Welcome to your 2019 list
This is the sixth year running in the popular Top 10 Healthinnovations series, a list of the most viewed articles for the year on the Healthinnovations site. This is where our mainstream readership across the globe define the greatest innovations, helping to indicate the largest areas of strategic investment and greatest areas of interest for the healthcare industry currently.
Healthinnovations has been a recognized channel for reporting on pioneering medical research and technology for over a decade, a featured expert writer for Informa, and is now indexed by Altmetric and PlumX, respectively.
An aggressive year for medical research due to questionable human trials hosted in China involving genetically edited babies, raising serious questions regarding ethics with calls for the formation of an international consortium to police human trials; think-tanks suggest this is also the case where medical devices are concerned. This year’s Top 10 Healthinnovations, however, primarily concentrates on neuroscience, interestingly with only one article focusing on a non-neurological subject, emergency medical techniques.
So here are the Top 10 Healthinnovations for 2019 as decided by health innovators worldwide:
1. Previously unknown organ of pain found
The newly identified sensory pain organ in mice is described as a mesh-like structure covering the skin which detects painful mechanical damage, such as pricks and impacts on the whole body. The organ, dubbed the nociceptive glio-neural complex, is made up of a network of octopus-shaped Schwann cells, which surrounds and supports the body’s nerve cells by supplying mechanosensitive and nociceptive information.
The discovery changes the understanding of the cellular mechanisms of physical sensation and may be of significance in the understanding of chronic pain. From a financial strategic standpoint, a report from Industry Research states the global pain management drug market was valued at US$ 35.2 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach US$ 52.6 billion by 2026 making this new target a highly valued commodity.
2. Bone drives flight or fight response
The next breakthrough on our list is from Columbia University Irving Medical Center showing bone, not adrenaline drives the fight or flight response, a physiological reaction occurring in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. Historically the fight or flight response, also known as the Acute Stress Response (ASR), was thought to be initiated by glucocorticoid hormones such as adrenaline.
This study rewrites the textbooks by suggesting the ASR isn’t possible in bony vertebrates without the initial release of osteocalcin, a hormone produced by bone which normally rebuilds the skeleton. The study indicated in mice that almost immediately after the brain recognizes the danger, it instructs the skeleton to flood the bloodstream with osteocalcin to turn on the ASR, increasing the heart rate, body temperature, and blood glucose levels.
The data provides the first steps along the neuronal road map from the brain to the bone and may provide answers for psychotic episodes, aid in the management of mood disorders, as well as proffering targets in the treatment for osteoporosis during the menopause. Investment-wise Fior Markets states the global osteoporosis drug market is expected to see a CAGR of 5.53% from 2018-2025 whilst still being grossly under-catered for.
Mood disorders are a massive area of investment with the global anxiety disorder and depression treatment market size currently recorded at US$ 15.60 billion in 2018 and expected to reach US$ 18.90 billion by 2026 with a CAGR of 2.4% according to Reports and Data. The Bipolar Disorder market worldwide is projected to grow by US$ 848. 8 Million, driven by a compounded growth of 2. 3% and the antipsychotic segment according to Reportlinker.com.
3. Weight-loss control mapped in the brain
The pioneering discovery at number three on the list is from McGill University who provides avenues for the weight loss market, estimated to be worth US$ 68.2 billion in 2017 in the United States according to Marketdata LLC. The study maps regions in the brain directly associated with weight loss control, a possible target for non-invasive electromagnetic stimulation married with healthy diet and exercise regimes for overweight or obese patients.
The human dietary study involving 24 participants showed the patients who achieved the greatest weight loss under observation demonstrated more activity in the brain regions of the lateral prefrontal cortex associated with self-control, and a decline in the activity of the ventral medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area involved in motivation, desire, and value.
The clinical trial also links the hormones ghrelin and leptin to these brain regions, which return to baseline when the participant’s bodies reach a weight range where they’re programmed to function optimally, also known as a set point. These newly discovered weight loss control centers in the brain are excellent targets for non-invasive electromagnetic therapy or therapeutics.
4. New brain structure linked to dyslexia
Researchers from the Technische Universität Dresden deliver much needed incite into the dyslexia disorder by identifying a weakly developed structure at the subcortical processing stage in dyslexic male participants. It is estimated between 5-10% of the population of the United States has dyslexia, however, this number may also be as high as 17% with the disorder grossly underdiagnosed and missed.
Meaning a study specifically establishing weak white matter connectivity between the left auditory motion-sensitive planum temporale and the left auditory thalamus in dyslexic males could not only raise the diagnosis rates for dyslexia, however, it could also permit sought after targeted therapies. This study is keened on an open market, particularly due to the lack of early diagnostics.
5. Specific microbiota linked to depression
The groundbreaking research at number five of the Top Healthinnovations for the year is VIB-KU Leuven who links several species of gut microbiota to depression. This large-scale human trial involving over 2,000 participants provides further evidence that gut microbiota produces neurotransmitters impacting the host’s mental health. What further compounds this is the fact it was shown participants suffering from depression lack two bacteria in their gut microbiota called Coprococcus and Dialister, whether or not they are following an antidepressant therapeutic regime.
Much research is currently being undertaken on the gut microbiome, with the hope this symbiotic homeostasis system can be harnessed to control disease and the overall well-being of its host. The human microbiome market has surged over the past year and is predicted to register a 22.1% CAGR in terms of revenue, with the global market size reaching US$ 620 million by 2024, from US$ 190 million in 2019 according to America News Hour. These figures used in concert with the heavily revenue laden mood disorder market make this a highly strategic and well-targeted study.
6. BCI converts brainwaves into speech
At number six Columbia Engineering develops a brain-Computer Interface (BCI) marrying the brain to Artificial Intelligence (AI). The BCI described in this trial translates thought into intelligible, recognizable speech via a vocoder which could lead to new ways for computers to communicate directly with the brain.
The study combines recent advances in deep-learning with the latest innovations in speech synthesis technologies to reconstruct closed-set intelligible speech from the human auditory cortex, a vast improvement on the low quality of reconstructed speech which has severely limited BCI applications in the past.
The new BCI analyzed and cleaned up the sound produced by the vocoder in response to the patient’s brain signals using virtual neural networks, AI which mimics the structure of neurons in the biological brain. The output was a robotic-sounding voice reciting an accurate sequence of numbers.
This pioneering technology taps the global AI market pegged at US$ 4.06 billion in 2016 and projected to reach US$ 169.41 billion by 2025, registering a CAGR of 55.6% from 2016 to 2025 according to Allied Market Research. PWC goes even further with its projections stating AI has the potential to contribute a staggering US$ 15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030 via augmentation of productivity.
7. First human in suspended animation
The next quantum leap on our list involves the first human being placed in suspended animation by the University of Maryland. Due to the massive loss of life in the ER due to trauma a suspended animation technique known as Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation (EPR) has been developed by the team.
EPR utilizes hypothermia in humans to buy vital time to stabilize the patient before irreversible organ damage, cardiac arrest and eventual death due to their injuries occur. EPR involves rapidly cooling the patient to around 10 to 15°C by replacing all of their blood with ice-cold saline to induce a suspended animated state. The patient’s brain activity almost completely stops when they are disconnected from the cooling system and their body, which would otherwise be classified as dead, is moved to the operating theatre.
The team states they were successful in giving a surgical team extra time to fix a participant’s injuries before they were warmed up and their heart restarted. The researchers have made it clear this technique is for use in emergency medical services, both on the road and in the ER, depending on whether they can gain approval under the medical device clearance banner.
The emergency medical services market is estimated to grow at CAGR above 6.7% from 2019 to 2026 and reach the market value of US$ 24.3 billion by 2026. It is also widely known NASA has provided its subsidiary Spaceworks, as yet undisclosed, grants over many years to develop hibernation chambers for its astronauts on long haul space flights.
8. Mini-brains with functional brainwaves
At number eight with one of the most viewed posts this year is the University of California, San Diego who engineered miniature brains from stem cells spontaneously developed functional neural networks. Mini-brains or organoids are a pea-sized model of the human brain grown in a lab dish where stem cells self-organize into a 3D structure resembling the developing human brain. And therein lies the difficulty with no evidence before this study that these organoids developed complex and functional neural network activity.
This amazing feat saw the group’s lab-grown brains producing brainwaves resembling those of preterm babies, continuing to grow and producing brainwaves at different frequencies, suggesting the development of neural networks over time.
The European Commission states pharmaceutical companies have lost hundreds of millions of dollars by investing in drugs for brain disorders showing promise in animals and later failed in human patients. This high failure rate has led to the average cost of bringing a new drug to market to more than US$ 1 billion. According to the Financial Times currently, more than 100 labs worldwide are working on cerebral-organoid research, one of the fastest-growing fields in biology.
Organoids are seen both as a route to understanding how the human brain develops and as a better way for the pharmaceutical industry to test the effect of drugs on the brain. However, major ethical questions in regards to self-awareness of the mini-brains remain to be investigated within the field.
9. New brain region mapped in PTSD
Our next most popular article sees Texas A&M University tackling Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), another mood disorder study with the PTSD Therapeutic Market alone projected to make US$ 10,679.5 million by 2026 with a CAGR of 4.5% according to Credence Research, Inc.
The findings of the study are specific to PTSD and identify a small brain region in the thalamus, called the nucleus reuniens, which plays a role in inhibiting fear in rats. The team provides a specific target for fear suppression by showing prefrontal cortex inputs to the nucleus reuniens are critically involved in fear extinction, and may serve in a pivotal role in regulating emotional-based learning and memory.
New therapies are needed for PTSD as non-specific SSRI antidepressants used in the disorder are shown to only benefit 50% of sufferers, with it still unclear if using medications and counseling together produces better outcomes. This study will surely open the door to new therapeutics, counseling techniques, and electromagnetic therapies in relation to PTSD a mood disorder anchored heavily in the memory.
10. Long-hypothesized brain cell discovered
Our final cutting-edge study to gain the highest statistics of 2019 discovers the long hypothesized and elusive ‘metronome’ neuron. Brown University identifies a previously unknown network of brain cells thought to act as the brain’s long-hypothesized clock or metronome, spiking in a rhythmically and synchronized manner independent of external sensations.
The newly identified gamma regular nonsensory fast-spiking interneurons, or ‘metronome’ neurons, found in the touch region of the brain, keep time for the brain and could be involved in several mental disorders. This extrapolates from disruptions within the broader group of fast-spiking interneurons which have been implicated in several neurological disorders including autism, schizophrenia, and ADHD.
Therefore this data presents a new cell structure in the brain potentially implicated in multiple mental disorders, with the behavioral health market slated to hit US$ 240 billion by 2026 according to Acumen Research and Consulting.
Conclusion and trends
Coming to the end of the 2019 list, reader-based statistics indicate an obvious slant towards the behavioral health market, with specific interest in mood disorders. However, an emerging trend in the article shows the healthcare and research industry moving away from one pill for all to larger targets, structures, and organs implicated in more disorders; covering more segments. This is a move away from older repurposed drugs on to master regulators and genes within the body which can only be controlled by new, and more evolved therapeutics.
The discovery of these larger targets could indicate pharmaceuticals and therapies in development having more control over the whole body system, extrapolating and dealing with simultaneous reactions within the host entity. As the human race moves towards single-cell imaging, are we finally entering the decade of the smart drug? A synthetic biological entity in our bodies capable of performing many different functions autonomously?.
It would appear health innovators are moving ever quicker towards autonomous drugs with synthetic biology and DNA computing shown to monitor, biomimic and terminate reactions in the host at the flick of a light switch in this year’s whitepapers.
It is predicted these artificial biological structures will be able to recognize, compute and treat multiple diseases with terabytes of data stored on synthetic strands of DNA, to become nano-supercomputers in our bodies with infinite life spans. With synthetic biology and biocomputing now gaining traction and real results, it will be interesting to see how researchers utilize these fabricated biological structures to handle these large targets and newly discovered organs within the human system.
Well done to everyone who made the list, remember there are no Healthinnovations without you. See you all in 2020 health innovators!
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Links to the past six years of The Top 10 Healthinnovations annual series:
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.