Scientific breakthroughs that are changing the health world
With British Science Week launching from 11 March – 20 March, there is no better time to recognise this invaluable sector.
Over the past year, where everything from space exploration to the environment is concerned, science has dominated the news. Where we really made progress, however, was medical science. We saw scientific breakthrough after scientific breakthrough, some of which could even hold the potential to change the health world as we know it.
Revolutionary wound dressings
Many people don’t realise just how life-changing insulin-dependent diabetes can be. High or unstable blood sugars can result in damage to nerve fibres, numbness and tingling, and pain in limbs which can cause wounds and ulcers to develop. In severe cases a small blister could ultimately result in amputation, so the search for a way to treat these conditions is crucial, and we could be getting close.
The answer may have arrived in the form of wound dressings made from human amniotic membrane – a tissue found in the placenta. When the membrane is stripped back for use as a dressing, only the mesh-like protein scaffold is left. Rich in collagen, it’s this that, according to King’s College London’s Dr Dusko Ilic, heals wounds significantly faster.
There has been huge progress in HIV treatment over recent years, and the latest breakthrough is no exception. An oral vaccine has completely blocked the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) in rhesus macaques: a version of the human HIV virus.
The vaccine is administered alongside doses of ‘friendly bacteria’ which suggests that following initial safety trials on humans it could be administered to humans in drink form.
Brain in a dish
Science fiction became science fact last year, when researchers from Stanford University successfully cultivated human brain cells in a petri dish. Using human skin samples, they created ‘free-floating balls of human brain cells’ that behave in a similar way to our cerebral cortex. This part of the brain controls how we perceive our surroundings, so it’s hoped that the cells will shine more light onto how the cortex develops. Ultimately, this research could offer an invaluable insight into how conditions like schizophrenia and autism develop.
Office productivity booster
We’ve spoken about ways to improve office productivity before, but now there could be another technique to add to your repertoire. Among the din and distraction of many open-plan offices, research has revealed that a natural soundscape could boost employees’ concentration and wellbeing. The sound of softly flowing water can mask the background buzz of voices and phones, leaving people more able to focus.
A potential cure for paraplegics
In 2015, a 26 year old American became the first person with paraplegia caused by spinal trauma to walk without manually-controlled robotic limbs. After spending five years in a wheelchair, the man was fitted with an electrode-covered cap designed to recognise the brain waves associated with walking. Once identified, the command is beamed to a computer before returning to a micro-controller on the man’s belt, stimulating the nerves and triggering movement in the leg muscles.
After five years, it’s understandable that the patient needed intensive training to be able to generate recognisable walking signals again. Once accustomed to the equipment, however, he walked a 3.5 meter course, giving hope to people with paralysis across the world.
You can’t deny that medical science has developed in leaps and bounds, even in the last 12 months. If you’re anything like us, we bet you can’t wait to see what kind of breakthroughs 2016 will bring.
This article was first published on 25th February 2016.