Seven Top Medical Advances for Seniors in 2021

The biggest medical news of 2021 was the Covid-19 vaccine and booster shots whose massive and speedy delivery gave hope to people of all ages around the world. Much of the other medical news that would be making headlines in a non-pandemic environment was announced in Covid-19’s shadow. Other medical advances made in 2021 that will benefit San Diego seniors and the elderly in home care. In any other year, these innovations and their potential would be big news. Seniors, caregivers, and their families can get excited about these new discoveries, treatments and policies for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.

Cancer

Prevention Magazine reported on a new ‘easy’ way to detect more than 50 types of cancer early.

“We hear all the time that early detection is the key to surviving cancer, but just a few tests (including Pap smears, mammograms, lung screenings, and colonoscopies) exist to catch cancer at its most curable stages. That’s why a new technology that screens a blood sample for DNA fragments from more than 50 types of cancer is generating great excitement. The Galleri test alerts your doctor if you have a signal for the disease and indicates which organ it comes from. Interim results from a clinical trial involving 6,000 people over 50 showed that the test helped diagnose 29 who didn’t know they had cancers of the lung, ovary, rectum, neck, breast, and pancreas, among others— for many of these, there are no other screening tests. This “liquid biopsy,” intended to supplement other available screening tools, is on a fast track to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, but you can get it now for $949 with a doctor’s Rx under a regulation covering lab- developed tests.”

The American Association of Medical Colleges’ website announced a promising new approach to treating prostate cancer with a new radiation-bearing drug that could be approved in 2022.

“Prostate cancer strikes 1 out of 8 U.S. men, and it is expected to take more than 34,000 lives this year alone. When it metastasizes, the disease is almost always incurable, leaving physicians focused only on postponing death and improving patients’ lives. A promising new approach has succeeded at both goals — and did so among men with an advanced form of the disease whose condition had deteriorated despite receiving standard treatments. In fact, it more than doubled how long patients lived without their cancer worsening, according to a paper published in September. The study, which followed 831 men in 10 countries for a median of 20 months, compared patients who continued to receive standard care with ones who got the new treatment. The treatment’s name is complex: lutetium-177-PSMA-617. But its approach is straightforward: Drive radiation directly into a cancer cell while sparing healthy tissue around it. The method uses a compound called PSMA-617 to hone in on a protein found almost exclusively in prostate cancer cells, explains Oliver Sartor, MD, study co-lead investigator and medical director of Tulane Cancer Center in New Orleans. Then, a radioactive particle carried by the compound blasts the cancer cells, wherever they are. “It’s like a little smart bomb,” says Sartor. In September, the FDA granted the treatment priority review status, according to drug manufacturer Novartis, which funded the study. An answer is expected in the first half of 2022. Sartor feels hopeful. “I’ve been working in prostate cancer for more than 30 years, and this is the largest advance I’ve ever been associated with.”

Alzheimer’s Disease

Per Prevention Magazine’s website, two new drugs with great potential to help Alzheimer’s patients were announced in 2021.

“This year we hit a milestone for new medicines for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia: Biogen’s Aduhelm became the first new drug approved by the FDA in nearly 20 years (though the approval remains controversial). And donanemab from Eli Lilly was granted Breakthrough Therapy status after a study in May’s New England Journal of Medicine found that people with early Alzheimer’s scored better on certain cognitive-function tests after a year and a half of monthly infusions than those who received a placebo. Though we’re still far from a cure, “there has never been a more exciting time in Alzheimer’s therapy research,” says Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Association, who notes that the approval of the first drug in a new category historically invigorates the field, increasing investments that lead to more innovation.”

The AAMC.org website shared that the first blood test that could diagnose Alzheimer’s disease is waiting for approval from the FDA.

“Randall Bateman, MD, a Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (WUSTL) neurologist, is thrilled to have contributed to the first blood test for Alzheimer’s disease — a devastating condition that affects as many as 5.8 million Americans. Back in 2017, though, as Bateman geared up to share the discovery that would enable the test, he worried about his peers’ reaction. After all, scientists were convinced that the blood marker he studied couldn’t predict the disease. But the WUSTL method was much more sensitive and direct than prior approaches. The resultant test — called PrecivityAD — effectively detects the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and has proven as accurate as the previously used tools of a spinal tap or positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which are far more costly and complex. The test, developed by a company called C2N Diagnostics that Bateman co-founded, has been available to physicians since October 2020, when it received approval through a federal lab certification program. It now awaits additional approval from the FDA. ‘We’ve been hoping for a test to diagnose Alzheimer’s for more than 20 years,’ says Bateman, WUSTL’s Charles F. and Joanne Knight distinguished professor of neurology. ‘Currently, up to half of people with Alzheimer’s are misdiagnosed.’”

Hearing and Mobility Issues

According to Prevention Magazine, hearing aids will become much more affordable thanks to new rules coming from the Food and Drug Administration.

“When you can’t understand what a client or your grandkid is saying over the phone, hearing aids can make all the difference, but right now they cost big bucks. You have to see a hearing-health professional, who adds his or her fee, pushing the price of the devices to thousands of dollars for a pair—often not covered by insurance. So the prospect of more affordable options will be music to the ears of the estimated 38 million American adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. The White House has asked the Food and Drug Administration to write the needed rules to allow hearing aids to be sold directly to consumers. Expanding buying options is important, because our ears can help foster work success and a happy social life as well as keep us safe, says Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America. Already some electronics companies have jumped into the DIY sound-amplification business, with Bose releasing its $850 SoundControl buds this year.”

According to Insider.com, in 2021 the FDA approved a new knee implant that can heal a torn ACL from the inside.

“The ACL, or the anterior cruciate ligament, is the most common source of knee injury, according to a 2016 report in the Journal of Clinical Orthopedics and Trauma. The injury is as devastating as it is common. Repairing a torn ACL can involve multiple surgeries or even a full reconstruction, which requires removing a healthy tendon for grafting and means a lengthier recovery. A new knee implant recently approved by the FDA can “basically stimulate the ACL to heal itself,” Martha Murray, MD, orthopedic surgeon-in-chief at Boston Children’s Hospital and creator of the BEAR implant, said in a press release. The groundbreaking device, made of bovine collagen and a drop of the patient’s blood, bridges the gap between the torn ends of the ACL. After a minimally invasive procedure to insert the implant, it can heal the ACL faster and with better patient satisfaction than a reconstruction.”

Mental Health

Insider.com reported that doctors have found a new option to treat treatment-resistant depression.

“Separately, the largest randomized controlled trial of psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, found that the hallucinogenic-assisted therapy significantly reduced symptoms of treatment-resistant depression. In an earlier study of psilocybin as a treatment for depression (April vs. November), two sessions with the psychedelic worked “at least as well” as a daily dose of escitalopram, the antidepressant also known as Lexapro.”