When it comes to health innovations, Edmonton has often led the way in Canada, and sometimes even the world. In fact, Mayor Don Iveson announced plans earlier this year to re-brand Alberta’s capital as Canada’s health city, describing it as a “medical research powerhouse.”
Here are my picks for Edmonton’s Top 3 health innovations of 2016:
1. Stroke ambulance
With the arrival of our custom-made stroke ambulance this year, Edmonton became the envy of health care teams around Canada and the world. Local experts in mechanical engineering, ambulance design and neurology helped design the so-called “emergency room on wheels.”
The $3.3-million project has its own CT scanner, self-levelling technology and a full lab — making it the only ambulance like it on the planet.
The stroke ambulance is also unique in where it will go – to rural areas around Edmonton, where patients don’t have quick access to specialists. It allows paramedics, a neurology resident and a CT technician to diagnose a stroke within minutes and administer a clot-busting drug on the spot. That means saving lives and preventing long-term disability.
“Every minute an artery is blocked to the brain, two million brain cells die off,” said Dr. Ashfaq Shuaib, director of the stroke program at the University of Alberta Hospital.
2. Thyroid in arm procedure
Edmonton surgeons became the first in the world this year to do an unusual procedure for head and neck cancer patients. They moved their thyroid gland to their arm.
The operation protects the delicate gland from harmful radiation during cancer treatment. Most head and neck cancer patients need radiation therapy, which damages or destroys the thyroid about 50 per cent of the time – leading to fatigue, weight gain, mental fogginess and potential life-threatening effects.
The coolest part is this isn’t a temporary solution – the thyroid stays in the patient’s forearm permanently, where it continues to function just fine.
“It’s sort of one of those things that when we started, we thought… ‘Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?'” laughed Dr. Jeffrey Harris, chief of head and neck surgery at the University of Alberta Hospital.
3. Antibacterial salt surfaces
Edmontonian Doug Olson isn’t a scientist, but he invented something that could save lives around the world. And it has one ingredient: salt.
Olson created a line of door handles, drawer pulls, toilet handles and bed rails made of 100 per cent salt. He paid for lab tests, teamed up with health professionals from the U of A, and showed his product can kill deadly superbugs like MRSA in about five minutes. That’s 20 times faster than copper and 70 times faster than stainless steel.
Olson came up with the idea after years of working in the meat industry, where salt is used to inhibit or prevent growth of pathogens like salmonella.
“I was taught that salt is used to preserve meat so I knew it kept the bacteria in check,” Olson explained. “I just didn’t know how fast or if it outright killed it.”
“It’s a phenomenal feeling to think that many lives could be at stake here.”
READ MORE: The biggest medical breakthroughs of 2016