Healthcare reform, website glitches, fines, yadda yadda yadda. The politics, posturing and ongoing debate over the new healthcare laws drowned out many of the fascinating medical stories that occurred in 2013.
So before all the chatter turns up in 2014, I want to cut through the noise and give an honorable mention to advancements that will save and improve the quality of lives of millions of Americans.
Dr. Nina's What you Need to Know about the "gifts that will keep on giving:"
1. Cancer vaccine. The development of a new weapon in our war against cancer is closer to fruition. Currently, we utilize a shotgun approach with chemotherapy and radiation, where shots are sprayed and damage healthy tissue. While this is effective and we are having more success on the war against cancer, it takes no prisoners. A sharp shooter approach that demonstrates precision when taking out the cancer cells and leaves the healthy tissue intact is a welcomed agent on the horizon. A vaccine can stimulate the body to develop antibodies that then attack only the "foreign invading" cancer cells. While we have made great strides in the success in fighting cancer, it still remains the third leading cause of death in America; this vaccine is a weapon we want in our arsenal.
2. NAD - a.k.a. the "fountain of youth." - This is an amazing anti-aging compound that could be trialed on humans as early as next year. Researchers have demonstrated that when 2-year-old mice were given NAD for just one week, it moved back the key indicators of aging to that of a 6-month-old mouse. If translated to human years, this would be equivalent to taking a 60-year-old person and turning back the hands of time to their 20s. The goal of NAD is not to increase quantity of years (e.g. living until we are 300 years old), but to keep our bodies free of disease so we can have quality.
3. Statins. The two major American heart societies just came out with game-changing rules when it comes to who should be taking a statin. Instead of basing the decision on cholesterol levels of more than 100, we are now looking at risk factors for heart disease. What does this mean? First, your cholesterol levels "ain't nothing but a number" and, second, 1 in 3 Americans qualify for taking a statin. So at your next visit, you may be getting a new prescription to fill. So, as you start out the new year with resolve to make good choices to eat healthy and exercise.
4. Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). Once the stuff only seen in science fiction movies, this has become a promising possibility to help people with prosthetic limbs or those who are paralyzed. BMIs allow the human brain to send electrical signals and control these devices so these patients can live more independent lives. Imagine the possibilities for our veterans who lost limbs when fighting for our country or those who have been paralyzed due to some tragic event.
5. Renewed focus on preventative medicines. As a doctor, my role - and the entire healthcare industry - is transitioning. We are witnessing foundational changes as we go from fixing people once they are sick to preventing them from getting sick. Eating healthy, exercising, not smoking and cancer screenings, may be the best medicine I can prescribe. And, afterall, if it ain't broke, you don't have to fix it.
Unlike sensational news, that comes and goes, these triumphs will help the health and lives of millions in the years to come. They are the groundwork upon which the foundation and structure of progress will continue to be built upon. This reminds me of the saying I heard, "It's no coincidence that four of the six letters in health are 'H-E-A-L.'"
Dr Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at firstname.lastname@example.org