Have you started to become interested in healthcare research or perhaps a career in healthcare over the last year? If so, you are not alone.
As the Covid-19 pandemic puts the nation’s well-being into the limelight, more individuals than ever are realizing the importance of healthcare research in shaping our society and medical systems.
Through healthcare research breakthroughs, medical professionals can fight new strains of viruses and improve diagnosis time and accuracy while simultaneously easing suffering and enhancing overall patient care.
But with the chaos of the pandemic, it can be easy to overlook healthcare research breakthroughs that happened recently.
Outlined in this article are some healthcare research breakthroughs such as simulations, new treatments and innovative healthcare processes you may have missed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sickle Cell Therapy
Sickle cell disease (SCD) has caused unending suffering in individuals of African descent for over five millennia.
Patients suffering from SCD have crescent-shaped red blood cells. More often than not, SCD is brought on by a mutation in hemoglobin proteins.
The mutation minimizes the ability of the red blood cells to distribute oxygen throughout the body. This ultimately leads to organ failure, chronic fatigue and early death.
In fact, there were 16,654 SCD-related deaths from 1979 to 2005 according to a research study by John Hopkins University.
For a long time, the only treatment has been a bone marrow transplant. However, thanks to research conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital, there might be a safer and more effective alternative.
Led by a team of scientists, these researchers used a virus to switch off the gene which results in the sickling of cells.
According to a 2021 study, these patients produced healthy red blood cells thereafter and were able to stop the blood transfusions required for individuals suffering from SCDs.
According to the head of the research team David Williams MD, one study participant who previously required monthly transfusions has not needed any in three years.
The study added that they have followed six patients for an average of 18 months and found that the treatment has completely stopped the more severe symptoms of the disease.
Although more research is required, there are a lot of possibilities surrounding this one-time treatment which could pose little to no risks.
With a lot of room for more research, this could be a great opportunity for someone studying or planning to enroll in a healthcare program.
You could look into finding a more effective gene-editing approach or perhaps conduct research on creating an over-the-counter treatment for SCD.
Considering that roughly 70,000 to 100,000 Americans annually suffer from SCD, having a quick yet effective treatment would be a game-changer in preventing the disease from being passed on to the next generation.
Single-dose Breast Cancer Treatment
Every year in the United States, approximately 264,000 cases of breast cancer are recorded in women and roughly 2,400 in men.
If that’s not bad enough, about 42,000 women and 500 men in the US die annually from breast cancer.
Unlike SCD though, there are multiple ways to treat breast cancer. Depending on the patient’s chosen medical facility, treatment of breast cancer usually consists of a mixture of radiation therapy, medication and surgical removal.
This way, microscopic cancer that has spread from the breast tumor through the blood can be stopped and treated effectively.
However, this treatment type usually takes three to six months and may continue even further if the patient suffers from advanced breast cancer.
Plus, each treatment session is usually followed by a period of recovery wherein patients are not allowed to carry children or heavy objects.
Most recently though, a team of researchers at University College London have uncovered a pioneering breast cancer therapy that only takes 30 minutes but is as effective as the conventional treatment.
The research study involving 32 hospitals in 10 countries established the success of Target Intraoperative Radiotherapy (TARGIT-IORT) in treating breast cancer.
TARGIT-IORT which is originally a treatment conducted after the elimination of a tumor can act as a radiation treatment and surgery for breast cancer.
It works by simply placing a small ball consisting of one dose inside the breast. More importantly, TARGIT-IORT has fewer radiation-related side effects and can result in better cosmetic outcomes.
According to The BMJ Today, the TARGIT-IORT treatment is associated with roughly an 80% chance of preventing a full course of conventional radiotherapy.
So, you might be wondering where a healthcare degree will fit into all of this. After all, what else can I contribute to breast cancer treatment if a quicker and more effective cure is now available?
Frankly, there is still a lot. It is worth noting that the researchers have pointed out limitations to their study.
These include not gathering all the background risk factors for deaths from non-breast cancer and possible overdiagnosis of non-invasive local recurrence impacting the results.
By studying healthcare, you can dig deeper into their research and help close the gaps to ensure that single-dose breast cancer treatment becomes more conventional and accepted across diverse circles.
Human Liver Restoration
The steep reduction in liver donations and transplant procedures has aggravated the global shortage of transplantable organs and the need for transplants.
While liver transplant is now a routine medical procedure with a five-year survival of more than 70%, there is still a shortage of grafts. As a matter of fact, 15% of listed patients die while waiting for a transplant.
What makes matters even worse is that while necessary, there are guidelines for selection and allocation that need to be followed to ensure success resulting in further delays.
With a considerable shortage of liver donors, researchers backed by the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Center have developed an alternative to transplantations.
In their research, they used cells grown in a laboratory to repair damaged human donor livers and grow viable mini bile ducts.
These bile ducts act as the liver’s waste disposal system. Presently, malfunctioning bile ducts are the cause of 70% of liver transplants in children and a third in adults with no alternative treatments known or accepted for regular use.
This is the first time that lab cells were used to enhance or repair human organs. However, there is still further work to test the viability and safety of the approach.
Nevertheless, this creates an opportunity for individuals seeking a career in healthcare to conduct more in-depth research or perhaps segue into creating more innovative treatment opportunities for those whose own livers are not functioning properly.
No alternative medicine therapies have been accepted to treat liver disease. Some studies have highlighted possible benefits, but further research is still needed.
By studying in healthcare, you will be exposed to innovative medical technologies that allow you to dig deeper into liver treatment, save more patients and make a real difference.
New Prostate Cancer Treatment
Regardless of the multiple treatment types available, prostate cancer still remains the second most common cancer among men.
According to the American Cancer Society, there were about 268,490 cases of prostate cancer in 2022 alone, with roughly 34,500 resulting in deaths.
The issue with prostate cancer is that when metastasizing, the disease is almost incurable, leaving physicians virtually helpless and focused only on postponing death.
However, a promising new approach published in The New England Journal of Medicine is currently making rounds in health circles for its ability to mitigate the condition among men with an advanced form of the disease.
Known as Lutetium-177-PSMA-617, this treatment did not only stop the participants’ cancers from worsening but also more than doubled their life expectancy.
The research, which involved over 800 men in 10 countries, compared the results of patients who carried on with standard care with those who received the new treatment.
Unlike other prostate cancer treatments which are a bit complex, Lutetium-177-PSMA-617 is relatively straightforward and drives radiation directly into a cancer cell while sparing the healthy tissue around it.
This procedure uses a powerful compound known as PSMA-617 to direct attention to a protein found almost exclusively in prostate cancer cells.
A radioactive particle distributed by the compound subsequently blasts the cancer cells like a bomb wherever they are.
The Food and Drug Administration recently granted the treatment a priority review status and is currently waiting for direct approval.
There is also new research on gene research connected to prostate cancer that is helping scientists better understand how the disease develops.
While the particulars are still unknown, this could make it possible to design medicines to target those changes and improve health outcomes.
Stringent evaluations for abnormal prostate cancer genes might also assist in detecting men at high risk who might take advantage from screening or from chemoprevention clinical trials.
On the other hand, men diagnosed with prostate cancer and their doctors can gain a better idea of how likely the cancer is to grow and spread by knowing the tests for certain gene changes.
Either way, advancements in prostate cancer prevention and treatment is vital in zapping the disease and uncovering new medical approaches that would otherwise be unavailable.
Alzheimer’s Disease Blood Test
Alzheimer’s disease is quite common in the US. Recent data shows that more than six million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s.
Traditionally, detecting Alzheimer’s can be like getting blood out of a stone. Patients must undergo brain scans such as positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT).
The scan results can support an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or rule out other possible causes for symptoms.
Other than that, they may also have to go through tests of problem-solving, counting, language attention and memory.
If that’s not bad enough, doctors usually repeat these tests to best identify how the person’s memory and other cognitive functions are changing over time.
This is not bad at all considering that before the early 2000s; the only sure way to know whether someone had Alzheimer’s disease was through an autopsy.
We’ve come a long way since then. However, more than two decades since the usage of brain scans in detecting Alzheimer’s, another breakthrough has emerged in the form of a blood test.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a blood test can now be ordered by anyone to determine whether they have Alzheimer’s or not.
Although the test is still in the trial phase and waiting to go through all the proper approvals, C2N Diagnostics from St. Louis, Missouri has already started selling a blood test to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.
Known as the PecivityAD test, the exam uses measurements of ApoE prototype and the amyloid beta 42 and 40 peptides in plasma to identify if the individual’s brain has amyloid plaques.
It uses liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry methods to detect amyloid plaques and other proteins captured in a blood sample.
Usually, measuring those plaques will require PET scans, biopsies and spinal taps for cerebrospinal fluid to pinpoint these biological signs which are thought to accompany cognitive decline.
However, the study which received funding from Eisai and the National Institutes of Health displayed 81% accuracy in predicting the levels of amyloid buildup that would be seen in a PET scan.
Quickly identifying these changes will empower individuals with Alzheimer’s to enroll in prevention or treatment programs as early as possible.
It is, however, worth noting that the prescription test is only intended for use in individuals experiencing memory and thinking problems.
Death during pregnancy is a common occurrence in the United States. Recent data shows that about 700 women die annually due to delivery and pregnancy issues.
A woman’s body experiences several changes during pregnancy. These changes are entirely normal but may become important if there are complications and issues.
When a woman’s uterus is unable to contract after childbirth, massive amounts of blood can be lost which ultimately leads to an emergency hysterectomy or worse, death.
According to a 2017 study, postpartum hemorrhage accompanies 3% to 10% of all childbirths in the US.
While there are available treatments and medications, they don’t always work. A medical professional can choose to insert a balloon to add pressure to the uterus, but this step is not without risks.
Thanks to innovative technological advancements, providers now have another option to ensure safe childbirth.
Instead of a balloon, an FDA-approved device known as the Jada vacuum uterine tamponade can now be used in aiding natural post-birth contractions and putting pressure on leaking blood vessels.
The Jada vacuum is also used for less time than a balloon. This is incredibly helpful for mothers as it eases the process of breastfeeding and getting out of bed.
During beta testing, the vacuum managed bleeding for an average of three minutes and successfully treated 94%.
How to Get Started in Healthcare Research?
Most recent healthcare breakthroughs still need comprehensive research to ensure accuracy and effectiveness.
If you are still reading this, there’s a good chance that a little part of you wants to be the person who completes the research and ascertains the precision of these advancements.
But you might be wondering where to begin. Can I go straight to the laboratory and do my research, or will I need a degree for it?
At a minimum, you will likely need a master’s or a Ph.D. to start. The road to becoming a healthcare researcher is complex because it demands unique skills and expertise in addition to a required formal education.
You can pursue a career in healthcare research by obtaining a formal education in biological sciences or an advanced nursing degree.
In most graduate schools, you will be participating in a research internship and taking on a research project exclusively designed for your chosen curriculum.
This gives you an opportunity to be mentored by a research scientist or physician where you can work in collaboration with the team on an ongoing research project.
One advantage of taking these online degrees is they are flexible and can accommodate busy professionals.
For instance, if you are currently a nurse but want to take a post-master’s FNP program, you can simply enroll in an FNP program at Rockhurst University Online and complete your degree quickly. Studying online is perhaps the best way of acquiring new skills and qualifications to open new doors in your career.
But we get it, you are having second thoughts about the legitimacy of the degree. How is that possible? Will my degree be respected by healthcare organizations?
Surprisingly, they are. Numbers show that 61% of healthcare HR leaders believe that online programs deliver the same quality as traditional learning.
This is because getting your healthcare degree online allows for a more focused learning experience since you have complete control of the process and can move through the course at your desired pace.
Get Started Today
No one can predict the future, but you can be part of the vanguard of healthcare breakthroughs starting today. Work towards your healthcare degree and start uncovering the endless possibilities of medicine.