December 21, 2023

2023 NIH Research Highlights - Human Health Advances

Disease Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment

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 2023, these honors included two NIH-supported scientists who received Nobel Prizes. Here’s just a small sample of the NIH-supported research accomplishments in 2023. Also see this year's Promising Medical Findings and Basic Research Insights.

Printer-friendly version of full 2023 NIH Research Highlights

Antibiotic can help prevent common sexually transmitted infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been on the rise. Untreated STIs can lead to serious health issues, such as blindness or brain and nerve problems. A study of men who had sex with men and transgender women at high risk for bacterial STIs showed that taking an oral antibiotic within three days after unprotected sex reduced the risk of STIs. This preventive approach, called doxy-PEP, cut the incidence of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia by two-thirds compared to standard care.

An mRNA vaccine to treat pancreatic cancer

Scientists developed a method for creating personalized mRNA vaccines to treat a deadly type of pancreatic cancer. In a small study, 18 patients had pancreatic tumors removed and analyzed to identify proteins that could provoke an immune response. Each then received personalized vaccines that targeted their proteins. The vaccines triggered a strong anti-tumor immune response in half the participants. Over a year later, their cancers hadn’t returned.

Bivalent vaccines provide better protection against severe COVID-19

The original COVID-19 vaccines saved many lives. As later variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerged, updated vaccines were released in September 2022. These bivalent vaccines targeted both the original strain and the Omicron variant. Researchers showed that these updated vaccines were significantly more effective at reducing the risk of serious disease. They improved protection regardless of a person’s age or whether they had already received different boosters.

Older man places a hearing aid in his ear.

Hearing aids slow cognitive decline in people at high risk

As the world population ages, there’s a need for safe and affordable ways to prevent or slow cognitive decline. Among older adults with hearing loss who were at increased risk for dementia, researchers found that those who received hearing aids had nearly half the rate of cognitive decline over a three-year period. Treating hearing loss could be a safe way to lower the risk of dementia in vulnerable people.

App aids early screening for autism

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex condition marked by challenges with social communication and repetitive behaviors. Early diagnosis can lead to early treatment and improved outcomes. But autism can be hard to diagnose. Scientists developed an interactive app that displays videos and collects data on a child’s eye gaze, facial expressions and other factors linked to autism. The app detected early signs of autism with a high level of accuracy.

Read more 2023 NIH Research Highlights: Promising Medical Findings