When COVID-19 hit the US, everything was ready. The country’s brightest scientific minds have dropped whatever they were doing to join the effort against SARS-CoV-2, developing new vaccines and treatments in record time.
In 2022, researchers had time to resume projects that were forced to pause, and USA TODAY’s healthcare team spent the year reporting on new procedures, medical breakthroughs, and advances in disease prevention and treatment.
Some highlights include: Scientists have completed the map of our DNA. The FDA has approved the first new ALS drug in five years. And we have achieved important milestones in organ transplantation.
Below, read about some of the biggest medical breakthroughs of 2022, plus a preview of what’s in store for 2023.
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The first pig-to-human heart transplant
In January, David Bennett Sr., 57, became the first patient to undergo a heart transplant using a pig heart. During the nine-hour surgery, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center replaced his heart with that of a 240-pound pig that was genetically engineered and bred specifically for this purpose.
The procedure was initially considered a success, but Bennett died two months later. Doctors said his death may have been partly due to a virus contracted from the heart of a pig, called pig cytomegalovirus or CMV.
However, health experts have hopes for xenotransplantation, which is the transplantation of organs or tissue from an animal to a human. More than 100,000 people are awaiting organ transplants and many don’t qualify at all.
US marks 1 million successful organ transplants
In September, the United States celebrated one million successful solid organ transplants.
The first organ transplant occurred in 1954 when 23-year-old Richard Herrick received a kidney from his twin brother Ronald.
Half of the country’s million transplants occurred during the 53 years following Herrick’s surgery and half in the last 15 years alone, according to data from the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing.
In 2021, more than 40,000 solid organs were transplanted for the first time, more than 100 a day. At that rate, the next million transplants will take just 25 years, and likely much less because of medical innovations under development, said David Klassen, medical director at UNOS.
Delay type 1 diabetes
In November, the Food and Drug Administration approved a monoclonal antibody, called teplizumab, that could delay the onset of type 1 diabetes for years. Branded as TZIELD, the treatment is a 14-day, 30-minute infusion for adults and children 8 years of age and older with stage 2 type 2 diabetes.
In the three stages of type 1 diabetes, stage 2 is one step before clinical diagnosis. In clinical trials, teplizumab delayed the onset of Stage 3 diabetes for about two years compared to placebo.
Although health experts called the treatment “groundbreaking,” it comes at a price. The cost is $13,850 per vial for a total of $193,000 over the 14-day course of treatment. A study released in October found that more than 1.3 million U.S. adults have skipped doses, delayed buying, or otherwise rationed the life-saving drug insulin because of its cost.
Mapping of the human genome
Scientists have finally finished mapping the human genome, more than two decades after the first draft was completed.
About 8% of the genetic material was impossible to decipher with previous technology.
It will be years before there is any real benefit to this additional information, the researchers said, but those previously missing pieces could offer insights into human development, aging and diseases such as cancer, as well as human diversity, evolution and patterns of migration through prehistory.
Mapping this genetic material should help explain how humans adapted to and survived infections and plagues, how our bodies eliminate toxins, how individuals respond differently to drugs, what makes the brain distinctly human, and what distinguishes each of us, said Evan Eichler, a geneticist. at the University of Washington School of Medicine who helped lead the research.
First new ALS drug in 5 years
In September, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Relyvrio for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS.
Early data from the studies suggest that Relyvrio is particularly helpful at the onset of the life-threatening disease that gradually robs people of their ability to control their movements, including breathing. Preliminary data from a six-month study of 137 patients, half of whom received a placebo and half the active drug, suggested Relyvrio could slow the rate of decline. A follow-up found that patients on the active drug lived longer than those on the placebo.
But patients expressed dismay after Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company that makes Relyvrio, said it would charge $158,000 a year for the drug.
There are only five other drugs approved to treat ALS, most recently in 2017, but none have been shown to stop the relentless loss of muscle control. As little as one in some people has been shown to prolong life, but on average by only three months.
What’s in store for 2023?
Vaccines, vaccines and more vaccines! The craze will likely continue into the new year as scientists continue their fight against respiratory viruses:
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Contributed: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Coverage of patient health and safety at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial contributions.