Author Archives: Sarah Fontenot

Nothing But Good News

As we all settle in for a holiday weekend and the last gasp of summer, I want to share nothing but good news in medicine.

Looming Court opinions, recently announced rule changes from the Trump administration, and the central role health care is playing in the Presidential election (in 431 days!) promise many weighty topics in weeks to come- but as Fontenotes comes off its unofficial summer break, pleasing news rules the day.

Stories from the front Lines of Medical Research

Day in- Day out- there are breakthroughs in Medicine.

I want to share five news reports that reflect the dedication of researchers, scientists, physicians, nurses, and other clinicians- as well as the bravery of the first patients and their loved ones who stepped into (in the first story- literally) new treatments that could change the lives of all that follow.

1. Continuous Electrical Stimulation May Restore Walking to Paralyzed People

Electrical current administered via an implant on the spinal cords of three men who had long term paralysis allowed each to recover the ability to walk.

The movements are not smooth, they may need the assistance of a walker (some only sporadically), and all three had some sensation below the site of their injury before the experimental implant (leaving a question about how effective this treatment will be in people with more severe traumatic damage).

Even so- to have any hope in the arena of spinal cord injuries is thrilling.

This development was first reported in the science journal Nature– if you would like more of an anecdotal story about one of the three men (who broke his neck in a trampoline accident in 2010) and see films of his progress go here.

2. Cancer Breakthroughs Right & Left

Cancer remains the greatest health fear for many Americans. The diagnosis- regardless of location or prognosis- brings many patients and their loved ones to their physical, emotional, spiritual & financial knees.

It is good to be reminded, then, of how much is changing in Cancer diagnosis and treatment.

WebMD provides this list of Cancer treatment breakthroughs:

  • Personalized or Precision Medicine
  • Targeted Treatments
  • Immunotherapy
  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • Checkpoint inhibitors
  • Cancer vaccines
  • Cytokines
  • CAR T-cell therapy
  • Radiation Therapy Advances

For a brief explanation of each go here.

If Cancer is in your body, family, or life right now, I hope this article lifts your spirits and encourages you on your own path to reclaimed health.

3. Our Generation May See an Answer to Alzheimer’s

As I watch my friends deal with their parents’ Alzheimer’s, it is only natural to worry about the future of our own community.

However, a report from last summer revealed a new drug that might slow the progression of the disease- a possibility “greeted by cautious optimism at the 2018 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago.” [quote]

The medication appears to rid the brain of toxic amyloid proteins, and in doing so, slows the progress of mental decline (on average) by 18 months in patients with mild cognitive impairment (i.e., early Alzheimer’s).

We all agree that a cure to Alzheimer’s- and more than that- prevention- is the goal. However, any hint of slowing the disease in the interim deserves hope and optimism.

For more on the new drug study, go to WebMD here.

4. The Global Aids Epidemic Moves Closer to a Cure

A patient in London with AIDS has been cured* by a bone-marrow transplant he received for Cancer (Hodgkin’s lymphoma), not his infection with H.I.V. (*some are calling it a long-term remission).

This case is similar to Timothy Ray Brown, the only known patient cured of AIDS twelve years ago– after he, too, received a bone-marrow transplant for Cancer (leukemia).

The new patient quit taking his anti-viral AIDS medications in 2017 and has remained virus-free– the only person to stay off medications successfully for more than a year since Mr. Brown.

The researchers are not implying that the AIDS epidemic should be eradicated with massive numbers of bone-marrow transplants- but the replication of a cure after all these years has other possible applications, such as gene therapy.

Regardless of where this breakthrough leads, in the words of a Dutch researcher: “This will inspire people that cure is not a dream… It’s reachable.”

For more on this story, go here. Preferably read it holding a map of Africa, where Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana suffer the highest rates of AIDS on the planet (21.90% to 27.20%). As in Africa, a staggering percentage (21%) of new cases of AIDS in America are children.

5. People without Speech Can Speak through their Thoughts

As many as 180,000 people develop Aphasia (the loss of ability to understand or express speech) in America every year. The most common cause is stroke- but traumatic injury, brain surgery, tumors, and other causes can cut a person off from communicating with their world. (For more about Aphasia go to ASHA- the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association- here.)

Research is now leading to the possibility of a person’s thoughts to be translated and conveyed through a “virtual voice generator.” No muscle movement is required- the brain can speak without the physical components of speech.

The speech is automated (i.e., may sound less natural), but approaches normal speed (150 words a minute), unlike earlier communication systems that could only produce eight words/min. Currently it is only 70% intelligible– but to say “only” 70% negates the tremendous implications of this early research.

This breakthrough was also initially reported in Nature but has been covered as well by Forbes, the New York Times, and several other publications. (The New York Times article includes recorded samplings of the speech generated by the fledgling generator.)

Be sure to read and verbally discuss around your Labor Day holiday table (and remember to appreciate your voice)!

That’s All for Now

Please know these five stories barely touch the abundance of good news in Medicine.

I hope this Labor Day Weekend you can relax with family, loved ones, and friends and celebrate this good news and everything else that is hopeful in our world.


Want to Know More?

If there is a disease, condition, or situation you would like to know more about- and what research is offering- I urge you access:

  • The relevant National Association- such as the American Diabetes Association [ADA] or the National Multiple Sclerosis Society [MS]- most diseases now have their own National Society;
  • National resources such as the National Institutes of Health [NIH], and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC];
  • Large health care vehicles with searchable databases such as WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, or a website from the American Academy of Family Physicians [familydoctor.org]

But also- of course- talk to your physician (or other health care practitioner). That is most important of all.