5 Medical Breakthroughs of 2017


Every year, medical technology pushes the boundries, bringing hope for those suffering from grave illnesses and debilitating conditions.

Here are the 5 breakthroughs that shocked the world in 2017.

1. Growing organs in a petri dish to help treat cystic fibrosis

Els van der Heijden has cystic fibrosis but the 53-year-old was not benefiting from the expensive medication she was taking. Doctors did not want to try a new, more expensive drug because it had not been proven to work in people with the rare type of cystic fibrosis that Van der Heijden had.

Instead, they scraped a few cells from Van der Heijden and grew a mini version of her large intestine in a petri dish. When Van der Heijden’s “mini gut” responded to treatment, doctors knew it would help her too.

This experiment was done to help people with rare forms of cystic fibrosis. So far, doctors have grown mini guts – just the size of a pencil point – for 450 of the Netherlands’ roughly 1 500 cystic fibrosis patients.

2. Lab-grown skin saves boy dying from rare genetic disease

A seven-year-old boy from Germany had a rare genetic disease called epidermolysis bullosa and was on the brink of death. This disease makes the skin extremely fragile and thin, and had destroyed nearly 60% of his skin. As a result, he was suffering from fatal sepsis.

Doctors intervened by using stem cells and gene therapy to engineer a fully functional skin for the boy. He was the first person in the world to receive a skin transplant of this magnitude, and this operation holds potential for more research.

3. Lymph-node transplant surgery in South Africa a success

On local soil, a man suffering from advanced skin cancer and lymphoedema has received successful reconstructive surgery.

Surgeons at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital successfully performed a novel vascularised lymph node transfer, a procedure done on small blood vessels to treat lymphoedema.

Lymphoedema is a painful side effect of cancer and cancer treatment. This procedure is believed to be the first in South Africa.

4. Boy born with HIV remains stable for eight years, without using drugs

A South African child born with the Aids virus has kept the infection suppressed for more than eight years after stopping anti-HIV medicines – more evidence that early treatment can occasionally cause a long remission that, if it lasts, could be a form of cure.

The case was revealed during July 2017 at an Aids conference in Paris, where researchers also gave encouraging results from tests of shots every month or two instead of daily pills to treat HIV. This is a very promising reason why people should stay on their treatments, according to researchers.

5. HIV eliminated from mice

Another important breakthrough was made with regards to HIV. Scientists discovered that they could successfully cut out the HIV virus from mouse cells making use of CRISPR (gene editing) therapy. The study was first published in the journal Molecular Therapy.

While this study is still in its infancy, the HIV virus was eliminated by only one round of treatment – with more research, this technology can have far-reaching consequences for HIV.


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