World Medical Innovation Forum 2015: Disruptive Dozen

Written by Angelica RecierdoA powerful summary of many of the innovations discussed at the Forum the past 3 days, the “Disruptive Dozen” is more than just a registry of buzz words; this list represents the optimistic current state of neuroscience and one to look back on in years to come to see the progress made.

12. DIAGNOSING AND TREATING NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASES THROUGH THE MICROBIOME For the first time, the gut microbiome is now being examined as a therapeutic target. The body’s largest immune system holds many clues to neurological health. For example, a high-fat diet increases the risk for depression and other psychiatric disorders. Changes in the microbiome in the imbalance of certain bacteria could affect microglial cells in the brain.

11. NEUROIMAGING FOR NEURODEGENERATIVE AND PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS With more advanced, high-gradient 7 tesla MRI, the possibilities for imaging are plentiful. In Alzheimer’s disease (AD), comparisons are being made between the brains of symptomatic patients and non-symptomatic. Depression and anxiety – both neurocircuitry disorders – are being mapped with higher resolution and understanding.

10. IMMUNE CHECKPOINT INHIBITORS FOR BRAIN CANCER Checkpoint inhibitors could potentially stop the progression of brain cancer in certain subsets of patients. In advanced metastatic melanoma, where cancer reaches the brain, inhibitors produce better responses. Induced immunity is gearing the body for a stronger attack against the tumor.

9. HEALING THE BRAIN WITH NEUROMODULATION “Electricity for healing” is proving to be a viable treatment for improving working memory, making people more alert, and positively affecting people with neurocircuitry disorders such as tremors, addiction, PTSD, etc. There are 350,000 people in the United States with these “brain pacemakers.”

8. MOLECULAR INTERVENTION WITH MINIMALLY INVASIVE TECHNOLOGY The heterogeneity of tumors is affecting our approaches of targeting them. Because not every tumor is the same and not even the cells of one act the same all of the time, delivery devices with the capability of turning on or off different tumor expressions are key.

7. NEW ASPECTS OF GENE THERAPY More than 10,000 diseases are caused by a single gene defect. The explosion in gene therapy will be in editing techniques and “resilience” genes that can make diseases milder.

6. THE PROMISE OF BRAIN BIOMARKERS Finding biomarkers is the key to advancing drug development. For example, in AD, biomarkers found in cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and on images of the brain appear years before symptoms present.

5. THE PROMISE OF FOCUSED ULTRASOUND The brain hides behind the skull and the blood-brain barrier. To be able to target deep tissue without radiation or incision means less time spent in the operating room and a quicker recovery for patients than current procedures allow. Less energy would be needed for the procedure, and reversible entry into the blood-brain barrier could mean safer, repeat procedures if necessary.

4. RAPID INTERVENTION FOR PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS In acute settings, suicidal ideation is an emergency. Symptoms of psychiatric disorders need faster intervention to keep patients and the people around them safe. Anti-depressants can take up to weeks to have an effect and may not produce an effect in some people. Techniques such as anesthetics, inhalants, and electrotherapy could soon be more widely deployed in emergency rooms.

3. SMART BRAIN PROSTHETICS Imagine what a “closed-loop thermostat” in the brain could do for many neurological diseases. They could restore quality of life to the physically impaired by stroke. These small devices would be implanted into the brain to stave off disease as it arises with no side effects.

2. STEM CELL THERAPY TO REPAIR AND REPLENISH THE BRAIN Regenerative medicine is recreating cells that are deficient, diseased, or missing. The use of stem cells and cell-based therapies is still controversial and presents moral and ethical issues as well as regulatory hurdles. However, it is undeniable that the brain is incredibly “plastic” and boasts an elegant biofeedback system. To use cells to correct a dysfunction requires great specificity.

1. EARLY DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE Fourty-four million people worldwide suffer from clinical AD, and many more go undiagnosed. It is a global health concern at the forefront of neuroscience. Speeding up drug discovery, tau protein immunotherapy, a-beta reduction, and robust imaging are just four of many tactics being used in the journey to a cure.


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