Incredible Moments In Science And Medicine You May Have Missed

“Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done,” said sci-fi author R. A. Heinlein. The following people and their latest discoveries in science are brilliant cases in point.

By Debashruti Banerjee
18 Oct 2021

In the past couple of decades, discoveries and inventions in science and medicine have grown exponentially. From finding cures for seemingly incurable diseases, to revolutionising the conversation around mental health一experts have made and continue to make strides for the welfare and longevity of our lives. Though the last couple of years have been a blur of pandemic frenzy, here are five such eureka moments that you may have missed, and which give hope for a more accessible and holistic healthcare for all.


1. Students develop a bra that detects early-stage breast cancer

After phones, watches and TVs, it’s high time that we invested in smart clothing. Four students of École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland一Hugo Vuillet, Fatemeh Ghadamieh, Samet Hana and Jules Pochon一did the same and more with their revolutionary prototype called the SmartBra. In partnership with a Neuchâtel-based startup company named IcosaMed, the students designed this painless, non-invasive garment back in 2019 to detect breast cancer in its early stages. Clearly a recipe for success, this SmartBra goes a step ahead as it uses low-dose ultrasound waves instead of radiation to perform echography scans for potentially cancerous cells. This prototype uses piezoelectricity (ability of certain materials, including biological ones, to produce electric charge in response to mechanical stress or pressure)一which makes the design simpler and more comfortable for monitoring the condition on a daily basis. The initial plan is to sell the product to people already diagnosed with breast cancer, then slowly pan out to the genetically predisposed and finally be available for all.


2. Fruits and veggies do wonders for children’s mental health

If you’re one of the countless people whose parents pressured you into finishing the greens on your plate一congratulations, you can do the same to the next generation. Thanks to a 2021 study by Dr. Richard Hayhoe et al for BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health, fruits and veggies have been scientifically proven to be beneficial for the mental well-being of children. Judging by the dietary tendencies of nearly 9,000 secondary schoolchildren across Norfolk, USA, it was revealed that “higher combined fruit and vegetable consumption was significantly associated with higher well-being: well-being scores were 3.73 units higher in those consuming five or more fruits and vegetables compared with none”. The research also confirmed that a well-rounded breakfast or lunch also contributes significantly to the well-being of the kids, thus necessitating further development in public health strategies and school policies.


3. This blood test might be able to identify Alzheimer’s Disease

One of the most common forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes brain cells to die and hampers mental and physical functioning. Currently, the disease has no cure and even its diagnosis is a long-drawn, expensive process一including but not limited to lengthy questioning, scans, tests, lumbar punctures etc. A study by the scientists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology might just change all of that. Published in early 2021 in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, the paper by Yuanbing Jiang et al has narrowed down dementia testing to a single blood test, which is a drastically cheaper and minimally invasive procedure when compared to current methods. While similar American ventures like the PrecivityAD test by C2N Diagnostics and the P-tau test by the University of California use a single biomarker in their detection, the Hong Kong test examines 19 different plasma proteins一thereby claiming up to 96 percent accuracy. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related ailments can prove miraculous in terms of managing the symptoms and preparing the patient and their family.

4. Happiness in early life is a weapon against dementia

Dementia can be a terrifying spiral into loss of day-to-day functionality and cognitive response. A chronic ailment without a specific cure, dementia is mostly seen as a geriatric concern. However, a 2021 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease explores new territories by linking happiness in early adulthood with reduced risks of dementia in later life. Through their pooled study of four prospective cohorts, Willa D Brenowitz et al of University of California, USA, concluded that “early adulthood depressive symptoms may be a risk factor for cognitive impairment independent of mid- or late-life depressive symptoms”. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 264 million people worldwide are affected by depression, so this study is a crucial step in highlighting mental health issues and their lifelong impacts.


5. These artificial pancreas can help in cancer research

Research for pancreatic cancer just took a huge leap, thanks to the engineers of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. In a September 2021 study published in the journal Nature Materials, engineers Christopher R. Below et al tackled the long-term issue of reproducing pancreatic tumour cells in the lab. With the help of a newly developed polyethylene glycol-based synthetic gel that doesn’t interact with living cells, they were able to create pancreatic ‘organoids’一artificial cells and microenvironments that replicate the real thing enough to facilitate further research for potential drugs and their effects. Currently awaiting a patent and commercial release, this breakthrough could open doors for experiments surrounding other forms of cancer as well.


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