Breakthroughs in patient care are happening in leaps and bounds due to the convergence of research, technology and medicine. For those thinking about which specialty areas to focus on, or for anyone looking for a glimpse into the future of healthcare, here are five of the most interesting, on the rise, and revolutionary topics in medicine to keep an eye on over the next few years.
Immunotherapy is treatment that uses your body’s own immune system to help fight cancer. The progress over the past few years in the development of a significant number of new immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer is unprecedented. In the last year alone we’ve seen nearly a dozen new immunotherapy approvals by the FDA. One of the most groundbreaking approvals came in the form of the first ever “living drug”, which involves using genetically modified immune cells from patients to attack their cancer. It doesn’t stop with cancer, either. Immunotherapy is being investigated to treat a number of other disease states such as autoimmune disorders. Experts agree that the future is bright for cancer immunotherapies, and we’re only scratching the surface of what can be accomplished.
Infectious Diseases and Antibiotic Resistance
While not a new issue, antibiotic resistance is a growing problem, directly causing the deaths of around 750,000 people globally each year. Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Resistance to antibiotics can cause illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics to become dangerous infections, prolonging suffering for children and adults. Sub-optimal use of antibiotics adds to the problem: up to 50% of the time, antibiotics prescribed are not needed, or are prescribed with incorrect dosing or duration. As worrisome as all of this is, some progress is being made. Key insights into how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics could reverse the process and renew the efficacy of commonly prescribed medications.
It’s no secret that our country is in the midst of an ever-growing opioid epidemic. It is estimated that 16% of the non-institutionalized US population age 12 and over – more than 40 million Americans – meet medical criteria for addiction involving nicotine, alcohol, opioids or other drugs. This is more than the number of Americans with cancer, diabetes or heart conditions. Addiction specialists are on the front lines of this battle.
Addiction medicine is one of the newest “official” medical specialties –being accredited by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) less than two years ago. The recent acknowledgement of this field as a subspecialty will have a significant impact on the ability of the healthcare community to address a disease with far reaching effects on patients, communities and society as a whole.
Neurogastroenterology encompasses the study of the brain, the gut, and their interactions with relevance to functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs). FGIDs are a range of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract for which there are no structural or biochemical abnormalities that can be found to explain the symptoms. There are three primary features of FGIDs – motility, sensation, and brain-gut dysfunction. If you’ve ever “gone with your gut” to make a decision or felt “butterflies in your stomach”, you’re likely getting signals from an unexpected source: your second brain. Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health, and even the way you think. There’s been an explosion of interest in the connections between the microbiome and the brain, and further exploration of this connection could ultimately revolutionize the way we treat a whole host of conditions.
Cardio-oncology is the intersection of heart conditions in patients who have been treated for cancer. Imagine being told that you are cancer free, only to find out that your heart is failing as a result of your cancer treatments. The unfortunate reality is that the leading cause of death among cancer survivors is cardiovascular disease, and it is often caused by the same treatments that once saved their life. This is especially true for those at risk for heart disease. Cardio-oncology specialists can assess patients for potential risk of developing heart conditions if patients take certain types of cancer drugs, or following radiation treatment to the chest. They also help oncologists protect their patients during treatment by closely watching the heart and recognizing heart trouble early in treatment. Cancer and cardiovascular disease are the two leading causes of death in the US. With that in mind, there’s no surprise that the rapidly evolving area of cardio-oncology will become increasingly important in the years to come.
Whether you plan on specializing in any of these areas or not, there’s no denying that it’s truly an exciting time to be a student beginning your career in the healthcare field!
Want to learn more about these topics? View what the current clinical practice guidelines say in the way of diagnosis, treatment and management. Don’t forget – Guideline Central is offering SDN members the “top 20 guidelines” package for free. SDN members can click the link below to claim.