It was difficult finding the Top 10 health breakthroughs of 2021 while being inundated with constant breaking news of the COVID-19 infection. Let’s face it….it has been another exhausting year for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging and continues to be the biggest topic in health news (as it should be). We are faced with more uncertainty as Omicron has surfaced with it’s 30 mutations and conflicting data on its severity. Let’s see if we can side step this historical pandemic and look for other inspirational discoveries of 2021. Here are your top 10 health breakthroughs of 2021:
10. New Approach for Migraine Treatment: Researchers has discovered a new cause of migraines known as CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide), a chemical that nerves use to talk to each other and gets released during migraine. The CGRP blocker drug, Rimegepant has been a lifesaver for many with migraines that have found no relief with other modalities.
9. Treatment for Sickle Cell Disease: This deadly genetic condition causes red blood cells to change into a sickle shape. This can cause obstruction of blood vessels or cause them to burst apart leading to infections and severe organ damage, cutting life expectancy to age 54. New drugs, Oxbryta and Adakveo, have been FDA approved and prevents hemoglobin inside the red blood cells from sticking to each other and forming sickles. Studies have shown significant improvement in fewer episodes of severe anemia and longer life expectancy.
8. First Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Disease: Now there is a prescription blood test called PrecivityAD. It measures proteins linked to amyloid plaque buildup in the brain which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. This test went public without FDA approval which drew some controversy. But the studies have been impressive showing that the test was 94% as accurate at finding brain plaque as PET brain scans that use radioactive tracer dye.
7. COVID vaccines to the Rescue: The new mRNA technology is one of the biggest advances in medicine that we have ever come across (and at warp-speed!) Expectations of the Phase 3 clinical trials on the mRNA-based vaccine was 50-60% which was hopeful. Instead it was more than 90% effective in reducing the risk of developing severe COVID, hospitalization and death. As you may be concerned that theses vaccines are too “new”, let me remind you that they were already here from decades of study.
6. First Oral Antiviral to Treat COVID-19. Paxlovir is under FDA Emergency Use Authorization for treatment of moderate to severe COVID-19. It is actually 2 drugs taken together. Two tablets of 150 mg Nirmatrelvir and 100mg Ritonavir taken twice per day for 5 days. It is indicated for those with mild-moderate symptoms but are at high risk for progressive disease that could lead to hospitalization or death.
5. Advances in Gene Therapy: Researchers successfully treated a genetic liver disease by injecting the CRISPR gene-editing tool into a person’s body. This gene-editing tool works by using enzymes that cut away portions of DNA that are responsible for DNA mutations and returns them to their normal function. This could pave the way of healing a wide variety pf genetic conditions.
4. New Oral Anti-fungal for Vaginal infections: This is for the 1.4 million women that see their doctor each year in the U.S for vagina yeast infections. This is the first new anti-fungal in more than two decades representing a new class called triterpenoids. This new drug, Brexafemme works by blocking an enzyme that creates a protective coating around Candida Fungi. Without this coating, the fungi quickly die off. The 2-tablet treatment starts working within a few days and stays in the system for up to 2 weeks to help prevent recurrence.
3. First Vaccine for Malaria (and other parasitic infections): Malaria kills about half a million people a year worldwide. A new vaccine, Misquirix, is about 50% effective against severe Malaria. Even though 50% does not sound very effective (compared to the 95% effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines), it may save those at high risk for severe infection such as the elderly, pregnant women and children who live in countries with high numbers of Malaria cases. You can take preventative medicine before, during and after a trip to high-risk areas, but many parasites have developed resistance to common drugs used to treat the disease.
2. Treating a Torn ACL without Surgery: The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament is one of the most common injuries for athletes and non-athletes. Treatment involves surgery and reconstruction using a piece of bone and tendon from another part of the body or using a donor to rebuild the ligament. Now the Bridge-enhanced ACL Restoration Implant takes the place of that material. It is FDA approved and made of bovine collagen. It is secured in place between the two torn ligaments. The patient absorbs the device and grows new, healthy tissue in its place in a few months.
1. The First At-home Test for COVID-19: The Ellume at-home COVOD-19 test was the first test of it’s kind to get FDA authorization. This allows consumers to check their COVID-19 status without going to the doctor or to a PCR testing site. It is an easy test that swabs both nostrils and gives the result in 15 minutes. It identifies positive cases 95% of the time and negative cases 97% of the time. Since that first test, a new test called BinaxNOW by Abbott has also become a common and accurate COVID-19 antigen home test.
Happy New Year! Wishing you the best of 2022! May it be a year full of good health, joy and some certainty.
References: Schindler, S, Goadsby, P. Love, T. The New Health Heroes: Life-altering new treatments for heart, mind and more. Medical Breakthroughs 2021. AARP, Oct/Nov 2021.
Temte, J. Coronovirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes First Oral Antiviral for Treatment of COVID-19. Practice Update. 12/23/2021.
Maldarelli, C., Sohn, R. The Top 10 health and medicine breakthroughs of 2021. Popular Science, Dec 1 2021.
Mastroianni, B. From Vaccines and Gene Editing to Malaria Treatment: The Important Medical Innovations of 2021. HealthLine. Dec 27, 2021.