The Top 10 Healthinnovations of 2017.
The wait is finally over, welcome to The Top 10 Healthinnovations of 2017, the fourth year in the highly successful series covering the best discoveries and invention for the year, predicting and reporting on future technology & techniques; an offshoot from the Healthinnovations non-profit which was launched in 2010 on facebook. The only list where the most exciting discoveries, verifications, validations and breakthroughs are decided by you, the global medical community.
The main focus for Healthinnovations this year has been manual body regulation, the premise that the body’s own regulation via the brain can be controlled and manipulated to treat all spectrum of diseases and disorders. This involves controlling the body’s systems and reactions with brain circuitry directly via precision medicine, as well as tapping into colonies of neurons, and neuron-like cells identified throughout the body, linking the peripheral and enteric nerves, the nerves embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal system, to the central nerval system. Building very slowly over the year, researchers laid the sturdy foundations of manual body regulation using the Pavlovian conditioning mode of control as the logical starting point, extending into diet and obesity, and moving smoothly into diabetes. Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, Parkinson’s and cardiology were still the massive disciplines this year, however, the bit is firmly in the mouth of these diseases with the beginnings of extensive maps for neuronal regulation of blood vessel formation, Parkinson’s formation, brown fat formation and cancer spread, slowly being put together. More neuronal colonies and cells that can switch their roles to act like neurons, these gateways to the brain throughout the body, should be identified in the coming year. Hopefully the use of neuronal proteins will give up the epigenetic sequences to harness the power of the gene to manually regulate the body and build from the ground-up.
So here we go health innovators, the most popular studies for the year as decided by you; the highly anticipated Top 10 Healthinnovations of 2017:
1. At number one, the Top Healthinnovations for 2017 worldwide is from the University of Hong Kong. This game-changer involves a breakthrough in the knowledge of how the whole brain works with the identification of a new function for the hippocampus, and highlights the importance of resting-state fMRI (rsfMRI) where functional brain imaging is used to evaluate regional interactions, or neural networks, in use when the brain performs low-frequency activities such as slow-wave sleep. The analyses of functional brain connectivity in the state of rest have revealed different resting state networks, which depict specific functions and varied spatial topology, and is a technique fast becoming prerequisite in neuroscientific study with so much still left to be uncovered with this neuroimaging technology.
Traditionally, the hippocampus, located underneath the cortex, is known to play an important role in memory and navigation. The most popular Healthinnovations of 2017 shows that low-frequency activities in the hippocampus drive brain-wide functional connectivity in the cerebral cortex and enhances sensory responses. This important study also maps previously unknown neural networks to show that low-frequency activities of the hippocampus drives the functional integration between different regions of the cerebral cortex and enhances the responsiveness of vision, hearing and touch. Thus, a study actually imaging the link between memory and three of the five senses with rsfMRI is presented here; this study keeps on giving, highlighting the important role of slow hippocampal–cortical activity in driving brain-wide connectivity and mediating sensory processing, whilst signifying the potentials of rsfMRI and neuromodulation for early diagnosis and enhanced treatment of brain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, epilepsy, schizophrenia, transient global amnesia, and PTSD. Another potential application of rsfMRI is for whole-brain mapping, as well as uncovering previously unknown neural networks in a whole host of brain diseases, there will surely be more uses discovered for this technique in 2018.
2. At number two in this global tour de force is Stanford Medicine with the most viewed manual body regulation study of the year. This novel lit review shows how neurons support cancer spread and metastasis throughout the body. A broad range of cancers are known to use neural signalling to promote growth. For instance, brain cancer cells often cluster around neurons, a phenomenon called ‘perineuronal satellitosis,’ with the extent of innervation in tumours long being linked to patient outcome. Migrating cancer cells also use nerves as shortcuts into new tissues with recent studies showing that recruitment of nerves into the tumour microenvironments is necessary and sufficient for stomach cancer progression, and blocking a neurotransmitter in the nerves which line the stomach representing a novel therapy. This excellent paper is part of a growing body of work indicating that cancer cells grow near nerves and respond to neurotransmitters. The current lit review investigates the functions of neuronal activity in tissue development, homeostasis, and plasticity, together with the emerging roles for active neurons in tumour initiation and growth, and sheds light on the neural contributions to cancer growth and progression, elucidating novel therapeutic avenues for cancers of the brain, prostate, stomach, pancreas, and skin. This review also hints at the limitless possibilities of manual body regulation, whilst providing a starting point for the very inception of cancer cell proliferation and formation in the body.
3. In at number three is the University of California Davis, whose study identifies a previously unknown type of regenerating insulin-producing cell. The second study in this year’s Top 10 to list a new discovery, a possible indication of new and improved imaging techniques, supplies a possible new route to regenerating beta cells, giving insight into the basic mechanisms behind healthy metabolism and diabetes. Type I diabetes is a disease with two parts, firstly, the beta cells are killed by the body’s own immune system, and then they fail to regenerate. Without these cells, the body loses the ability to control blood glucose, therefore, an effective cure for type I diabetes could involve dealing with the inability of insulin-producing beta cells to regenerate. The study identifies a previously unknown type of cell, which looks a lot like an immature beta cell, scattered around the edges of the islets which can make insulin, yet don’t have receptors to detect glucose, so they can’t function as a full beta cell. These new cells where shown to be at an intermediate stage in the differentiation of alpha cells into cells which are functionally indistinguishable from conventional beta cells, meaning this is a new beta cell population which could be a source to replenish beta cells killed off in diabetes. Also, by comparing co-existing immature and mature beta cells within healthy islets, the global medical community stands to learn how to differentiate insulin-expressing cells into functional beta cells.
4. At number four we have the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) with another ground-breaking manual body regulation study in the Top 10, this time showing that neurons are responsible for the formation of blood vessels. This study breaks through the dogma to show that blood vessel growth is modulated by neurons and not, as assumed, through communication of the vessel cells between each other; the results are groundbreaking for research into the treatment of vascular diseases, tumours, and neurodegenerative diseases. Specifically, the team shows that at different developmental stages, the nerve cells of the spinal cord produce more or less FMS-like tyrosine kinase-1, referred to as sFlt1, and Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) to modulate the development of blood vessels. The concentration of VEGF is crucial to the density of the developing blood vessel network, and when the brake, sFlt1, was switched off completely in nerve cells, a dense network of blood vessels formed which grew into the vertebral canal, with the growth of blood vessels inhibited when sFIt1 is increased. The research found that even small variations in substance concentration led to severe vascular developmental disorders. This work provides a completely new perspective on how blood vessels grow, branch out, or are inhibited in their growth, and is a step forward for the global medical community in manually regulating the promotion and hinderance of blood vessel formation.
5. Half way through this masterclass of discovery is Duke University with a manual body discovery which links neuronal colonies in the gut to the formation of Parkinson’s disease in the brain. It is known that misfolded α-synuclein, which is known to go awry and cause damaging clumps in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, is found in enteric nerves before it appears in the brain. This suggests a model in which Parkinson’s disease originates in the gut and spreads to the central nervous system via cell-to-cell prion-like propagation. This amazing study indeed shows that α-synuclein is expressed in endocrine cells in both the mouse and human intestine, which possess many neuron-like properties and connect to enteric nerves to provide a pathway to the brain. Specifically, α-synuclein–containing endocrine cells in the gut directly connect to α-synuclein–containing nerves, forming a neural circuit between the gut and the nervous system; α-Synuclein is also expressed in enteric nerves and to a lesser extent in enteric glia. It is hypothesized that toxins or other environmental influences in the gut lumen could affect α-synuclein folding in these endocrine cells, thereby beginning a process by which misfolded α-synuclein could propagate from the gut epithelium to the brain, excitingly the global medical community now has a working explanation of how malformed proteins can spread from the inside of the intestines to the nervous system, using a non-nerve cell which acts like a nerve which could serve as an early-warning system for Parkinson’s disease.
6. At number six on this list of excellence is the University of Eastern Finland with the all-important glia study, showing that astrocytes promote the decline of neuron function in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The study, which is the first to identify a direct association between astrocytes and AD, also highlights the strength of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC)-derived models for brain diseases. Astrocytes are important brain cells, as they support neurons in many different ways. Astrocytes are responsible, for example, for the energy production of the brain, ion and pH balance, and they regulate synapse formation, the connections between neurons. Although most studies have focused on neuronal cells, astrocytes have also been suggested to contribute to AD pathology. Specifically, the group show via differentiated astrocytes that astrocytes in patients with AD produced significantly more beta-amyloid, a toxic protein which is known to accumulate in the brains of AD patients, than astrocytes in persons without AD, and that when astrocytes are co-cultured with healthy neurons, AD astrocytes cause significant changes on the signalling activity of neurons when compared to healthy-control astrocytes. To summarise this extensive study, it was shown that some familial forms of AD are strongly associated with irregular astrocytic function, which promotes brain inflammation and weakens neurons’ energy production and signalling; the researchers hope to find that astrocytes play a key role in the early stages of the disease and changes in the function of these cells lead to neurodegeneration.
7. At number seven is University of Alberta who developed working synthetic DNA motors which can be used to accomplish specific biological functions in live cells autonomously for the first time. This extraordinary study develops a nanobot from compartments made up of DNA enzyme molecules and substrates, consisting of the required fuels, DNA tracks, and a molecular switch. The nanomachine is designed to detect a specific microRNA sequence found in breast cancer cells so when the DNA motor comes into contact with the targeted molecules, it fluoresces as part of a reaction. The group were able to monitor the fluorescence, detecting which cells were cancerous and believe their findings show great promise for the early diagnosis of disease. This study is important in that it demonstrates the operation of a synthetic DNA motor in living cells, which detects trace amount of target molecules autonomously that may be missed by other techniques. There is also the potential for precision drug delivery in patients, delivering medicine to a selectively targeted site of action, leaving unaffected molecules alone.
8. Nearing the end of this solid list of invention is Massachusetts General Hospital with a study that actually images the link between stress in the brain and heart disease. The study links activity in a stress-sensitive structure, the amygdala, within the brain to cardiovascular disease for the first time in humans; it also reveals a pathway leading from activation of the amygdala, through elevated immune system activity, to an increased incidence of cardiovascular events. Evidence of a heart-brain connection was proven using neuroimaging by elucidating a link between resting metabolic activity in the amygdala, a marker of stress, and subsequent cardiovascular events independently of established cardiovascular risk factors; amygdala activity was also shown to be related to increased associated perceived stress, as well as increased vascular inflammation and hematopoeitic activity. The researchers go on to conclude that pharmacological manipulation of the amygdala-bone marrow-arterial axis may provide new opportunities to reduce cardiovascular disease.
9. At number nine of the Top 10 Healthinnovations of 2017 is Zurich University who have developed a technique which increases the amount of metabolism-boosting brown fat, by employing two somatosensory neuron receptors on brown fat cells. The researchers showed that both TRPM8 and TRPP3 sensory neuronal receptors are associated with the creation of brown fat in humans, and may be activated by certain foods, and by extension, drugs of the future in manual body regulation; their findings also have implications for the treatment of obesity, diabetes, and related metabolic disorders. The TRPM8 protein is expressed in sensory neurons, and it is activated by cold temperatures and cooling agents, such as menthol. TRPP3 (TRP polycystic (P)3) is part of a family of TRP channels which can cause polycystic kidney disease when mutated. The study shows the potential of TRPM8 and TRPP3 as targets involved in human brown formation, to develop substances which can modulate energy consumption and blood sugar control in individuals.
10. And rounding off this outstanding list of innovation, at number ten is Cedars-Sinai who provide the basis for using noninvasive eye imaging to detect the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. This promising experimental technology scans the retina using techniques which can identify beta-amyloid protein deposits which mirror those in the brain. Accumulations of neurotoxic beta-amyloid protein in the brain of AD patients can be detected with positron emission tomography (PET) and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid, however, these are invasive, inconvenient and costly. This study demonstrates the feasibility to noninvasively detect and quantify amyloid deposits in the retinas of live human subjects by using a solid lipid curcumin fluorochrome and a modified point Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscope (SLO). It is hoped that such retinal amyloid imaging technology, capable of detecting discrete deposits at high resolution, may present a sensitive yet inexpensive tool for screening populations at risk of AD, assessing disease progression, and monitoring response to therapy.
So we have come to the end of our masterclass. Congratulations to everyone who made the list, it’s a great achievement; your healthinnovations and groundbreaking discoveries have reached health innovators all over the world, causing excitement and inspiring peers.
And finally, honourable mention goes to:
- Researchers identify the control mechanism of synapse formation.
- Researchers successfully eliminate neurons outside the brain to trigger obesity.
- Astrocytes shown to regulate how much we eat.
- Study finds small colony of neurons modulate amount of insulin the pancreas produces.
- Researchers identify previously unknown telomere-specific protein.
- First human study targets cortical neurons in the brain to improve motor function.
- Study identifies how adult brain circuits regulate new neuron production.
- Neuron-like cells provide nervous system with window into the gut.
- Protein once thought exclusive to neurons helps some cancers grow and spread.
- Controlling a single brain chemical expands window for learning language, music in animal model.
Well done to everyone who made it into the Healthinnovations site in 2017, see you all in 2018!