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The Making of Medicine

More Fascinating Findings From 2020

Earlier I told you about some of our major brain-related discoveries of the year. Here are some other findings and milestones I think you'll find particularly interesting.

A big year for the artificial pancreas. An artificial pancreas we developed has now been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for both adults and children 6 and older. The wearable device monitors and regulates blood sugar automatically and can free people with type 1 diabetes from the need for painful daily needlesticks.

Manufactured by Tandem Diabetes Care, the system is known as Control-IQ. It features an insulin pump that is programmed with advanced control algorithms developed by our Boris Kovatchev, PhD. Seeing it come to market was the culmination of many years of work by him. Congratulations to him and his team -- it's a wonderful advance for many people with type 1 diabetes.

Exercise can slow or prevent vision loss. Exercise can slow or prevent the development of macular degeneration and may benefit glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and other common causes of vision loss, our Bradley Gelfand, PhD, found.

He and his team determined that exercise reduced the harmful overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes of lab mice by up to 45%. This tangle of blood vessels is a key contributor to macular degeneration and several other eye diseases.

The work represents the first experimental evidence showing that exercise can reduce the severity of macular degeneration. Ten million Americans are estimated to suffer from the condition.

An unexpected ally in preventing the spread of the meat allergy. You've probably heard about how our Thomas Platts-Mills, MD, PhD, discovered that the bite of the lone star tick can cause people to become allergic to beef, pork and other forms of mammalian meat. Since then, our researchers have been charting how the allergy is spreading across the country.

This year, our folks discovered that an unlikely ally is slowing the spread in the Gulf Coast and Texas: invasive fire ants. The ants were accidentally imported from South America decades ago, and their presence seems to significantly reduce the spread of the meat allergy, though we're not entirely sure why.

The bad news: The ants themselves are a problem. Their bites can be very painful and cause severe allergic reactions -- in some cases, life-threatening anaphylaxis. That’s in addition to the dangers the ants pose to animals and crops.

Our diet and gut microbes affect chemotherapy outcomes. What we eat can affect the outcome of chemotherapy – and likely many other medical treatments – because of ripple effects that begin in our gut, our Eyleen O’Rourke, PhD, found.

She and her team determined that diet can cause microbes in the gut to trigger changes in the host’s response to a chemotherapy drug. Common components of our daily diets -- amino acids, for example -- could either increase or decrease both the effectiveness and toxicity of the drugs used for cancer treatment.

The discovery opens an important new avenue of medical research and may help explain differences seen in patient responses to chemotherapy that have baffled doctors until now.

Thanks for reading. This is by no means a complete list of our important discoveries this year. Instead, it's just a sampling. I could go on and on, but you'll find many more right here on the research blog. In 2021, I hope you'll keep checking back for our latest findings and breakthroughs!

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