How close is medical science coming up with cures for these 8 killer diseases? : Flu (yes, flu kills thousands worldwide every year) Meningitis, Diabetes, Heart Failure, HIV/Aids, Leukaemia, Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer.
Scientists believe they have reached a turning point in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
A research team has discovered the first chemical that could stop the death of brain tissue and fight the distressing neurodegenerative disease that can leave victims unable to recognise their own families.
More research is needed by the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit, based at the University of Leicester, to develop a drug that could be taken by patients.
But experts say it has the potential to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other conditions too.
And this week at the Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards, twin medical pioneers Trevor and Ray Powles told how some cancers could be cured within 15 years.
So how close are we to breakthroughs in the fight against our most common killer diseases?
Influenza is a mutating virus which kills up to half a million people a year.
nce in a generation a new strain appears, no one is immune to it, and a pandemic is triggered. Experts now say one is well overdue.
The body of a Victorian diplomat may hold the key to unlocking the disease. He died in a devastating 1918 epidemic and his body was sealed in a lead-lined coffin.
Now it has been exhumed, frozen in liquid nitrogen, and the results of tests could lead to a breakthrough.
Dr Martin Wiselka, consultant in infectious diseases st the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, says mutations are main problem.
“It isn’t a very effective system that a new vaccine has to be developed each year.
"But researchers are very close to developing one vaccine to cover all strains so one injection or spray will last a lifetime.
"That will be a tremendous development.”
Hundreds of millions have been spent trying to create a vaccine for meningitis B.
In January the European Commission licensed the drug Bexsero, but so far it is not in use.
Dr Wiselka says: “There are vaccines for meningitis A and C, and B was always the missing link.
"Now one has been developed but it has yet to be adopted anywhere.
"Countries are being cautious and want to see its effectiveness. But in two years I think it will be available.”
Three million people live with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, making it the UK’s fastest-growing health threat.
Type 1 occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas and it stops making insulin.
Dr Alasdair Rankin of Diabetes UK believes a vaccine could be created in 20 years.
And this week Newcastle and Glasgow universities began a study of 140 volunteers to discover if a low-calorie weight-loss diet can be a long-term cure for Type 2.
Coronary heart disease is the UK’s single biggest killer and there are 750,000 people living with the condition.
Researchers at Imperial College London and Royal Brompton Hospital are leading a gene therapy trial looking at ways to help the heart pump more efficiently in severe cases.
Other studies are focusing on helping the heart to regenerate, previously thought to be impossible.
One project in Cambridge has transformed blood cells into stem cells, which could be vital.
Dr Shannon Amoils of the British Heart Foundation says: “The ultimate goal is a cure using regenerative medicine.”
Thirty years after it appeared and billions of pounds later, no cure has been found – though a cocktail of retroviral drugs can stop its spread.
But scientists now think a cure may be possible thanks to two extraordinary cases.
In 2009, HIV-positive Timothy Ray Brown received a bone-marrow stem-cell transplant to treat leukaemia.
The donor was genetically HIV-immune and this was passed on Brown, who was declared cured.
Harvard Medical School successfully replicated the case.
In March this year a baby born with HIV was treated with strong antiretroviral drugs at two days old and was “functionally cured”.
Dr Wiselka says: “Within 10 years I imagine there will be a vaccine to halt its spread, though an actual cure may be more difficult.”
More than 8,000 people in the UK, often children, are diagnosed with leukaemia every year.
Survival rates have increased from 10% to 40% in the last decade and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham is now creating a DNA database with blood samples from 4,000-plus patients to find the best treatments.
Prof Charlie Craddock of Cure Leukaemia believes a cure could be found within the next 50 years.
Survival rates in the UK have risen from 60% in the 1960s to 85% today, but breast cancer still kills more than 1,000 every month.
Herceptin is an effective treatment in 20% of cases and studies in the UK and the USA have compiled a database of thousands of genetic changes in sufferers.
The work could prevent two-thirds of cases within 20 years.
Richard Francis of Breakthrough Breast Cancer says: “We believe it is a case of when, not if, we can stop women dying.”
Survival rates have risen steeply with nearly 70% now alive 10 years after diagnosis.
But 40,000 men are diagnosed every year and by 2030 it is likely to be the UK’s most common cancer.
There is still no screening programme for prostate cancer and scientists need data to pinpoint who is at the greatest risk.
Funding has lagged behind other cancers, but Dr Iain Frame of Prostate Cancer UK says there have been big advances, including using “radioactive seeds” planted in the prostate to target the cancer with less damage to surrounding cells.