When you think of the worst kinds of illnesses and conditions you can get, things like strokes, heart attacks, cancer, and AIDS generally come to mind. Unfortunately, these are also ailments that have historically had unstable treatment options. While many people survive cancer, AIDS, and even debilitating strokes, treatment for any of these life-threatening conditions tends to be somewhat hit or miss, commonly resulting in fatality. There is no magic pill that can completely reverse these catastrophes. Yet, with advances in medicine, we are getting closer to discovering better alternatives to classic treatment. Doctors and researchers are thinking outside the box for ways to tackle otherwise crippling illnesses, saving lives with unique methods and innovations.
Advances in Stroke and Heart Attack Treatment
For those with aneurysms, it may feel as though you have a death sentence built into your body. An aneurysm is an abnormal widening in an artery as a result of weakness in the blood vessel wall. It appears like a berry hanging from a branch; only it’s a swollen vessel threatening to burst. When it ruptures, it can lead to strokes or even death. Some people know that they have an impending aneurysm. The Ivanhoe Newswire covered a story on glue for aneurysms, a breakthrough treatment option for those with intact aneurysms threatening their life, which is one in every 50 people. Nasser Razack, M.D. is a doctor who is using liquid Onyx, glue specially made to seal aneurysms. The procedure is done by feeding a catheter into an artery up to the brain, where glue is injected and subsequently hardens into place. By sealing the aneurysm, further damage is prevented. Other methods, such as coil insertion, are far less effective than the glue, making it a medical miracle of sorts for those with aneurysms.
For those that have recently suffered a stroke, a new approach might rapidly accelerate the healing process. For most wounds, ice is applied in order to reduce the swelling. Scientists have applied the same theory to brain injuries to develop a process known as brain cooling. During a stroke, the brain swells and presses against the skull which can result in bleeding and possibly death. Yet, researchers needed to think more broadly than equipping their patients with an ice pack. The brain is a bit more complex than a sprained ankle. “Because the brain has a very high metabolism…It’s the main control center of the body and generates a lot of heat. So a mechanism that can actively draw heat away is required to cool it down,” notes Dr. John Wang, a neurosurgeon that came up with a brain cooling head cover. The cover fits on the head and is monitored frequently to ensure the patient doesn’t develop frostbite while the brain temperature lowers to around 92 degrees. Wang got the idea using technology developed by NASA, which originally catered to astronauts who needed it to survive the high temperatures on the moon.
Similarly, therapeutic hypothermia may be an effective treatment option for heart attack sufferers. The American Heart Association began implementing therapeutic hypothermia in 2005, in which patients’ body temperatures are lowered for a short while to temperatures between 90 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit. As the body’s metabolism slows, the body needs less oxygen, which gives the brain, heart, and other organs some resting time after the damage of the heart attack. The hypothermia actually has restorative properties for such people. That isn’t the only relatively new treatment for heart attack patients. In Australia, 64-year old Pauline Fulton was the first person to receive a heart attack treatment referred to as liquid treatment, or the bioabsorbable cardiac matrix. In such treatment, a medicine derived from seaweed is injected into the heart shortly after a heart attack occurs. The liquid builds a protective barrier-like substance around heart muscle to reduce the swelling. After the heart has been given time to heal — which takes place within six weeks — the liquid dissolves.
New Cancer Solutions
Nearly everyone has been touched by cancer at some point in their lives, whether it’s through a family member, a close friend, or through their own personal battle with the illness. While daily news reports touch on various lifestyle choices that lead to cancer and potential food and cosmetic products identified as carcinogens, it’s hard not to grow a little hysterical about a disease which seems to know no boundaries. However, while cancer statistics can be daunting, there are some hopeful facts and figures floating around, reflecting treatment and prevention opportunities around the globe. According to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, for between 1975 and 2008, cancer death rates have steadily declined.
Thus far, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only a handful of cancer vaccines, which are made to help the body protect itself from and kill off carcinogens and cancerous cells, but as technology and research improves, there are certainly more vaccines on the horizon. Among the approved vaccines are those that ward off the hepatitis B virus, a leading cause of liver cancer, vaccines against human papillomavirus types 16 and 18, which cause the majority of cases for cervical cancer, and a cancer treatment vaccine intended for men who suffer from metastatic prostate cancer. There are also clinical trials of cancer-ridding vaccines taking place every day for other major cancers, such as breast cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, and brain tumors. As scientists begin to identify the offending microbes contributing to cancer, they can readily develop vaccinations and eventually, trials will lead to success.
Man’s best friend may also prove his loyalty even further by contributing to the cancer cause. Cancer-smelling dogs officially became a reality in August 2011, when a German study proved that dogs’ noses are more effective at sniffing out diseases such as cancer than any type of expensive, elaborate medical equipment. In the study, trained dogs were given test tubes to sniff which contained breath samples of both regular people and those with lung cancer. The dogs were able to correctly identify 71 out of 100 patients with lung cancer. They also correctly identified 372 out of 400 test tubes containing samples of patients without lung cancer. The canines’ noses were so astute that they could distinguish which samples were lung cancer tubes and which samples belonged to patients with varying lung problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. So while many strains of cancer are currently difficult to detect, our furry friends may be able to do what advanced medical equipment can’t and shed light on those with cancer before it becomes too serious to adequately treat.
Hope for AIDS Patients
AIDS was once seen as an unbeatable force. The Center for Disease Control estimates that approximately 50,000 people are newly infected with HIV each year in the United States. Yet, with modern medicine and treatment, AIDS is slowly becoming a combatable disease. The epidemic still holds strong, but doctors are working hard to find ways to prevent and cure the disease. Currently, the best way to prevent HIV aside from consistently wearing condoms is through pre-exposure prophylaxis, or antiretroviral medications used by those without HIV to prevent contracting the disease. Truvada is the first medication of this kind to be approved. While it has made leaps and bounds in fighting against the AIDS epidemic, it wasn’t 100% effective in clinical trials because the participants did not always take it, and it must be religiously administered. Those who skip days on the drug are at risk of being infected, and if they continue to take the drug after being infected, they risk developing a resistance to it.
Likewise, a recent study developed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine used humanized BLT mice in an effort to block HIV transmission. The mice are named as such because their animal tissues have been altered to contain human bone marrow, liver, and thymus tissues, so they are akin to humans in terms of their immune system. In this way, scientists can study the HIV disease within the animals with the knowledge that their immune systems will react in the same way that humans’ immune systems will. The scientists took their findings and are in the process of creating a topical pre-exposure prophylaxis drug, similar to Truvada. Instructor of medicine J. Victor Garcia-Martinez, PhD, mentions that the “animal model has great potential value for testing and predicting the HIV preventive benefits of the second generation of microbicide candidates that are aimed at preventing viral replication. The results of these studies will help provide important information for current and future clinical trials.”
The Future of Medicine
The previously mentioned drug and treatment advancements are only a handful of the hundreds of clinical trials conducted each day, with many providing solutions to all kinds of ailments and conditions. Treating such catastrophes may seem like an uphill battle, but considering the gravity of these diseases, researchers have made tremendous leaps to help prevent further illnesses and have come to the aid of those that are already suffering from them. Each study sheds light to valuable information. Whether the researcher’s intuition is correct or not, we are able to eliminate possible treatments and discover new ones, taking steps closer toward a successful result.