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12 Amazing Facts About Medicine That Show Just How Far We've Come

Somebody call a doctor – my mind has been blown.

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1. The world health community came together to eradicate one of the most devastating diseases ever known.

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As recently as 1967, 2.5 million people contracted smallpox in just one year. But incredibly, the last known case of smallpox occurred just 10 years later. One of the world's next targets is polio. Thanks to modern medicine and global vaccination initiatives, cases of polio have decreased from around 350,000 in 1988 to only 37 worldwide in 2016. Yes, that's 37!

2. We can restore sight to the blind.

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This is Larry Hester, who experienced a complete loss of sight for 33 years, using his new bionic eye for the first time. So far he's able to sense light and dark and is ecstatic with the results. In different cases, doctors have found success using stem cells and with prosthetic retinas. There may never be one treatment that restores sight, as it has many different causes, but today we're making significant progress on all fronts.

3. Life expectancy in the UK has doubled in the space of just 170 years.

Via imgur.com

In 1841, the average British woman wouldn't live much longer after her 42nd birthday. Today, she’ll get to be at least 82. That's because the last 170 years have seen huge amounts of progress – from the 1848 Public Health Act to the foundation of the NHS to today's innovative drugs and therapies. In the 19th century, gains came from battling high infant mortality, but recently we're more focussed on improving health in the older population.

4. Scientists have grown a liver using stem cells.

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Every single cell in the body starts off as a stem cell. That's what makes them so incredible – they can become anything we want. Embryonic stem cells were only discovered in 1981 and have already been used to treat blindness and spinal injuries. Now, scientists are trying to grow organs on a ready-made scaffold. They've already managed it with a full-sized, beating human heart, as well as a liver. It won't be long before we're able to transplant them into patients and save lives.

5. 3D printing has been used to aid a successful organ transplant.

Via giphy.com

A little girl called Lucy from Northern Ireland received a kidney from her dad. Doctors used 3D-printed models to work out exactly where her new kidney could fit in her abdomen. But it doesn't stop there – the potential for 3D printing in medicine is enormous. As well as models and tailor-made prosthetics, scientists are currently experimenting with 3D-printed biomaterials, such as tissue, bones, skin, organs, and even drugs. The future is here!

6. We can replace a mutated gene causing disease with a healthy one.

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It’s called gene therapy. It involves inactivating faulty genes (the root cause of many diseases, including cancer and multiple sclerosis), replacing them with healthy ones, or giving people entirely new genes that can help them fight disease. But it's not simple. Genes can't just be injected into cells. Instead, scientists use certain types of inactivated viruses that can act as a vehicle to "infect" our cells with new genes. It’s still experimental, but it's one of the most exciting areas of medicine right now.

7. A paralysed man is walking again.

Via imgur.com

Not too long ago, devastating spinal injuries would mean a life spent in a wheelchair or, worse, bed-bound. But nowadays, it doesn't always need to. Take the case of Darek Fidyka: He’d been stabbed and spent two years paralysed before doctors transplanted “olfactory ensheathing cells” from his nasal cavity into his spine. This is just one route that we're are taking. In another case study, doctors found success by rerouting the neural link from brain to muscle using electrodes, bypassing severed nerves externally.

8. We can stop an epidemic in its tracks.

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Epidemics are scary, but thanks to modern medicine and infrastructure, they aren't nearly as scary as they used to be. For example, the West African Ebola outbreak, which claimed 11,315 victims, was first reported in March 2014. By January 2016, it had claimed its last. It's all down to surveillance and vaccination, which have helped us contain some potentially disastrous outbreaks in the last few years. Now, the the world has come together to respond to Zika.

9. People with HIV now live longer, and with a much better quality of life than they ever have before.

Via wifflegif.com

A 20-year-old with HIV starting anti-retroviral treatment today in the UK can expect to live for another 50 or so years. For less developed nations, distributing these innovative drugs can still be a challenge, but huge progress is being made with every passing year.

10. Heart disease deaths have dropped by 40% in a decade.

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Cardiovascular disease is still the world's biggest cause of death, but we've made huge advancements. We understand the causes and are able to spot people who are at risk from heart disease far earlier than we ever have in the past. And we have the treatments to help them.

11. Technology is revolutionising surgery.

Via popularmechanics.com

Just years ago, patients could be left with 10-inch scars after kidney surgery. Today, it can be done through an incision the size of a keyhole. But it doesn't stop there. Scientists are even looking at how we could use artificial intelligence to diagnose diseases. One study showed an AI that was able to accurately detect the presence of tuberculosis in patients' chest X-rays!

12. More than 5 million babies have been born thanks to IVF.

Via imgur.com

Louise Brown was the first IVF baby ever born, way back in 1978. More than 250,000 babies have now been born in the UK thanks to this incredible treatment, and success rates are increasing year on year.

Life is a health journey. In the UK, each individual faces health challenges, big and small, lifelong or momentary. We at Sanofi want to continue the incredible progress made over the years to protect, enable, and support people facing health challenges, so they can live life to its full potential. Discover how we Empower Life in the UK.

All images via Getty / iStock.