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The most exciting medical breakthroughs of the year so far

Medical 8/05/2015

© Various We're not even halfway through 2015 yet but it's already been a bumper year for game-changing discoveries and genius inventions.

Potential cures for asthma and baldness, the UK's first operation by a multi-arm robot, a vaccine for malaria and pioneering 3D printed prosthetics are just a few of the innovations that could really make a difference, saving and improving the lives of millions worldwide.

This week it was announced a super-sophisticated ovarian cancer test could double detection rates. Dubbed 'the slient killer', ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose early on as the red-flag symptoms tend to only become apparent during the later stages of the disease. Fortunately, a new blood screening method developed by University College London may transform early diagnosis. Researchers were able to detect the most common type of ovarian cancer in 86% of women with the disease, which is double the success rate of conventional testing.

Read on for a round-up of the recent advances that could revolutionise 21st century healthcare

The world's first malaria vaccine
© AP In development for the past 20 years, RTS,S/AS01 is the first malaria vaccine to reach the final clinical trail stage. Targeting the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, the vaccine protects approximately one-third of children vaccinated and could be available within months, potentially saving millions of lives.

The new super-antibiotic
© Corbis
Ammunition for the forthcoming antibiotic Armageddon, researchers from Germany, the UK and the US have discovered a super-antibiotic called teixobactin that has proved effective against hard-to-treat MRSA and drug-resistant TB. In the ground. The scientists used a futuristic chip device that can grow soil bacteria that were previously impossible to cultivate.

The mind-controlled bionic hand
© Getty Doctors in Austria have kitted out three men with state of the art bionic hands that they control with their brains. The men had their injured hands amputated and underwent a bionic reconstruction to connect the prosthetic limb to transplanted muscles and nerves –  they can now use their mind to do everything from throw a ball to hold an egg.

The double chin-busting jab
© Getty Chubby around the jawline? This cosmetic breakthrough should help keep your chin up: US regulators have just approved a new injectable drug called Kybella, which specifically targets fat cells in the chin, melting them away. While it's not without its risks, Kybella is kind of natural. It's a form of deoxycholic acid, a fat-busting molecule that occurs naturally in the body. With any luck, it should be available in the UK within the next couple of years.

The cure for baldness?
Jason Stratham © Rex Jason Stratham Two major breakthroughs could spell the end of hair loss. Researchers at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in the US have successfully grown hair using human stem cells with the aim to transplant the cells in human subjects and permanently cure their baldness. Meanwhile, University of Southern California scientists have developed a plucking technique that hyper-stimulates hair growth.

The UK's first multi-arm robot op

© Getty A medical first in Britain, surgeons at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London have removed a cancerous tumour using a cutting-edge multi-arm robot. The Da Vinci XI bot takes keyhole surgery to the next level – the gadget operates with the utmost precision and minimum trauma to the patient, dramatically reducing post-operative pain and significantly speeding up recovery times.

The cause of Alzheimer's disease?
© Getty Several potentially game-changing treatments for Alzheimer's have made the news this year, from new and tweaked drugs to novel ultrasound therapy. And scientists in the US believe they may have found one of the major causes. They've discovered that cells which protect against the disease switch off and consume a substance called arginine in susceptible individuals. By blocking this process with medication, the researchers were able to reverse Alzheimer's symptoms in mice, opening up the possibility of a human-friendly treatment.

The life-saving 3D printed prosthetic
© University of Michigan Doctors have managed to cure a potentially fatal respiratory illness in newborns using a biodegradable 3D printed splint. Tracheobronchomalacia is a rare disease that causes the baby's windpipe to collapse suddenly. The splint works by keeping the windpipe open and supported, allowing the organ to develop in a healthy way. Thanks to this new technology, three-year-old Kaiba Gionfriddo from Ohio is the first child in the world to have been effectively cured of the condition.

The cure for asthma?
© Rex Researchers at Cardiff University have sussed out a potential underlying cause of asthma and pinpointed an existing drug treatment that reverses symptoms in animals. The scientists found that the calcium-sensing receptor (CaSR) plays a major part in the condition and worked out that a common class of drugs called calcilytics can manipulate the CaSR, eliminating symptoms. If human trials are successful, there may be a viable treatment available within five years.

The grow-your-own heart
© Rex Unlike the liver for instance, the cells of the heart do not regenerate efficiently. Until now. Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Victor Chang Institute in Sydney have discovered a way to stimulate heart cell growth using a hormone called neuregulin. If all goes to plan, a cell-renewing therapy for heart disease patients might be available as early as 2020.

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