Sunday, November 2, 2014

An astonishing pace for medical breakthroughs

I just finished Michael J. Fox's excellent memoir, Lucky Man. One of the things that struck me is how those of us who don't have a certain disease know little about its history and treatments, but once you're diagnosed, you're suddenly thrust into a crash course of learning lots of new terms and details. The book taught me a lot about Parkinson's Disease. Just a few decades ago there were very few treatments available, but today there are several effective ways of dealing with the symptoms. These are all temporary, though, since no permanent cure has yet been found. But Fox is very optimistic that a cure is just around the corner.

That seems realistic, because medical breakthroughs are happening at an astonishing pace. In just the past two weeks, I came across three different ones, all mentioned in The Week magazine:

New hope for spinal cord injuries

A paralyzed man is now walking again after specialist cells from his own nose were transplanted into his broken spinal cord. The special cells were injected at both ends of the broken spinal cord, and connected with nerve tissue taken from the man's ankle. Within three months, he started to regain feeling below his waist, and now two years later, he is able to stand and walk.

Stem cells raise hope for diabetes cure

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that causes the pancreas to stop creating insulin. Last week, researchers announced that they have used stem cell technology to grow billions of insulin-secreting cells, which were used to treat the disease in mice. If this works in humans, people could be cured with a single transplant. The lead researcher has been searching for a cure for 23 years, because his children have the condition.

A prosthetic arm that can touch and feel

Scientists in Sweden have demonstrated the first prosthetic arm that is controlled by the user's mind. The patient controls the arm and hand with his thoughts and can actually feel them touch things. The limb should be commercially available within a few years.

Science says: lightsabers are next.

Now if science could just find out a way to cure this nasty cold I got from my toddler, we would be all set.

Donate to the Michael J. Fox Foundation here.