Pulse of discovery quickens

It's easy for me to forget that few people spend as much time reviewing health-related news as I do.

So maybe I ought to share something I have noticed about research.

If you asked me five years ago how often an immediately usable discovery was made (one quickly leading to new research paths or direct patient care improvement), I would have likely said such announcements happened sporadically.

Today, it seems, they occur consistently.

Examples include discoveries by Mayo Clinic researchers and colleagues who have announced in just the past month that:


• A human gene variant has been discovered that, if present, triples the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

• The drug tolvaptan slows cyst growth in people with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) — an inherited form of PKD that often requires kidney transplants.

• A new test for proteins from neural damage can, for the first time, be used to determine the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease).

Learning you've got a triple risk, compared with the general population, of developing Alzheimer's isn't terribly reassuring.

But it's a step toward effective treatment. Study participants who proved prone to Alzheimer's can help researchers learn fast whether drug candidates are effective.

ADPKD isn't the most-common medical condition on the planet, but it seems to me that improved treatments, even for rare conditions, are increasing. I dream of a day when even so-called "orphan" diseases get attention — and treatment.

Knowing that ALS has progressed rapidly might seem something to avoid knowing. But, for research, it's a step toward treatment.

I repeat, all three of these announcements were made in November alone. 


Now, Mayo Clinic and Rochester are focusing on becoming a regenerative-medicine hub .

Researchers at Mayo in Rochester are — right now — studying patients with infusions of stem cells (taken from their own bodies) to decrease heart pain, improve quality of life and, yes, even heal their attack-damaged heart muscles.

Medicine is changing.

Right now.

Much faster than it has in the past.

That means those of us who live with disease can hope for improved quality of life ahead. It won't be fast enough for everyone — but I have no doubt discovery is quickening.

That makes me a pretty happy camper.

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