Cleveland Clinic picks top 10 innovations for 2016

List includes new cancer screening, needle-free glucose testing
By Bernie Monegain
08:30 AM
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Topping the list of the Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2016 are new, faster methods of creating vaccines, a process for rewriting genetic code, and a water purification system for the developing world.

A panel of 75 Cleveland Clinic physicians and scientists selected the medical innovations expected to take hold in 2016 and make the most difference in medicine.

Cleveland Clinic released the list October 28 at the end of the 2015 Medical Innovation Summit, which drew 1,600 participants and marks the 13th year of the event. The physician panel presented the 10 in order of importance to medicine and with comments.

1. Rapid Development of Epidemic-Battling Vaccines

Researchers are developing effective vaccines faster than ever to prevent epidemics. It's an effort given new urgency by the 2014 Ebola epidemic in Africa and of bacterial meningococcal (Meningococcal B) outbreaks in the United States.

"The rapid scientific response to recent epidemics indicates that we've achieved a new level of sophistication in the area of vaccine development," said Steven Gordon, MD, chair of the Department of Infectious Disease at Cleveland Clinic. "It was a global effort involving thousands of people, aided by information technology and instant communication."

The most promising Ebola vaccine emerged in only 12 months. While not yet licensed for use in humans, it's expected to be available in 2016.

2. Genomics-based Clinical Trials

Genetic profiling offers new hope to people suffering fatal diseases, like cancer. By upending a 50-year-old research model, genomic-based tests may increase the speed and flexibility of clinical trials and guide desperate patients to the most promising experimental treatments.

"Patients are waiting too long to enter clinical trials for drugs that may or may not be effective for their specific variation of cancer," said Charis Eng, MD, chair of the Cleveland Clinic Genomic Institute. "End-stage cancer patients especially may not have that time."

3. Gene Editing Using CRISPR

Once, altering the DNA of human embryos, or any organisms, was the stuff of science fiction. No more. Thanks to a new, inexpensive technique called CRISPR, gene editing is being adopted in labs everywhere.

CRISPR, which stands for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats," is being touted as a way to eliminate genetic diseases. It can identify and remove bad genes from a DNA strand for as little as $30.

The impact of altered organisms on ecosystems remains unknown. What's clear is that CRISPR's impact on the human population will be tremendous.

4. Water Purification System for Prevention of Infectious Disease

An estimated 700 million people worldwide are drinking unsafe water daily, according to the World Health Organization. A new kind of waste treatment plant may offer an affordable solution. It has shown promise converting human waste into clean drinking water while also generating electricity to run the machine.

The sewage processor costs about $1.5 million and is able to handle the waste of 100,000 people daily. It is now being tested in Dakar, Senegal.

5. Cell-free Fetal DNA Testing

The desire to deliver healthy babies has created a $2 billion pregnancy wellness market. Yet for all the books, diets and yoga classes, parents' fears about genetic diseases remain poorly addressed.
 
Studies show that Cell-free Fetal DNA Testing more accurately predicts Down's and Edwards's syndromes than standard blood tests and ultrasounds. This testing will soon be widely available, bringing more certainty to parents everywhere.

6. Cancer Screening via Protein Biomarker Analysis

In 2016, a new biomarker platform is hitting the market that should offer more accurate cancer screenings and more chances of early detection.
 
Protein biomarker analysis focuses on changes in the structure of certain proteins circulating in the blood. In contrast to examining genetic mutations, which can indicate the risk of cancer, the new tests give real-time information on cancer's presence.

7. Naturally Controlled Artificial Limbs

In recent years, researchers have discovered that neural signals associated with limb movement can be de-coded by computers, leading to computer-controlled artificial limbs.

More recently, they have demonstrated that sensors implanted in the brain can control prosthetic arms, wheelchairs and even a full-body exoskeleton. Now researchers are working on making "brain-machine interfaces," BMIs, safer and cheaper with lower-cost robotic components.

The idea of brain-powered prosthetics has gone from "What if?" to "When?"

8. First Treatment for HSDD

Several medications address male sexual dysfunction, but what about a woman's loss of sexual desire? In 2015, the FDA approved flibanserin, the first medication designed to treat female hypoactive sexual desire disorder, HSDD, or loss of sexual desire in premenopausal women.

"This innovative medication is well-studied and it does help restore sexual desire in women who have HSDD," said Holly L. Thacker, MD, director of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Specialized Women's Health.

"The medication is intended to restore a woman's sexual desire to her personal baseline," Thacker cautioned. "It is not an aphrodisiac."

9. Frictionless Remote Monitoring

For people with diabetes, monitoring glucose levels traditionally requires periodic poking with needles. That could come to an end with the development of a skin-top biosensor that measures insulin and reports the results to both patient and doctor.
 
Needle-free glucose monitoring is only one example of remote health monitoring that is frictionless, requiring almost no action from the patient.

Other frictionless remote monitoring devices in development include a bandage that reads sweat molecules to diagnose pregnancy, hypertension or hydration. Frictionless remote monitoring puts vital data in the hands of both patient and caregiver, effortlessly.
 
10. Neurovascular Stent Retrievers

With strokes, time kills brain cells. The blood clot must be removed within three to six hours to prevent long term disability, brain damage or death.

For years, the only FDA-approved treatment has been a clot-busting drug that is not always effective, which is why doctors are excited about neurovascular stent retrievers. Inserted into the body through a catheter and threaded through the blood stream, the tiny, wire-caged device seizes the blood clot and removes it. Studies found that stroke victims whose clots were removed via stent retriever had speedier recoveries and improved chances of regaining independence.

Look for the device to become a tool in every stroke unit by the end of 2016.

See also:

Cleveland Clinic's top 10 healthcare innovations of past 10 years

Q&A: Cleveland Clinic's security chief

Cleveland Clinic opens EMR to patients