Top 3 Medical Innovations in Modern Times
1. Artificial Womb
The average human pregnancy lasts approximately 40 weeks, with most babies entering the world between 37 and 42 weeks’ gestation. Heartbreakingly, not all babies are able to remain in the womb for the entire gestation period, and many children are born dangerously premature; for babies born before 23 weeks of gestation, the chance of survival is less than 50%. Although treatments do exist to help premature babies, they aren’t always successful, and doctors struggle to determine which babies will survive and which babies tragically won’t. Scientists have been endeavouring to develop new treatment methods to help premature babies survive and thrive; a recent report details how scientists in America have developed an artificial womb and successfully used it to treat premature lambs. During the experiment, extremely premature lambs were housed in a sterile, temperature-controlled biobag filled with amniotic fluid. The lambs’ umbilical cord was attached to the biobag, enabling scientists to provide a constant flow of nutrients to the developing lamb. Once the lambs reached full term, they were removed from the bags. Many of the lambs were killed shortly after being ‘born’ to enable scientist to examine the growth of their internal organs but, of the lambs that were allowed to survive, all of them appear to show signs of normal physical and cognitive development. It is now hoped that the artificial womb will soon be adapted for use in human infants and will prove as successful in human trials.
2. Genome Editing
Genome editing is a form of genetic engineering; it is used to help cure genetic disease by removing faulty genes from patient’s DNA and inserting new, healthy genes in the previous gene’s location. There are currently five forms of genetic engineering in use, and scientists speculate that another four forms will be unveiled during the course of 2017.
One of the most innovative forms of genome editing is TALEN. Studies have shown that TALEN methods have the highest levels of success, and the lowest rate of anomalies or unintended effects. TALEN’s success is largely due to its ability to proficiently recognise and bind with targeted strands of DNA, and its reputation as a quick and cost-effective method of gene editing treatment (an average TALEN procedure costs less than $200 and takes less than three days to fully complete). In 2011, TALEN hit the headlines when doctors used it to treat an 11-month-old baby girl with an acute form of leukaemia. TALEN therapy was used to deliver specially modified T-cells into the child’s body to attack and kill the cancer cells. The treatment was a success, with the child being declared in remission by her doctors a few weeks after her treatment ended; a year on, reports suggest the child is still cancer-free and continues to undergo regular tests and screenings.
3. 3-D Disease Imaging
In recent years, the medical world has placed a large degree of emphasis on the importance of developing forms of treatment that are directly geared towards treating specific diseases. Research into potential new treatments for cancer has focussed on creating treatments that are uniquely tailored towards individual patients, and their individual types of cancer. Innovations in image analysis software in recent years have allowed scientists to focus in on cancer cells, organs and tissues to clearly identify and visualised structural abnormalities and cell types. 3D imaging has gifted scientists with the novel ability to watch cancer cells as they divide and observe how cancer cells interact with and affect their surrounding environments. By studying cancer growth and visualising the mechanisms of cancer cell division, scientists are more able to develop targeted treatments that endeavour to stop metastasis.