7 Medical Advances to Watch in 2014

From Smithsonian:

BacteriaGut reactions: Another area of research showing a lot of promise has to do with our guts, specifically all the bacteria residing there. Among the more recent findings: That there may be a direct physiological connection between the mix of microbes in our digestive tract and how our brain functions, and that that mix can also be a factor in whether a person is thin or obese. Expect more focus this year on how gut bacteria affect not just gastrointestinal diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, but also cancer and allergies. In fact, a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences determined that when dust from houses in which dogs lived was introduced into the gut bacteria of mice, the lab animals were less likely to develop symptoms of asthma.

Take that, cancer!: The War on Cancer has been going on a long time, with its share of false hopes, but a growing number of experts suggest that the fight may have turned a corner with a treatment known as cancer immunotherapy. Last month, for instance, Science magazine named it the “Breakthrough of the Year.” So what exactly is cancer immunotherapy? Put simply, it is using drugs that spur the body’s immune system to battle tumor cells directly. The reason this doesn’t happen naturally, as researchers discovered a few years ago, is that tumor cells are able to wrap themselves in a protective shield. But new drugs are being tested that have been able to empower the immune system to break through that protection and allow the body to do its job in fighting cancer cells on its own. The number of cases where immunotherapy has been tested is still relatively small, but the results have been encouraging. And, as Jennifer Couzin-Frankel wrote in Science, “Immunotherapy marks an entirely different way of treating cancer—by targeting the immune system, not the tumor itself.”

More here.