Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Good News Tuesday

All kinds of interesting and hopeful advances in medicine this week!

First —

People With Vertigo Find Relief Through Nerve-Stimulating Implant

For the patients with severe vertigo who come to Charles Della Santina’s lab, life is full of constraints. The constant dizziness interferes with their social and working lives mainly because of the limits it places on their mobility—they often can’t walk without a cane and can’t drive cars.

“These people don’t have much hope,” says Della Santina, director of the Vestibular NeuroEngineering Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “They come to us after being told by many doctors, you’ll have to learn to live with it, because there’s nothing we can do to help you.”

Della Santina hopes to change that. … Della Santina says there’s a “special graveyard for people who make overly optimistic estimates about when their device will be approved” by the FDA. But he notes that the vestibular implant should qualify for a humanitarian device exemption, a fast-track FDA approval process that encourages the development of technology for rare diseases.

Very cool.

New neural network restores diaphragm function after spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injury leads to paralysis in approximately 17,000 people in the U.S. each year. Many of those injured must rely on mechanical ventilators to breathe.

By discovering the new network, researchers could help spinal cord injury patients bypass missing brain signals and return motor function below injury sites — reducing the need for ventilators.

Every small step in restoring function to paralyzed people is worth celebrating — but this does seem like a relatively small step. I do look forward to a future where people find it hard to imagine untreatable paralysis and consider our modern treatments barbaric. Onward!

French Regulators Approve Human Trial of a Bionic Eye

Now this is more like the proper kind of medical future —

Five people with severe vision loss will have an experimental chip implanted in their eyes to help them see. French regulators last week approved the trial of the bionic vision implant, which will be placed in people with an advanced type of retinal disease called dry age-related macular degeneration, or dry AMD.

This, too:

Doctors replace boy’s skin using breakthrough gene therapy, stem cells

The patient –- a boy who was 7 years old at the time of the treatment –- was born with a rare skin condition called junctional epidermolysis bullosa. The condition causes the outer layer of the skin to peel away easily from the lower skin layers, making it incredibly fragile and prone to injury.

“This is a very severe, devastating disease, where kids suffer a lot,” said Dr. Michele De Luca, one of the authors of the research….

In a breakthrough treatment, researchers at a burn unit in Europe found a way to replace 80 percent of a boy’s skin using a combination of gene therapy and stem cells. The grafted skin attached to his body has continued to replace itself, even months later.

Excellent. I don’t care how rare a horrible condition is, I want them ALL treatable and fixable.

The most disturbing thing in this story was that the boy’s parents had to “plead” with the treatment team to try this experimental therapy, or so the article says. For heaven’s sake, if the patient is dying and in agony and current treatments are failing, the treatment team ought to be pleading with the boy’s parents to allow experimental treatments, not the other way around.

But moving on, moving on:

Five new malaria targets that could lead to an effective vaccine

Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria and more than 200 million people are infected each year. The disease caused the deaths of almost half a million people globally in 2015.

Despite the large number of deaths, there is no highly effective vaccine currently available for malaria. Over the last 50 years, most attempts to develop vaccines have only focussed on single targets.

In the new study, scientists have discovered five targets for future malaria vaccine development, which they suggest should be targeted in combination.

Great! Faster, please!

And finally, one new development that’s actually relevant to me personally:

FDA approves better vaccine against painful shingles virus

Studies paid for by Glaxo found it prevents shingles in about 90 percent of people. Merck’s is about 50 percent effective.

Both versions are for adults 50 and older. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though, recommends vaccination for those 60 or older, partly because it loses effectiveness over time.

I’ve had shingles already, so I may be less likely to have a recurrence. But it could happen. When my mother had shingles a few years ago, the nerve pain lasted for about ten months, so the risk is something I take seriously. You should take it seriously too, especially if you’re a woman over fifty — that puts you in the highest risk group for long-term pain from shingles.

I would be quite willing to get vaccinated every two or five or ten years, whatever is advised, to avoid the risk of long-term or even permanent pain. This new vaccine sounds a lot better than the old one, but better yet would be a vaccine that provides permanent protection in most people. Hopefully Glaxo will pursue that next.

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