Scientific and technological advances in 2014, something positive on which to meditate

As the year comes to a conclusion I look around and see and hear the voices of uncertainty and fear all over the media.  The winds of turmoil blow throughout the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia – and even in our own city streets.  Friction boils over between those attempting to keep the peace and those who see those authorities as impediments to their freedom.  Battles of words and actions wage on racial fronts, political fronts, religious fronts and societal fronts. And people face financial, health and other day-to-day challenges.

 So often science and technology too has taken a bad rap in Christian circles – and often rightly so.  For in times past many in academia and intelligentsia have misused and abused these God-given blessings to try and disprove even the existence of the Creator and His authority in the earth.  But in 2014, I believe scientific and technological advancements as a whole reflected some of the most positive steps forward that we’ll be able to look back on with pride in the years to come.

 That’s not saying that even in 2014 there haven’t been moments of imperfection in the scientific community.  In fact a popular scientific journal even acknowledges that the current pressure on researchers to “publish or perish” has often yielded reports of new discoveries that had to subsequently be retracted for any number of reasons.  See five such examples at the referenced site: http://www.livescience.com/49266-retracted-science-papers-2014.html.

 Sometimes the claims and results proved merely to be silly, though harmless – other times the sacrifice in the integrity of the scientific method yielded dangerous and lethal results.  Take for example the now well-refuted claim that there was scientific evidence linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism, and that the CDC was covering it up.  The sources’ published papers were later found to be based on “falsified data and weak statistics.”  Though their claims were subsequently retracted, the rumors generated by the publications didn’t go away.  And we’re seeing the results in many cases of kids still being exposed unnecessarily to these dangerous and potentially deadly diseases.

 But for every one of these cases of sloppy science, 2014 has seen ten positive ones that have either already benefitted mankind, or will very likely do so in the near future.  This is true across the entire spectrum of scientific research and development: whether we’re looking at archaeology, astronomy and cosmology, biology and genetics, chemistry and physics, earth science and geology, even space exploration.  While I’m fascinated by the achievements made in each of these areas over the past twelve months, for the sake of space and time I’d like to focus on one that touches each of our lives – namely advances made in medical and health science.  My hope is that it will lift your spirits as we enter into the New Year.

 Advances made and medical and health knowledge revealed to improve each of our lives

 Cancer:

 A new way to destroy metastasizing cancer cells traveling through the bloodstream has been discovered by researchers at Cornell University.

Researchers at Cardiff University achieve a major breakthrough in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most common form of leukemia.

Researchers have found a mutated gene common to a rare, but particularly virulent, form of pancreatic cancer.

Two international trials suggest a promising breakthrough in the treatment of advanced skin cancer.

Sedentary behavior increases risk of certain cancers, according to a new study.

The anaphase-promoting complex – one of the most important and complicated proteins involved in cell division – has been mapped in 3D at a resolution of less than a nanometre. Researchers claim this finding could transform the understanding of cancer and reveal new binding sites for future cancer drugs.

Stanford researchers have developed a “decoy” protein that disrupts metastasis, the process that makes cancer cells spread to other sites in the body.

A new drug for advanced breast cancer can extend patients’ lives by 15.7 months (56.5 vs. 40.8 months compared to previous treatments).

A new drug, OTS964, can eradicate aggressive human lung cancers transplanted into mice, with few side effects.

 A way to stop Ras proteins moving from the center of a cell to the membrane, a fault common to one-third of cancers, is reported at the National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference in Liverpool.

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, report a major breakthrough in treating advanced bladder cancer.

Cardiovascular problems:

The biggest ever stem cell trial involving heart attack patients has commenced in London. It will examine 3,000 patients in 11 European countries, determining whether death rates can be reduced and damaged tissues repaired after a heart attack.

A stroke therapy using stem cells extracted from patients’ bone marrow has shown promising results in the first trial of its kind in humans.

A new drug known as LCZ696 can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 20% compared to previous treatments. It is claimed to be among the biggest advances in treating this condition in over 10 years.

Spinal injuries:

Researchers have demonstrated for the first time the in-vitro growth of a piece of spinal cord in three dimensions from mouse embryonic stem cells.

A paralyzed man becomes the first in the world to walk again following a pioneering therapy which involved transplanting cells from his nose into his severed spinal cord.

Blindness: A new gene therapy technique has restored the sight of six patients who would otherwise have gone blind.

Deafness: By boosting a protein called NT3, scientists have restored lost hearing in mice.

Prosthetics:

A Dutch man has been fitted with a prosthetic hand capable of delivering a sense of touch.

After eight years of development, a new hi-tech bionic arm becomes the first of its kind to gain FDA approval for mass production.

A Colorado man becomes the first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to wear and simultaneously control two modular prosthetic limbs using his thoughts alone.

Internal Medicine:

Using stem cells from just 25 milliliters of blood, researchers have grown new blood vessels in just seven days, compared to a month for the same process using bone marrow. These blood vessels were implanted in patients to connect the gastrointestinal tract to the liver.

Miniature human stomachs have been grown from stem cells, potentially offering a way to study ulcers and repair stomach damage in patients.

Organ transplants:

A whole functioning organ – a thymus – has been engineered to grow inside an animal for the first time.

The first baby born to a mother with a womb transplant is announced in Sweden.

Organ donation: Experiments on rat livers have shown that a new cooling method can triple the time that donor organs can be stored outside the body.

Medical implants: Researchers create a biodegradeable battery that could be used for medical implants inside the body.

Stem cell research:

A new method to obtain human-induced pluripotent stem cells from a single drop of finger-pricked blood is achieved.

Scientists from Harvard Medical School report a new method of using toxic stem cells to attack brain tumors, without killing normal cells or themselves. The procedure could be ready for human clinical trials within five years.

Genetic research to reverse diseases: The first evidence that CRISPR can reverse disease symptoms in living animals has been demonstrated. Using this new gene-editing technique, MIT researchers cured mice of a rare liver disorder.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria: A new way to attack antibiotic-resistant bacteria is announced. It involves blocking the mechanism they use to build their exterior coating.

HIV: For the first time, researchers have demonstrated proof-of-concept that the HIV virus can be eliminated from the DNA of human cell cultures.

Infectious diseases: Scientists have engineered artificial nanoparticles made from lipids that can treat bacterial infections without antibiotics while simultaneously preventing antibiotic resistance.

Natural treatments:

Researchers show the first evidence that green tea extract enhances cognitive functions, especially the working memory, suggesting a possible treatment for impairments such as dementia.

A study found that wine only protects against cardiovascular disease in people who exercise.

A study of 131,000 people has found that drinking tea reduces non-cardiovascular mortality by 24 percent.

Dental problems: Researchers at King’s College London develop a new dental technique known as Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralization. This allows a decayed tooth to effectively repair and heal itself without the need for drills, needles or fillings.

Improved processes to administer medicine: A new device created by the University of California enables real-time measurements of drug metabolism and concentration in the bloodstream, potentially improving the way doses are administered.

Parkinson’s disease:

Researchers in Sweden report a huge breakthrough in Parkinson’s disease using stem cells to restore neurons in rats. Clinical trials for humans are expected by 2017.

Neurons reprogrammed from skin cells have been grafted into the brains of mice for the first time with long-term stability. This demonstration of lastingly stable neuron implantation raises hope for future therapies in humans that could replace sick neurons with healthy ones in the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients, for example.

Mental and Emotional problems: The first blood test to diagnose major depression in adults has been developed.

Diabetes: Harvard researchers have turned human embryonic stem cells into cells that produce insulin, a potentially major advance for sufferers of diabetes.

Arthritis: A new treatment for arthritis involving the use of implanted bio-electronics is announced. More than half of patients using the device saw a dramatic reduction in symptoms. It is believed the treatment could be widely used within 10 years.

Aging:

People who feel younger than their real age are more likely to live longer, according to research by University College London. Positive outlooks on life and aging, a sense of empowerment and will to live may explain the difference in life expectancy.

By blocking the activity of an enzyme known as Granzyme b, researchers have slowed aging in the skin of mice.

Obesity: Scientists have made progress towards developing an “obesity pill”, by using stem cells to turn white, or “bad,” fat cells into brown, or “good,” fat cells. Two compounds have already been shown to achieve this in human cells.

Basic wound healing: has been advanced with a synthetic platelet that accumulates at sites of injury, clots and stops bleeding three times faster. The synthetic platelets have realistic size, disc-shape, flexibility, and the same surface proteins as real platelets.

Ebola: An experimental vaccine to prevent Ebola has shown promising results in a Phase 1 clinical trial.

Myotonic dystrophy type 2: Researchers have shown in precise detail how a molecular defect is responsible for the disease, then designed a potential drug candidate to reverse its course.

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