What’s Happening Now
Exciting Advances to Health Care are coming in 2016
These will be the biggest medical advancements for 2016, according to three nationally known experts. They are Francis Collins, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health; Michael Roizen, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute; and pathologist Michael Misialek, M.D., of Tufts University School of Medicine and Newton-Wellesley Hospital.
Busting brain clots
A tiny new tool to dispose of brain clots will be a “game changer for stroke treatment,” Roizen says. Although clot-dissolving drugs are the first line of treatment for the most common type of stroke, when they don’t do the trick, physicians can now use a stent retriever to remove the small mass. A wire with a mesh-like tip is guided through the artery into the brain to grab the clot. When the wire is removed, the clot goes with it. The American Heart Association has given the device its strongest recommendation, after studies found it improves the odds that certain patients will survive and function normally again.
The goal of linking the brain to a robotic limb to help paralyzed people and amputees move naturally is closer than ever. Previously, brain implants to help move these artificial limbs have had limited success because the person had to think about each individual action (open hand, close hand) in order to move the limb. But now, researchers are putting implants in the area of the brain that controls the intention to move, not just the physical movement itself. This allows patients to fluidly guide a robotic limb. “We think this will get FDA approval in the next year and will have a major clinical impact on paralyzed patients,” Roizen says.
New cancer vaccines
Your body’s immune system fights off germs that cause infections — could it be taught to fight off cancer cells? That’s the idea behind new immunotherapy cancer vaccines, which train the immune system to use its antiviral fighting response to destroy cancer cells without harming healthy cells. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already has approved such vaccines for the treatment of advanced prostate cancer and melanoma. Current research is focused on pairing new and old vaccines, including the tetanus vaccine with a newer cancer vaccine to treat glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer. Those who received the dual vaccine lived three to seven more years after treatment than those who received an injection without the tetanus portion. Among the most eagerly anticipated vaccines in 2016, Misialek says, is a lung cancer vaccine. Work on such a vaccine, first developed in Cuba, is already underway here.
Researchers are closing in on the day when a single drug will treat many different cancers. While traditional clinical trials focus on testing a drug for a particular type of cancer based on its location — breast or lung, for example — new studies are testing therapies that target a specific genetic mutation found in a tumor, regardless of where the cancer originated. “We’re throwing all cancers with the same mutation in one basket,” pathologist Misialek says, and then testing a drug that targets that mutation. Results of an international basket trial found that a drug focused on a single genetic mutation can be effective across multiple cancer types, including a common form of lung cancer and a rare form of bone cancer.