2020 has been a unique and challenging year for all, especially when it comes to health. With the global spread of Coronavirus halting the entire world in its tracks, pharmaceutical companies and research labs have worked harder than ever this year to sequence the viral genome of the virus that has been plaguing the world and subsequently, create a vaccine and a cure for it.
Surrounded by tragedies, 2020 has still seen several medical breakthroughs that are a testament to the hard work and efforts of scientists and researchers worldwide. Unable to mention them all, we have summarized and listed the top seven medical breakthroughs that have the ability to significantly improve people’s health.
1. Rapid and Reliable COVID-19 Test
Coronavirus has caused a deathly pandemic that has taken numerous lives. A good prognosis is relatively dependent on an early diagnosis of the disease, COVID-19 caused by the novel SARS-Cov-2 virus. However, ever since the first case, this has proven to be a hard task.
An early diagnosis is important because it allows the infected individual to self-isolate and informs anyone they may have been in contact with to do the same. Many antigen and PCR tests have been developed since March of this year, 2020, although none of them can provide a quick diagnosis. Most tests provide a result within 6 hours to 24 hours.
One test, however, has fulfilled all the expectations and can provide a result in mere fifteen minutes. Abbott’s BinaxNOW rapid test received emergency clearance and approval in August 2020, by the United States Food and Drug Association to be used for quick diagnosis when necessary.
The test kit includes a reagent, a swab, and a small, rectangular card. To administer the test, the technician opens the card and adds the included reagent onto the little slot present on the inside. Using the swab, the technician will then obtain a nasal sample, insert it into the card, and fold the card right after. A positive result will appear in fifteen minutes in the form of two straight pink lines on the outside of the card.
On average, the test recognizes a positive case 97.1 percent of the time, and a negative case 98. 5 percent of the time. This high degree of accuracy along with rapid response time are the reasons behind its emergency authorization.
2. Lightning Fast-Acting Insulin Injection
Diabetes Mellitus is a metabolic disorder that causes an increased glucose concentration in the bloodstream. It has three different types, all of which at some point might require Insulin injections to manage the blood glucose concentration, especially the spikes seen right after a meal.
However, insulin injections usually have very narrow windows of time during which they are effective. Once the window is over, the insulin no longer has any effect on the body. Moreover, most insulin injections take a long time to become effective too.
The new insulin injection called Lyumjev, by Eli Lilly and Company can be taken twenty minutes after a meal, and this lightning-fast injection will become effective in approximately 13 minutes after injecting, which is faster than any other insulin injection available on the market.
The lightning-fast results of this injection are due to the combination of insulin with a vasodilator drug, treprostinil, and sodium citrate. Treprostinil dilates the blood vessels, hence increasing the blood flow and speeding up the absorption of insulin. Sodium citrate, on the other hand, decreases the amount of time insulin would need to become effective.
Overall, this injection is a revolutionary discovery for diabetics all around the world.
3. Apnea detecting Smart Watch
Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition that results in narrowing or collapse of the airway during sleep due to the throat muscles’ inability to relax. It is a potentially serious condition that has dire consequences but somehow, a high number of sleep apnea cases go undiagnosed each year.
This is because many people don’t realize the seriousness of their condition. However, the new smartwatch by Withings aims to warn the wearer in the beginning phases of sleep apnea so that they can be diagnosed early and properly treated.
Called the ScanWatch, it has an oxygen sensor, a motion sensor, and a heart rate monitor that detects any decrease in oxygen saturation during the night. If a decrease is detected, it will inform the wearer immediately. The early diagnosis helps the wearer from the serious consequences of sleep apnea in the future.
Although this medical invention is still waiting for approval from the FDA, it is going to be a great help to all physicians and apnea-affected individuals.
4. Disposable Medical Endoscopes
Endoscopic evaluation of the gastrointestinal tract is an important step in the diagnosis of illnesses associated with the tract. Endoscopies use different endoscopes or long, flexible tubes with a camera and light at the end of them to allow for better visualization of the tract.
These endoscopes are a part of the equipment used and the same one is used for different patients, with sanitization processes taking place between patients. However, these endoscopes, especially a duodenoscope, are notoriously hard to properly clean and sanitize.
Failing to properly sanitize and clean the duodenoscope can result in infections passing from one patient to another, potentially causing a small outbreak. This must be avoided at all costs and the easiest way to do so would be by using disposable duodenoscopes.
Disposable endoscopes were a dream until earlier this year when the EXALT Model D Disposable Duodenoscope was approved by the FDA for regular use instead of the traditional endoscopes. No more worries about dirty scopes causing infections.
The next step on this journey of inventions would be the disposable colonoscope.
5. Gene Therapy for Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder of the red blood cells, affecting their ability to carry oxygen. It occurs due to a mutated gene that results in the formation of abnormal hemoglobin known as Hemoglobin S. This mutation must be inherited from both mother and father for the disease to present itself.
Hemoglobin S converts normal and healthy red blood cells into sickle-shaped cells, as the name suggests. These cells lose their flexibility and can now get stuck in small blood vessels, eventually causing anemia.
Until now, there was no cure for sickle cell disease. For years, gene therapy was a great option but only in theory. Application of gene therapy appeared to be a very difficult task with slim chances of success if any. However, researchers and pediatrics hematologists have used gene therapy to treat eight children with sickle cell disease.
Their technique includes conversion of defective, Hemoglobin S into healthier Hemoglobin F. The success of this treatment modality has indicated future use of gene therapy in the treatment of other hematological disorders.
6. Blood Test Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative and debilitating disorder that can significantly reduce the patient’s quality of life. An early diagnosis, however, can help the patients manage their symptoms and preserve their quality of life. It has no effect on the treatment as there is no cure present at the moment but it can improve the prognosis of the condition.
The main issue with an early diagnosis is that a definitive diagnosis depends on brain imaging, clinical assessment, and spinal tap, a very invasive medical procedure. Many people do not want to undergo this early on.
These people don’t need to worry anymore now, as there is a simple blood test that can be used for a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The test looks for certain proteins in the bloodstream, the buildup of which indicates the development of Alzheimer’s. This will help with an early diagnosis that can help people change their lifestyle and maybe even find clinical trials to participate in, to improve their prognosis.
The test is yet to be approved completely by the FDA but once it is, it may change how we view Alzheimer’s and its bad prognosis.
7. Myopia-slowing Contacts
Myopia or near-sightedness is a very common vision disorder that occurs due to incorrect refraction of light by the lens, resulting in image formation in front of the retina, rather than on the retina. . It causes the objects placed at a distance to become blurry and hazy.
Myopia affects a significant portion of the world population and usually begins to develop between the ages of 8 years and 12 years. CooperVision Inc. has released a new product that they guarantee can slow down the progression of myopia. The MiSight 1 Day are new contact lenses produced by them, that inhibit the elongation of growth of the lens which is usually responsible for the incorrect refraction and image formation.
These contact lenses aim to improve the myopia of children between 8 and 12 years when the myopia is still mild and hence, can be corrected or at least, slowed down. Studies performed to assess and analyze the success of the lenses found that they reduced the progression of myopia by a whopping 59 percent in three years.
Despite all the hurdles and challenges, laboratories have strived to set a new standard of healthcare which is evident through the breakthrough inventions listed above. And they are going to continue to do so, even in 2021. Because the years may change, but their work ethic and determination won’t.