December 18, 2018

2018 Research Highlights — Clinical Advances

Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Human Disease

With NIH support, scientists across the United States and around the world conduct wide-ranging research to discover ways to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. Groundbreaking NIH-funded research often receives top scientific honors. In 2018, these honors included two NIH-supported scientists who earned Nobel Prizes and three NIH-funded researchers who earned prestigious Lasker Awards. Here’s just a small sample of the NIH-supported research accomplishments in 2018. For more health and medical research findings from NIH, visit NIH Research Matters.

Full 2018 NIH Research Highlights List

Stressed doctor reading letter

Preventing opioid overdoses

Every day, more than 100 people nationwide die from an overdose of opioids, including prescription opioids such as oxycodone and fentanyl. Two recent studies highlighted very different strategies to help prevent overdose. One showed that certain medications reduced the risk of death by about half for people who’d previously had a non-fatal opioid overdose. But less than a third who’d had a non-fatal opioid overdose received them. A separate study showed that notifying a clinician that one of their patients had died of an opioid overdose reduced the number and doses of opioid medications later prescribed.

Older woman in hospital bed

Physical clot removal can help more people after stroke

An ischemic stroke occurs when blood vessels that supply the brain become blocked. Doctors can try to protect the brain from permanent damage by physically removing the blockage with a procedure called a thrombectomy. This approach was previously approved for use up to six hours after a stroke. A multi-site clinical trial showed that brain imaging was able to identify certain people who could benefit from a thrombectomy for up to 16 hours after a stroke. Based in part on this finding, experts issued new treatment guidelines so that more lives could be saved.

HIV-infected cell

Antibody combination suppresses HIV

Since the 1990s, people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, have taken combinations of drugs called antiretroviral therapy (ART) to prevent the virus from multiplying. However, researchers have been looking for treatments that can last longer and cause fewer side effects. In an early phase clinical trial, a combination of two antibodies suppressed blood levels of HIV for months after treatment in some people. With further improvement and testing, long-acting antibody combinations may become an alternative to daily drugs.

Sign for an automated external defibrillator

Bystanders save lives using defibrillator for cardiac arrest

Experts estimate that each year more than 18,000 Americans have a cardiac arrest in public near witnesses who could potentially administer immediate treatment. A study found that people are more likely to survive a cardiac arrest if a bystander uses an automated external defibrillator while waiting for emergency medical services. The analysis suggests that each year bystanders saved about 1,700 additional lives by using these devices.

Nurse supporting woman battling cancer

Fecal transplants restore gut microbes after antibiotics

Antibiotics can kill both harmful and helpful bacteria in the digestive tract. That can make people more vulnerable to infections after treatment. Researchers found that they could use a fecal transplant to return beneficial bacteria to people with cancer who received antibiotics for stem cell transplant procedures. The study showed that a person’s own gut bacteria can be used to quickly restore a healthy microbiome following intensive antibiotic treatment.

Nurse and senior patient, both African American

Factors contributing to higher incidence of diabetes for black Americans

Black adults in the United States are nearly twice as likely as white adults to develop type 2 diabetes. A study found that biological risk factors—including excess weight and too much belly fat—are primarily responsible for higher rates of diabetes for black Americans. The results suggest that making positive changes in known risk factors, like losing excess weight, can help reduce this racial health disparity.

Senior woman holding a bottle of pills

Daily aspirin shows no benefit for healthy older adults

Studies have found that aspirin can help some people prevent a second heart attack or stroke. Aspirin may also help prevent a first heart attack or stroke in people who are at high risk for these conditions. For healthy older adults, however, a large clinical trial found that a daily low-dose aspirin doesn’t prolong life or help prevent heart disease, physical disability, dementia, or stroke.

Woman demonstrating tasks after therapy

Spinal cord stimulation improves hand grip after spinal injury

Spinal cord damage can lead to serious disabilities, including paralysis. More than a quarter of a million Americans are now living with spinal cord injuries. A noninvasive treatment helped six people with spinal cord injuries in the neck to improve their hand strength and dexterity. The approach could help expand treatment options for people with these serious injuries.