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5 biggest medical breakthroughs of the year

The most notable medical advances of 2012.

BG-12.

1. Most available multiple sclerosis treatments require regular injections, but TWO MS PILLS CLEARED MAJOR HURDLES in September. Large clinical trials found the drug BG-12, made by Biogen Idec of Weston, effective at treating the disease and helping prevent relapses. It could win approval from federal regulators before the end of this year. Meanwhile, Aubagio, a pill from Cambridge-based Genzyme Corp., was cleared for sale. “MS is an unpredictable disease,” says Timothy Coetzee, chief research officer for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the drugs, which act on the immune system in distinct ways, are both important new treatment tools.

 

Cathy Hutchinson drinking froma bottle using the DLR robotic arm.

braingate2.org

Cathy Hutchinson drinking froma bottle using the DLR robotic arm.

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2. The mechanical arm reached for a bottle on the table, brought it to Cathy Hutchinson’s mouth for a drink, and placed it down again. Hutchinson (right), featured in an article published in the journal Nature in May, flashed a smile. Her limbs are paralyzed, yet she controlled the machine with AN IMPLANT SYSTEM CALLED BRAINGATE THAT READS BRAIN ACTIVITY. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and other colleagues hope to marry the technology with prosthetic limbs as well as eventually create communication systems for those who can’t speak. “The field is still young,” says neurologist and neuroengineer Dr. Leigh Hochberg. “What we’ve shown is promising.”

 

3.TWO DEVELOPMENT “ACCELERATORS” arrived in the Boston area this year, looking for new thinkers in health care technology. Accelerator groups provide seed money and other support to promising digital innovators, and seek to connect those innovators with major investors. Healthbox, of London and Chicago, partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and others to offer 10 local start-ups each $50,000, advice, and space to work in Kendall Square on ideas such as a smart pillbox that reminds you to take your medications and tools to make medical records interactive. And San Francisco-based Rock Health launched a pop-up program at Harvard Medical School.

 

Boston Scientific has begun marketing a first-of-its-kind defibrillator after receiving FDA approval.

Boston Scientific has begun marketing a first-of-its-kind defibrillator after receiving FDA approval.

4. Boston Scientific has begun marketing a FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND DEFIBRILLATOR after receiving FDA approval in September. The implantable device, which protects against sudden cardiac arrest, was developed by a California firm purchased by Boston Scientific and is expected to be a financial win for the Natick-based company. Unlike others on the market, the S-ICD does not touch the heart, instead sending electrical pulses to correct abnormal rhythms through wires implanted just beneath the skin.

 

5. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, long a leader in electronic health records, has amassed 200 million pieces of patient data. August saw the hospital launch A PROGRAM THAT TURNS MEDICAL RECORDS INTO A SEARCHABLE DATABASE accessible by anyone in the hospital system. (Individual patient records are “de-identified” to prevent invasion of privacy.) With Clinical Query, explains chief information officer Dr. John Halamka, researchers can easily explore 30 years of data on a vast array of topics — drug interactions or treatment complications, for example — and clinicians can look for ways to improve care across large groups of patients.

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