Special Report

The Best Health News Over the Last Decade

A new way to treat cavities
> Year: 2015
> Category: Treatment

In 2015, the FDA approved a painless new way to treat tooth decay called silver diamine fluoride (SDF). It’s a liquid that is applied directly to cavities to stop the decay. The FDA gave it a “breakthrough therapy designation” two years later.

As a non-invasive and fairly cheap method (it costs about $20-$25 per tooth), SDF treatment, which must be prescribed by a dentist, can save people a lot of money. About 91% of American adults have dental decay, and about 27% have untreated tooth decay, according to the CDC. Tooth decay is common among kids as well — it’s the most common chronic disease in children between 6 and 11 years of age.

Source: Scharfsinn86 / Getty Images

3D printing of human organs
> Year: 2015
> Category: Technology

3D printing technology has improved considerably over the past few years. (Today, low-budget 3D printers are available for anyone who can spare $100.) The technology has advanced so much that producing fully functional replacement organs from a person’s own cells seems like a not so distant possibility. Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have grown a heart tissue that beats just like a normal human heart.

Production for treatment is still years away, however. The technique, called sacrificial writing into functional tissue (SWIFT), has not even been tested on mice yet. But if it works, it can be used to print other organs, too, potentially saving the lives of thousands of people who are waiting for an organ transplant.

Source: wildpixel / Getty Images

Immunotherapy and cancer
> Year: 2016
> Category: Treatment

Cancer immunotherapy was named the 2016 Advance of the Year by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The therapy is designed to support and boost the immune system’s response to cancer cells, rather than targeting the cancer itself. One of the most successful immunotherapies so far is the checkpoint inhibition. It makes the immune response stronger by keeping immune cells activated, which does not normally happen when a person has cancer.

It may take decades until immunotherapy could replace the current standards in cancer treatment of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, but currently hundreds of immunotherapy drugs are being tested in clinical trials on people.

Some benefits of immunotherapy include fewer side effects than radiation or chemotherapy, lower risk of relapse, and making other cancer treatments more effective.

Source: whitehouse / Flickr

Opioid crisis recognized as national public health emergency
> Year: 2017
> Category: Public health

Every day over 130 people in the United States die from opioid overdose, including pain medication, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, according to the National Institutes of Health. In 2017, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, giving hope that the federal government’s involvement could help fight the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

The official designation removed certain administrative requirements for accessing federal funds to fight the epidemic, including the use of taxpayers’ money to make addiction treatments and naloxone, a life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose, drug, more accessible.

The Department of Health and Human Services has renewed the opioid crisis’ status as a national emergency several times since 2017. Money has been used to speed up a survey on whether and how often doctors prescribe opioids and help launch anti-addiction programs quicker, according to the a 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office.

Source: LightFieldStudios / Getty Images

Early-stage Alzheimer’s treatment
> Year: 2019
> Category: Diseases

Currently, there is no treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Pharmaceutical companies and universities have tried to tackle different aspects of the neurodegenerative disorder, but to no avail. Until just a few months ago.

Biogen, a biotechnology company, announced in October 2019 it would ask the FDA to approve its Aducanumab drug as first treatment for early Alzheimer’s disease. The company said that patients in the early stages of the disease who were treated with a high dose of the drug experienced significant improvements in memory, orientation, and language. If Aducanumab is approved, it will be one of a handful of drugs approved to treat the disease.