Three Medical Breakthroughs

by Dr. Paul Garrett

Doesn't it seem like every week we hear about another medical breakthrough on the TV news, with "the full story at eleven."  Well, some are important, legitimate advances. Often we never really get the full story.  Here are three that may be new to you, with more explanation than a 30-second spot will allow.

1) Prolonging the quality of life in lung cancer patients has been challenging.  In the early 2000s a new class of drug was added to our arsenal, VEGF inhibitors (vascular endothelial growth inhibitors).  They work by inhibiting cancerous vessels from forming so the tumors starve and sometimes vanish, at least for several months.  There are now several of these drugs and they are being combined with other drug classes for improved survival and better quality of life. In addition, sophisticated genetic analysis of tumor cells can individualize chemotherapy and lead to prolonged survival and lessen side effects.

2) A truly amazing non-surgical cancer treatment is now available in a handful of centers in the U.S.  The technique, IRE (irreversible electrophoresis) uses carefully placed needles in and around a tumor.  It completely kills tumor cells  while leaving blood vessels, nerves and other normal tissues unaffected.  So far small studies have shown great value in both small and inoperable pancreatic cancers as well as several others.

3) There are magical advances in the use of radioactive tracers to probe the  mind.  Depending on uptake in specific areas of the brain, certain brain receptors can shed light on such maladies as post traumatic stress and bulimia. In addition, one research study has shown that some patients who will go on to fail treatment for narcotic addiction can be identified ahead of time by brain receptor analysis.  This allows tailored treatments with increased effectiveness.

One of the greatest things about medicine is the never ending challenge and excitement over the next advance, which provides hope for the future.