Biotechnology to the Rescue

From nanodrugs to organs made by 3-D printing, medical science’s inventions are changing lives.

US News & World Report—September 2, 2014

The life sciences industry is in the middle of a historic boom, churning out new medical weapons at an unprecedented pace. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved 39 “new molecular entities,” completely novel drugs to treat everything from cancer to tuberculosis to HIV. It topped that off by adding 27 more last year, and there are now more than 4,000 investigational medicines in the pipeline.

Medical device-makers are also in high gear; the 33 products approved in 2013 include replacement hips, new cardiac stents and prosthetic spinal discs. Here’s a sampling of the most innovative developments transforming medical practice and offering patients new hope.

Bionic body parts

Whether a patient is an amputee who needs a prosthetic limb or an aging person in need of a new knee or hip joint, the fundamental wish is the same: that the new part will work just as well as the old one did. The device industry is answering the call with myriad new technologies.

“The original knee replacements were not great fits,” says Steven B. Haas, MD, chief of the knee service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “Now there are hundreds of combinations of sizes that allow us to more closely follow the natural anatomy.”

And with the help of magnetic resonance imaging, surgeons can offer even greater precision. They now obtain detailed pictures of a joint prior to surgery, then perform a dress rehearsal of sorts on a computer that helps ensure the best fit and allows adjustments in advance, “so when we do the implant, it will reproduce the natural motions of the knee,” Haas says. Surgeons also now have access to “smart” surgical instruments embedded with tiny computers that help align the joint.

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