The 12 Most Important Health Innovations Of The Year

These are the Best Of What's New

Sanofi Pasteur's Dengvaxia

Sanofi Pasteur's Dengvaxia: Finally, A Vaccine For Dengue

Dengue—a virus most commonly transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito—infects some 400 million people yearly. It causes high fever, severe headaches, vomiting, and sometimes death. About 40 percent of the world's population is at risk, and as the climate warms and travel increases, that risk will only climb. This year, the World Health Organization ­started recommending the first vaccine to prevent dengue, and inoculations have begun in hot zones like Brazil and the Philippines. Four viruses cause dengue, so developing a vaccine that protects against all four took researchers 20 years to do. If 20 percent of the population gets vaccinated, dengue cases could drop 50 percent within five years. Controlling dengue could also reduce the $9 billion the disease costs global economies each year.Michael Schnaidt
probuphine implant

Braeburn Pharmaceuticals' Probuphine Implant: Easy Opioid Maintenance

During treatment for opioid addiction, missing one or two doses of withdrawal meds can trigger a relapse. Once under the skin, where they stay for up to six months at a time, four matchstick-size Probuphine implants deliver a constant dose of buprenorphine, an opioid derivative that in small, steady doses combats withdrawal symptoms. The device is currently FDA-approved for patients in active recovery from opioid addiction.Courtesy Braeburn Pharmaceuticals

Amgen's IMLYGIC: A Virus That Fights Cancer

Scientists have long known that viruses could trigger the immune system to attack cancer, but modifying the viruses without affecting our resistance to them has taken time. In late 2015, IMLYGIC became the first FDA-approved viral cancer drug. Green-lit to treat melanoma, the modified herpes virus is injected into a tumor, where it may ignite an immune response to the cancer.Amgen
Abbott's Absorb

Abbott's Absorb: A Disappearing Cardiac Stent

Metal stents—small tubes that unclog and heal blocked arteries—are a mainstay in cardiac surgery. But because that metal stays around indefinitely, plaque can rebuild around it. Absorb is a fully bioabsorbable stent that does the same healing work, but it dissolves when it's finished. Made of polylactide—a biodegradable polymer also used in dissolving sutures—the device proved to be on par with its metal counterpart in clinical trials.Abbott
Withings Thermo thermometer

Withings' Thermo: A Friendlier Thermometer

Home oral thermometers take up to three minutes to get readings. Thermo takes only two seconds. Sixteen infrared sensors take more than 4,000 readings from the temporal artery—all without touching the skin. $100 Sam Kaplan
STAR autonomous robotic surgeon

Children’s National Medical Center's STAR: Most Dexterous Robot Surgeon

The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) can suture one of the trickiest areas of the human body: the intestines. A sensing system in STAR's surgical tools feels and reacts to tiny pulls and pressure changes, upping the robot's precision. When sewing a pig's intestine, which is as flexible as a human's, STAR spaced its sutures more evenly than both human and human-assisted robotic surgeons—a sign of a procedure well-done.Children's National Medical Center
second skin olivo labs

Olivo Lab's Second Skin: Stick-On Skincare

Sun damage, wrinkles, discoloration: These inevitable markers of age could soon be hidden—or even prevented—with an invisible elastic polymer. Second Skin, or XPL, can be placed directly on the skin as a coating, where it mimics the properties seen in younger skin, such as elasticity. It could also be used as a vehicle for delivering drugs (like eczema meds) or cosmetics (like sunscreen) so that they wouldn't rub off during the day.Melanie Gonick/MIT
Nima gluten detector

Nima: A Pocket Gluten Detector

People with celiac disease normally have to take a cook's word on whether their meal is truly gluten-free. Nima lets them test the food for themselves. Antibodies on the card-deck-size device's test strips react to gluten levels as low as 20 parts per million, the gluten-free limit set by the FDA. In the future, the company plans to expand its ingredient detection to include other common food allergens, such as peanuts. $199Nima
Abbott's Freestyle Libre

Abbott's FreeStyle Libre: A Prickless Glucose Test

People with insulin-dependent diabetes stick their fingers up to 10 times a day to check their blood sugar. The FreeStyle Libre system eliminates the painful finger pricking. A small, round sensor on the upper arm contains a tiny filament that, when inserted just under the skin, continually monitors glucose. Patients use a smartphone-size scanner to check their levels. Those who used the system were in a state of low blood sugar 38 percent less often. There are two versions of the FreeStyle Libre. A professional one, the FreeStyle Libre Pro, meant for use under a doctor's supervision, was FDA-approved in September. A consumer version, the FreeStyle Libre, is currently being reviewed by the FDA.Abbott
MIT low-cost zika test

MIT's Rapid Zika Test: A Low-Cost Zika Test

Zika's biggest threat is its potential to cause birth defects, yet expectant mothers might not know they're infected. Conventional lab tests take days and require facilities unavailable in rural areas. Researchers at MIT created a paper-based test that gets results within three hours. When exposed to a Zika-containing blood sample, yellow dots on the paper turn purple. Researchers think the same approach can rapidly diagnose other diseases, like malaria.Courtesy of MIT
Kovanaze nasal spray

St. Renatus' Kovanaze Nasal Spray: Needle-Free Dentistry

The anesthetic shot is often the worst part of a tooth filling. Kovanaze does the same work in the form of a nasal spray. Two squirts in the nostril on the side of the offending tooth make the filling pain-free.Courtesy St. Renatus
Shift Labs' DripAssist: Simpler IV Control

Shift Labs' DripAssist: Simpler IV Control

In developing countries or military outposts, nurses often count IV fluids drop by drop to ensure medicine flows into a vein at the proper rate. Infusion pumps common in hospitals are expensive, large, and require electricity. The DripAssist is a stripped-down, compact infusion monitor that runs on a single AA battery. Attached near the bag end of an IV tube, the 5-inch device monitors flow for a fraction of the cost of hospital pumps. $395Sam Kaplan

Read about the other Best of What's New winners from the November/December 2016 issue of Popular Science.