In medical research, finding a method to combat a chronic or terminal illness doesn’t typically come along very often. Of course, this being the future, such advancements are coming along at a far greater clip than decades or even a few years ago.From the cosmetic to the truly life-giving, you’ll be surprised at some of the conditions where inroads have been made toward conquering them.
The use of stem cells has made regenerative medicine a promising field in recent years. At RIKEN, Japan’s largest research organization, methods have been developed to regenerate teeth and certain glands in laboratory mice by taking advantage of stem cells’ ability to change into virtually any type of cell. But that’s not all: This technique can also restore hair follicles and could virtually cure hair loss when made available to the public.Unlike traditional follicle transplants, which simply move active follicles to new locations where hair has been shed, the stem cell–based therapy actually regenerates new follicles—not simply stopping hair loss but promoting new growth. Electronics maker Kyocera is leading the charge to manufacture equipment for the process. In the US alone, over 50 million people are affected by hair loss—roughly one-third of them women.
A new study from the University of Tsukuba theorized that mitochondrial DNA does not mutate naturally, but accumulates proteins over a lifetime. The mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells.
By resetting aged cell lines with stem cells, the “old” cells morphed back into “young” cells. The process of combining stem cells with the amino acid glycine will reverse some of the defects to mitochondria that develop over long periods of time.
A 2005 Stanford University study also demonstrated the effectiveness of a new process in which medications and nutritional supplements extend life expectancy and boost natural regenerative powers in the human body.
Hepatitis C is a chronic infection of the liver that is difficult to manage, costly to treat, and often fatal. Approximately 350,000 people worldwide are claimed by the disease every year. The only previously available treatments helped 25–75 percent of patients (depending on the virus type) and came with a slew of unpleasant side effects.Hepatitis C used to be incurable but no longer. In 2014, pharmaceutical company Gilead received FDA approval for a 12-week, pill-based course of treatment that eliminates the disease in the vast majority of patients.Similar drugs were subsequently approved from pharmaceutical giant Merck and AbbVie. Although this is great news, the drugs can be prohibitively expensive—over $80,000 for a course of treatment in many cases.
The treatment for leukemia has also been shown to dispose of unneeded biological material in Parkinson’s patients. Coordination and motor skills, the two main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease have shown remarkable improvement in low doses of nilotinib.
However, over time, the beneficial effects had been reversed, and the disease’s symptoms had returned. Researchers are still assured by this new form of treatment.
Florida doctor has come up with a controversial, stem cell–based treatment to reverse blindness. The controversy arises from the fact that Dr. Jeffrey Weiss is not affiliated with any research institutions nor has his procedure undergone any clinical trials. But he has used the procedure—which involves extracting stem cells from bone marrow and injecting them into the patient’s eyes—to restore vision to over 100 blind patients.
As of mid-2016, a similar procedure is currently undergoing clinical trials at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Their technique uses an ultrathin layer of polyester to distribute the stem cells behind the patient’s retina.
Herpes is an extremely common virus with over 100 strains, only eight of which ordinarily infect humans. Some versions are virtually asymptomatic, meaning people can be infected all their lives and not know it. There is no cure, but a promising new treatment has all but eradicated the disease in the lab by editing the DNA of the virus.
Researchers used the gene editing technology CRISPR to target double-stranded DNA in three herpes strains, including Epstein-Barr (which can also cause cancer). CRISPR essentially cut the viral DNA to pieces. The process was also shown to severely inhibit virus replication, especially with Epstein-Barr. Although the researchers acknowledge that further research is needed, no other treatment has shown such promise in eradicating the herpes virus.
7. Type 1 Diabetes
Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. It is a genetic disease that deprives the body of insulin, which is created by pancreatic beta cells in patients. The immune system attacks these cells.
The Stem Cell Institute at Harvard has developed a complicated but effective procedure, which turns generates beta cells from stem cells. Combining these cells with an immunosuppressant, which will prevent the patient’s body from attacking the beta cells is also an option being considered.
8. Alzheimer’s Disease
Incurable and irreversible, Alzheimer’s gradually robs the sufferer of their mental faculties and precious memories. However, scientists from the United States and Australia intend to bring a pair of new vaccines—which have shown incredible potential to destroy the toxic proteins in the brain associated with the disease—to human clinical trials within a couple of years. Not only could the vaccines prevent dementia, but they may actually reverse its effects when administered together.
Meanwhile, Salk Institute researchers have discovered that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, seems to excel at removing the buildup of these toxic proteins. In lab tests, THC reduced the levels of toxic proteins and eliminated the associated inflammatory response. The team also discovered that endocannabinoids, compounds similar to marijuana that are made by the body, trigger these beneficial responses naturally.
AIDS was not recognized before the 1980s, but now it is an epidemic that is rife in developing countries and is also a serious problem for those in industrially advanced nations. Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome, caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been known to have no treatment, cure or vaccine, perhaps until recently.
IN 2012, a potential vaccine dubbed RV144 was tested on rhesus monkeys. The result showed the first instance of a substance reducing the rate of the acquisition of the virus. (2)
In July of 2016, Case Western Reserve University duplicated these results using macaques. Using pre-vaccination RNA screening on the subjects allowed the researchers to accurately predict the results of the vaccine in two-thirds of the monkeys. The researchers concluded that this could be a catalyst for “personalized and predictive vaccinology.”
A host of related but different conditions fall under the umbrella of “cancer,” making a blanket cure impossible according to almost all medical researchers. But a team at Johannes Gutenberg University didn’t get the memo and say they have taken a huge step toward a universal cancer vaccine. Their encouraging results come from testing in lab animals and early human clinical trials. Although called a vaccine, it would be administered to patients with cancer. It works by shooting tiny pieces of RNA from the patient’s cancer cells at the immune system to mount a lethal response against any cancer cells of this type. Different types of cancer can be targeted by changing the RNA used in the process.The treatment has been shown to kill “aggressively growing” tumors in mice. So far, it has only been tested in human patients for safety, which yielded good results. No previous treatment has shown such promise against multiple varieties of cancer.