While breakthroughs in any industry always make for fascinating stories, perhaps none of those stories are more exciting than the ones made within the field of healthcare.
Quite often, these developments are life changing, and even life saving. At one point, cancer was a virtual death sentence. Ditto for HIV. It’s only been within the past few years researchers considered the possibility that what used to be the cause of Alzheimer’s may actually only be a symptom of the cause.
Point being, breakthroughs are still happening.
And what are the next big evolutions from the world of healthcare? Here’s a closer look at the ten most fascinating projects in the works from the realms of pharmacology, biotechnology and more.
Healthcare Innovations: Crispr
It’s not clear who actually holds the patent on it; the University of California Berkeley and a joint venture combining the work of MIT and Harvard researchers are arguing the matter out in court.
Whoever owns Crispr– short for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” — may be sitting on a gold mine. See, it’s not hyperbole to say that the biotechnology could be the biggest leap the world of medicine has ever seen.
How so? Crispr may give caregivers the ability to edit a genome, or DNA, making it the holy grail of HIV treatments, cancer therapies, and more.
The delivery of the correct genome is driven by an engineered protein. At one end of the chain lies a correct DNA sequence, which will only attach to the proper area on a broken DNA strand (the biggest hurdle with DNA repair to this point). At the other end the protein chain is a cutter, of sorts. The repair to the cut is made with the correct DNA delivered by the protein.
Such a capability could change the face of medicine.
Healthcare Innovations: 3D-Printed Body Parts
To be fair, it’s a bit late in the game to be calling 3D-printed organic body parts a breakthrough.
Organovo Holdings Inc (NYSEMKT:ONVO) started doing it in back in 2013, and though it has yet to revolutionize regenerative medicine (printed body parts don’t work as well as they need to) it’s at least proven the premise. The next big leap in the world of 3D-printed bodily tissue may now be underway.
Thank a team of researchers at Wake Forest University for the leap. They’ve come up with the right materials and process to “print” a body part that starts out as a gel and then solidifies at the right time, and also allows blood vessels to grow in the matrix rather than just on the physical matrix … like real living tissue. This had been the proverbial missing link.
A living, printed body part fit for a human is now in sight.
Healthcare Innovations: Anavex 2-73
While we know considerably more about Alzheimer’s disease than we did a decade ago, even merely promising treatments and effective therapies remain few and far between. There is one drug from Anavex Life Sciences Corp (NASDAQ:AVXL), however, that deserves all the buzz it’s created.
It’s called Anavex 2-73. The sigma-1 receptor agonist reduces oxidative stress, protein misfolding and brain inflammation … all the biggies associated with Alzheimer’s.
In phase-2 trials it’s been able to restore one patient’s ability to play the piano and another Alzheimer’s sufferer’s ability to paint. In an environment where simply slowing the disease’s progression down is considered success, Anavex is showing signs that it can reverse the disease’s effects.
Healthcare Innovations: The Argus II Bionic Eye
While it’s not an all-out replacement for a functioning eye, the Argus II — from a company called Second Sight Medical Products Inc (NASDAQ:EYES) — is a respectable, functional step to that end.
The Argus II is a camera/sunglasses combination that can distinguish things like where the edge of a sidewalk is, or even see large letters. That in itself isn’t a showstopper though. The electronic eyeballs used for automotive safety purposes and even self-driving cars can distinguish the difference between the road and another car.
What makes the Argus II so compelling is the fact that the camera’s sensors are connected directly to the user’s retina, which then send that message to the brain.
It’s a low-detail image, but as the technology develops, the detail level of the interface with the retina could improve dramatically, and eventually send a clear image to the brain.
Healthcare Innovations: Gel-Based Tamoxifen
Gel-based medicines aren’t unheard of. Post-menopausal women can replace the hormones they don’t make on their own by applying them through the skin, and low testosterone can also be addressed with a topical gel. But, can a medicine applied/absorbed through the skin actually fight cancer? Yep.
The drug in question is Tamoxifen, or generically, Nolvadex. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:TEVA) and Mylan NV (NASDAQ:MYL) both make the standard form of the generic drug, but in a Phase-2 clinical trial of the treatment, a gel format of the same was shown to combat breast cancer as effectively as the oral dose was, without all the harsh side effects.
Though any FDA approval is still in the distant future, success on this front could open the door to other topical medicines.
Healthcare Innovations: Mind-Controlled Prosthetic Limbs
While some prosthetic limbs can be mechanically actuated, and more recently robotic arms and legs can be controlled by their user, one thing science hasn’t been able to do yet is create a fluid, natural movement of an artificial limb using nothing but the wearer’s mind. And even then, major brain surgery was required to install a controlling device. That miracle solution, however, may be closer than most people realize.
It’s already happened, in fact. Last year, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency connected the electrodes of an artificial hand to a paralyzed man’s sensory cortex … the posterior parietal cortex, to be precise. Not only could the patient control the hand with his mind, but could even “feel” with the hand.
There’s still work to be done with the biotechnology, but researchers are getting close. Next year, human trials of the so-called stentdrode partially developed with Darpa’s help will begin in Australia, requiring little more than an insertion of stent.
Healthcare Innovations: Cell-in-a-Box
One of the key challenges of live cell implantation is the body’s rejection of anything that “looks” foreign to the immune system. All too often a donated organ or tissue is attacked by the recipient immune system, causing a myriad of problems.
What if, however, those living cells could be encapsulated by a durable shell, allowing the cells inside to operate as usual, but protecting them from an attack by white blood cells?
That’s exactly what Cell-in-a-Box from Pharmacyte Biotech Inc (OTCMKTS:PMCB) does. That is, it envelopes a certain kind of cell in a strong but partially porous shell, allowing them to produce a variety of necessary enzymes, hormones, etc., but without inducing the tissue scarring that’s been witnessed with other encapsulation attempts.
One capsule, about the size of the head of a pin, can hold thousands of cells.
To date, the Cell-in-a-Box platform has been used to activate cancer drugs very near the point of the tumor in pancreatic cancer patients, but the most exciting prospect of the biotechnology so far is the encapsulation of insulin-producing cells. That’s right — Cell-in-a-Box may be a way of creating an artificial pancreas for diabetics.
Pharmacyte Biotech is an OTC stock, and a penny stock to boot, so use an appropriate amount of caution. But, that doesn’t make the biotechnology any less cool.
Healthcare Innovations: Smart Contact Lens
Most investors haven’t heard of Verily. Most investors have, however, heard of Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL). Verily is an Alphabet subsidiary, working on some rather amazing healthcare projects. One of the more curious and plausibly attainable ones is a contact lens that can monitor a diabetic’s glucose levels.
It was only last month a former Verily employee claimed such a device doesn’t exist beyond a mere premise. But, the creation of such a device wouldn’t be a stretch just using readily available technologies. The fact that Alphabet’s Verily continues to tout the contact lens says there’s something to it.
We also already know that Alphabet isn’t afraid to kill projects that aren’t working. Case in point? Google Glass, for one. So, the fact that Verily is still making the smart contact lens a top-three projects speaks volumes.
Healthcare Innovations: IP1867B
The drug’s name, IP1867B, certainly sounds scientific … even intimidating. That is, it’s intimidating until you hear it called by its more familiar name, liquid aspirin.
Here’s the crazy part — this particular liquid aspirin may be ten times more effective as a therapy for brain tumors than anything else available right now. (Who said a medical breakthrough had to be complicated?)
Actually, there is some rather advanced science to using liquid aspirin as a treatment for brain cancer. The drug, jointly developed by UK’s Brain Tumour Research Centre Innovate Pharmaceutical, is actually a combination of aspirin and two other ingredients. In its highly soluble form, it looks as if it will be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, doing what most drugs can’t.
Human trials have yet to start, but if it works in a clinical trials as well as it has in preclinical studies, the industry will be forced to rethink how it delivers all sorts of drugs into the brain.
Healthcare Innovations: Memory-Erasing Drugs
Last but not least, as much as it sounds like science fiction (or a campy spy movie), a pill that erases near-term memories may be within reach in the foreseeable future.
It wasn’t what Cornelius Gross of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory was looking for when he had the “aha” moment. But, he found that in his mice test subjects, weakening a synapse linked to a specific memory makes it difficult to recall that memory.
The drug in question could theoretically do the same for humans who’d like to forget their most painful, debilitating memories. Though such a therapy is years down the road, at least we know how it could be done — dentate gyrus granule cells (the “learning” cells of hippocampal pathways) need to blocked and then reprogrammed, so to speak.
This type of treatment would be particularly useful for soldiers with PTSD or witnesses to violent crimes.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.