Special Report

Top Health Stories to Watch For in 2020

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3D organ printing

While commercialization is still years away, 2019 saw successes in printing vascular tissue from living cells. 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. There are companies working on printing skin grafts, insulin-producing cells, and vascular shunts made from the tissue of the patients who need dialysis.

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Affordable Care Act

2020 is an election year, and every candidate will be proposing ways of changing or building upon the Affordable Care Act — commonly known as Obamacare. To date, 36 states and D.C. have adopted the Medicaid expansion, a provision of the ACA providing additional federal funding to state health care systems. While the percentage of people without health insurance decreased after the major coverage expansion in the ACA, more than 10% of the non-elderly population is still uninsured.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced new guidelines that will make it easier for states to use the ACA’s waiver program, which lets states establish their own health care programs, abandoning some provisions of Obamacare. Under the new guidelines, states in 2020 may use federal funding as subsidies to people who are buying short-term health insurance policies.

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AI in health care

The rise of data use in health care means increased use of artificial intelligence, which is often the only way to process such large quantities of information, is all but inevitable. And AI continues to become more sophisticated.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first medical device that uses AI to detect diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease, in adults who have diabetes. The FDA has approved several uses of AI to detect and diagnose anything from cancer and bleeding in the brain to irregular heart rhythm. The National Institutes of Health described machine learning as the “primary capability behind the development of precision medicine, widely agreed to be a sorely needed advance in care.”

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Air quality getting worse

After improving for several years, air quality in the United States has been getting worse. Researchers from the University of Chicago call air pollution the “world’s top killer” because it cuts global life expectancy by an average of 1.8 years per person, according to the university’s Quality Life Index. In the United States alone, nearly 10,000 premature deaths since 2016 have been attributed to an increase in air pollution since 2016, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. More than 141 million Americans live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air report.

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The threat of antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance occurs when drugs can no longer kill certain bacteria. It usually happens as a result of changes in the bacteria due to overuse of antibiotics. For example, researchers warn that the commonly used antibiotics penicillin, which has been key in the decline of infections since it was discovered in 1928, is becoming obsolete.

In April 2019, the United Nations issued an urgent warning on the overuse of antibiotics and antimicrobial drugs in people, animals, and plants. According to the U.N., a growing number of infections are becoming drug resistant and without action could result in as many as 10 million deaths a year by 2050.

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