2022 has seen its fair share of newsworthy science. Who could forget JWST’s images of the universe or the success of the Artemis I mission? But it’s not just space that had all the fun – plenty of groundbreaking stories came from the fields of health and medicine too.
From the US ending 50 years of abortion rights by overturning Roe vs Wade, to an AI predicting the structure of almost every single protein, and monkeypox (now mpox) being declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, it’s fair to say a lot has happened in the last 12 months that has huge ramifications for the fields of health and medicine.
Unfortunately for us, this didn’t make picking a select few an easy task, but we gave it our best shot. So here goes, these are IFLScience’s top five Health and Medicine stories of 2022. Drumroll, please….
Man Receives First Heart Transplant From A Gene-Edited Pig
Way back in January, scientists in the US made history by completing the first successful xenogeneic heart transplant. The heart of a gene-edited pig was transferred to a living human, David Bennett, in a landmark transplant operation. Sadly, Bennett died two months afterward, and it was later revealed that the transplanted heart was infected by a virus. However, the field of xenotransplantation has since seen further advances – two brain-dead people successfully received pig heart transplants in July – which could help bring an end to the shortage of donor organs and save thousands of lives.
A Virus Likely Triggers Almost All Multiple Sclerosis, Massive Study Concludes
Also in January, an enormous study of US former military personnel suggested that multiple sclerosis (MS), the cause of which has long been unknown, is almost always a delayed response to infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The study involved more than 10 million people and while it didn’t pinpoint the mechanism responsible, its impact could be massive: “This is a big step because it suggests that most MS cases could be prevented by stopping EBV infection, and that targeting EBV could lead to the discovery of a cure for MS,” the study’s senior author said in a statement.
First Fully Complete Human Genome Has Been Published After 20 Years
In a huge moment for human genetics, the first fully complete human genome, without gaps, was published in March. In no less than six published papers, scientists announced the addition of 200 million new base pairs and 99 new genes that likely code for proteins. Previous drafts of the genome didn’t include the most complex regions of our DNA, which make up around 8 percent of the total genome. But this year, more than 20 years after the first drafts were published, the missing pieces of the puzzle were finally identified.
“Synthetic” Mouse Embryo Develops Brain And Beating Heart For First Time Ever
Another breakthrough in August saw the world’s first “synthetic” mouse embryos created from stem cells without the need for an egg, sperm, or womb. Just a few weeks after this monumental achievement, researchers went a step further, creating a “synthetic” embryo with a beating heart, a brain, and the potential to develop all the other organs of the body. This marked the furthest point of development that had ever been reached in such models, a feat the researchers described as “unbelievable”. Both studies represent a huge step forward in fertility research and may even allow us to develop synthetic human organs for transplantation in the future.
Two Patients Become First Humans Ever To Receive Lab-Grown Blood
From "synthetic" embryos to synthetic blood. Last month, a world-first clinical trial saw two patients receive lab-grown blood – blood made entirely in a lab using stem cells from donors. With a view to finding out how the blood performs and how it is tolerated by the body, the trial could be revolutionary for the field of medicine. As you might suspect, creating lab-grown blood isn’t easy and likely won’t replace blood donations, but it could one day help patients with rare blood disorders to get much-needed blood.