There is something about a medical breakthrough, aside from its immediate benefit, that is comforting. It gives a sense of security that the medical field is relentless in seeking ways to fight diseases and prolong life.
Here are some of the recent innovations taking place:
1. A Hope for Melanoma Cancer Patients
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that originates from skin cells called melanocytes usually from a nevus or a mole. Skin Cancer is the most common cancer in the US with melanoma causing around 9,000 deaths yearly. However, there's now a ray of hope for patients with the advent of new anti-cancer drug Ipilimumab. A study involving 125 cancer centers showed that 23% of the patients with advanced stage melanoma who took the drug had extended lives of about two years compared to 14% of those who received standard treatment. Ipilimumab reinforces the immune system to fight cancer cells by blocking a protein molecule called CTLA-4 which suppresses the immune system.
2. A Way to Detect Alzheimer's Disease Early
Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is the top cause of dementia in the U.S. resulting to a staggering health care cost of $172 billion. It's an incurable disease characterized by plaques and tangles. Worst, since its discovery in 1906, the only time it can be diagnosed is during an autopsy.
But that's about to change through a recent imaging technique. The process involves a new radioactive molecular imaging compound called AV-45 which is injected to the patient. The compound then binds to the plaques in the brain. Afterwards, a PET (positron emission tomography) scan will show these dyed plaques.
Plaques and tangles in the brain linked to AD are said to develop in a patient as early as 10 years before symptoms are manifested. Therefore, timely detection of these enables doctors to safeguard the brain before too much damage is done and thus, preventing patients and their families from suffering the devastating effects of AD.
3. A Warning Against Heart Disease
For the first time, a study pointed out that even healthy individuals can still have heart diseases. The research called JUPITER (Justification for the Use of Statins in Primary Prevention: an Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin) showed that heart disease can develop in people with low to normal levels of bad cholesterol or LDL. That is, if they have high C-reactive protein levels, a biomarker of inflammation.
The researchers suggested that statin, an anticholesterol drug, should be prescribed to these individuals. The study which involved 15,000 subjects showed that among those given statins, 44% had less heart disease and death than those who took placebo. This finding helps in preventing heart diseases in people who are otherwise unaware of their risk. It's a loud wake-up call considering that about 400,000 Americans who had their first heart attacks had cholesterol levels within normal range.
4. A Vaccine for Prostate Cancer
Finally, after 15 years of research, the first cancer vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine, called Sipuleucel-T, is a treatment for prostate cancer. It does not cure metastatic prostate cancer but it can prolong the lives of patients as it induces immune response.
Research shows it extended the lives of individuals with advanced prostate cancer by four months. A round of treatment with the vaccine however costs a whopping $90,000. Scientists hope that while it doesn't shrink cancers, Sipuleucel-T might be more effective if given to patients early.
5. A Cure for Hepa-C
Hepatitis C, is a liver disease that is transmitted through sexual intercourse and contact with infected blood. To date, it afflicts 3.9 million people in the United States and causes about 12,000 deaths yearly. Many individuals with Hepatitis C also develop fatal liver diseases such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The only treatment for Hepatitis C is a combination of oral antiviral drugs and injectable interferon for 6-12 months. The cure rates of this treatment however are very low. In fact, it's been reported that some 300,000 Americans with Hepatitis C were uncured by this treatment which left them no other recourse but a liver transplant.
Until now, that is. Two new drugs to cure Hepatitis-C have been discovered: Telaprevir and Broceprivir. These drugs are under the category protease inhibitors. They work by hindering an enzyme that the Hepatitis C virus needs to replicate itself and multiply. Clinical trials show that they were able to cure test subjects. In fact, the cure rates with these drugs are higher than those with standard therapy. Telaprevir and broceprivir now await FDA approval. And if they do get the nod, experts say it will begin a new era of antiviral medication against Hepatitis C.