10 Diseases That Could Be Cured in Your Lifetime
Each year, there are thousands of fun runs, drives, and fundraisers focused on curing diseases. It's working: We may see cures for these diseases in our lifetimes.
Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States., but game-changing new techniques and technologies may make it possible to predict, prevent, and possibly “cure” heart disease including treatments that seek to extinguish the underlying inflammation that sets the stage for heart disease. These are the latest heart-health findings that could save your life.
As many as 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and by 2050, this number will increase to close to 14 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Incredibly, a cure for this degenerative memory-robbing brain disease may be within our grasp. “In the nearly 40 years I’ve worked in the field of Alzheimer’s research, I’ve never been more hopeful,” says Howard M. Fillit, MD, founding executive director and chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) in New York City. “With more treatments in clinical trials than ever before, better diagnostics and a solid scientific understanding, this is a defining time for Alzheimer’s research,” he says.
One big challenge has been the absence of measurable markers for the disease. “Just as cholesterol is an early biomarker for heart disease, our aim is to have a simple, less expensive blood test that would allow doctors to more frequently screen patients for Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Fillit says. “Ideally, such tests would identify the disease in its early stages, before patients develop symptoms of dementia. This would enable both prevention and treatment.” That is why the ADDF partnered with Bill Gates, the Dolby family, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and others to create Diagnostics Accelerator to fast-track the development of novel biomarkers to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers are also excited by new treatments, including those that help reduce the buildups of the plaque in the brain that can lead to dementia in people with Alzheimer’s, such as gene therapy, shares Amy Aloysi, MD, MPH, a psychiatrist and neurologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Leukemia and lymphoma
Leukemia and lymphoma are blood cancers and “some are already essentially cured,” shares Otis Brawley, MD, MACP, chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. “Sometimes the disease goes away altogether when we treat it and other times we can use medicine to keep the cancers in check, just like we can do for diabetes and HIV, the AIDS virus.” In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 18 therapies to treat patients with blood cancers, including gene therapies that can help program the immune system to target and kill cancer cells. Check out these other hopeful cancer statistics.
All of the pink ribbons and research dollars are adding up and we’re seeing the fruits of these efforts, Dr. Brawley says. “There are already women who have had breast cancer for 15 to 20 years who are still doing well,” he says. “These types of breast cancer are akin to a smoldering fire, and instead of using water to put it out, we use chemotherapy or hormonal treatments to keep cancer in check,” he says. There’s more: “We are starting to realize that everything we call cancer may not need to be cured because it is not a risk to life,” Dr. Brawley says. In the next ten years, there will be tests that can analyze cancer cells under a microscope and predict whether it will progress or behave like it is benign.
Dramatic reductions in smoking and a number of new drugs have already helped turn the tide on lung cancer, Dr. Brawley says. One such drug, pembrolizumab (brand name: Keytruda), is approved for treating lung cancers that express a protein called PD-L1, a protein masks the tumor from your immune system; the therapy blocks PD-L1, allowing your immune system to attack the cancer. “When these drugs are paired with the right lung cancer, some patients will enter into long-term remission, and they have a good quality of life and a normal life expectancy,” Dr. Brawley says. Kind of sounds like a cure, doesn’t it? The new drugs don’t work for every lung cancer, but doctors are learning more and more about the genetics of this cancer and developing targeted drugs. Find out the 15 diseases you thought were gone, but aren’t.
Surgeons can already cure localized colon cancer, and even some types that have started to travel and spread, Dr. Brawley says. Much of this is due to early detection via screening colonoscopy; now, new guidelines from the American Cancer Society recommend that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45 (instead of 50). This may catch even more colon cancers in their early curable stages, Dr. Brawley says. (Learn more about the stages of colon cancer.)
Decades ago, ovarian cancer was considered a stealthy and silent killer because there was no screening test. Times have changed. “A woman with stage 3 ovarian cancer would have died in the 1980s, but with surgery to remove all of the disease and six cycles of chemotherapy, she can go into complete remission,” Dr. Brawley says. Monitoring blood levels of a protein called CA 125 can help women stay one step ahead of a relapse. Don’t miss these diseases doctors can be likely to miss.
Marked by seizures, epilepsy affects about 470,000 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. There is a subset of childhood epilepsy that might be curable in the very near future, says Ajay Gupta, MD, the head of Pediatric Epilepsy at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “These tend to be epilepsies that affect children and young adults due to genetic and environmental factors,” he says. “With treatment, monitoring and making sure the brain heals in a healthy environment, these children can put epilepsy behind them. For many other types of childhood epilepsy, doctors can use one or a combination of treatments for a great quality of life.” The solutions come courtesy of two key medical breakthroughs, he says. “There was an explosion of information about genetic factors and now we understand genetically determined epilepsy, and we can see things in the brain with advanced imaging and really look at areas of the brain that have abnormalities,” Dr. Gupta explains.
A stroke or “brain attack” occurs every 40 seconds in the United States, according to the National Stroke Association. “We do cure strokes routinely now with acute stroke treatment using clot busters like tPA and/or removing the blood clot that is blocking blood flow to the brain,” says M. Shazam Hussain, MD, Director of the Cerebrovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic. Stroke prevention is getting better and better too. “We have a lot of new options with better medications and strategies to prevent future strokes if someone is at risk,” he says. “For example, we know that after a mini-stroke, the risk of a big stroke is very high, especially in the first few days and weeks afterward. We have found that being more aggressive with blood thinners and getting people’s risk factors under control that we can prevent these big strokes from happening.” The key is to call 911 as soon as possible because time is brain and brain cells start to die very quickly. The sooner you get help, the better the chances your brain will recover.
A progressive, genetic disease, cystic fibrosis causes persistent lung infections and breathing difficulty. It is caused by a mutation in a gene called CFTR. Enter CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), a gene-editing tool that essentially adds, removes, or changes a gene to correct a mutation and essentially cures a disease. One version, CRISPR-Cas9, may play a role in curing cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, sickle cell disease, genetic blindness, and muscular dystrophy. Trials in humans are just getting started, but hopes are high. Next, find out the rarest diseases doctors have diagnosed.