Mind-controlled exoskeleton

‘Man On The Moon’ Moment – The Year’s Big Breakthroughs

It has been a remarkable year of promise in medical science – from inventing ways of treating the untreatable to reversing paralysis and keeping the brain alive after death.

“It was like [being the] first man on the Moon,” said 30-year-old Thibault.

He was describing the moment he was able to take his first steps since being paralysed in a fall two years ago.

He can now move all four of his paralysed limbs with a mind-controlled exoskeleton suit.

His movements, particularly walking, are far from perfect and the robo-suit is being used only in the lab.

But researchers say the approach could one day improve patients’ quality of life.

Meanwhile, nerves inside paralysed people’s bodies have been “rewired” to give movement to their arms and hands.

Patients in Australia can now feed themselves, put on make-up, turn a key, handle money and type at a computer.

Mila Makovec’s doctors have performed a seemingly impossible feat – a girl with a deadly brain disease has been given a unique drug that was invented from scratch just for her and all in less than a year.

She was diagnosed with fatal and untreatable Batten disease.

The eight-year-old’s medical team in Boston performed whole-genome sequencing – a detailed interrogation – on Mila’s DNA, her genetic code, and uncovered a unique mutation that was causing her disease.

Having seen the fault, the researchers thought it might be possible to treat it.

They designed a drug, tested it on Mila’s cells and on animals in the laboratory and won approval to use it from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Drugs normally take about a decade and a half to get from the laboratory, go through clinical trials and get to patients.

The US team got there in a year.

Mila is now having far fewer seizures, although she is not cured.

A new approach to cancer

Charlotte Stevenson, a two-year-old from Belfast, was one of the first patients to benefit from a “revolutionary” new class of cancer drugs.

Tumour-agnostic drugs do not care where the cancer is growing in the body as long as it has a specific genetic abnormality inside.

The first, called larotrectinib, has been approved for use across Europe.

It is designed to target tumours with a genetic abnormality known as an NTRK gene fusion.

They can be found in Charlotte’s sarcoma as well as some brain, kidney, thyroid and other cancers.

Meanwhile…

Cancer immunotherapy has reached a huge milestone.

The medicine uses a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer and is a story we have followed closely.

Now more than half of patients are surviving a deadly skin cancer (melanoma) that was considered untreatable just a decade ago.

Ten years ago just one in 20 patients would live for five years after being diagnosed with late-stage melanoma. Most would die in months.