Welcome to The Top 10 Healthinnovations of 2017, the fourth year in the highly successful series covering the best discoveries for the year, as decided by you, the reader.
The main focus for Healthinnovations this year has been manual body regulation, the premise the body’s regulation via the brain can be controlled and manipulated to treat all manner of diseases and disorders. This involves controlling the host’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 nervous 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 with the ability to act as neurons, gateways to the brain scattered 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 whole-brain systems with the identification of a new function for the hippocampus, highlighting the importance of resting-state fMRI (rsfMRI) where functional brain imaging is used to evaluate 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, depicting specific functions and varied spatial topology and is a technique fast becoming prerequisite in neuroscientific studies 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 maps previously unknown neural networks to identify low-frequency activities of the hippocampus driving the functional integration between different regions of the cerebral cortex, enhancing 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, highlighting the important role of slow hippocampal–cortical activity in driving brain-wide connectivity and mediating sensory processing. The trial also shows the potential of rsfMRI and neuromodulation in the 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 cancer is known to use neural signaling to promote growth. For instance, brain cancer cells often cluster around neurons, a phenomenon called ‘perineuronal satellitosis,’ with the extent of innervation in tumors long being linked to patient outcome. Migrating cancer cells also use nerves as shortcuts into new tissues with recent studies showing recruitment of neurons into tumor microenvironments necessary and sufficient for stomach cancer progression, with the ablation of neurotransmitters in the nerves lining the stomach representing a novel therapy. This excellent paper is part of a growing body of work indicating 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 tumor initiation and growth, shedding 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 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, similar in appearance to an immature beta cell, they are scattered around the edges of insulin-producing islets without the receptors to detect glucose so they can’t function as a full beta-cell. These new cells were shown to be at an intermediate stage in the differentiation of alpha cells into cells and are functionally indistinguishable from conventional beta cells, meaning this is a new beta-cell population that could potentially 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 neurons are responsible for the formation of blood vessels. This study breaks convention by showing blood vessel growth is modulated by neurons and not, as assumed, through the communication of the vessel cells between each other. The results are groundbreaking for research into the treatment of vascular diseases, tumors, and neurodegenerative diseases. Specifically, the team shows at different developmental stages, the nerve cells of the spinal cord regulate 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 developing into the vertebral canal, with the growth of blood vessels inhibited when sFIt1 is increased. The research found 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 hindrance of blood vessel formation.
5. Halfway through our list is Duke University with a manual body discovery linking neuronal colonies in the gut to the formation of Parkinson’s disease in the brain. It is known misfolded α-synuclein can go awry and cause damaging clumps in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, presenting in enteric nerves before it appears in the brain. This suggests a model where Parkinson’s disease originates in the gut and spreads to the central nervous system via cell-to-cell prion-like propagation. This study indeed shows α-synuclein is expressed in endocrine cells in both the mouse and human intestine, possessing many neuron-like properties to 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, with α-Synuclein also expressed in enteric nerves and to a lesser extent in enteric glia. It is hypothesized toxins or other environmental influences in the gut lumen could affect α-synuclein folding in these endocrine cells, thereby beginning a process where misfolded α-synuclein could propagate from the gut epithelium to the brain. This means 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 acting as a nerve 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 how astrocytes promote the decline of neuron function in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This study is the first to identify a direct association between astrocytes and AD, whilst highlighting 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 many processes in the brain such as energy production, ion, and pH balance, and the regulation of 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 shows astrocytes in patients with AD produced significantly more beta-amyloid, a toxic protein known to accumulate in the brains of AD patients, than astrocytes in healthy individuals without AD. The study also established AD astrocytes cause significant changes to the signaling activity of neurons when compared to healthy-control astrocytes when they are co-cultured with healthy neurons. To summarise this extensive study, it was shown some familial forms of AD are strongly associated with irregular astrocytic function, promoting brain inflammation and weakening the energy production and signaling of neurons. The researchers hope to establish the key role of astrocytes in the early stages of the disease and changes in the function of these cells lead to neurodegeneration.
7. At number seven is the University of Alberta who developed working synthetic DNA motors capable of 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 was 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 as it demonstrates the operation of a synthetic DNA motor in living cells abe to detect trace amounts of target molecules autonomously that could be possibly 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 inventions is Massachusetts General Hospital with a study providing tangible images of 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. Results also highlights a pathway triggered by the 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 hematopoietic activity. The researchers go on to conclude 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 developed a technique increasing the amount of metabolism-boosting brown fat, by employing two somatosensory neuron receptors on brown fat cells. The researchers showed 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 that can cause polycystic kidney disease when mutated. The study shows the potential of TRPM8 and TRPP3 as targets involved in the formation of human brown fat to 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 provides the basis for using noninvasive eye imaging to detect the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. This promising experimental technology scans the retina using techniques with the ability to identify beta-amyloid protein deposits mirroring 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 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.
Well done to everyone who made it into the Healthinnovations site in 2017, see you all in 2018!
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Michelle is a health industry veteran who taught and worked in the field before training as a science journalist.
Featured by numerous prestigious brands and publishers, she specializes in clinical trial innovation--expertise she gained while working in multiple positions within the private sector, the NHS, and Oxford University.