Health Features

Health Advances on the Horizon

As we head toward a new decade, medicine will continue to provide advances in prevention and treatment that revolutionize how we avoid health problems, heal from disease and even improve how we look. Here are some interesting developments expected to make waves in the new year.

combating cancer

Recently, a Nobel Prize was awarded to researchers who uncovered new ways the body’s immune system can attack cancer more aggressively. It was a breakthrough in the field of immunotherapy, which artificially stimulates the immune system to combat disease. Depending on the patient’s needs and type of cancer, immunotherapy can be used alone or with other treatments like chemotherapy.

Types of cancer immunotherapy:

  • Monoclonal antibodies: Human-made versions of immune system proteins designed to attack specific parts of a cancer cel
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors: Drugs that help the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells more effectively
  • Cancer vaccines: Used to stimulate a beneficial immune response in the body
  • Nonspecific immunotherapies: Boost the immune system in general, which can in turn help it attack cancer cells

Can a vaccine really fight cancer?
Most vaccines are given to prevent viral or bacterial infections, but some new ones offer promise in preventing and treating cancer. There are a few different types:

  • Tumor cell vaccines are made of actual cancer cells from the patient, altered and killed in the lab so the immune system will attack them.
  • Antigen vaccines are made of proteins or pieces of proteins called peptides; they can be made for specific types of cancer.
  • Dendritic cell vaccines include special immune cells from the patient that help the system recognize cancer tissue.
  • Vector-based vaccines use inactivated viruses, bacteria or yeast cells to deliver antigens into the body.

Some of these methods actually use the patient’s own cells, specially processed in a lab and then injected back into the body. They are known as autologous vaccines and are more difficult to make than those from an outside source (allogeneic vaccines). It’s not yet known, however, if one type works better than the other.

Sources: American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Cancer Society

Did you know?
About 1.7 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. It affects more men than women.
Source: National Cancer

a healthier he♥rt

SLUCare cardiologist Dr. Lisa Alderson says heart disease is another area where new developments are improving the lives of patients. “There are many exciting advancements in cardiovascular care, including less invasive ways to treat heart valve disease,” she says. “Transcutaneous aortic, mitral and pulmonic valves are being used now, and transcutaneous tricuspid valves are in trials.” These implants can be used in patients whose valves are not functioning properly to move blood through the heart.

“We also have powerful new medicines called PCSK9 inhibitors to treat hyperlipidemia, or high cholesterol,” Alderson says. The abnormally high concentration of fats in the blood can contribute to heart disease.

She adds that advances in imaging technologies like CT angiography are making the diagnosis of coronary artery disease easier and safer for patients. “All of these advancements will lead to better outcomes for patients, longer lives and less invasive ways of treating conditions that required surgery in the past,” she says.

Did you know?
About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. each year. It accounts for a quarter of all deaths.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

help for aging skin

The field of skin care is getting a boost from recent advancements as well, according to Carol Anderson, R.N., CANS, owner of Nouveau, a Boutique MedSpa. She says more than one new method will help patients look their best in the coming year.

Plasma Pen
Some practitioners are starting to use the plasma pen, a technique that can help tighten skin, especially around the eyes. “It can help patients get results that are close to blepharoplasty surgery, but it’s done nonsurgically in the office,” Anderson says. “The plasma pen also works well on other specific areas like the neck and lip lines. It’s a small device with electrical energy running through a filament, which is held close to the skin but doesn’t touch it. The device creates plasma gas that causes a tiny injury on the surface, and as it heals, it helps tighten the skin.” Anderson says the treatment normally is applied around the edges of a wrinkle or indentation to help smooth the area.

The number of treatments a patient needs depends on his or her age and the amount of skin damage to be corrected. “Some people get significant results after one treatment, and others need to come back for two or three,” Anderson explains. “The small amount of inflammation takes about a week to resolve. The ‘dots’ where the treatment is applied will exfoliate and heal, and most patients see full results in about three months.” Though the outcome is not as dramatic as surgery, the plasma pen can be a good option for people who don’t want to go under the knife, she says.

According to Anderson, exosome treatment for skin problems is another development we will see more of in the new year. “In the past, practitioners thought it was beneficial to deliver stem cells directly to the skin to volumize or correct damaged tissue, but scientists have learned that the cells may just end up dying,” she notes. “Now we know that exosomes, or cell messengers, are actually what make the difference. They carry the message of what the stem cell is supposed to do. There is a lot of research being done on how they can be used in the body; cosmetically, they can be injected to help correct skin lines and volume loss.”

She says researchers still are studying how exosomes transfer information from one cell to another and how they can be used safely and effectively. “These methods are becoming available now, and we will hear a lot about them in the next decade,” Anderson notes. “With any new treatment, there are questions to be asked, so it’s important to understand the process and potential risks before you schedule an appointment. It’s a matter of educating yourself on the details before you jump into something new.”