3 Major Medical Breakthroughs That Are Revolutionizing Medicine

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Life Force" by Tony Robbins, Peter H. Diamandis, and Robert Hariri. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the future of medicine? What are the major breakthroughs that have the potential to revolutionize the medical field?

Medicine is advancing at an unprecedented pace with new technologies emerging that have the potential to treat diseases we thought were uncurable and even repair aged tissue. Some of the latest medical breakthroughs include gene therapy, cancer immunotherapy, and stem cell therapy.

Let’s look at some of these medical technologies and how they can revolutionize modern medicine.

Immunotherapy to Target Cancer Cells

The authors of the book Life Force explain that a new immunotherapy treatment called CAR T cell therapy helps our immune systems better target cancer cells. Your body’s immune system is your number one defense against illness. A young, healthy immune system uses T cells to detect and fight off viruses, infections, and precancerous cells, but as we age our immune systems become weaker and more susceptible to these attackers. This can lead to increased susceptibility to illness in general, but it especially increases the risk for autoimmune diseases like leukemia.

(Shortform note: Autoimmune diseases are conditions where the body fails to distinguish between its own healthy cells and foreign cells, resulting in an immune response that attacks the body itself. Approximately 20% of Americans suffer from an autoimmune disorder, three-quarters of whom are women. Factors that may increase the risk of developing an autoimmune disease include smoking, obesity, and certain medications.)

CAR T cell therapy allows us to reinforce our immune systems through personalized medicines that direct the body’s defenses to attack cancer cells with a precision that other cancer treatments like chemotherapy don’t have. CAR—or chimeric antigen receptor—T cells are modified immune cells made from a patient’s own tissues. CAR T cell therapy is extremely effective in fighting leukemia—a liquid cancer—but it has little impact on solid cancers, which are the cause of nine out of ten deaths from cancer in the US.

(Shortform note: The difference between liquid and solid cancers is that liquid cancers affect bone marrow and are circulated throughout the body via your bloodstream, while solid cancers are masses of tissue that don’t circulate through the body. Unlike solid cancers, liquid cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma can’t be treated with surgery and require treatments such as chemotherapy or T cell therapy.) 

Gene Therapy to Cure Genetic Diseases

The authors also discuss a cure for genetic diseases called gene therapy. Gene therapy is a process that uses viruses to replace mutated, illness-causing DNA in the body’s cells with healthy DNA. The injected virus containing the healthy DNA attaches itself to the patient’s cells and causes them to start replicating that healthy DNA, eliminating the mutation that was causing the disease. 

Another type of treatment using genes is gene editing, which allows scientists to edit DNA within cells. An editing protein called CRISPR-Cas9 locates the DNA that needs to be edited and snips out the portion of it that’s causing problems. Its ability to locate the affected DNA also makes it an excellent diagnostic tool for rapidly detecting diseases, including cancer and viral infections such as COVID-19. Gene editing is a newer technology than gene therapy, and research is underway to discover more editing proteins to expand our options in what diseases we treat and how.

Stem Cell Therapy to Reverse Aging

Stem cell therapy is a medical breakthrough for reversing the aging process. Stem cells are cells that can turn into any type of cell according to the body’s needs and can then continue to replicate themselves. They can repair damaged tissue and strengthen your immune system. As we age, we begin to exhaust our supply of stem cells. When injected, stem cells can replace older, damaged cells and reduce our biological age.

(Shortform note: Stem cell exhaustion is considered by some experts to be one of the nine reasons we age. They suggest that reframing our medical treatment model away from one that focuses on infectious disease and toward one that focuses on aging will be more effective at preventing both infectious and age-related disease and extending people’s lifespans.)

One method of stem cell therapy involves extracting a patient’s own stem cells from their adipose tissue or bone marrow. However, the authors explain that this method is invasive and unreliable. They instead highlight placental stem cells, those derived from fresh placentas after a healthy birth. These cells are of the highest quality because they haven’t been exposed to toxins or damage from UV rays or tobacco and because they include supercharged immune cells that fight cancer. Unfortunately, they have yet to receive FDA approval. Robbins explains how three days of treatment with stem cells from umbilical cords—which he describes as second-best to placental stem cells—cured him of back pain that had plagued him for 14 years.  

(Shortform note: Some critics have noted that Robbins’s description of his stem cell therapy as a total cure for his back pain fails to account for the other pain-reduction techniques he was using. They also propose that adipose-derived stem cells are more effective and accessible than Robbins suggests and that their efficacy as a treatment shouldn’t be dismissed. Currently, stem cells derived from umbilical cords are the only FDA-approved stem cell treatment, and they’re only approved for treatment of blood disorders.)

3 Major Medical Breakthroughs That Are Revolutionizing Medicine

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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