From vaccines and gene editing to malaria treatment

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It’s almost the end of 2021, and it has certainly been quite the year for stories about public health and healthcare. Once we reach 2022, it will be 2 full years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reoriented how we approach our lives and the world around us, and how we relate to healthcare. With the pandemic still looming, the past year was also one that marked a range of health innovations — both large and small — including the application of breakthrough CRISPR gene-editing technology, the World Health Organization’s approval of the first malaria vaccine, and new approaches to cardiology. Healthline spoke with several top experts from a range of medical and public health disciplines about what some of the defining, under-the-radar, and impactful healthcare innovations were of 2021.

Not only do they all shed a spotlight on a year of innovation, but they also point to what we can expect more of in the future. The rise of mRNA vaccines retrospective on the major impact health innovation has made on society cannot be done without touching on mRNA vaccines.Some of the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently being distributed — think the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines — have been developed as a result of a gene-editing process that modifies RNA (mRNA) to trigger an immune response in the body. Lior Brimberg, PhD, an assistant professor in the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, told Healthline that the “mRNA-based vaccines being given to millions of people to fight the coronavirus have changed the narrative, not only for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but for future viruses.”

In fact, there are ongoing trials to assess the efficacy of potential mRNA-based influenzaTrusted Source and HIV vaccinesTrusted Source. “This technology will allow developing vaccines rapidly and more efficiently against new and current viruses,” Brim-berg added. Eric H. Chang, PhD, another assistant professor at the Bioelectronic Medicine at the Fein-stein Institutes for Medical Research, echoed those points. He told Healthline that while mRNA vaccine technology might have seemed like a 2020 headline, “the ramp up of vaccine production and possibility for variant-specific modifications is truly unique.” Chang added that the development of more effective “at-home COVID-19 rapid tests” that have “very high accuracy” are an inflection point in the continued fight against the pandemic.

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