality for Surgery
Picture working for hours with your head down, limited vision and an aching back from being hunched over. Oh yeah, and the slightest slight of hand or mistake can cost a life.
Now though, two of the most delicate surgical practices, ophthalmology and neurology, are experimenting with new technologies that keep the surgeons’ heads up while also showing them 3D representations of their subjects.
According to those who have tried it, the technology makes surgery more comfortable which, in turn, reduces the risk of error. The visual information enables them to operate more efficiently and gives medical residents — tomorrow’s surgeons — a better view of what’s happening in the operating room.
9. Self-administered HPV Test
There are now more than 100 different types of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, and at least 13 of those are cancer-causing strains. (11) In fact, two types of HPV cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions. In less developed regions of the world, cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer in women.
Though there’s now a controversial HPV vaccine and other treatments, these are available only to women with access to the tools. So a self-administered HPV test, like the one that’s being launched this year, is extremely valuable — not only to women in far-away countries, but also to those in America who can’t afford proper healthcare or the time off work required to get a pap smear.
These HPV kits contain a test tube, swab and a box to mail it all back in. A woman can administer the test on herself then mail the sample to the lab; a healthcare professional will inform her if she has a dangerous type of HPV. While this won’t solve the problem of how to treat a patient who does have a cancer-causing strain of the virus, improving access to information is a good first step.
10. Bioabsorbable Stents
More than half a million people have metal coronary stents placed in their chests. The stents prop the arteries open to alleviate coronary artery blockage in patients with coronary heart disease. But the stent remains in the body even after its original mission is through. Eventually, the stents may restrict natural blood flow and even cause things like blood clots.
It seems, however, that a disappearing stent is on the horizon. In July 2016, the U.S. approved the first bioabsorbable stent. (12) The stents are made from a naturally dissolving polymer, similar to dissolving sutures. The stent disappears completely in about three years, once its job of keeping a clogged artery open and promoting healing is done. That means no more metal lingering inside the body and causing future complications.
Final Thoughts on 2017 Medical Innovations
There are certainly a lot of exciting developments happening in 2017. As always, be vigilant about your own health and the types of treatments you pursue. Often, natural approaches, including diet and exercise, can help reduce the need for prescription medications with harmful side effects.
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