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Preventing the Next Pandemic
VSV-EBOV Ebola Vaccine
A new vaccine usually takes six to 10 years to go through clinical trials. The Ebola vaccine took only 10 months. When the West African outbreak was declared a global health emergency in August 2014, the World Health Organization fast-tracked the process. The vaccine, made by swapping proteins from Ebola into another virus, triggers an immune response that protects people from contracting the actual disease. To test its efficacy, health workers in Guinea used a “ring strategy” around the 100 confirmed Ebola cases in the country. First, doctors vaccinated roughly 4,000 adults who had come into contact with the infected patients. None got Ebola. For a control group, they vaccinated another approximately 3,500 people three weeks after identifying the latest infection. Only 16 contracted the disease. “The ring strategy hinges on vaccinating all contacts of a recently confirmed case, and their contacts in turn, virtually creating a firewall and stopping transmission in its tracks,” says Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s assistant director general for health systems and innovation, who led the R&D. The Ebola vaccine showed that scientists can develop and deploy lifesaving drugs quickly—in the future, preventing other diseases from going global.
The World’s Smallest Pacemaker
Micra: The World’s Smallest Pacemaker
Doctors surgically implant most pacemakers in the chest and run wires from the device to the heart. The vitamin-size Micra can be threaded through the femoral vein into the heart with a catheter. Tines then attach to the heart to deliver electrical impulses directly. The battery lasts more than 10 years, and when it’s depleted, doctors can disable the device and insert another nearby. So far, the success rate in trials is 100 percent.
Maps for Precision Medicine
Human Epigenome Maps
June marked the release of the first map of the human epigenome: the chemical markers that tell your DNA what to express when. “Think of the genome as the hardware in your computer and the epigenome as the software,” says Joseph Ecker, director of the institute’s genomic analysis laboratory. Such a map will help scientists see what causes some cells to become liver cells and others heart cells—or malignant cancer cells. Understanding these mechanisms could enable scientists to reprogram them for bioengineering or to reveal new triggers for disease.
Health Stats That Stick
Biostamp: Health Stats That Stick
Wearables can be clunky. The BioStamp offers a stretchy alternative: an electronic device that sticks to your skin for up to a week, like a temporary tattoo. Thin sensors and circuits embedded in the adhesive-backed stamp measure biometrics like body temperature, movement, muscle activation, heart rate, and exposure to ultraviolet light. The device then relays this data to a wearer’s (or a doctor’s) cellphone via Bluetooth. Biostamps to check blood pressure and analyze sweat are in the works.
A “Check Engine” Light for Your Brain
Fitguard: A “Check Engine” Light For Your Brain
A helmet is no longer an athlete’s only line of defense against a concussion or other brain injury. Sensors inside the FITGuard measure linear and rotational acceleration of the head. The mouth guard then sends that data to a coach’s phone or tablet on the sideline. When a player gets hit hard, LEDs light up to indicate he or she should sit out. On the bench, the associated app administers light-sensitivity and memory-loss tests to help determine the player’s likelihood of a concussion. $100
The Most Comfortable Hearing Aid
Eargo: The Most Comfortable Hearing Aid
Typical hard-plastic hearing aids block airflow and natural bass sounds. Eargo’s featherlike silicone fibers suspend the device in the ear canal, making it almost imperceptible. “Comfort is important because you wear it all day long, every single day,” says Raphael Michel, the company’s co-founder and CEO. A processor inside the device sends sound directly to the eardrum so you can better pinpoint the source. Bonus: The rechargeable battery never needs to be replaced. $1,980
First New Antibiotic in Nearly 30 Years
Teixobactin: First New Antibiotic In Nearly 30 Years
Teixobactin can fight resistant strains of bacteria such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which (as its name suggests) causes tuberculosis. And because it binds to bacteria on two target regions, in contrast to most antibiotics’ one, bacteria are less likely to develop resistance to it. The drug candidate is still in the pipeline and works for only certain bacteria, but one of them is invasive MRSA, which some 75,000 Americans contract every year.
Targeted Cancer Radiation In One Go
Xoft: Targeted Cancer Radiation In One Go
Radiation therapy for breast cancer can require eight weeks of near-daily trips to the hospital. A method called intraoperative radiation therapy takes less than 12 minutes total. During a patient’s tumor-removal surgery, a radiation oncologist delivers a single, concentrated dose of radiation. It aims to kill any malignant cells the surgery might have missed, and helps prevent cancer from returning during recovery. Two recent clinical trials have found it to be as effective as conventional radiation. Plus, a patient experiences fewer side effects and is able to get back to normal activities much sooner.
A Savior for Diabetics
Medtronic Closed-Loop System: A Savior For Diabetics
More than a million people in the U.S. have Type 1 diabetes. They must constantly monitor their blood sugar and inject insulin to compensate for a subpar pancreas. Medtronic developed a system that uses an algorithm to automatically deliver an optimized dose, day or night. No mental math; no human error. “It’s essentially the same system that drives a thermostat or cruise control,” says Francine Kaufman, chief medical officer of the company’s diabetes group. “Except that biology is more difficult to control.”
Exvive3D: 3D-Printed Tissue
Even after drugs have passed animal tests, many fail in human trials due to kidney or liver toxicity. Organovo, which last year 3D-printed mini livers from human cells, can now synthesize individual mock kidneys. Each contains a number of different cell types in which drug effects can be tested. “Every single drug a pharmaceutical company develops has to be tested for safety in liver and kidney settings,” says Keith Murphy, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “Our system is meant to be the best and final test.”
A Monitor with Muscle
Aim: A Monitor With Muscle
For gym rats, scales can show body weight, but not muscle condition or body fat—important measures of fitness. Aim does both. When placed on the skin, the device sends a weak electric current through the body. Since muscle and fat have different resistances, it can tell them apart. Aim determines the strength of a muscle relative to its size too, so you can see the direct effects of a workout (or a lazy streak). A medical-grade version can monitor the impact of degenerative diseases like muscular dystrophy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). $149
A 3D-Motion Toothbrush
Kolibree: A 3D-Motion Toothbrush
Even with the built-in timer on some electric toothbrushes, most people don’t brush for the full two minutes that dentists recommend. Kolibree is more foolproof; its 3D motion sensors show, in real-time, how well you’re scrubbing. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth to highlight problem areas and suggest improved brush motion or position. A connected game ensures kids will do more than just swallow the toothpaste. $149