12 Most Important Medical Innovations From The Past Year

Every year, scientists and researchers discover and develop new drugs, devices, and vaccines that improve the health of millions of people. These innovations range from complex inventions that take decades to develop to ingeniously simple devices that benefit the most vulnerable populations in the world.

Here are 12 of the most important innovations in healthcare in the past year that are changing the face of medicine:


Approximately 400 million people are affected by Dengue each year. The disease is caused by a virus that is transmitted from person to person through the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Symptoms include high fever, chills, vomiting, severe headaches, and in some cases, death. The World Health Organization estimates that Dengue affects 40 percent of the world’s population, mostly in epidemic-prone areas such as the Philippines and Brazil.

In the coming years, global warming and easier travel are expected to make the prevention of dengue and its spread even more difficult. Now, after 20 years of research, Sanofi Pasteur has developed a vaccine for all four viruses that cause dengue. Inoculations with the world’s first dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, have begun in the hot zones. It is projected that Dengvaxia will result in a 50 percent drop in Dengue cases over the next five years. This will, in turn, bring down the $9 billion annual cost of dengue to global economies.

Probuphine Implant

People battling opioid addiction cannot afford to miss even a dose or two of their withdrawal medication because this can trigger a relapse. Now, Braeburn Pharmaceuticals has developed the probuphine implant. This subcutaneous device is placed under the patient’s skin and delivers a small, constant dose of an opioid derivative called buprenorphine. It can remain in place for six months at a time. The device has received FDA approval to combat withdrawal symptoms in patients actively recovering from opioid addiction.


It is well known that viruses can trigger an immune response in the body to fight cancer. However, safely and effectively modifying viruses to achieve this has been difficult thus far. Now, Amgen has developed a viral cancer drug called IMLYGIC which has received FDA approval to treat melanoma. When injected into the tumor, this modified herpes virus initiates an immune response against the melanoma.


For decades, cardiac surgeons have used metal stents to unblock clogged arteries and keep them open. However, these metal stents are prone to re-blockage due to a build-up of plaque around them. Now, Abbott has developed Absorb, a stent made from a biodegradable polymer called polylactide. Unlike its metal counterparts, Absorb is bioabsorbable and dissolves on its own once its work is complete. Results from clinical trials indicate that the new device is at par with metal stents.


Thermo is a $100 innovation from Withings that takes the discomfort out of home temperature measurement. Designed with 16 infrared sensors, the device measures temperature from 4,000 readings in a mere 2 seconds. The readings are taken from the temporal artery on the side of the patient’s face. The device does not need to come in contact with the skin. Oral thermometers take as much as 3 minutes to deliver results and are not safe to use in some people, small children for example.


An acronym for Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, STAR has been developed by the Children’s National Medical Center. This dextrous robot has been created to suture intestines, one of the most difficult parts of the human body to stitch up. The precision sensing system in this robotic surgeon is designed to react to the smallest changes in pressure. Trials on pig intestines, which are similar in flexibility to human intestines, have shown that STAR is able to more evenly space out sutures and performs better than both human surgeons and robots that work with human assistance. Evenly spaced out sutures are indicators of a procedure done well.

Second Skin

Sun spots, fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration – the first signs of aging are inevitable – until now. Olivo Lab has developed Second Skin, a type of invisible stick-on polymer that mimics young skin in elasticity. Second Skin is easily applied as a direct coating onto a person’s skin to hide the signs of aging. It can also be used as a drug-delivery device for eczema medications and sunscreen to prevent rubbing off after application.


Ask anyone with celiac disease and they’ll tell you how difficult it is to find gluten-free meals. Now, Nima, a pocket-sized gluten detector, takes the guesswork out of gluten content. Designed to detect as little as 20 parts per million (which is the FDA’s gluten-free limit), the device includes antibodies on a test strip that react to gluten in a food sample. For people with celiac disease, there is no need to take the cook’s word for it anymore. In the future, the developers plan to extend the range to other common food allergens.

FreeStyle Libre

Until now, diabetics have had to live with repeated needle sticks, as often as 10 times a day, to keep their blood glucose levels in check. Now, Abbott has developed FreeStyle Libre, a small sensor device that is inserted into the skin of the upper arm. A tiny filament in the device constantly monitors blood glucose, eliminating the need for painful finger pricks. A scanner, the size of a smart phone, is used to check levels. Early results are promising and people using FreeStyle Libre report experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) almost 40 percent less often. The professional version of the device, to be used under a doctor’s supervision, has already received FDA approval. The consumer version is still under review.

Rapid Zika Test by MIT

If the Zika virus infects a pregnant woman, it can potentially cause birth defects in her baby. Yet, expectant mothers may remain asymptomatic and unaware that they have been infected by the virus. The currently available lab test takes days to process and is not available in underserved rural areas. Now, MIT researchers have developed a paper-based test for Zika. The yellow dots on the test strip turn purple within three hours of exposure to a blood sample containing Zika. In the future, researchers plan to apply this method for rapid diagnosis of other blood-borne diseases such as malaria.

Kovanaze Nasal Spray

St. Renatus have addressed the most painful part of dentistry, the local anesthetic injection, with their Kovanaze Nasal Spray. Two squirts of Kovanaze into the nostril nearest the offending tooth make the procedure pain-free without any needles.


Shift Labs have simplified IV control with DripAssist. The device has been created for developing countries and military outposts where expensive infusion monitors are either unaffordable or unavailable. This 5-inch stripped-down infusion device runs on one AA battery and costs a fraction of the price of hospital infusion monitors. With the DripAssist attached to the IV tube, nurses no longer have to manually count the drops of IV fluids to ensure a proper rate of medicine is flowing into the patient’s vein.

Ariel Jacoby
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