Since the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the efforts of scientists have been widely focused in the field of medicine in order to better understand incurable diseases and predict future epidemics, as well as to develop innovative drugs and treatments.
2022 brought us some inspiring developments in medicine and healthcare, and here is a list of some of the amazing discoveries that made headlines:
First heart transplant from pig to human
Over the past year and a half, several research groups have advanced the science of animal-to-human transplantation. They showed that pig organs genetically engineered to be more human-like could survive the initial transition into a human body without acute rejection.
And during the first medical procedure in January 2022, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center transplanted a pig heart into a patient in a last-ditch attempt to save his life, which worked well three days after the experimental operation.
The man lived two months after the operation, but his condition worsened and he died at the age of fifty-seven.
In a report released Jan. 20, a team from the University of Alabama became the first to document the transplantation of genetically engineered pig kidneys into a brain-dead patient. They found that the organs produced urine and were not rejected during the multi-day experiment.
The first pig kidneys were transplanted to people: what scientists think https://t.co/MuThjoEp0B
— Berman Institute for Bioethics Johns Hopkins (@bermaninstitute) May 20, 2022
While important, these advances are the first step towards making animal transplants a viable solution to the chronic organ shortage.
Gene therapy for hemophilia
Last November, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a first-of-its-kind treatment for hemophilia B, a rare genetic disease that compromises the ability of blood to clot properly.
The treatment, now called Hemgenix, is a gene therapy that delivers a functional version of the faulty gene to people with hemophilia B.
CSL Behring, the company behind Hemgenix, says the drug won’t be available cheaply. A dose is expected to cost $3.5 million per patient, the highest price for a single treatment.
Treatment of a fatal genetic disease in the womb
Also in November, doctors in the US and Canada reported the first medical case in which they were able to begin treatment for a fatal genetic disease in a female patient in the womb, apparently helping to prevent the fatal complication that killed her siblings.
Ayla, a little girl, has been diagnosed with Pompe disease, a rare disease in which people cannot break down their body’s glycogen stores. People with early-onset Pompe disease often die or develop severe developmental problems within a few years, even when the standard treatment, enzyme replacement therapy, is given shortly after birth.
Isla, from Ottawa, Ontario, is the first child to be treated as a fetus for Pompe disease, a deadly genetic disease in which the body cannot produce some or all of the important proteins, causing damage to nerve and muscle cells.
So far, the new treatment strategy is working. Ayla avoided the problems that her siblings suffered from, such as an enlarged heart at birth, and almost two years later, she reached her developmental milestones on time. Ayla will need to continue her treatment, and the results of this ongoing study could one day take care of patients like her to the next level.
Cancer fights viruses
In September, scientists released the results of a phase I clinical trial that could serve as a preview of a new way to treat cancer by recruiting viruses to fight for us.
The treatment is called RP2, which is a genetically engineered strain of herpes simplex 1, the virus responsible for most cases of oral herpes in humans.
Developed by Replimune, RP2 aims to selectively kill cancer cells and increase the ability of the immune system to target and neutralize cancer.
Of 39 patients with advanced cancer who were given RP2 either alone or in combination with immunotherapy, 10 patients appeared to respond to it, meaning their cancers stopped growing or shrank, while one patient had achieved complete remission, which lasted 15 months. once.
Phase 1 trials are just the beginning of a demonstration that the drug can work in humans, and many more patient studies will be needed to confirm whether RP2 can be an effective cancer treatment.
Postponing Type 1 Diabetes
The Food and Drug Administration has approved a monoclonal antibody called teplizumab that can delay the onset of type 1 diabetes by years.
This treatment is marketed under the brand name TZIELD, and Tzield targets the autoimmune problems that cause the disease rather than its symptoms, making it revolutionary.
Experts say teplizumab is a type of immunotherapy that targets the root cause of diabetes, not just its symptoms.
Transplantation of human cells into the brain of mice to study mental disorders
Scientists have successfully transplanted human brain tissue into the brains of newborn mice for the first time, changing the behavior of these rodents.
Scientists at Stanford University have managed to inject human nerve cells into the brains of newborn mice and find that they form connections with animal brain cells to control their behavior.
Fusion of human brain tissue with the brain of rats https://t.co/NSa4R0ash4
— ScienceAlert (@ScienceAlert) October 12, 2022
Human cells made up one-sixth of the brains of mice. The mass, known as brain organoids, then evolved similarly to the human brain, which could help researchers learn more about schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, and other neuropsychiatric disorders.
Creating a life without sperm and eggs outside the uterus
— Jacob Hanna (@jacob_hanna) August 2, 2022
In experiments conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, researchers created mouse embryos in a bioreactor from stem cells grown in a petri dish, without eggs or sperm.
The fetuses grew normally and by the eighth day of the experiment they had developed a beating heart. This was the first time that scientists were able to grow fully synthetic mouse embryos outside the womb.
The experiment marked a leap forward in the study of how stem cells form various organs and how mutations lead to developmental diseases.