Innovation in Medicine: 5 Discoveries That Are Driving Change in Healthcare

What we know about medicine and healthcare is constantly evolving. Smallpox wasn’t eradicated until 1980, and MRIs weren’t commonly used until the 1990s.

In 20 years, we’ll probably look back in shock and what we don’t know now. With so many innovations occurring in the healthcare field, it can be difficult to keep track of the ones that are really important.

Check out this innovation in medicine guide to learn about the top discoveries that are driving change.

1. Immunotherapy for Peanut Allergy Sufferers

Peanut allergies can be a huge burden for both children and adults. According to the American College of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology’s Annual Scientific Meeting, about 1.2 million children and teens in the US suffer from peanut allergies.

Seeing how common peanuts and peanut butter are in the American diet, living with this allergy can be very difficult. However, there is hope for peanut allergy sufferers, as the FDA recently approved the first oral immunotherapy treatment for children with peanut allergies.

The treatment comes in capsule form and contains a minimal amount of pharmaceutical-grade peanut protein. Over time, the dose increases as children build up their tolerance. In a recent clinical trial, 3 out of 4 children reached the daily maintenance dose of 300mg, which is the equivalent of one peanut.

Although this discovery is certainly not a cure, it can help lessen the worry parents experience when their children are accidentally exposed to peanuts.

2. Drone-Delivered Medical Supplies

UPS has been conducting a trial program since March called Flight Forward. This program uses autonomous drone deliveries to transport critical medical supplies from one location to the next.

The idea is that in times of emergencies, medical professionals will quickly and easily be able to transport blood samples, tissue samples, and other essentials like drugs from one place to the next. This innovation will also make it easier to get medical supplies to remote locations and rural villages that are hard to access by car or plane.

So far, UPS has run tests between two hospitals in Raleigh, North Carolina, which are located 150 feet apart. In October of 2020, the FAA granted the UPS permission to expand its program to 20 more hospitals in the US over the next two years.

UPS is not the only company looking to get into the air delivery field. Google’s parent company Alphabet just recently received similar but a bit more limited permission to conduct air deliveries for FedEx and Walgreens.

In Rwanda and Ghana, drones operated by Zipline, a startup company based in Silicon Valley, are already delivering medical supplies to rural villages.

3. Big Data

One of the biggest hurdles the healthcare industry faces is how difficult it is to gather data for lifestyle studies and drug development. But, that’s all changing thanks to the smartwatches many of us wear on our wrists.

Millions of people wear smartwatches and use more traditional tracking devices like thermometers and blood-pressure monitors to track our health. If there was a way for scientists to aggregate all of the data and make it anonymous but searchable, researchers would have a powerful way to learn more about our health habits in lifestyles.

This will make it easier for researchers to pinpoint correlations and figure out what types of studies need to be conducted. One research firm that is leading the charge in this type of data collection is called Evidation. This firm partners with drug manufacturers such as Eli Lilly and Sanofi to gather data.

Their work has already led to dozens of peer-reviewed studies on everything ranging from diet to sleep to cognitive-health patterns. We should expect to see more research companies looking for ways to harness big data from everyday people to further our knowledge of the medical field in the near future.

4. Using Stem Cells to Cure Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, about 1.25 million Americans suffer from Type 1 diabetes.

Currently, there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes. Treatment typically involves a lifetime of insulin injections, careful eating, and multiple blood glucose tests each day.

However, one scientist by the name of Dough Melton is working on a different approach for treating Type 1 diabetes: stem cells. Melton is trying to figure out a way to use stem cells to create replacement insulin-producing beta cells.

His work has been in progress for over a decade, and in 2014, Melton founded the company Semma Therapeutics (named after his son and daughter, Sam and Emma) to develop this breakthrough technology. So far, the company has been able to create a small implantable device that contains millions of replacement beta cells that allow insulin and glucose through while keeping immune cells out.

They are still undergoing animal tests, but if the device works as well in humans as it does in animals, then Type 1 diabetes management may be a thing of the past.

5. A Vaccine for Coronavirus

If there’s one scientific breakthrough that everyone is eagerly anticipating, it’s a vaccine for coronavirus. Coronavirus has killed over 1 million people and affected nearly 40 million, and these numbers are continuing to rise.

Scientists and research companies have been working furiously to find a vaccine to stop the spread of the virus. One company that is at the forefront of vaccine research is Moderna, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The company was co-founded by a team of accomplished scientists: Kenneth Chien, Robert S. Langer, Derrick Rossi, Timothy A. Springer, and Noubar Afeyan.

The company began testing for a vaccine back in March of 2020, and as of September 2020, it announced progress in all three clinical stages.

Innovation in Medicine: What Does the Future Hold?

As you can see from this innovation in medicine guide, the future is looking bright in the healthcare industry. Of course, we still have a long ways to go, but it’s encouraging knowing there are scientists out there working to make us healthier and happier.