When it comes to new technology, treatments and research, Edmonton minds often lead the way in Canada and sometimes even the world.
From snap-on ears and noses to scalpel-free surgeries, here are some of the most brilliant health innovations of 2017.
1. Jaw-dropping prostheses
The University of Alberta’s SMART Network researchers produced what they call the most advanced prosthetic arm in the world. Not only does this robotic limb move almost exactly like the real thing (the fingers could eventually be fine-tuned to play the piano), but it can analyze data from the wearer and predict what movement that person needs next.
The Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine continued to put the “art” in “artificial” this year.
This team creates lifelike ears, noses and other prostheses that literally snap on to the head. Patients, including head and neck cancer survivors, are fitted with titanium posts in their skulls which attach to the hand-painted pieces via magnets.
2. Cutting-edge heart procedures (with hardly any cutting)
Specialists at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute made headlines for a couple of cool techniques in 2017.
Cardiac surgeon Jeevan Nagendran created Western Canada’s first dedicated program for “closed chest open heart surgery.”
Using state-of-the-art tools and camera equipment, Nagendran’s team can repair a patient’s heart through a tiny hole between their ribs. Compared to the conventional method of cutting through the sternum, the new technique drastically reduces recovery time.
Interventional cardiologist Minh Vo became one of just 25 people in the world to qualify to teach a new artery-opening procedure.
Rather than trying to push through a stubborn clog, he runs a special tube inside the artery wall to create a new path for blood flow. The technique can even help patients whose vessels are 100 per cent blocked.
3. Scalpel-free brain surgery
The University of Alberta Hospital’s new Gamma Knife wasn’t made in Edmonton, but Edmontonians made it happen. The $17.5-million machine and MRI were purchased by donors to the University Hospital Foundation.
The technology is some of the most advanced of its kind in Canada. It allows surgeons to zap an area as tiny as a millimeter with radiation, without damaging surrounding tissue. That means there’s no need to open the skull, and there’s new hope for patients who couldn’t be saved before.
The Gamma Knife is being used for hard-to-reach brain tumours, blood vessel malformations and some pain and movement disorders.