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50 notable medical advancements of the decade

  • 50 notable medical advancements of the decade

    Medical advancements have come further and faster in the last century than in any other period of human history. Consider that prior to the 1860s, “germ theory”—the belief pathogens can cause disease—had not been posited and that penicillin wasn’t discovered until 1928, and it becomes more stunning that we now have full face transplants, methods for regrowing organs and teeth, and artificial intelligence that can help people with paralysis move and write. Major medical breakthroughs continue to speed up, too. More than 200 years passed between the first blood transfusion and the discovery of different blood types (explaining why transfusions sometimes resulted in death); but in less than 40 years we saw the first U.S. outbreaks of HIV and AIDS in 1981 and studies by the HIV Vaccine Trials Network on five continents to find an immunization for what was so recently considered a death sentence.

    In light of so many breakthroughs, Stacker scoured scientific papers and news sites to compile a list of 50 achievements that changed medicine in the last decade alone. While some fascinate more than others, all of the strides noted are undoubtedly life-changing. Some advancements include taking a step back, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT): One of the most effective treatments for menopause to date has been linked to heart fat, tempering the previously coveted therapy. Other advancements have streamlined treatment, such as 5-in-1 vaccines becoming 6-in-1 and traditional daily HIV medications now being offered in fixed combination and weekly doses.

    Medical breakthroughs in marijuana have made great strides, with more diagnoses being treated by the drug while cannabis is also being used for treatment for canines and other animals. If these advances made in the last decade are indicative of what's to come, then one can only imagine what the next 10 years will hold.

    Read on to find out 50 notable medical advancements of the last decade.

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  • Medical marijuana

    Since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, the drug has seen rapid state-by-state legalization in the past decade thanks to advancements in CBD research leading to a broadened diagnosis spectrum. The drug, which was initially used by patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and chronic pain, is now used to treat fibromyalgia, epilepsy, Alzheimer's, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even the American Veterinary Medical Association reports the positive effects the drug has had on ailing animals.


  • Bionic limb advancements

    App-controlled i-limbs, including a hand with up to 24 different grips that can now be operated by an iPhone, represent a major breakthrough in the field of prosthetics and the exciting future of artificial body parts. Amputees can, for example, now precisely pack suitcases with the advanced prosthetic.

  • Smart pills

    Developments in technology have done wonders for medicine. The FDA in 2017 approved smart pills, which contain tiny embedded sensors that communicate via smartphone with users about whether they’ve already taken their medication. Smart pills can also give doctors a better understanding of a pill’s usage and effectiveness in patients. In the future, smart pills could eliminate the need for endoscopy by detecting abnormalities in a person’s gastrointestinal tract.

  • Full face transplants

    The first-ever full face transplant was done in 2011. Since then, Cleveland Clinic in 2018 performed a full face transplant on the youngest patient to date; and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital completed one for the oldest patient and first African American.

  • AI health care

    From detecting schizophrenia and heart disease to counting an individual's daily steps on smartwatches, doctors know more about illness than ever before because of artificial intelligence. Google's most recent AI model in 2019 proves to expose lung cancer more accurately than radiologists with up to eight years of experience. AI health care will continue to thrust forward preventative and diagnostic medicine, with the field's forecasted growth at annualized 48% by 2023.

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  • Stem cell research and development

    Though quite controversial, the research of stem cells—which can replicate and manipulate—gave near-blind patients sight in 2014 and assisted in saving an unborn child’s life in 2018. Some of the most recent research by the University of Copenhagen revealed how exactly stem cell signals could switch gene activity on and off.



  • Acute stroke intervention

    Clot-busting drugs and medical devices, including one approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019 from startup company Perfuze, are changing the long-term impact of strokes. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports a historical turn in acute stroke therapy with catheter-based treatments that are proving to save patients from both death and lifelong disabilities.


  • Regrowing body parts

    Regrowing body parts has long been a dream of scientists, and is moving closer to reality with the help of nature. In 2018, a European team released the first full genome profile of a salamander, which could help unlock the answers to limb regrowth.


  • Non-toxic, surgical super glue

    The defense mucus made by slugs to fight off prey has given rise to a non-toxic super glue separate from other surgical adhesives. After researching slug slime, Jianyu Li, a Harvard materials scientist, and his team created a resin in 2017 from a similar type of sticky compound found in the algae plant. With further research and trial, the new-found glue could be used to repair cartilage, or even patch a hole in the heart of an infant.


  • 3D-printed breast implants

    Until now, women who underwent breast augmentation chose from saline or silicone implants, but that is changing with startups like Lattice Medical. Started by material scientist Julien Payen, the company produces 3D-printed breast implants, which assist in the regeneration of the adipose tissue. Clinical trials on humans begin in 2021.

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