Medical Breakthroughs 2011

From ARTIFICIAL CORNEAS to printing NEW SKIN and using cockroach brains to FIGHT SUPERBUGS, check out the amazing array of medical advances, selected by Reader’s Digest health editors FROM AROUND THE WORLD

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When Reader’s Digest set out to cover the biggest health news of the past year, we asked leading doctors and researchers around the world: what discoveries, drugs and medical devices make you most excited? And which developments are already changing the way you treat your own patients? The answers we got were surprising – and inspiring. These advances will change the way ailments are treated – and might save your life.

Artificial HeartA Heart You Can Recharge

When 50-year-old Angelo Tigano received Australia’s first Total Artificial Heart implant, he gave new hope to the 86 people currently on the transplant waiting list.

Last August, Tigano, from Sydney, had his heart removed and was fitted with a device that replaces the left and right heart ventricles, which are responsible for pumping blood. Once in place, the artificial heart can pump 9.5 litres of blood per minute.

Before the operation, Tigano couldn’t walk more than a few steps without gasping for breath and eventually was unable to eat or sleep. “He was selected to receive the Total Artificial Heart because, without it, he may have had less than two weeks to live,” says Dr Paul Jansz, his heart surgeon at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.

“It is one of the most successful devices we have to bridge people to transplant,” says Jansz, who plans to fit five patients a year with the artificial heart. “The device will get smaller, allowing us to implant it in smaller people, and there will be a modifica-tion to the valves that will free patients from the need for blood thinners.”

The Total Artificial Heart is not a new device – it has been implanted in more than 900 patients in the US, Canada and Europe. In Bangalore, a 54-year-old Indian diabetic patient became the first man to receive an artificial heart in Asia. He was implanted with a ventricular assist device called Ventrassist (Left Ventricular Assist Device) following a heart attack.

Rechargeable power pack bagIn Singapore, a similar artificial heart device known as Heartmate II has also been used to save failing hearts and improve a patient’s quality of life while waiting for a heart transplant. In the past, patients who received the temporary hearts were attached to a hospital unit while they awaited a transplant. But, just as the heart became available to patients, so, too, did portable power devices that runs on electricity or batteries. The new heart and power pack have given Tigano, and two other patients who have since received the heart, a new lease on life. “I’m feeling good and back to my two passions – gardening and cooking for my family,” says Tigano, who is still waiting for a donor heart.

Current Status The Total Artificial Heart and Heartmate II are available now


Could Cockroaches Save Your Life?


Yes, according to a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK. Powerful antibiotic properties in the brains of cockroaches and locusts are able to kill more than 90 percent of bacteria – intruders that are often deadly to humans, including methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aureus (MRSA) and pathogenic Escherichia coli – without harming human cells.

These findings, which were presented last year at a meeting in Nottingham of the Society for General Microbiology, could lead to novel treatments for multi-drug-resistant bacteria infections.

Current Status Available to the public in 5 to 10 years


Printing New Skin


Imagine using similar technology to a desktop printer to print new skin cells, which could help heal burns. A team at the Wake Forest Institute for Rege-nerative Medicine in North Carolina, US, has used a “bio-printer” to do just that. The device contains a laser that scans a patient’s wound to measure its dimensions. Then a computer controls the release of skin cells, which are sprayed directly onto the wound.

The bio-printer has only been tested on mice so far, but results show burn wounds healing two weeks faster than normal. Bio-printing would replace skin grafting, a painful procedure in which skin is taken from one part of the body to cover another.

With a bio-printer, the subjects’ own skin cells can be grown and multiplied in a lab to refill the printer. “You could cover the whole body after eight weeks of growing cells,” explains the institute’s director Dr Anthony Atala.

Current Status Human trials in about 3-5 years


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