It’s that time of year again, when we predict what might be big in the year ahead. While 2017 will be a monumental year for a number of reasons, it’s promising to be a particularly exciting time for health and wellness. Personal wellness technology, chronic disease management, preventive medicine, research, the microbiome—big changes are in the works as we venture into the next 12 months.
Here’s what to be on the lookout for, in the news, in stores and from your healthcare providers.
Monitoring HIV levels with a USB stick
A new gadget has been developed to allow HIV patients to test their viral load at home. While home test HIV kits already exist, this new one, which looks like a USB key and uses a tiny blood prick to assess and send signal to your phone or laptop, can monitor levels of HIV in the body. It will allow patients to know if their levels are stable and if medication is working. This cuts down on doctor visits and lab tests. This novel technology is promising for the future in that it could one day help identify the presence of a variety of foreign invaders in the body, including hepatitis, bacteria or fungus (perhaps even if your body has become immune to certain antibiotics).
Male birth control
You probably heard about the end of a clinical trial for male birth control in the fall of 2016. The results of this study, which began in 2008 and from which many men dropped out due to severe physiological, mental health and infertility side effects, suggested that more work is to be done on this injectable birth control method for men. But interest and funding remains high. The coming year will likely see continued study of this method, where hormonal injections are used to reduce sperm count to decrease likelihood of pregnancy.
Self-testing for HPV
A large percentage of sexually active women contract HPV, certain strains of which are responsible for 99% of cervical cancer cases. And now, no more excuses for not getting tested: Scientists have developed self-administered test kits that include a test tube, swab and mailing box. Women administer their own test and mail to a lab, and are alerted to the presence of strains of HPV in their bodies. Experts believe 2017 will be the year these tests are deployed on a large scale, representing the biggest prevention effort for cervical cancer to date.
Budgets generated for 2017 by the National Cancer Institute suggest supporting studies that are focused on extending the use of immune-based cancer therapies to prevent cancer in those at extreme risk. They also indicated heightened efforts from the federal government to address a need for critical screening to determine individuals’ risk of early cancers. There are studies planned to investigate whether aspirin and metformin affect molecular pathways involved in cancer and if their use might halt progression of cancer. Big news!
We might also see the proliferation of a pancreatic cancer screening tool that relies solely on a blood sample to test for proteins present in system that suggest cancer. This may mean earlier detection and better outcomes for patients of this aggressive cancer.
While the plan has yet to be released, the Trump presidency virtually guarantees the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. We’ll be lucky if the change results in outcomes touted by both campaigns, like “higher quality, more coordinated care; greater transparency into price and quality for patients; and a solid dose of free-market innovation” will help lower the cost for individuals and families. The larger effects of this change might be more incremental than immediate.
Unexpected from Big Food players like Nestle, PepsiCo and Danone, but corporations are investing in nutrition research and development specifically in the arena of nutrigenomics, or personalized nutrition. The goal seems to be determining how cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease may be treatable with diet, with a growing focus on prevention.
“Bad bacteria” in our bodies—and the chemicals they emit—interfere with digestion, medication efficacy and immune strength. The National Microbiome Initiative is accelerating research and development on the role of the microbiome in the body, and experts believe 2017 is the year the microbiome becomes the healthcare industry’s most promising and lucrative frontier. Companies focused on genomics may investigate potential of microbiome for new diagnostic screenings, therapies and products to prevent bacterial imbalance in the gut.
Mental health accessibility
Get your therapy on the go. Sites like Lantern and Joyable are making mental health services—like talk therapy and social anxiety treatment—customized and a little easier to access than traditional modalities.
A little unusual, but definitely effective, ConBody is making waves and is likely to continue its growth in 2017. A fitness regime developed by a former inmate, this intense, take-no-prisoners (or take all the prisoners?) workout is designed for small spaces and to elicit quick results. Want the whole story? The Start-up podcast has a great episode on it.
Bringing the pharmacy to your doorstep, Pillpack takes the guessing, the lines and leaving the house (when you’re ill, elderly or just too busy) out of the pharmaceutical equation. They’re offering home delivery of properly dosed, sorted medications. A great option, particularly for the older generation managing many medications each day.
Health-related wearable technology
The future is now, friends. Verily, a health tech company, has developed unique hardware to help monitor, manage and prevent health problems. They’ve developed contact lenses that sense glucose levels (and let you know via your phone when your levels are becoming problematic) and wearable sensors to measure variables affecting MS. Their research and development arm aims to help identify patterns that could reveal early warning signs, more accurately diagnose disease or help uncover more effective treatments.