Medical breakthroughs worth watching

From bionic eyes to robotic legs, an avalanche of recent innovations in medical gadgetry is improving life for millions of North Americans of all ages. We wanted to tell you about four exciting breakthroughs that are making the world a better place.

The Bionic Retina

For more than 100,000 Americans and 1.5 million people around the world, the inherited eye disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP) slowly destroys light-sensitive cells in the retina of the eye. Side vision and night vision are the first to go, followed by dimming of forward vision and the loss of the ability to see colors. Total blindness is rare, but vision may be so compromised that it becomes difficult to handle everyday tasks. An Food and Drug Administration-approved bionic retina restores enough vision to allow a person with RP to function much more independently.

The device works by sending signals from a wearable video unit to electrodes implanted in the eyes. Studies show that it can help people with RP walk alone on sidewalks, read large-print books and even match socks!

Nerve Stimulator for Migraines and Cluster Headaches

Ten million Americans (mostly women) suffer from migraine headaches; they account for 113 million lost workdays annually. Another 1.3 million or so (mostly men) have cluster headaches, which can cause pain so severe that they're dubbed “suicide headaches.” Although medications and lifestyle changes help control migraines and sometimes cluster headaches respond to inhaling pure oxygen, an experimental, patient-controlled device holds the promise of stopping these big headaches in their tracks.

The device, smaller than an almond, is implanted in the upper gum. It's remote-controlled by a device similar to a smartphone and stimulates facial nerves called the sphenopalatine ganglion. It's been shown to control even the most severe pain.

Wearable Robotic Devices

As many as 1 million Americans have lost a hand, foot, arm or leg to amputation; by 2050, the number is estimated to hit 4 million. Diabetes, war and traffic accidents are common causes. Now, scientists are using space-age plastics and carbon fiber composites to create stronger, lighter and more durable artificial limbs that replicate natural motion. These high-tech computerized prosthetic devices sport microprocessors and computer chips that let users move bionic limbs more freely, walk as quickly as people with intact limbs, and even play competitive sports. Bionic lower-leg systems are available from some prosthetics providers, although they are still not in general use.

A Camera in a Pill

Finding the cause of hidden bleeding in a child's digestive system is one of the biggest challenges for digestive-disease experts. Too often, invasive, exploratory surgery has been the only option when other tests fail. Now, doctors are turning to a high-tech camera in a capsule to get incredibly clear pictures of a child's small intestine, an area that's been difficult to thoroughly examine. Used in adults for more than a decade, wireless PillCams are becoming standard for children as young as 4 years old.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.

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