More New Medical Breakthroughs

The most amazing discoveries, devices, tests, and cures.

By RD Staff from Reader's Digest | March 2007

Cervical Cancer The vaccine Gardasil (Merck), for girls and women 11 to 26, prevents infection from four strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer.

Shingles Anyone who’s had chickenpox is susceptible to the painful disease shingles. The Zostavax vaccine (Merck) is recommended for people over 60 at greatest risk.

Whooping Cough The vaccine we get as babies wears off after about seven years, so we now have Sanofi Pasteur’s Adacel (for people ages 11 to 64) and GlaxoSmithKline’s Boostrix (for those ages 10 to 18).

Cancer Zolinza (Merck), a new medicine for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, is also being studied for other types of cancer, including leukemia.

Diabetes Januvia (Merck), a once-daily pill for type 2 diabetes, is the first of a new class of medicines that enhance the body’s ability to control blood sugar. With Exubera (Pfizer), a fast-acting needle-free insulin, diabetics simply puff on the asthma-type inhaler before eating to deliver insulin quickly, regulating blood sugar.

Heart One pill, three impressive jobs: The beta blocker Coreg CR (GlaxoSmithKline) reduces blood pressure and treats heart failure as well as post-heart-attack problems.

Smoking In trials, 44% of smokers who took prescription Chantix (Pfizer) for three months kicked the habit, versus 30% who used other drugs and 18% on a placebo. Available: Now — Patricia Curtis

Cancer- Curing Creature A scorpion’s sting can be deadly, but scientists are now discovering that the poison may also be lifesaving. Researchers are using a man-made version of the venom of Israeli yellow scorpions to treat gliomas, aggressive brain tumors that are hard to fully remove by surgery alone. Of the 17,000 Americans diagnosed annually, only 8% survive for two years. A protein in the venom selectively binds itself to cancerous cells while bypassing the surrounding healthy ones. Combined with radioactive iodine and injected into the body, the venom targets and destroys the offending cells. Early results show that the treatment is safe and extends life in some patients, so a larger study with 54 people nationwide is now under way. Available:5+ years — Neena Samuel

Nano-Knitters for Nerves Researchers at MIT have found a way to restore vision in brain-damaged rodents. The innovative procedure uses nanotechnology to spur growth in damaged nerve cells. Scientists say the technique could someday be used to restore speech, hearing, vision and movement in people affected by stroke, brain trauma and spinal cord injuries.

How does it work? A clear liquid of amino acids is injected into the injured part of the brain. The amino acids assemble into a mesh-like structure that’s similar to the body’s connective tissue. This “scaffolding” allows nerve cells to grow and reconnect, restoring lost communication between the brain and the body.

MIT neuroscientist Rutledge Ellis-Behnke tested the solution in hamsters with severed optic tracts. Within 24 hours, the injured nerve cells began to regrow in both young and adult rodents. “The brain started to heal,” Ellis-Behnke says. “We have never seen that before.” Six months later, 75% of the animals had regained functional vision. Available:5+ years — Laura McClure

The Anti-Aging Pill What if there were a pill you could take to ward off the diseases that come with aging? Researchers at the National Institute on Aging and Harvard University may have found the answer: resveratrol, a substance found naturally in red wine. Even though scientists fed mice a high-fat diet, a daily dose of resveratrol protected them from diabetes, and they lived longer than mice who didn’t get any. It’s still unclear exactly how resveratrol works, but it seems to mimic the life-lengthening benefits of calorie restriction. No matter how much red wine you drink, it would be tough to get enough resveratrol (not to mention the side effects of alcohol), so pharmaceutical companies are looking to develop a specially formulated pill form. More research is needed to determine if the effects would be the same in humans, but if they are, we’ll drink to that! Available:5 years — Patricia Curtis

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail