Top 10 Medical Research Areas Last Year


Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs Expected in 2012

By Lisa Collier Cool
Jan 05, 2012

Day in Health

Bionic limbs, a smart mouth guard to monitor athletes for concussions, and genetically modified mosquitoes designed to reduce disease are among the Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2012 selected by a panel of Cleveland Clinic doctors and scientists during its annual Medical Innovation Summit.

Here’s a look at the amazing therapies and game-changing technologies expected to dramatically reshape healthcare—and save lives—this year:

#10. Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

Mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue, and West Nile, kill more people than any other disease, and infect more than 700 million people. As a new tactic to fight these diseases, 3 million genetically modified sterile male mosquitoes were released in the Caymans in 2010 to mate with wild female mosquitoes, resulting in an 80 percent population drop.

In the future, scientists hope to create mosquitoes with a new genetic trait that prevents malaria transmission.

#9. A Paradigm Shift in Diabetes Treatment

Twenty-six million Americans have diabetes and 79 million have prediabetes. A new class of drugs awaiting FDA approval called SGLT2 inhibitors works in a totally new way.

Instead of affecting the supply or use of insulin, as most current drugs do, the new drugs lower blood sugar by causing sugar to be excreted in urine. The resulting loss of calories helps diabetics, who tend to be overweight, lose weight.

#8. Harnessing Big Data to Improve Healthcare

Ninety percent of all data in the world was created in the past two years, with a mind-boggling 2.5 quintillion bytes created every day.

Innovative companies are starting to mine the mother lode of medical data to curb medical mistakes, waste and unnecessary treatments, lower healthcare costs, aid drug development, and facilitate tracking patients’ outcomes.

#7. Wearable Robotic Devices

Below-the-knee prostheses used to work like a crutch or cane. Now, thanks to a high-tech quantum leap, they allow America’s 400,000 to 1 million amputees to easily walk without stress, climb stairs and even compete in high-level sports.

The world’s first computerized bionic leg mimics a real leg, using precision robotics previously only available to wounded soldiers.

#6Implant to Treat Complex Brain Aneurysms

Brain aneurysms—ballooning sections of blood vessels—affect up to one in 15 Americans during a lifetime and can lead to a stroke or death. While surgery can treat small brain aneurysms, it doesn’t work for large, complex ones—the most dangerous type.

Now an FDA-approved device can be snaked through blood vessels without brain surgery to choke off blood flow to large or giant aneurysms, with a 70 percent success rate.

#5. Next-Generation Gene Sequencing

It took 13 years and $2.7 billion to sequence the human genome for the first time. Now a $50,000 machine the size of computer printer can read 10 million letters of genetic code in just two hours, putting warp-speed technology that gets at the root cause of many serious diseases within reach of almost every hospital.

In a few years, next-generation gene sequencing machines will be able to map an entire gene in 15 minutes, for $1,000.

Save on healthcare with these 10 money-saving tips.

#4Medical Apps for Mobile Devices

Among the thousands of mobile apps for doctors and patients are software to check blood pressure, monitor blood sugar levels, and track heart rate.

More sophisticated devices can help diagnose such disorders as sleep apnea, detect seizures, and automatically score cognitive testing results. MDs can also monitor high-risk patients remotely.

#3. A Smart Mouth Guard to Check Athletes for Concussions

 Nearly four million sports-related concussions occur each year, and if athletes return to the game too soon, the results can be deadly.

The new Concussion Management system has two components. Before the season, athletes take baseline tests of mental and motor skills. During play, a computerized mouthguard records all hits to the head via Bluetooth technology.

If a traumatic brain injury is detected, the player is retested, then the system provides advice about when it’s safe to return to play.

#2. CT Scans for Early Detection of Lung Cancer

 Lung cancer is the top cancer killer of both men and women, largely because it doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages and doctors have lacked an effective screening test.

A groundbreaking study of more than 53,000 current and former heavy smokers found 20 percent fewer lung cancer deaths in those screened with low-dose spiral CT scans, compared to chest X-rays–the first study to show that early detection can save lives.

#1. A Breakthrough in Blood Pressure Control

 Nearly one in three Americans has high blood pressure, which raises the risk for heart attacks and strokes. Up to 30 percent of these patients don’t respond to standard therapies.

Now there’s finally a way to help these people—without drugs. Catheter-based renal denervation is a new 40-minute procedure that involves zapping nerves in the kidney with low-power radio waves, using a tiny probe snaked through blood vessels.

In the first randomized study, 39 percent of patients who received the procedure achieved their blood pressure target, and 50 percent showed measurable improvement.

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