10 Of The Greatest Health-Tech Innovations Of 2012

Science steps up its game in the world of health and medicine.

These innovations in health and medicine will save lives and improve healthcare.

Grand Award Winner: Edwards Lifesciences Sapien Transcatheter Heart Valve

Each year, about 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from aortic valve stenosis, a narrowing of the heart's aortic valve that can lead to a heart attack. In severe cases, doctors perform open-heart surgery to replace the valve, but many patients are too frail to undergo such a procedure; fifty percent of those who don't get surgery die within two years. The Sapien Transcatheter Heart Valve, which unlike other replacements can be inserted through an artery, should make it possible to give a new valve to many people who were previously ineligible. The Sapien consists of flaps of cow tissue sewn onto a metal frame. It can collapse from a diameter of about an inch to that of a pencil—thin enough to fit through the femoral artery. Once the valve is in the right location, doctors push it open with a balloon. The mesh then holds the device in place, while the flaps prevent blood from flowing in the wrong direction. In trials, patients who received the valve were 40 percent more likely to be alive a year later. Diameter 23 or 26 mm Weight: 2.0 or 2.6 ounces Price: $30,000Sam Kaplan

Össur Symbionic Leg

The Icelandic firm Össur changed medicine several years ago with its bionic prosthetic knee and ankle, both of which use force sensors and accelerometers to monitor the environment and the body. Now, the company has combined the knee and the ankle into one prosthetic leg. With two intelligent joints cooperating together, users can navigate stairs and inclines with fewer trips and falls. The leg also allows wearers to walk with a better gait, reducing the back and hip pain commonly associated with prostheses. Weight limit: 275 pounds Battery life: 16–24 hours Price: Not setSam Kaplan

Gilead Sciences Truvada

This year, the FDA approved the first drug for preventing HIV infection in adults: Truvada. Doctors have been using the drug to treat HIV-positive patients since 2004, but they only recently determined that people who are HIV-negative can take the drug to prevent infection in the first place. A daily dose, which combines two compounds that block HIV from replicating-, reduces transmission rates by 70 percent. $37/pillWikimedia Commons

Life Technologies Ion Torrent Ion Proton System

The Ion Proton is 100 times faster than any other sequencer and the first that could become part of everyday medical care. Ion Torrent turned sequencing into a digital process by developing the first transistor array that can directly sense the voltage spike produced every time replicating DNA adds a nucleotide. Now that sequencing has been digitized, it should get faster each year, according to Moore's Law. $224,000Courtesy Ion

MIT Solarclave

Boiling water isn't enough to sterilize medical instruments, which is part of the reason that a quarter of surgery patients in rural clinics in developing countries end up with infections. What's really needed is an autoclave, which blasts tools with 250°F steam under pressure. MIT researchers figured out how to build an autoclave that requires only inexpensive, commonly available materials—a pressure cooker, small mirrors, and buckets—which together concentrate solar rays and produce microbe-killing conditions in 90 minutes. Price not setCourtesy MIT

Mobisante MobiUS SP1 Ultrasound System

A handheld ultrasound machine can be a lifesaver in remote areas and disaster zones, but workers may not have a specialist available to read the images it produces. The MobiUS SP1 is the first mobile ultrasound device that can encrypt and e-mail images to an off-site physician via smartphone. Health-care workers can use the ultrasound wand to image organs and fetuses, and to check for internal bleeding. $7,500 and up (includes phone)Sam Kaplan

Able Planet Personal Sound Amplifier

For decades, people who needed reading glasses have been able to pick up a pair at the local drugstore. The Able Planet Personal Sound Amplifier brings the same convenience to the 20 million Americans with mild or moderate hearing loss. The Amplifier is the first over-the-counter device that works similarly to expensive prescription hearing aids: It selectively boosts the frequencies of voices to raise them above the din. $500–$900Courtesy Able Planet

Nimbic Systems Air Barrier System

The air in a sterile operating room isn't nearly as sterile as one would think. About a quarter of hospital-acquired infections start at a surgical site on the body. The Air Barrier System filters microbes out of ambient air and blows a sterile breeze over the patient. In tests, it reduced airborne microbes by 84 percent. $3,900Sam Kaplan

Soma Access Systems Axotrack

When inserting a catheter into a vein, doctors can make mistakes that cause serious complications, such as punctured lungs. They often use ultrasound to visualize the body, but ultrasound can't clearly pick up a needle. AxoTrack makes catheterization almost foolproof by enabling doctors to see both the vein (with ultrasound) and the needle's location (with magnetic sensors) on one video screen. In tests, the device increased first-attempt success rates from 37 percent to 99 percent. Price not setCourtesy Soma

Proteus Digital Health Feedback System

According to the World Health Organization, more than half of patients don't take their prescriptions correctly. The centerpiece of the Proteus system is a pill that doubles as a radio, creating a feedback loop that will help doctors track compliance. When the pill hits the stomach, a one-millimeter chip sends a binary signal to an adhesive abdominal patch. The patch relays that signal to a smartphone. The FDA approved a placebo-based version of the system this summer, and pharmaceutical companies could start using it in about two years.Michael Cho