November 29, 2014

The Top 10 Most Promising Medical Breakthroughs – Part II

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

Medicine is advancing faster than ever, thanks to a steady stream of discoveries, innovative uses of technology and a new focus on patient care and satisfaction. This three-part series looks at 10 of the most promising medical breakthroughs and how they are changing people’s lives.

An App to Help Cancer Patients

As many cancer patients know all too well, their treatment is often accompanied by side effects so severe and difficult to manage that they interfere with the cancer treatment itself. Oncologists need to tackle both.

A frequent side effect little known to the public is oral mucositis, a painful condition arising from ulcerations in the mouth and throat caused by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. It affects about 40 percent of patients receiving these treatments, or almost half a million people a year.

“The painful symptoms of oral mucositis, which often limit a patient’s ability to eat, drink and talk comfortably – or at all – have the potential to derail a prescribed course of radiation or chemotherapy,” said Elizabeth Feldman, a maxillofacial prosthodontist and dental oncologist at the UF Health Cancer Center.

Feldman consulted with DARA BioSciences, which makes Gelclair, a pain-relieving oral rinse gel, to develop a smartphone app called the oral mucositis app to help patients better manage their pain. Tips to allow gums to heal include avoid consuming alcohol, using toothpaste with tartar-control ingredients and wearing using dentures.

Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer

As medical researchers increasingly find ways to safely harvest and transplant tissues from one part of the body to another, the UF Health Cancer Center has begun offering a lymph node transfer procedure that can reduce fluid retention in breast cancer patients.

Dr. Richard Klein, section chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at UF Health Cancer Center, introduced the vascularized lymph node transfer – or VLNT – procedure to Florida patients in 2013 after observing its use in France. VLNT has become a welcome solution to lymphedema, a condition in which malfunctioning lymph nodes cause the body to retain too much lymphatic fluid.

“About 15 percent of patients with breast cancer who have had nodes taken out develop lymphedema,” Klein notes. Previous treatments were quite low-tech, involving massage to help drain the fluid, and compressive garments. Both approaches require constant maintenance.

Instead, in a two-hour operation, Klein removes a node from one part of the body and reattaches it in place of the damaged node. Once veins and arteries are reconnected, the node gradually starts to work again.
“It will take about six months to a year for a new lymphatic vessel to grow to carry the fluid,” Klein says.  “After that the node is fully functional. We have had many patients completely discard compressive garments. That is a great measure of success.”

Treating Cancer Without Traditional Radiation

There is some good news for cancer patients who need radiation therapy but are concerned it might do more harm than good.

In 2016 Orlando Health will join a select group of hospitals in the U.S. to offer proton therapy, a type of cancer radiation treatment that reduces tumor size with less collateral damage.

According to The National Association for Proton Therapy, “there is a significant difference between standard (X-ray) radiation treatment and proton therapy. If given in sufficient doses, X-ray radiation techniques will control many cancers. But, because of the physician’s inability to adequately conform the irradiation pattern to the cancer, healthy tissues may receive a similar dose and can be damaged.”

Although proton therapy is also a form of radiation, the beam can be regulated in a three-dimensional pattern of varying intensities that much more accurately targets and conforms to the tumor and only minimally affects surrounding areas.

Proton therapy can treat a number of cancers in various locations in the body.

"Pediatric patients in particular benefit from the decreased dose in to normal tissue,” UF Cancer Center in Orlando said in a recent statement.  “Their bodies are still growing, and you want to minimize any side effects.”

November 24, 2014

The Top 10 Most Promising Medical Breakthroughs – Part I

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

Medicine is advancing faster than ever, thanks to a steady stream of discoveries, innovative uses of technology and a new focus on patient care and satisfaction. This three-part series looks at 10 of the most promising medical breakthroughs and how they are changing people’s lives.


As the Ebola crisis continues to spread, infection prevention has become a top priority for the medical community. But even before this recent Ebola outbreak, hospitals all over the world were focused on decreasing their rates of hospital acquired infections, or HAIs, and tackling increasingly antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Germ-Killing Robots

Enter the UV ray-emitting, germ-zapping Xenex robot.  Its basic technology is not entirely new; UV light has been used for years in water and air purifier systems. But this machine allows for a totally new application, according to Dr. Thomas Kelley, interim chief of Quality and Clinical Transformation at Orlando Health.

“The standard of cleaning has been to wipe down everything with a bleach solution,” Kelley says. “But you cannot use bleach on all surfaces, like fabrics, and in nooks and crannies.” The Xenex system, instead, suffuses the room with UV light that can kill pretty much everything, viral or bacterial, in a matter of minutes.

Orlando Health has been using its robot throughout its Seminole Hospital, including in the operating room. “Some of hospitals’ biggest challenges are C. Difficile  and antibiotic-resistant staph, or MERSA, and the robot eliminates those,” said Kelley. “We have added it to our Ebola prevention protocols. The key is to tape off the room until the next patient arrives.”

Orlando Health says it has seen significant improvement in infection rates, thanks to the robot. “We have had a 47 percent decrease in C. Difficile the first year we used the robot, and an additional 18 percent decrease the second year,” Kelley said. “For MERSA, we saw a 34 percent decline. We are definitely planning to add more robots.”

An Alternative for Asthma

Even if you don’t have asthma, you probably know someone who does.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 12 adults and one in 11 children suffer from this sometimes dangerous constriction of their airwaves.

Orlando Health’s Orlando Regional Medical Center was the first hospital in central Florida to offer bronchial thermoplasty, a promising new alternative to inhaled medications and oral steroids, which deliver mixed results.

“We don’t know exactly why asthma occurs,” says Dr. Mark Vollenwedier, a pulmonary specialist at ORMC. “The unknowns make treatments a challenge. Not all medications work for everyone.”

Bronchial thermoplasty is a different approach that actually reshapes the airway muscle. “Using a small catheter we deliver controlled energy to the airways of the lung to reduce the amount of excessive airway muscle,” said Vollenwedier.  “The reduction decreases the muscle’s ability to constrict the airways.”

Research on this procedure goes back 10 years, and the data has been very encouraging. Vollenweider says patients may experience a 32 percent reduction in the number of asthma attacks and a 73 percent to 84 percent reduction of hospital and ER visits.

“Bronchial thermoplasty is game-changer,” he said.

Scoliosis Treatment

Using a remote control to adjust malformed bones sounds like something straight out of science fiction. But it has become an alternative to years of painful surgeries for children with spinal scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine.

The magnetic expansion control system, dubbed the MAGEC, allows doctors to manipulate the spine over time, with a single surgery. First, a rod with magnets is implanted in the spine. Then, during a series of outpatient visits, doctors can move the rod and magnets by remote control. The adjustments are quick and require no anesthesia.

This technology holds promise for a better quality of life for thousands of children who previously faced as many as a dozen surgeries.  The MAGEC system is now offered at Orlando’s Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, which was the first hospital in central Florida to use magnetic technology for the treatment of early onset scoliosis.

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