5 Breakthrough Medical Treatments in 2015

First Posted: Dec 30, 2015 04:19 PM EST

This year held some important advances in the field of medical science. Let's take a look back at some of the most memorable progress made.

Donor T-Cells Reprogrammed to Fight Leukemia

Last year,  Layla Richards was diagnosed with leukemia when she was just 14-weeks-old, according to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Though doctors were initially unable to treat her--even following a bone marrow transplant--an experimental treatment involving "retrained" donor T-cells to ward off infection in the body helped attack the girl's cancer and save her life. 

Health officials took donated blood and separated the white blood cells--known as T-cells, which normally help in fighting infections in the body--and edited the cells' genes; this gave the cells the ability to attack the cancer. Then, they injected the cells into Layla.

Meanwhile, TALEN, a genetic technique that stands for transcription activator-like effector nuclease, helped to sequence specific sections of the DNA from the donated blood cells.

With future testing, the genetically edited T-cells may one day be used to help adults and children with blood cell cancers and neuroblastoma--a cancer found in the adrenal glands. 

Cooling Cap Reduces Hair Loss during Chemotherapy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared the first cooling cap to reduce hair loss (alopecia) for female breast cancer patients undergoing chemothearpy in the United States, according to a news release

Complete or partial hair loss is a common side-effect of chemotherapy due to rapidly dividing cells (including healthy and cancerous cells) targeted by the chemotherapy. With the help of the cooling cap, which circulates cooled liquid to the head during treatment, blood vessels in the scalp are constricted, reducing the amount of chemotherapy that reaches cells in the hair follicles (hair roots).

Simple Visual Test Helps Detect Autism Sooner

As of 2014, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that 1 in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD)--with an overwhelming majority of boys affected by the health issue (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.) Unfortunately, the behavioral health issue is sometimes diagnosed later in life, resulting in the loss of critical developmental and learning skills before proper diagnosis.

This year, researchers at Harvard University developed a breakthrough in understanding the disorder so that treatment for children might begin much sooner--involving a simple visual test that shows how the brains of children with autism take up to twice as long to respond to certain images, according to a news release. Researchers also linked a specific chemical messenger in the brain, known as GABA, to autistic behaviors.

The study was published in Current Biology

Doctors To Perform 60 Penis Transplant In the U.S.

In 2015, we learned that the girlfriend of the first successful penis transplant recipient--a South African man whose organ was amputated after severe complication's from a circumcision--was pregnant. The procedure for the penis transplant was performed in December of 2014, according to CNN.

Now, doctors at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are preparing to perform the first penis transplant in the United States on a veteran who was severely injured in combat. The researchers have also received permission to conduct as many as 60 transplants on veterans with genital injuries--which affected over 1,300 men between 2001 and 2013 under 35 in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new organs come from a deceased donor and begin functioning within a few months; this time allows the new owner to urinate, regain lost sensation and have sex.

Is Mind-Reading Actually Possible?

It's true. Technology may actually make mind-reading possible, according to new research conducted by scientists at the University of Washington.

Researchers conducted an experiment involving a specially designed Electroencephalography (EEG) machine set up to connect two users; one that had a participant's EEG brainwaves transmitted back to another via a magnetic coil behind a participant's head.

The device works in stimulating the visual cortex, in which the original participant sees a flash of light. When this happens, they know that the answer to the question is yes, according to a news release

The study involved 20 games that were a mix of control and actual experiments. Findings showed that participants guessed objects correctly 72 percent of the time when compared to 18 percent involving the control games.

Researchers are now exploring the possibility of "brain tutoring," which involves the transfer of signals directly from healthy brains to ones that are developmentally impaired or impacted by external factors such as a stroke or accident--or simply to transfer knowledge from teacher to pupil.

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

For more great science stories and general news, please visit our sister site,Headlines and Global News (HNGN). 

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