7 of the Most Important Medical Innovations of 2015

Every year, entities in the medical industry unveil numerous advancements in technology and treatments that change the way we deliver care to patients across the globe. Often building upon the knowledge and medical practices of years before, these advancements aim to dramatically change the scope of health care.

In 2015 the following advancements impacted the medical community, and will continue to do so for years to come:

1. New Heart Failure Inhibitor

Image courtesy Sam-CatFlickr

In the last two decades, numerous improvements in cardiac treatment have helped increase the life expectancy and quality of living for those who experience chronic heart failure. However, it is the recent introduction of the angiotensin-receptor neprilysin inhibitor (ARNI) that has revolutionized the way patients manage their conditions. In a 47-country clinical trial, the drug displayed an ability to lower the occurrence of cardiovascular fatality by 20 percent when compared to the more widely used angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor. Using a combination of an angiotensin receptor blocker and sacubitril, ARNI helped improve the conditions of those who were already using standard cardiovascular treatments. The encouraging results of the clinical trial helped the drug receive approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2015.

2. Intraoperative Radiation Therapy

Early detection and treatment remain the most prominent means of minimizing the recurrence of breast cancer in female patients. Most women typically undergo lumpectomies to remove the tumors, and then pursue radiation treatment, which is often time consuming and can cause harmful side effects. However, with intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT), many women can better avoid these risks and burdens. Though it has been used for some time as an intra-abdominal cancer therapy, IORT has most recently been used to administer radiation to women during lumpectomy surgery. By focusing the radiation into the surgical cavity itself, doctors are able to eliminate the need for multiple post-surgery treatments. Not only does this form of therapy have the same effect as standard radiation treatment, but it also reduces the overall cost of care.

3. Dengue Fever Vaccine

Over the course of half a century, dengue fever has become one of the world’s quickest-spreading mosquito-transmitted diseases. With the condition affecting more than 50 million people each year, researchers have worked for more than 20 years to develop an effective treatment. These efforts culminated in the recently introduced Dengvaxia vaccine. Pharmaceutical developer Sanofi Pasteur created the vaccine to address the four dengue fever serotype viruses that are prevalent across the globe. During three clinical trial phases conducted in Asia, Dengvaxia proved its efficacy at treating serotypes 1, 3, and 4. Overall, the vaccine reduced severe cases of dengue in nearly all trial participants and minimized the need for patients to receive hospital care. After Sanofi Pasteur published its finding from these trials in July 2015, the drug received approval for distribution in Mexico and the Philippines.

4. TellSpec Food Scanner

Image courtesy idua_japanFlickr

Those who have specific dietary restrictions often need to know exactly what is in the food they eat. In an effort to provide a comprehensive nutrition and ingredient diagnostics system, TellSpec developed its innovative food scanner. The device leverages near-infrared spectroscopic beam technology to shine a light onto food items, thereby causing light protons to absorb into the food and relay similar low-energy protons back into the reader. TellSpec’s food sensor then analyzes the wavelengths of the protons and uses this information to determine what chemical compounds the food contains. This can help users gain insight into the calorie content, allergens, and nutritional information of their food. While it is a good way to maintain a healthy diet, the TellSpec sensor best benefits patients with diabetes, who need to manage their food intake.

5. Leadless Pacemakers

Since the late 1950s, cardiac patients have used electronic pacemakers to manage their heart conditions. These devices typically encompass a subcutaneous pulse generator that delivers electric signals to the heart via thin leads. However, these wires sometimes begin to degrade over time, which can give rise to infections and often require surgery to repair.

In 2015, a smaller version of the pacemaker received approval for implementation across Europe. Dubbed the Nanostim Leadless Pacemaker, the device is about the size of a vitamin and can easily fit inside the right ventricle of the heart, eliminating the need for traditional leads. The size also enables surgeons to implant the device during non-invasive procedures, which reduces scarring and surgical complications.

6. Mobile Stroke Units

When an individual experiences a stroke, ruptured or blocked arteries in the brain can lead to cranial bleeding, which can result in debilitating nerve damage or even death. As such, the most effective means of mitigating these risks is to administer prompt care to stroke patients. Recently, medical centers in the United States and Germany have begun using mobile stroke units to reach patients quicker than ever before. No matter where patients are at the time of stroke, these specialized ambulances can bring all the standard technologies used to diagnose and treat stroke right to them. This enables the units’ team of paramedics, computed tomography (CT) technicians, and nurses to accurately determine the course of care and administer the life-saving tissue-type plasminogen activator (r-tPA) drug within minutes.

7. PCSK9 Inhibitors

Though doctors have long used prescription statins to treat those with high cholesterol levels, many of these patients fail to respond effectively to this form of treatment. Some individuals also have a genetic mutation that causes low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to occur in unnaturally high levels. If untreated, these proteins can build up inside arteries and potentially lead to death. In order to curb this risk, patients are now able to use PCSK9 inhibitor injections. Self-administered up to twice per month, these drugs are designed to reduce cholesterol levels to extremely low levels by suppressing the liver’s LDL receptors. In 2015, the FDA approved a number of PCSK9 inhibitors for use in regular treatment of high cholesterol.

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