Space & Innovation

Most Amazing Medical Breakthroughs

Futuristic medical techniques allow the paralyzed to move, and dramatic transplants let patients regain their freedom.

Medical innovations can seem so futuristic that some would call them miracles. From paralyzed patients controlling robotic arms to researchers who grow new body parts, the medical world is fast changing. In recent years, the number of new inventions in medical information technology has tripled, according to Chris Coburn, executive director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations.

What's next on the horizon? New technologies could broaden the definition of traditional medical settings.

"Some can be delivered in the home, at work, or in the mall," Coburn said.

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Cathy Hutchinson was paralyzed for 15 years but was able to take a sip of a cinnamon latte without help, after a team from BrainGate implanted a sensor in her brain. The team spent several years fine-tuning the device until Hutchinson was able to move her robotic arm by thinking about it.

The BrainGate sensor taps into the flurry of brain activity, recording electrical signals that can be translated into movement commands.

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When Edward Ives was born in August 2012, his heart beat over 300 times a minute. Doctors diagnosed him with supraventricular tachycardia, and sent him to University College London Hospital for a novel treatment: doctors wrapped him in cold gel to drop his body temperature from 98.6F to 91.1F.

The cold slowed his metabolism, and a defibrillator helped slow his heart rate. After four days, doctors started raising his temperature: one degree Celsius per day. "As soon as his heart started beating normally everything began to improve," his mother, Claire Ives, told The Telegraph. "He'd been really puffy because his kidneys weren't working, but all of a sudden he looked like a normal baby again."

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Iraq war vet Brendan Marrocco lost his arms and legs when his unit was attacked near Baghdad. But after a double arm transplant, he could throw a ball again.

Marrocco was the seventh double-arm or double-hand transplant in the U.S.

"He has a very optimistic outlook on life, which is what makes him such a good candidate," said Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, the plastic surgery chief at Johns Hopkins who led the team that performed Marrocco's transplant and the the country's first double-hand transplant. "He's excited about having the new arms and determined to make them as good as possible."

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Sure, technology could probably eventually be developed to diagnose cancer via a patient's breath, but it turns out that dogs can do it naturally.

German scientists tested two German shepherds, a Labrador retriever, and an Australian shepherd. Each dog sniffed the breath of 220 patients, correctly identifying lung cancer at a rate of 71 percent. They also ruled out cancer in 372 out of 400 samples.

Other research has shown that dogs have had some success at identifying bladder cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer and have detected low blood sugar in diabetics.

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Patients who suffer from the worst type of headache -- cluster headaches, also known as suicide headaches -- may be able to control the pain with a remote control. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic surgically implanted an almond-sized device behind the upper jaw of 32 patients in a study in Europe, and 67 percent reported pain relief when they activated it through a remote control pressed to their cheek.

"A low frequency of stimulation induced cluster headaches, and high stimulation reduced it," said Dr. Frank Papay, chair of the Department of Dermatology and Plastic Surgery at Cleveland Clinic.

Surgeons have fashioned tracheas from plastic to replace organs damaged by cancer. The patients' own stem cells are used to build the trachea, lessening the chance of their bodies rejecting the new organs. Building new organs from scratch eliminates the need for donors and transplants, and reduces the number of patients who die waiting for one.

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When car accidents left five Mexican boys unable to urinate normally, doctors at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine went to work to grow new uethras. They took tiny tissue samples from each boy, and multiplied cells from the tissue until they numbered 100 million. They also fashioned tubes out of biodegradable material.

When they introduced the cells to the tubes, the cells grew around the cylinders and the scientists sewed them into each boy's body. Then, everyone waited. Six years later, the boys were peeing normally, and the doctors reported their success in The Lancet. Doctors have had similar success implanting bladders engineered in the laboratory into young patients with spina bifida.

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