More New Medical Breakthroughs

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

By RD Staff from Reader's Digest | March 2007

One Flu Shot Fits All A universal vaccine could protect you from all major strains of flu, even the dreaded avian variety. Scientists are targeting a flu protein called M2 that appears in all influenza A strains. Current shots protect against only certain strains.

While an M2 vaccine may not keep people from getting sick, they might get a milder version of the flu. The good news: Fewer patients would die. Today, up to 35,000 people, mostly the elderly, succumb to the flu each year. M2 clinical trials could begin this year. Available: 5+ years — Lisa Fields

Sight Saver Two new drugs (one a proven cancer fighter) have given millions of macular degeneration patients hope of improving their vision. “With these new treatments, we’re able to keep people functioning and help them live productive lives,” says Richard Rosen, MD, a retina specialist at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Avastin is already approved for cancer treatment and is being used to treat macular degeneration, and Lucentis was approved as a treatment for the disease last year. Both are anti-angiogenesis drugs, which stop the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors. When injected directly into the eye to treat the “wet” form of macular degeneration, the drugs stop the growth of vessels in the retina that obstruct vision. Available: Now — Cynthia Dermody

Why We Love Chocolate, Reason #27 As if we needed another excuse: New evidence suggests that eating a little chocolate might help ward off artery-blocking, heart-attack-provoking blood clots. During a recent study, Johns Hopkins University researchers discovered that clots formed more slowly in the blood of chocolate lovers than in those who passed on the sweets. Cocoa beans contain chemicals called flavonoids, which seem to have blood-thinning effects similar to those of aspirin, known to reduce platelet clumping. Dark chocolate, which is lower in sugar and fat than milk chocolate, is the healthier way to reap the newfound rewards. Available: Now — Lindsay Miller

A Virus to Kill Cancer? Scientists are using modified viruses to fight tumors. The viruses bind only to cancer cells, reproduce and spread, killing the cancer while sparing healthy tissue. Researchers at UCLA used HIV to attack melanoma in mice. Although humans won’t be tested with this protocol for years, at the Mayo Clinic, trials are under way using the measles virus to fight ovarian and brain cancers. Available: 5+ years — Lisa Fields

Do-It-Yourself Heart Repair While the debate continues over the use of embryonic stem cells, scientists have figured out a way to use adult stem cells to treat heart attacks. Doctors often place a balloon in the blocked artery, opening it up to restore blood flow and limit the damage. Adding stem cells taken from your own bone marrow may be even more effective, say researchers in London. When injected into the artery, the cells go directly to the spot where the heart was damaged. In mice studies, the cells turn into heart muscle and restore much of the heart function. One day we might be able to completely restore the heart after an attack, says researcher Anthony Mathur, PhD. “This is the first time we’ve used our own cells to repair damaged organs.” Available: 3-5 years — Patricia Curtis

Replacement Parts for Women Until now, the only artificial knee on the market was designed for everybody. But women’s knees are narrower and more delicate than men’s, and the implant commonly caused parts to overhang, causing rubbing and pain and making it difficult for patients to get out of chairs or climb stairs. Last year, the FDA approved the first implant for women, the Gender Solutions High-Flex Knee, from Zimmer, Inc. “Women are not just little men. They are different, and they walk differently,” says Robert Booth, MD, chief of orthopedic surgery at Pennsylvania Hospital, who has installed about 500 of the new implants. “Now we’re going to be customizing parts to patients rather than saying everybody drives a Ford.” Next up: artificial hips for women. Available: Now — Cynthia Dermody

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