Health care is constantly changing — from new technologies and methods used by doctors, to legislation and policies that shift the entire landscape of medicine and health insurance. Within Highmark Health’s culture of innovation, new ideas are constantly being created, reviewed, discussed and implemented. With that in mind, this Links to the Future series will highlight some of the many fascinating articles and studies we come across, with a focus on the research, technologies and practices that will change and save lives in the near and distant future.


Links to the Future

Treating Brain Inflammation to Halt Alzheimer’s: Researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom believe that by treating neuroinflammation — which evidence suggests may be a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease — they can slow, stop or even prevent the onset of symptoms of the disease. The researchers have seen promising results in studies with mice and are eager to develop a drug suitable for human testing.

Tumor-Detecting Glasses May Help Limit Cancer-Related Surgeries: New high-tech glasses, developed by a radiology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, may help doctors and surgeons better identify and more fully remove cancerous tumors in patients. The glasses, which use dual cameras with infrared sensors, detect dye that attaches itself to cancerous cells. This allows doctors to see tumors in greater detail, reducing the possibility of missed tumors and multiple surgeries.

“Bionic Spine” Could Solve Paralysis: Though human trials aren’t set to begin until 2017, researchers in Melbourne, Australia, have developed new technology that may allow paralyzed patients to walk again. The “bionic spine,” a device the size of a paper clip, is designed to be implanted in the brain and should allow recipients to move limbs using subconscious thought. The device has been tested successfully in sheep.

Hope for Muscular Dystrophy Patients Through Gene Editing: Three National Institutes of Health-funded research groups in the U.S. are using gene editing to reverse the effects of muscular dystrophy. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene sequence, the scientists have successfully improved muscle function in mice with the genetic disorder. If the process can be translated into the human genome, patients with muscular dystrophy may be able to regain the structure and function of their deteriorated muscles.

Early Data Shows Promise for Cancer-Fighting Immunotherapy: The process of “training” the body’s immune system to fight cancer could be the next big step in the battle against the disease. After early trials, a Seattle cancer researcher announced that this immunotherapy treatment had been successful where previous treatments had failed, sending more than 90 percent of leukemia patients into remission. At present, this type of treatment is effective only against blood cancers, but scientists are hopeful that further research will lead to applications for solid cancers as well.