Pioneering drugs that remedy once-intractable diseases; clever products that make everyday living easier for people with injury or illness; innovative technologies that provide relief at a touch of a button — by all measures, 2017 has been a year of astounding health care advancements. Here are some of the ways medical trailblazers and researchers are creating fresh possibilities for you and your family.
Finally: The Bionic Eye!
Fran Fulton has a genetic disorder that started to take her vision when she was 6. Four years ago, at 65, the Philadelphian got an implant on her retina, along with glasses containing a tiny video camera. Now she can detect the outlines of people and objects as a series of blinking lights. “I can see the cars going by,” Fulton says. “I don’t just hear them going swish, swish.” Fulton was patient No. 6 in the United States to get the Argus II system, which the FDA has approved for use by people with retinitis pigmentosa. It has been implanted in about 250 patients. But the device — and a newer version called the Orion — is expected to be available for patients with all types of blindness in a few years. — Mindy Fetterman
Improving Visual Function
Lens implants are also a promising breakthrough, Julia A. Haller, M.D., ophthalmologist in chief at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, tells AARP. "Lens implants are increasingly sophisticated, so when your eye lens needs cataract surgery, your visual function can be improved with surgery and a high-tech new artificial lens that lets you see clearly at all ranges of distance."
The next sea change will be in telemedicine and artificial intelligence, Haller says. "We are rolling out cameras that will allow your primary care doctor to take a picture and upload it to the cloud for us to read. Someday you could have all your genes screened and kept in a database analyzed by artificial intelligence for disease and cures. You’ll be able to take a picture with your phone and computers will screen the images for symptoms of trouble. For example, half of those diagnosed with diabetes don’t realize they are losing their vision. This new system of information gathering will catch vision problems before they become serious." — Selene Yeager
Phones Will Help Stimulate Our Ears
People with hearing loss could benefit from new devices that will be powered by our personal phones, says Bradley Welling, M.D., chief of otolaryngology at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. Additionally, a new device called the Earlens uses a laserlike light signal to stimulate the eardrum directly and offers broad frequency for those who haven’t had success with traditional hearing aids.
Other promising breakthroughs for hearing include treatments to prevent “hidden hearing loss,” a newly discovered condition in which people can pass a hearing test but don’t hear well in noisy environments, Welling says. And in the next five to 10 years we will get much closer to regenerating hearing with gene therapy.
"Using a harmless virus, we can deliver a gene to the inner ear in mice and guinea pigs and stimulate the hair cells to regrow and regenerate hearing. We are also testing the delivery of nerve growth factors to reconnect the inner ear cells to the synapse, which could reverse hearing loss." — Selene Yeager