The last 10 years have seen an onslaught of new medical discoveries and technologies, with many of them bordering on science fiction.
These discoveries have changed the way people live now and how they will live in the future.
Here are some of the biggest advances in medical science in the last decade — though this is by no means a complete list.
CRISPR gene editing
CRISPR is the name of a technique used to quickly and easily edit DNA — either snipping off genes entirely or replacing them with different ones.
The basic mechanism was discovered decades ago, but the technology has taken off in the last few years after it became more precise and easier to use. Right now, scientists are experimenting with editing the DNA of mosquitos to make them resistant to malaria or to make all offspring male, meaning they’re less likely to pass the disease on to humans.
Yes, we’re editing DNA now. Experts warn this won’t be without consequences. Studies have already shown that some CRISPR-edited cells get damaged and are missing a gene, leading to a potentially higher risk of cancer.
Then there are the ethical issues.
In 2018, a Chinese researcher claimed to have edited the genes of two unborn twin girls with the goal of immunizing them against HIV.
His experiments were not published in journals, nor were full results ever released, raising questions about the experiment. His claim was also roundly denounced by pretty much every medical body as well as the Chinese government.
But can we shut the door on human DNA editing? We’ll find out over the next decade.
Medications to treat HIV have been around for a while, and they’re very effective: drugs can actually reduce a person’s “viral load” — the amount of virus circulating in their blood — to undetectable levels. This means that it’s very unlikely, even impossible, for them to pass the virus on to others if the medication is used correctly. It’s also vastly extended the expected lifespan for someone following an HIV diagnosis.
In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of an HIV drug for prophylactic purposes — meaning people could use it to actually keep from catching HIV in the first place. The drug, Truvada, which was approved by Health Canada for HIV prevention in 2016, and subsequent generic versions are now being used by high-risk populations across Canada.
So far, prescriptions for PrEP have lagged behind public health officials’ hopes — which might be due to spotty drug coverage and the high cost of the medication — but it has made a difference. A recent study found that PrEP use was associated with a significant reduction in the number of new infections in an Australian state.
Ebola vaccines and treatments
While we’re talking about infectious diseases, it’s definitely worth noting another big one: Ebola.
Ebola outbreaks are ongoing in a few African countries, mostly the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. In 2014, a huge outbreak across West Africa killed more than 11,000 people.
It’s a nasty disease. It kills more than half of people who catch it, often through internal and external hemorrhagic bleeding.
However, over the last decade, we’ve seen clinical trials for various vaccines and even treatments for the disease, which are showing promising results. One vaccine, Ervebo, has even passed the clinical trial phase and was approved for use in November. It’s now being stockpiled for use in future outbreaks.
Although Ebola generally occurs far away from Canada, there is a Canadian connection: some vaccines and treatments were actually developed by researchers at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.
The term “artificial pancreas” is a bit of a misnomer, according to Diabetes Canada, but it’s the popular term for a device approved in the U.S. in 2016 and in Canada in 2018 to help treat patients with Type 1 diabetes. It’s more formally called a “closed-loop” system.
People with Type 1 diabetes no longer produce insulin. They used to have to take injections of insulin throughout the day to regulate their blood sugar and cut their risk of developing longer-term health problems like nerve issues that can lead to amputation or retinal problems leading to blindness.
Many patients have since moved on to more modern insulin pumps and testing devices.
This device makes things even easier. It first reads a patient’s insulin level, then decides via algorithm how much insulin to give them, shooting “microdoses” of the drug into their bloodstream automatically. The patient still has to add extra insulin in a few other circumstances, such as before a meal, but studies report these systems often lead to better control of blood sugar levels.
Diabetes advocates are looking forward to the development of a fully automatic system or a true “artificial pancreas” that requires no intervention from the patient, and also for better insurance coverage of these advanced devices.
One of the coolest new technologies is 3D printing, in which an object is created bit by bit from a computer pattern. And it didn’t take long for medical researchers to see the potential.
Doctors have created a handful of 3D-printed organs and body parts, but over the last decade, 3D-printed prosthetics have really taken off.
Need a new hand? Just visit a website and you can download a blueprint for free, along with detailed instructions on how to size and build it. Seriously. There has been an open-source community for years, run largely by volunteers. The organization e-NABLE estimates that thousands of people around the world are now using these prosthetics.
They’re not perfect: the devices can break, and e-NABLE recommends that people work closely with a health-care provider as they use their new prosthetic. But they’re much cheaper than traditional models and can be made much faster, putting prosthetics in reach for more people around the world.
Experts imagine that the medical applications for 3D printing will continue to expand, with complex organs like a replacement heart possibly coming down the road.
– Global News
Polio vaccine boosters offered to kids in London as virus linked to New York case detected – ABC News
Children in London are being offered polio vaccine boosters after sewage samples with the virus were found in multiple areas across the city.
The U.K. Health Security Agency announced Wednesday that all children between ages 1 and 9 across the British capital will be eligible to receive an inactivated polio vaccine booster.
“This will ensure a high level of protection from paralysis and help reduce further spread of the virus,” the agency said in a statement.
“While the majority of Londoners are protected from polio, the [National Health Service] will shortly be contacting parents of eligible children aged 1 to 9 years old to offer them a top-up dose to ensure they have maximum protection from the virus,” Jane Clegg, chief nurse for the NHS in London, added.
There are more than 1 million children between those ages who live in London as of mid-2020, the latest year for which data is available, according to the U.K. Office of National Statistics.
Between February 8 and July 5 of this year, poliovirus has been detected in 19 sewage samples across nine boroughs including at Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in London, which is the largest sewage treatment plant in the U.K.
Recently, a report indicated a polio case in New York was genetically linked to the samples found in the U.K.
Polio vaccines are part of routine immunizations for children. In the U.S., vaccinated children are not recommended to get a booster shot at this time.
According to the UKHSA, the booster program will begin in the areas where the virus has been detected and where vaccination rates are lowest before being rolled out across the city.
“The NHS in London will contact parents when it’s their child’s turn to come forward for a booster or catch-up polio dose — parents should take up the offer as soon as possible,” the agency’s statement read.
On July 21, health officials reported a case of polio was discovered in Rockland County in New York — just north of New York City — in a 20-year-old unvaccinated man.
The man contracted vaccine-derived polio, which means he was infected by someone who received the oral polio vaccine, which is no longer used in the U.S. or the U.K.
The oral vaccine uses a live weakened virus, which — in rare cases — can spread through fecal matter and infect unvaccinated individuals. Comparatively, the injectable polio vaccine, uses an inactivated virus.
As of Aug. 5, 11 samples were genetically linked to the Rockland County patient including six samples collected in June and July from Rockland County and five samples collected in July from nearby Orange County, health department data shows.
However, health officials have said the majority of the population is not at risk for polio because most were vaccinated as part of their regular childhood immunizations, but that it’s important for those who are unvaccinated to get their shots.
The New York State Health Department told ABC News its focus would be on ensuring immunizations.
“Our current focus is to ensure unvaccinated New Yorkers and children get immunized against polio and that they are up to date with their polio immunization schedule,” the department said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the organization in the U.S. that makes vaccine recommendations, but has not suggested any such move to add a fifth dose of polio vaccine to the current vaccine schedule underway.
The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
The agency recently told ABC News the U.S. health agency is deploying a team to New York to investigate the case in Rockland County. The team will also administer vaccines in the county.
“These efforts include ongoing testing of wastewater samples to monitor for poliovirus and deploying a small team to New York to assist on the ground with the investigation and vaccination efforts,” the agency said in a statement.
Monkeypox: Manitoba's top doctor gives vaccine update | CTV News – CTV News Winnipeg
Manitoba will be offering more vaccination appointments for monkeypox.
A news release from the province Thursday confirmed that additional appointments will be available “soon,” but no dates were listed.
Appointments can be made online or by calling Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257.
Manitoba recently expanded eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine, but on Monday, tweeted all appointments were booked.
To date, no monkeypox cases have been found in Manitoba.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said the province has a “scarce resource” of the monkeypox vaccine.
“It has to be stored properly, and it’s scarce because there are outbreaks happening in other jurisdictions,” he said. “We want to do whatever we can to avoid any wastage.”
While infections have primarily been reported in the gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM) population, Roussin said it is important to avoid stigmatizing populations.
“There is a balance between risk communication and doing whatever we can to avoid stigmatizing those populations,” he said.
Roussin added the province will be releasing data on total monkeypox vaccines administered next week.
Canada to start testing some wastewater for polio 'as soon as possible' – CBC News
After new reports of polio cases abroad, and virus samples in the wastewater of several other developed countries, Canada intends to start testing wastewater from a number of cities “as soon as possible,” CBC News has learned.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) already works to monitor polio activity around the world, a spokesperson said in an email response to CBC News questions.
Currently, PHAC’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg does have the diagnostic tools available to test samples for poliovirus. Any suspected positive Canadian samples of poliovirus will be sent to that lab for further laboratory analysis and confirmation, with results shared with the respective local health authorities “so appropriate public health measures can be taken if necessary.”
According to the statement, PHAC has been communicating with national and international partners who are experts in this field to finalize a wastewater testing strategy. It will be testing wastewater samples that were collected earlier this year from “key high-risk municipalities” to determine if polio was present prior to the reported international cases.
PHAC will also be sending samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional confirmation.
“However, it is important to acknowledge that accurately testing wastewater for poliovirus is a developing science,” the statement continued. “For example, wastewater detections can be affected by extreme precipitation events, such as flooding in a community.”
Reports of polio in U.S., U.K., Israel
On Wednesday, British health authorities announced they will offer a polio booster dose to children aged one to nine in London, after finding evidence the virus has been spreading in multiple regions of the capital.
The agency said it was working closely with health authorities in the U.S. and Israel, as well as the World Health Organization, to investigate the links between polio viruses detected in those two countries.
In July, Israel announced a recent outbreak of polio infections appeared to be under control, after multiple people became infected, including a Jerusalem girl who was paralyzed and now requires rehabilitation, according to the Jerusalem Post.
More recently, in the state of New York, one unvaccinated young adult suffered paralysis after a polio infection in Rockland County — an area known for low vaccination rates — which marked the first case reported in the U.S. in nearly a decade.
Outbreaks also remain common in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of Africa — areas of the world where vaccination efforts have not yet eradicated the virus.
Polio can often be asymptomatic, but in some cases, the viral infection can lead to paralysis or death.
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