Biggest Innovations in Medical Technology in 2013

The field of medical technology is incredibly exciting these days. Each breakthrough has the potential to impact the lives of thousands of patients, sometimes changing the course of medical history and forever improving the human experience. Such can be argued for antibiotics, x-rays, vaccines, or even things as seemingly simple as disposable medical instruments (an extremely important sanitary innovation). Year after year, teams of research physicians and engineers work to advance our knowledge and abilities.

This article reviews some of the most influential medical innovations of the past year. From new insights in the treatment of diabetes to a new type of optical surgical procedure, incredible innovations and advancements have been achieved this year.


Implant Relieving Severe Headache Pain

A new type of neuromodulation therapy has emerged that seems to be an effective treatment for cluster and migraine headaches. Americans ranked headaches just below the common cold as a malady that delays productivity and causes long-lasting or consistent pain. The National Headache Foundation claims that headaches affect 28 million adults annually, and cost the US $13 billion annually because of lost work days.

Neuromodulation therapy treats a cluster of nerves behind the face that signal headache pain. This device, implanted in the face by way of the mouth, is positioned to stimulate the facial nerve that relieves headaches when stimulated. A separate device, placed on the cheek, activates the device, relieving pain in as quickly as five to ten minutes. European testing showed that 75 percent of patients reported an increase in quality of life from the use of this device. More clinical trials are still underway.


Bariatric Surgeries Treating Diabetes

The gastric band is one form of bypass. | wikimedia

The gastric band is one form of bypass. | Wikimedia Creative Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Obesity-related type-2 diabetes is a common concern in the United States. Typical treatments involve monitoring blood sugar levels and undergoing lifestyle consultations in order to handle the body’s new needs when living with the disorder. The blood sugar monitoring process involves drawing small amounts of blood multiple times per day, which quickly becomes painful and annoying to the patient.

Doctors who have performed bariatric surgery, also known as gastric bypass, have noted in the past that many of their patients had gone into diabetes remission as they recovered from surgery. This evidence has some health care professionals advocating gastric bypass treatment as an early tactic for fighting diabetes, instead of as a last-resort effort.


Bee Venom Treats HIV

HIV is a pervasive disease that affects both families and communities across the globe. Its resilience, paired with its potency, is nearly unparalleled. Efforts to treat the infection that are currently available. A newly-discovered chemical could lead to new antiviral treatments that could prevent the transmission of HIV and, possibly, treat HIV in the bloodstream of people infected with HIV.

One toxin found in bee venom, melittin, has been found to destroy HIV particles. Researchers claim that the particles break apart the physical structure of the virus, but are too small to have an impact on other cells within the body. A proposed method for distributing the chemical is a topical virucidal agent.

Due to the structure of the chemical and the way that this treatment would work, it is generally believed that HIV will not be able to genetically modify fast enough to negate this treatment, as has happened with other treatments currently employed.


Detecting Skin Cancer with a Hand-held Device

Millions of Americans each year feel the effects of Melanoma, more commonly known as skin cancer. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans will be treated for it in their lifetime, making it the most widespread in the nation. Caught at an early stage, the survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent. In advanced stages, though, that rate drops to a mere 15 percent.

The good thing about the skin and its relation to cancer is that we can observe it. Visual detection is the best way to prevent advanced stage melanoma. Therefore checking moles and other discoloration on the skin regularly can be the best form of early detection.

If a patient notices a change and brings it to the attention of their dermatologist, this new device is able to scan the area and report to the physician whether or not melanoma is present within a few seconds. It works by analyzing a database of over 10,000 images alongside a structural scan of the skin using military-grade optical technology. Clinical trials show that this device is nearly 98% effective.


Cataract Surgery at one Quadrillionth of a Second

In the US, over 75 percent of people over the age of 60 have trouble with cataracts, or dead cells in the eye that accumulate and cause foggy vision. Cataract surgery, which involves cutting away the cells and replacing them with an implant that reduces or eliminates the need for glasses in many cases, is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the country.

the femtosecond laser device will make the cataract treatment process much easier for millions of people. | Focus Laser Vision

The femtosecond laser device will make the cataract treatment process much easier for millions of people. | Focus Laser Vision / Flickr / CC BY-ND

Femtosecond laser technology will help improve the outcome in the more than 1.6 million annual cataract surgeries that are performed in the US annually. The apparatus, which separates the tissue by ablating and cleaving it, instead of cutting it, operates in one quadrillionth of a second. Its speed and precision help reduce swelling post-op, allow less time to be spent on the eye, and help the surgeon be more accurate with the implant. Optical surgeons across the globe are eager to implement this new device in order to improve their practice.

This entry was written for AIMS Education  by  Ian Morrow

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