As we reach the end of 2012, now is a good time to look back on what was accomplished during the year and what it suggests for the year to follow. And when it comes to developments in health and medicine, 2012 really was a very exciting year that saw some remarkable breakthroughs. In 2012, many medical miracles were accomplished that were previously thought only to be the stuff of science fiction. Let's look back over some of the highlights, and see if that doesn't fill you with optimism for the year to come.
A Quadriplegic Used Their Mind to Control a Robotic Limb
A quadriplegic is someone who's lost the use of all four limbs, much like the 52 year old Jan Scheuermann. Earlier this year however, Jan had two microelectrodes implanted into her motor cortex (which controls our movement) in such a way that they would be able to pick up her thoughts in much the same way that natural real limbs do. Thanks to the remarkable plasticity of the brain, she was able to use the arm in three dimensions by the second day and can now do things like feeding herself with the arm attached to her wheelchair.
The First Ever Photograph Was Taken of DNA
Using a powerful electron microscope, Enzo di Fabrizio and his team at the Italian Institute of Technology managed to take the world's first photograph of DNA. Up until now we've known what DNA looks like, but only ever been able to visualise it with computer generated mock-ups.
Silk Was Genetically Modified to Be Stronger Than Steel
Using genetically altered silkworms scientists at the University of Wyoming have managed to create silk that is pound for pound stronger than steel. This has many potential applications in all kinds of fields, and in the medical community this means stronger sutures.
Re-Cell Introduces 'Spray on Skin'
ReCell from Avita Medical is a great medical breakthrough for burns victims and other patients – taking a sample of skin from a patient and then mixing it with an enzyme to be sprayed back onto the patient in such a way that each droplet expands to cover a much larger space within weeks. With minimal risk of rejection, no problem matching skin tone, and a non-invasive and rapid procedure, this is far preferable to traditional forms of skin graft.
3D Printing Used for Jaw Prosthetic
You might have heard mumblings that 3D printing could be the future and thought it was just hyperbole. Well think again – already the system has been used to print a new jaw for an 83 year old patient from titanium powder with a bioceramic coating. The successful surgery opens the door for many future applications.
Two Men Receive Bionic Sight
Two blind men from the UK were this year fitted with eye implants that gave them a 'useful' level of vision after a short eight hour surgery. They were even able to see in colour, and doctors expect to see more improvements over time.
Stem Cells Tripled the Lifespans of Mice
At the Institution of Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh, great strides were made in the field of life extension when rapidly ageing genetically modified mice were injected with stem cells from younger mice and managed to live three times longer than expected. If the results can be replicated in normal mice, and later humans, we may one day be able to live to 200 or older.