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Most Important Medical Discoveries Made in 2019

Artificial organs and a possible cancer cure aren't the future—they're the now.

With politics dominating the news, it was hard to hear much about the discoveries that will not just change your life but extend it. Eat This, Not That! Health collected the biggest medical discoveries of 2019 that could have lasting effects on your health—and our healthcare—forever.


3D-Printed Devices and Organs

scientists gathering around 3-D printer and watching process of model production in laboratory

The 3D printer was invented in 1983 by Chuck Hull. In 2019, however, the medical industry began to perfect 3D printers to design and create artificial organs. Implants, joints, and prosthetics can be measured and designed precisely, so they fit perfectly in your body. The printing has improved the ability to accurately design and create artificial organs, so they're more likely to be comfortable and mobile for the recipient.

Research published in the British Medical Journal studied 350 cases of 3D-printed artificial implants, the majority of which were used in oral and maxillofacial surgery (affecting the mouth, teeth, jaws and face) and 23.7% of which were used in musculoskeletal system (which provides form, support, stability, and movement to the body). These implants were found to be "clinically effective," and it was concluded that these 3D printed devices "outperformed their conventional comparators." 

In one case, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Glenn Green treated an infant with localized bronchial malacia, a breathing issue, with a three-dimensional splint created by a 3D printer. The splint immediately improved the infant's breathing. Said Dr. Green: "Beyond anything that I even dreamt about during my early training, 3D printing offers the ability to create medical devices to improve the lives of our patients."


Genetic Testing to Decrease the Opioid Epidemic

collection of prescription capsules and tablets in the shape of DNA

Opioid addiction is an overwhelming and dangerous problem in the U.S. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people die in the U.S. every day from opioid overdoses and 21% to 29% of patients who were prescribed opiates by their doctors abuse them. Since chronic pain is the reason for opioid prescriptions, the medical industry is focused on alternative therapies for pain relief. In 2019, the process of pharmacogenomic testing was analyzed and may be one of the strongest methods of alternative therapy to opioid prescriptions.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, "Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genetic factors relate to interindividual variability of drug response." A patient's genetics are studied and tested so the medical provider can better predict how he or she will metabolize a drug. With this information, more accurate and effective drug therapy can be prescribed for pain management. With unique and custom-tailored drug therapies for pain sufferers, the need for opioid prescriptions can decrease.

Routine pharmacogenomic testing is not endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and isn't widely accepted by medical providers or health insurance companies yet. However, research, additional testing, and clinical trials conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute this year may bring this method to the forefront to fight against the opioid crisis.

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A Possible Cure for Cervical Cancer

Medical Research Scientists Examines Laboratory Mice kept in a Glass Cage. She Works in a Light Laboratory

One of the most exciting medical discoveries of 2019 was when Australian scientists used gene-editing technology to eliminate cancer from experimental mice. Over five years, these scientists injected specialized nanoparticles into mice that had tumors caused by the gene E7. This is the gene usually found in cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the culprit for cervical cancer. 

The scientists edited this gene by introducing additional DNA, a technique called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR). Nigel McMillan, the lead researcher in the study, said, "This is like adding a few extra letters into a word, so the spell checker doesn't recognize it anymore."

All mice survived this treatment, and the tumors were 100% eliminated. The scientists may move on to conducting this experiment in humans next. While this treatment has a ways to go before it can be approved and proven effective, it's an exciting small step to the potential cure for cancer.

RELATED: 30 Surprising Things That Affect Whether You May Get Cancer


Virtual Reality for Medical Training

close up shot of doctor wearing virtual reality glasses

Today's virtual reality is so realistic, medical students and professionals can use these programs to practice performing medical procedures and surgeries or to learn more about real-life situations they may encounter in a healthcare setting.

A study published in Cyberpsychology and Behavior states that virtual reality technology is being used in the healthcare industry for:

  • Medical crisis training.
  • Temporal bone dissection.
  • Orthopedic surgery.
  • Virtual endoscopy simulator.
  • Arthroscopic knee surgery.
  • Interventional neuroradiology procedures.
  • Esophageal intubation training.
  • Laparoscopic skill practice.

Not only can virtual reality training help future medical professionals practice dealing with real-world situations, but they can also build confidence in currently practicing doctors. By sharpening their skills through virtual reality programs, medical providers can put their knowledge to the test to ensure they feel comfortable performing complicated or grueling medical procedures and surgeries.

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A Visor That Detects Strokes

The volumetric impedance phase shift spectroscopy (VIPS) device
Courtesy of Cerebrotech Medical Systems

About 800,000 strokes occur each year, according to research published in Neurotherapeutics. Approximately 87% of these strokes are ischemic strokes, which are caused by blood clots blocking blood flow to the brain. About 10% of these strokes are primary hemorrhage strokes, which usually occurs when blood vessels in the brain rupture. While hemorrhage strokes aren't as common, they're more deadly. According to Harvard Medical School, 30% to 60% of people with an intracerebral hemorrhage die. 

Since hemorrhage strokes cause internal bleeding inside the brain, fast diagnosis and treatment is crucial to prevent permanent brain damage or death. Medical professionals focusing on how to quickly diagnose this type of stroke created the hemorrhage scanning visor. This visor scans the brain to detect bleeding. By simply placing the hemorrhage scanning visor on a patient's head, a medical professional can easily identify if the brain is hemorrhaging and begin treatment immediately. Science Daily claims this visor has 92% accuracy and provides results within seconds, making this a promising medical discovery of 2019.


Discovery of a New HIV Strand

Focused life science professional pipetting human serum media containing HIV infected cells from petri dish to microtiter plate

The discovery of a new Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) strand in 2019 sounds like a bad thing. But, to develop effective treatments for this disease, researchers must be able to identify each different strand and learn how it behaves. This is the first new strand of HIV that's been identified in 19 years, so it's a breakthrough that can help researchers in their quest for effective treatment.

According to the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, specimen CG-0018a-01 is a rare form of HIV. Researchers are still studying how it affects the body and if it responds to the HIV treatments that are already developed. Co-author of the study, Dr. Carole McArthur, states, "This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to out-think this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution."


RNA-Based Therapies

Laboratory research of cancer diseases, rack with RNA samples

Genetic diseases, including certain forms of cancer and neurological diseases, are currently incurable, but researchers are dedicated to finding treatments. RNA therapies work similarly to DNA based therapies and have shown promise for treating gene mutation disorders in 2019. RNA therapy interferes with genetic data at the ribonucleic acid (RNA) level to try and "fix" the gene mutation that's causing the disease. 

By tweaking the nucleobase code, or the fundamental units of genetic code, scientists can adjust what the therapy affects. According to Professor Paula Hammond from MIT: "You simply change the sequence, and you're hitting another indication. If the platform works once, it multiplies."

According to UMass Medical School's RNA Therapeutics Institute, this treatment is still undergoing clinical trials but has been showing favorable outcomes. Once tested appropriately, researchers are hopeful RNA-based therapies can help to treat:

  • Neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Diabetes.
  • Atherosclerosis.
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease).
  • Preeclampsia.
  • Hypercholesterolemia.
  • Viral infections.
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin.
  • Huntington's disease.
  • Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD).



Videoconferencing With Happy Female Doctor On Laptop

We stare at our phones to check work emails or look for the latest shopping deals. Why not use this little piece of addictive technology to improve our health? Telemedicine, also referred to as telehealth, has taken off in 2019. With the latest telemedicine services, you can see a doctor right through an app on your smartphone instead of waiting for a face-to-face appointment. In some cases, a simple email providing information on your symptoms will suffice, while some specialists may want to video chat with you before offering a diagnosis or treatment. Telemedicine is a great way for patients with chronic conditions to check in with doctors without going through the rigamarole of making an appointment and heading to the doctor's office.

According to the American Hospital Association, telemedicine will continue to grow. About 76% of U.S. hospitals offer telehealth services to their patients. Medicare provides some form of reimbursement for telemedicine sessions, and 35 states and the District of Columbia have enacted "parity" laws that require private health insurance companies to cover telehealth services. The telemedicine industry has proven its effectiveness and convenience in 2019, and growth and improvement should continue over the coming years.


An Injection to Prevent Paralysis

Radiologist analysing X-ray image with human spine in consulting room

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, there are about 17,700 new spinal cord injury cases each year in the United States. Some of these cases can cause paralysis or even death. When your body experiences a trauma, it goes into overdrive, attempting to clear out damaged tissue and provide defense against infection. But sometimes your body's reaction to the injury can do more harm than good.

With a spinal cord injury, the body's reaction can cause nerve damage, numbness, or paralysis. That's why researchers from the University of Michigan focused their studies on eliminating this sometimes debilitating and permanently damaging over-reactive immune response. These scientists discovered that an injection of non-pharmaceutical nanoparticles helped to suppress the harmful immune activity that occurs after a spinal injury. 

Not only is the effectiveness of this spinal injury "Epi-pen" good news for those who experience spinal cord injuries, but this treatment also shows promise for other conditions. According to Jonghyuck Park from the University of Michigan, a research fellow on this study, "Hopefully, this technology could lead to new therapeutic strategies not only for patients with spinal cord injury but for those with various inflammatory diseases."


Bluetooth-Enabled Inhalers

Mother use mobile phone
Courtesy of Propeller Health

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America claims that more than 25 million Americans have asthma. This condition is easily manageable by using an asthma inhaler. But one product making waves this year can prove to be helpful for these people living with asthma. A Bluetooth-enabled smart inhaler has a small device attached to it that records the date and time of the last dose administered. This data is sent to the patient's smartphone, allowing the patient to track the frequency of inhaler use and stay on a strict treatment plan as needed. By keeping track of the frequency of use, doctors can identify if a patient is overusing an inhaler and further investigate the reasons for overuse.

According to Jon-Paul Sherlock, director of AstraZeneca's Intelligent Pharmaceutical Respiratory division, "This new technology introduces the potential to support patients, ensuring they get the best from the medicine they have been prescribed." Adding this cutting-edge technology to inhalers can change the way asthma sufferers manage their condition and can make it easier for them to stay healthy. Can't wait to see what 2020 brings us! And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.

Kelly Hernandez
Kelly Hernandez is a health and wellness writer and certified personal trainer. Read more about Kelly