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A year in medicine: review of 2013

Dec 22nd 2013 at 8:22 PM

What has this last year delivered for medicine and health, and has 2013 shone more light on an area that interests you? Perhaps there has been radical change affecting a particular medical condition this year. Could it even be that medicine as a whole took a big step forward over the last 12 months?

The medical community has certainly reported major changes and offered many glimpses into tomorrow's world - and 2014 could be just as exciting.

This passing year happens to mark MNT's first decade on the web. So, with a theme connecting medicine today, yesterday and tomorrow, this is the Medical News Today end-of-year review for 2013.
Making body parts 

Would it have been possible back in 2003 to imagine the reality of 3D printing 10 years later, let alone that it could help in the creation of an artificial human ear?

Another area that offers hope for tissue engineering (among many other potential benefits) is stem cell research. But, beset with scientific struggle and ethical controversy, stem cell developments have not emerged so smoothly in the last 10 years.

There was a big moment in 2013, however, when body cells were at last successfully turned into human embryonic stem cells for the very first time.

This gives reality to the prospect of cloning human tissue to fix the body - but it also reminds us of the fear that someone, somehow, could possibly clone a whole human.
Computers and gadgets
Person touching a screen
The everyday reality of touch-screen technology was once unimaginable. What future technologies will amaze us in health and medicine?

Medicine can be seen as a technology just like any other field of human advancement, and it is amazing to stop and think how far we humans can go.

Take touch-screen technology. It is something that has become so widespread and indispensable on phones and tablets that it may be hard to imagine going back to a world without it. Yet, it is not difficult to remember how far-fetched the idea would once have been.

Gadgets themselves are changing fast and wasting no time changing our lives, no less. But can they actually change our bodies?

The answer is yes - by changing our health behaviors and helping us manage disease.

Computer wizardry is now starting to appear on wearable gadgets that can instantly feed previously unimaginable data straight back at us. The same excitement we have for phone gadgetry may be what helps make a wider reality of these health devices.

One piece of kit that is held to the forehead can read our vital signs. The sheer amount of data we can collect could have an unprecedented effect on our control over disease, not just our health activities.

In the era of obesity and its attendant risks, tracker technology might help transform the way we relate to physical activity - look at the watch that can keep a check on heart rate, motion, sweating and skin temperature - it got a big injection of cash to develop it further.

There are more 2013 news stories about self-monitoring listed below - or see our page explaining how self-monitoring is transforming health.
What we consume
Cup of coffee with coffee beans
The pros and cons of drinking coffee were widely reported in 2013, with three out of four reports suggesting benefits.

Taking control of our health and preventing future disease is of eternal interest to many of us, and rarely does a week go by when we are not being hooked by the latest findings about what might be good or bad for us in our food or drink.

To pick just one of these topics - our favourite hot drink - coffee scored three out of four among 2013 news reports of suggested benefit.

One study suggested there were risks to drinking more than four cups of coffee a day. While the risk of death from all causes was higher among people who drank lots of coffee, the research also found, however, that higher numbers of such coffee-lovers were smokers or had lower levels of cardiovascular fitness.

Meanwhile, the three positive stories that appeared in 2013 all looked back at data on different groups to analyze their coffee-drinking habits and compare these with their health. Coffee was associated with a reduced likelihood of liver cancer, prostate cancer and suicide.

It is often difficult, however, for scientists to reach a true understanding of the risks and benefits of the many different things we happily consume - especially when drawing from data in this way.

Producing an effect that the scientists could test directly, one foodstuff that really surprised our visitors was peanut butter - but not for its consumption.

The small study found that peanut butter's particular smell might help diagnose Alzheimer's disease - because of a curious finding that people with this dementia may be less able to sniff out peanut butter with their left nostril (better with the right).

More 2013 stories listed below for nutrition and diet.
Health priorities
Older couple in a garden
One of the top health priorities of 2013 was tackling dementia, particularly given that this is a rising burden in older populations around the world.

Staying with Alzheimer's disease: dementia in general, along with other neurodegenerative disease, has become one of the big areas of health priority, evermore so over the past year, with the US government enacting a plan and societies around the world grappling with its rising burden in older people.

Doctors and charities are putting the importance of dementia into the league topped by cancer and call for the sort of financial support that has had so much effect against that major disease. December 2013 saw the UK host leading nations to talk about this very issue in a G8 summit on dementia.

Future-changing possibilities that may make dementia less of a problem have been glimpsed in the news over the last year.

One breakthrough in drug research succeeded in blocking brain cell death in mice, preventing neurodegeneration in the animals.

Another important development in the scientific understanding of nerve loss in the brain saw 11 new genes discovered behind Alzheimer's disease.

More news about Alzheimer's disease and dementia is listed below, along with numerous other 2013 highlights from just a key selection of medical topics.

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