CLEVELAND, Ohio — Increased access to telemedicine, devices to help mothers after labor, and new therapies for cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis are among the innovations that will move health care forward during 2021, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

These breakthroughs earned a spot on the Cleveland Clinic Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2021, announced during the 2020 Medical Innovation Summit, held virtually Tuesday.

The annual Top 10 medical innovations list “is as relevant as ever,” said Dr. Will Morris, executive medical director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations, and represents health care’s continuing search for ways to help patients worldwide.

All of the innovations are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are being used by patients now or will be within a year, Morris said. Some innovations, such as the MS drug and telemedicine, are currently in use at the Clinic, he said.

The list of breakthrough technologies was selected from hundreds of submissions by a committee of Clinic experts led by Morris and Dr. Akhil Saklecha, managing director of Cleveland Clinic Ventures.

Morris said his favorite innovation is the rising importance of telehealth and federal policies that increased access to it through policy change.

“Patients love it because it is convenient,” Morris said.

Here, in order of anticipated importance — with No. 1 as the most significant — are the Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2021:

1. Gene Therapy for Hemoglobinopathies

Genetic disorders such as sickle cell disease affect the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. An experimental gene therapy helps patients increase the amount of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in their blood and reduce the presence of sickled blood cells.

2. Novel Drug for Primary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis

Approximately 15% of MS patients have a type of the disease called primary-progressive, characterized by the gradual onset and steady progression of signs and symptoms. A new monoclonal antibody therapy — a form of immunotherapy — is the first and only treatment for patients with primary-progressive MS.

3. Smartphone-Connected Pacemaker Devices

Millions of patients have implanted pacemakers and defibrillators monitoring their hearts. Traditionally, patients must come into a cardiac center when these implanted devices need to be adjusted or changed. Smartphone-Connected Pacemaker Devices allow patients to connect their cell phone to their device via an app. This allows the device to transmit data to a health care provider.

“It is a novel improvement,” Morris said.

4. New Medication for Cystic Fibrosis

The hereditary condition cystic fibrosis causes thick sticky mucus to clog airways, leading to infections and inflammation. The disease is caused by a defective cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein. A new combination drug helps CF patients with the most common gene mutation, which affects about 90% of people with the disease.

5. Universal Hepatitis C Treatment

Hepatitis C, which can lead to liver failure and liver cancer, is a major health issue in this country. Many treatments come with major side effects or are effective for only some patients. A new combination medication has vastly improved hepatitis C treatment and is effective for a larger number of patients.

6. Bubble CPAP for Increased Lung Function in Premature Babies

Premature babies often require specialized care, including ventilation if they have difficulty breathing. Bubble CPAP is a non-invasive ventilation treatment that helps move oxygen in and out of a premature baby’s lungs, Morris said. The bubble CPAP machine is outside of the bassinet and is connected to a mask that fits over the baby’s nose. Because this device delivers air via oscillation instead of constant pressure, it mimics the way that real lungs work, he said. The bubble CPAP also is gentler on fragile lungs that other ventilation methods, he said.

7. Increased Access to Telemedicine through Novel Practice and Policy Changes

The COVID-19 pandemic saw increased adoption of telemedicine as health care workers were forced to conduct their visits online. State and federal regulators have moved quickly to reduce barriers to the adoption of telehealth in order to speed access to care while protecting health care workers and patients.

8. Vacuum-Induced Uterine Tamponade Device for Postpartum Hemorrhage

Postpartum hemorrhage, or excessive bleeding in mothers who have just given birth, can lead to blood transfusions, long procedures or emergency hysterectomies. The latest nonsurgical treatment for postpartum hemorrhage is a Vacuum-Induced Uterine Tamponade Device. When the tamponade device is inflated inside the uterus, it creates a vacuum inside the organ and mimics the natural uterine contractions that stop bleeding, Morris said.

9. PARP Inhibitors for Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among American men. Though best known as treatment for cancer in women, two PARP inhibitors have been demonstrated to also slow the growth of prostate cancer in men.

10. Immunologics for Migraine Prophylaxis

Migraine headaches affect more than 38 million Americans. In the past, drugs such as blood pressure medications, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and botox injections have been used to prevent migraines. A new class of drugs works by blocking the activity of a molecule called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which spikes during a migraine. This class of drugs was actively prescribed this year, and is helping countless migraine patients.


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