3 Aussie health breakthroughs that could transform lives

Medical breakthroughs by Australian researchers may have the potential to change millions of lives. Here are three new treatments to get excited about.

Every day, medical researchers work diligently to find new ways to tackle our biggest health challenges.

Sometimes, after countless hours of experimentation and persistence, they hit upon a game-changing discovery.

Here are some medical breakthroughs that could change how your health is managed in the future.

A cure for type 1 diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes may one day be able to ditch insulin injections for good, thanks to the pioneering work of two Royal Adelaide Hospital doctors.

It all began more than 20 years ago, when Dr John Greenwood treated victims of the Bali bombings, then spent the next decade developing a revolutionary artificial skin product.

Meanwhile, in the same hospital, Dr Toby Coates was investigating new ways to control type 1 diabetes.

The doctors began to realise Dr Greenwood’s burns technology could potentially be a crucial piece of the puzzle in a cure for diabetes.

The pair have since developed a treatment that involves implanting a small patch of artificial skin into a patient’s upper arm.

This stimulates blood flow, creating a similar environment to a person’s pancreas, which is then injected with insulin-producing islet cells.

Currently, donated islet cells are transplanted into the liver, but because of the limited blood supply, about 75 per cent of those cells die in the first 24 hours.

While there’s still some way to go yet, Professor Coates and his colleagues are conducting a world-first human trial of the treatment.

New cholesterol-lowering medication

High cholesterol is a huge problem in Australia, with 2.5 million people taking statins – prescription medicines used to lower cholesterol levels.

But some patients can’t tolerate them, says director of the Victorian Heart Institute and Victorian Heart Hospital Professor Stephen Nicholls.

“The other thing is that even in patients who can tolerate them, not everybody gets their cholesterol level as low as we would like them to get,” Prof Nicholls says.

“So they may need other medications on top of a statin.”

However, there’s a promising new drug on the horizon.

Prof Nicholls recently co-led a landmark four-year clinical trial involving almost 14,000 people across 32 countries.

It found a new pill, bempedoic acid, lowered “bad cholesterol” and the risk of heart attack by about a quarter, while also reducing the chances of having a stroke.

A US company is now developing the medication, which could be available here within two years.

New defences for fighting superbugs

Think bees and wasps are the scariest bugs out there? Superbugs pose a far greater threat to our health.

University of South Australia Professor Clive Prestidge explains why.

“Superbugs are where bacteria in our environment or in our bodies become resistant to antibiotics,” Professor Prestidge says.

“Unfortunately, now these superbugs are in our hospitals, in our environment, in our bodies, and they are making infectious disease a major challenge for humans.”

More than 1.2 million people die each year from infections caused by superbugs, and that’s expected to soar, says Prof Prestidge.

Thankfully, University of South Australia researcher Dr Muhammed Awad has developed a unique light therapy treatment that may help turn the tide.

The treatment involves applying a special oil to a wound, then exposing it to laser light, which generates highly reactive oxygen molecules that eradicate harmful bacteria.

The light therapy has been found to be effective in eliminating two of the world’s most deadly superbugs, golden staph and pseudomonas aeruginosa.

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Written by Larissa Ham.