A year in medicine: review of 2013

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…

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

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

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

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.

Browse more topics for yourself under the category function across the top-right of the website.

All the best from Medical News Today. Here’s hoping you enjoy the holidays – and we look forward to a happy new year with you in 2014.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Some of the news mentioned under health priorities just above touches on how important, and difficult to combat, dementia is.

Other research findings included that the onset of dementia seemed to be delayed in people who spoke a second language.

A link was suggested between a lack of sleep and the brain-plaque disease process in Alzheimer’s disease. And at the other end of the sleep spectrum, other research found a relationship between sleeping for over 9 hours and a faster decline in brain function.

Exercise may ward off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reported a study in mice. And mid-life stress was linked to dementia risk.

People over 55 years of age who had high blood pressure were also found to have biological indicators of Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting that hypertension could be a predictor of the dementia.

Meanwhile, carrying high blood sugar levels was also a risk factor that people may be able to modify for a possible preventive effect on cognitive decline.

Finally, in a specific group of older people – those having a major operation – a widely used drug, a statin, might be protective against an effect on cognitive decline found after surgery.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

The CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) announced a higher number of reports of ADHD diagnosis were being made, and immunology researchers found a higher rate of ADHD among children with a history of asthma or allergies.

Some clarity may be brought to the diagnosis of ADHD after a test was FDA-approved that uses brain waves picked up by EEG – electroencephalogram, a widely used medical test – as a way of pinpointing the behavioral disorder.

Breast cancer

Mammograms may not be targeting the right age groups, as research into breast cancer cases in Boston, MA, found that younger women were dying of breast cancer.

Peanut butter makes another appearance – this time after a cancer specialist said “peanut butter could help reduce the risk of breast cancer in women.” The researcher’s analysis compared diet and exercise information from 9,000 schoolgirls with their cancer risk once they reached their 20s and 30s.

In other breast cancer research, work in the laboratory suggested breast tissue – which “is about 2 to 3 years older than the rest of a woman’s body” – aged even faster when affected by cancer. The stem cell genetic research could give clues to our biological clock, which brings us neatly to:


Making human embryonic stem cells out of normal body cells, mentioned above, was a big achievement in 2013 – and clicking on the genetics category under the letters across the top-right of the website reveals the field is always a busy one.

A story that attracted much attention reported that genes may be playing a part in excessive alcohol consumption. Another reported that exam grade differences may have more to do with genetic nature than educational nurture.

And this was a curious story: Mouse study: promiscuous moms have more alluring sons.

Heart disease

Heart disease is an important area for health in any year, although one report says there are “better returns” from tackling aging rather than cancer and heart disease.

Here are just a few of our heart headlines from 2013:


Work published in Science made discoveries about an envelope protein of the HIV virus that has been foxing vaccine research.

While that finding unmasked a chink in the HIV virus, another revealed how it can become more aggressive through genetic recombination. A new strain was discovered as a “cross” of two common ones, and it was found to produce illness – AIDS – more quickly in the people infected.

General rates of HIV infection revealed two new findings about who is affected. With rates between them similar, HIV risk was found to be “no higher” for bisexual men than for heterosexual men. And a major charity found 850,000 fewer infants had become infected with HIV since 2005.

Infectious diseases – malaria

A mosquito patch funded by the Gates Foundation was announced this year for roll out in Uganda. The patch adheres to clothing, much like a sticker, and uses non-toxic compounds that block, for 48 hours, mosquitoes’ ability to track humans.

Meanwhile, a better understanding of how malarial infection becomes resistant to drug treatment may come from a study in The Lancet that reported a simple, rapid test for resistance.

Nutrition and diet

We saw lots of reports about drinking coffee above – and tea was also no stranger to the news in 2013. One edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published 12 scientific papers drawing from a range of experts to explore various tea-drinking benefits – from both black tea and green tea.

How about what we eat? Well, there was further evidence of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, and one massive survey of data on 120,000 people found a daily ration of nuts may prolong life.

Self-monitoring and medical devices

The wearable self-monitoring examples detailed above capture the wider imagination for tracking health. Self-monitoring technology is also continuing to develop as a means of managing or preventing specific disease.

An automated “albumin testing tool” running on a smartphone can pick up this biomarker of kidney damage by camera-phoning an at-home urine pot, and could be helpful in the self-monitoring of chronic illness such as diabetes.

Not confined to monitoring that is based on wearable or camera-phone devices, 2013 saw the development of a tracking sensor fitted inside a tooth.

And how about hospital monitoring being transformed by technology? There is the possibility of a stick-on tattoo doing measurements in place of all that wiring in hospitals.

More headlines that caught our attention in this area in 2013:

Prized people

A mention for two notable leaders in medicine this year.

The 2013 Nobel prize for medicine was awarded for fundamentally important nerve and hormone discoveries.

In a previous year, the gift of test tube fertilization was recognized by the Nobel prize, making a laureate of Robert Edwards in 2010. His death in April 2013 leaves a legacy to 21st century medicine.

For more news topics of your choice, use the category function across the top-right of the website.

Or log in to your MNT.

Written by Markus MacGill.

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