28 Amazing New Ways Philly Doctors Can Save Your Life

Philadelphia hospitals and universities are behind some of the best medical breakthroughs in the world.

Philadelphia's Top DoctorsYou don’t want to be sick—but hey, if you are, thank God you’re in Philadelphia. Nowhere in the country—in the world—can you find a more impressive array of ­researchers and physicians working to advance the cutting edge of medicine on all frontiers. Need a new pair of hands? A vaccine against leukemia? A replacement knee you can walk on tomorrow? You’ve come to the right place.

Click here for 28 medical breakthroughs from Philadelphia hospitals.


See our annual list of Philadelphia’s Top Doctors. 

1. How to Treat: Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita
Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton

Megan and Andrew Lavelle didn’t know their daughter, Emma, had a rare movement disorder until she was born. Her condition, arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, causes stiff, stuck-in-place joints and very little muscle tone. Emma’s hips were dislocated, her legs were bent upward, her wrists and shoulders were rotated incorrectly, and her feet were turned out. The only body part she could move was her thumb.

With months of therapy and a handful of surgeries, Emma gained a lot of movement. But she still couldn’t hold up her arms. “She would get really frustrated when she couldn’t play with things like blocks,” says Megan. “There’d be no way she could brush her hair or teeth.”

When Emma was two, her parents, who live in Wilmington, learned about a new device called the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton, or WREX. Developed by engineers from Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, it gives mobility to people with movement disorders. WREX robots have metal or plastic arms with rubber bands at the joints to provide tension and lift. The robot’s arms sit alongside the patient’s and allow for easy movement in all directions. The machines can be customized for individual needs—mounted­ on a wheelchair for patients who can’t walk, built into a vest for those who can. DuPont engineer Tariq Rahman hatched the initial design using Erector Sets.

“I cried when they first put it on her,” says Megan. “The first thing Emma did was play with her blocks.”

Over the past two years, Emma, who’s now four and calls her robot Rexy, has used four different WREX prototypes. The Lavelles go back for fittings every few months. “I wouldn’t trade Rexy for the world,” says Megan. “When she started preschool, the kids called it Emma’s Magic Arms. And they’re right—that’s exactly what they are.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children


2. How to Treat: Macular Degeneration
Vitrectomy at Wills Eye Institute

A clinical trial at Wills is testing the power of stem cells to restore vision in patients with macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. Wills Eye surgeon Carl D. Regillo is using a procedure called a vitrectomy, in which a tiny syringe is inserted directly into the retina, and lab-grown stem cells are injected at the site of deterioration. The hope is that the stem cells will regenerate or revive the dead tissue and pigment cells, improving sight. Regillo says this is the first time mature stem cells have been placed under the retina to actually regenerate tissue. “It’s sort of like a patch of missing grass on your lawn: We’re hoping it’ll take hold, reorganize and survive.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Wills Eye Institute


3. How to Treat: Bad Knees
Quadriceps-sparing total knee replacement at Virtua

In a typical knee replacement surgery, doctors sever the quadriceps tendon, the largest in the body, to reach the knee joint; this causes a world of pain for the patient and slows down recovery. In 2003, Virtua’s Scott Schoifet began tinkering with a technique that let him simply loosen the tendon by cutting the kneecap in a precise pattern. Nearly a decade later, he has some 4,000 procedures under his belt. His patients are up and moving hours after being sewn up, and some are discharged same-day. Post-op pain can usually be managed with over-the-counter medications. “Almost everyone’s a good candidate for this,” he says. “For the patient, it’s a no-brainer.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Virtua


4. How to Treat: Depression
New antidepressant Vilazodone at Penn Medicine

Antidepressants are literal lifesavers for those with major depression. But in up to 40 percent of sufferers, they have unwelcome sexual side effects, including reduced libido and failure to reach orgasm. Vilazodone, a new drug developed at Penn that’s just received FDA approval, slashes that percentage to less than five. It prevents serotonin reuptake, like traditional SSRIs, and also activates an impaired serotonin receptor. “In my study,” says lead researcher Karl Rickels, “we saw no more sexual side effects than with a placebo.” Patients feel better in as little as two weeks—and are more willing to stay on meds for the long haul.

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Penn Medicine


5. How to Treat: Curvature of the Spine
A saliva test at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont

Who knew saliva could be so useful? Doctors here are using a spit test to predict if a child’s scoliosis curve will get worse—and by how much. ScoliScore, which is over 95 percent accurate, takes DNA from saliva and matches it against 53 markers for scoliosis, producing a risk score. Low risk requires only minimal treatment and periodic checkups; a high risk score lets doctors start treatment before the condition progresses. “In the past, we only knew what was going to happen after the fact,” says Suken A. Shah, director of the Spine and Scoliosis Center. “Now we can intervene earlier and help patients avoid costly, invasive treatments down the road.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Nemours/Alfred I. duPont


6. How to Treat: Alzheimer’s Disease
New tests at Penn Medicine

Traditionally, the only definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer’s was an autopsy. But Penn scientists have been working on a range of tests that can detect the disease even before symptoms appear. One assesses spinal fluid for “signature” chemical indicators; in another, positron emission topography (PET) employs a radioactive tracer to detect amyloid plaques in the brain. Arterial spin labeling uses a routine MRI scanner to noninvasively detect blood-flow patterns suggestive of Alzheimer’s. “We’ve made unbelievable progress in diagnosing,” says neurologist David Wolk. “Early detection will let us begin treatment before a lot of brain injury occurs.” Now he just has to wait for researchers to develop drugs that can modify or halt the disease.

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Penn Medicine


7. How to Treat: Oxygen Deprivation at Birth
Hypothermic neuroprotection at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children

Babies born with a compromised oxygen supply often suffer brain damage. Doctors here minimize that by cooling the newborns down—literally. “The process has to begin within six hours,” explains neonatologist Endla Anday. A cooling blanket or cap is used to lower body temperature by just two degrees, slowing everything down—the heart, the lungs, the creation of toxic matter in the brain. After 72 hours, the newborns are warmed back up. Anday says that the symptoms of babies with less severe cases of oxygen deprivation can be drastically improved. Count Sophia among them: Born in February 2011 with the umbilical cord around her neck, she was rushed to St. Chris’s. An MRI showed brain damage. But post-cooling, “She’s meeting all her goals,” her mom, Michele, reports, “walking, eating, drinking, playing. They said she could have cerebral palsy, could be blind or deaf. None of that has happened.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children


8. How to Treat: Paraplegia
ReWalk at MossRehab

The last day Dan Webb could walk on his own was October 4, 2010, when he fell out of a tree on a hunting trip and landed flat on his back. “I knew instantly,” the 42-year-old from Warminster says. He’d suffered a burst fracture of his T9 vertebra and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Webb spent two weeks in the hospital before beginning rehab. He’d heard about a new therapy machine at MossRehab called ReWalk, a robotic device that gives paraplegics the ability to walk upright. Tiny sensors pick up subtle movements in the user’s body and send signals to motors in the hip and knee. A slight lean forward means you want to move; the legs take a step. By getting patients moving, ReWalk helps them retain bone mass, alleviates pressure sores, and reduces muscle spasticity.

Moss physiatrist Alberto Esquenazi helped develop the technology with engineers in Israel. To date, fewer than 100 people around the world have used a ReWalk; Moss is one of a handful of institutions to have one.
Today, with almost 40 ReWalk sessions under his belt, Webb’s a natural, though he says the machine took some getting used to: “It’s like when you golf and your wrist turns just so and everything goes wrong. It takes concentration.” Right now, ReWalk is only available for use in hospitals, but the manufacturer is working on a model for patients to use at home. The institutional version costs around $85,000; the personal one will cost significantly less.

Webb plans to be one of the first ReWalk owners. “There aren’t too many spinal patients who can get up and walk,” he says. “As long as I’m doing the ReWalk, I won’t give up on my legs.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: MossRehab


9. How to Treat: Brain Damage
Lokomat Pro therapy at Bryn Mawr Rehab

For patients with brain damage who are learning to walk again, Lokomat therapy is part workout, part video game. It includes a harness and handrails to provide upper body support and stability, braces to guide the legs, and a treadmill to allow for continuous motion; a computer screen gives real-time feedback, with a therapist providing encouragement. Repeating movements over and over lets the brain reforge the connections that make them stick; eventually, patients are weaned off the stability aids and learn to walk without assistance. Bryn Mawr has successfully used the therapy for patients with spinal cord injuries, stroke, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Bryn Mawr Rehab


10. How to Treat: Chronic Wounds
Wound healing at Drexel University College of Medicine and Temple University Hospital

Every year, 80,000 diabetics in the U.S. lose a leg or foot due to wounds that won’t heal and become infected. Two Philadelphia facilities are tackling the problem—and saving lots of limbs in the process. At Drexel, a biomedical engineering team has created a handheld device that helps doctors predict—with 90 percent accuracy—if, and how quickly, a diabetic’s wound will heal. It uses infrared imaging to track the healing process, and can help doctors come up with the most effective treatment plan. Temple’s Limb Salvage Center has just started a clinical trial for a new treatment that could speed the healing process. Stem cells extracted from a patient’s bone marrow are injected into the affected area, to grow new blood vessels and restore circulation. “We’re using the patient’s own body to generate the repair mechanism, rather than bringing in something from the outside,” says Eric Choi, Temple’s chief of vascular surgery. “If this works, amputation­ might not be a patient’s only option.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Drexel University College of Medicine and Temple University Hospital


11. How to Replace Lost Limbs
Vascularized composite allotransplantation (VCA) at Penn Medicine

Last September, a 28-year-old Virginia woman who’d lost her hands and feet to infection got a gift: new hands, courtesy of HUP surgeon L. Scott Levin and his 30-member transplant team. Every step of the 11.5-hour operation had been thoroughly rehearsed: “I had a playbook, just like a coach,” Levin says. Daunting though the operation sounds, Levin insists it’s no more technically difficult than reattaching a finger or toe. The hard part is the waiting: “If the nerves didn’t regrow, the operation would be for nothing.” They did. “We thought it might take a year. But she’s moving her fingers, picking things up—and it’s only been six months.” Levin predicts a forthcoming “explosion” of VCA as doctors learn to better manage donor/host rejection: “I’m wildly enthusiastic about the future.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Penn Medicine


12. How to Treat: Leukemia
A vaccine against cancer at Penn Medicine

Imagine a vaccine that could stop deadly leukemia in its tracks. University of Pennsylvania researcher Carl June has been doing just that for 20 years. Now, in an experimental gene transfer procedure that’s ignited a firestorm of interest, he’s successfully turned three patients’ own immune-system T cells into “serial killers.” June removed the T cells, modified them to bind to a particular protein found on tumor cells, and reinjected them into his patients. Not only did they wipe out the tumors; they triggered the dying cells to produce a chemical that caused other modified T cells to multiply and attack, bolstering the patients’ ineffective immune systems. “It’s like putting Barry Bonds on steroids,” June says. “It worked much better than we thought it would.” June is extending the research to earlier-stage and pediatric leukemia patients, hoping to win FDA approval. Then he’ll try applying the technique to solid tumors, like those of the prostate, breast, lung and brain.

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Penn Medicine


13. How to Treat: Ovarian and Colon Cancer
Hyperthermic intraperitoneal perfusion chemotherapy at Drexel University College of Medicine/Hahnemann University Hospital

Wilbur Bowne is in the hope business. Last year, Bowne, chief of gastrointestinal surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine, began offering a new treatment meant to prolong the lives of patients with advanced abdominal cancers—ovarian, colon, appendiceal—­who’ve been told they have very little time left. First, surgeons remove as much of the tumor as possible. Then, while still on the operating table, the patient receives a catheter flush of heated chemotherapy that kills remaining cancer cells. Clinical trial results have been promising: 60 percent of colorectal patients who were given six months or less to live reached the two-year survival mark, and 45 percent lived to five years. “This isn’t a cure,” says Bowne. “But it can extend life far beyond expectations and allow for a quality of life previously unheard-of.”

Philadelphia hospitals behind this medical breakthrough: Drexel University College of Medicine/Hahnemann University Hospital


14. How to Treat: Atrial Fibrillation
Cryoblation at Doylestown Hospital

As boomers age, doctors are bracing for an epidemic of this leading cause of stroke in the U.S. and major cause of congestive heart failure. Faulty nerve connections where the pulmonary veins meet the heart create an electrical overload the heart can’t handle. Electrophysiologists John Harding and Robert Sangrigoli thread a catheter from the groin to the heart, search for “hot spots” with a GPS-type mapping system and electrical recordings, and inflate a balloon that injects nitrous gas to freeze nerve tissue, in a technique only recently approved by the FDA. “We were early adopters at Doylestown,” says Harding.

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Doylestown Hospital

15. How to Improve: Bone-Marrow Transplant Matches
A new procedure at Jefferson Hospital’s Kimmel Cancer Center

In typical bone-marrow transplants, donor and recipient have to match up for human leukocyte antigens, or HLA, which we inherit from our parents. Fewer than half of whites and only 10 percent of minorities find closely matched donors among siblings or registry volunteers, says Neil Flomenberg, an oncologist at Jefferson Hospital’s Kimmel Cancer Center. So researchers began experimenting with half-matches—donors with only one matching set of HLA. This worked for mice, but proved problematic in humans: “They became like HIV patients, with their immune systems devastated,” Flomenberg says.

So he began tinkering with a two-step process. First, he’d collect marrow from the donor, then separate out and transplant just the immune cells. He’d administer chemo, wait for the drug to clear, and then collect and administer the donor’s “baby cells”—cells that can grow into new marrow—­to spare them the effects of the chemo drug. Not only did this reduce donor/host rejection; surprisingly, the mismatched donor cells appear to have more ability to fight off cancer recurrences. “It’s exceeded my wildest expectations,” Flomenberg says.

It worked for Anderson Love, 56. “I have 16 children. I figured one would be a match,” he laughs. But the ones who were tested were all half-matches.­ His eldest daughter Keona wound up as his donor, in February. “She came through it just fine,” he says. “I feel fine, too. I can’t wait for my hair to grow back.” Now he’s cancer-free, with a lot more time to enjoy those 16 kids—and his 27 grandkids.

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Jefferson Hospital’s Kimmel Cancer Center


16. How to Improve: Laparoscopic Surgery
Single-port access at Fox Chase Cancer Center

Surgeons Paul Curcillo and Stephanie King were performing a laparoscopic procedure that normally requires five “ports,” or incisions, when they figured out how to do it with just four. Which got them thinking—­why not three ports? Or two? Today, they’re down to one, and are teaching their technique to other surgeons around the world, for gall bladder operations, bariatrics, hysterectomies—“Everything!” King says. The Philly natives are thrilled to see their hometown out ahead of the curve—and patients get a psychological boost, Curcillo reports, from waking up from surgery with “just a small Band-aid on their belly button and nothing else.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Fox Chase Cancer Center


17. How to Treat: Mesothelioma
Photodynamic therapy at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center

Thoracic surgeon Joseph Friedberg says this incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos offers “a lot of opportunity—it can’t get any worse, right?” That attitude helped him develop a photodynamic therapy that’s turning the deadly cancer into a manageable disease. Patients are given a drug that sensitizes their cells to light. Friedberg excises the visible cancer from around the lung, then zaps the chest cavity with a laser that penetrates into tissue and activates the drug. The blood vessels feeding any remaining cancer are fragile and more sensitive to light than normal cells, so they get zapped. And, unexpectedly, the photodynamic therapy triggers the patient’s immune system to fight off more cancer. “Survival is usually only a few months after diagnosis,” Friedberg says, “but we’re seeing up to three and four years.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Photodynamic therapy at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center


18. How to Treat: Autism
Magnetoencephalography at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Researchers at CHOP are using a high-tech machine to measure the brain activity and auditory processes of autistic kids. To date, radiologist Timothy Roberts and his team have mapped about 300 brains, and have learned that autistic kids respond to sounds 10 to 20 milliseconds later than typical kids. Those split-second delays accrue over the course of a conversation, creating a traffic jam of information and making it difficult to make sense of words and sentences. “If you have to work extra hard to understand a conversation, you’ll probably give up trying to follow along,” says Roberts, adding that the auditory delay could help explain a host of behavioral problems seen in autistic kids—anxiety, depression, irritability. He hopes his work will lead to earlier diagnoses, and therapies that are tailored to particular needs: “It’s personalized medicine at its best.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia


19. How to Treat: Fractures From Osteoporosis
Balloon kyphoplasty at Delaware County Memorial Hospital

As we age, more and more of us are going to suffer the awful pain of vertebral fractures that cause that telltale elderly hunch; currently, there are as many as a million such fragility fractures in the U.S. each year. Surgeon Richard Levenberg uses fluoroscopy to insert a balloon into the spine, expands the balloon to reshape the space, and injects a quick-hardening cement that fills it. “I’ve had people say they’d rather die than live with the pain,” says Levenberg. “With this, they wake up pain-free. It’s the best, most successful thing I’ve ever done.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Delaware County Memorial Hospital


20. How to Treat: Coronary Disease
Catheter ablation at Albert Einstein Medical Center

When Army Sergeant Leonard Wilson experienced shortness of breath and fatigue during a workout, he thought he was out of shape. Instead, he learned he had a heart condition called atrial fibrillation, in which the heart beats too fast and out of rhythm. Doctors tried using a defibrillator to shock his heart back in sync, but the effects only lasted a few weeks. So two years ago, Wilson,­ then 41, began researching other solutions. He found Sumeet Mainigi, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Albert Einstein Medical Center who’s focused much of his practice on understanding—and correcting—­irregular heartbeats.

Mainigi had long suspected arrhythmias could signal more serious conditions, like heart failure, lurking below the surface. So in 2009, he spearheaded a study to see if aggressive treatment of arrhythmias through a procedure called catheter ablation—in which electrical wires are fed to the heart through veins in the legs, then used to destroy the cells causing the arrhythmia—­could forestall heart failure. Two-thirds of his patients experienced substantial improvement in heart function; 20 percent were cured. “This is a problem that can be treated and cured through a minimally invasive procedure that leaves an incision the size of a pencil point,” says Mainigi. “It’s a very exciting advancement for us.”
Wilson was one of the successes. After he underwent the procedure, his condition completely reversed, and his heart has been beating normally ever since. He’s able to run, bike and work out at the gym just like he used to. “I took a PT test this week and got a 270 out of 300,” he says. “That’s pretty good for an old guy like me.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Albert Einstein Medical Center


21. How to Improve: Doctor/Patient Communication
The drawMD app at Fox Chase

Like most doctors, surgeon Alexander Kutikov used to jot sketches on the exam-table paper and rip them off for patients to take home. But the quest for better doctor/patient communication led him to develop drawMD (drawMD.com), a new app that lets doctors sit shoulder-to-shoulder with patients and show, on an iPad, exactly what they’ll be doing where, with full-color anatomical backgrounds and a palette of “stamps” (catheters, needles, tubes, etc.) and drawing tools like arrows to customize the display. Doctors can even print images or send them home via email. “It makes us more efficient, and it also engages the patient,” Kutikov says. “A picture’s worth a thousand words, right?”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Fox Chase Cancer Center


22. Childhood Blindness
Gene therapy at Penn Medicine

Children with Leber congenital amaurosis are born legally blind, afflicted with a gene mutation that blocks the production of Vitamin A required by light receptors in the retina. Penn Medicine scientist Jean Bennett and ophthalmologist Albert Maguire, with CHOP’s Katherine High, led a clinical trial that inserted a non-mutated version of the gene into 12 patients’ retinal cells. Kids noticed a difference in about two weeks, and improvement continues: “One little boy we injected three months ago was just in,” Bennett says. “He told me, ‘Now I can see if people are smiling or frowning.’” The kids are attending normal classes, taking part in sports, even riding bikes. Bennett hopes to apply the technique to other forms of congenital blindness.

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Penn Medicine

23. How to Treat: Uterine Fibroids
Fibroid embolization with “MRA” fusion at Paoli Hospital

Amy Howse always knew she wanted a family. But after an unsuccessful pregnancy left her with an arteriovenous malformation—a dense tangle of veins and blood vessels in her uterus—doctors weren’t sure she’d ever be able to. They were afraid she would bleed out and die during childbirth.

A respiratory therapist at Paoli Hospital, Howse had heard of an interventional radiologist on staff, Atul Gupta, who was using innovative techniques that enabled women with uterine issues to have babies. Most of his cases involve uterine fibroids, benign growths that can cause heavy bleeding, anemia, abdominal pain and digestive issues. Doctors typically treat the condition with hysterectomy.

Gupta uses a technique called fibroid embolization with “MRA” fusion that spares the reproductive organs. The 45-minute procedure involves inserting a catheter into the thigh, guiding it to the uterus, and injecting tiny particles of plastic microspheres to cut off the blood supply; over time, the fibroid dies and reabsorbs into the body. Gupta’s technique uses 3-D imagery rather than standard X-rays to map the growth, to cut down on radiation exposure to sensitive ovaries.

“Because Amy’s tangle was so dense, finding the right area to embolize would have been very, very challenging without the 3-D picture,” says Gupta. The trick was cutting off enough of the blood supply so that Howse wouldn’t hemorrhage during childbirth, but not so much that she wouldn’t be able to sustain life.

After the procedure, Howse checked in with a specialist and got the green light to try to become pregnant. The following April, her first daughter, Brianna, was born; last October, she gave birth to her second, Ashlyn. “It was really upsetting at first because I didn’t know if I would get my own children out of it. Now look what I’ve got,” says Howse. Next on her wish list: a son.

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Paoli Hospital


24. How to Improve: Vascular Catheterization
Arterial catheterization at Deborah Heart & Lung Institute

If you’ve ever had a tube inserted in your groin and threaded all the way up through your femoral artery to your heart to get a stent put in place, then had to lie still for hours afterward to prevent blood loss, chances are you’ve wondered: Isn’t there a better way? Sure enough, there is. Interventional cardiologist Kintur Sangvhi now performs all his vascular catheterizations—more than 900 last year—through a catheter in the wrist. “Patients can walk out after an hour,” he reports. “There’s less bleeding, less pain, less need for blood transfusions, so it saves costs.” And it improves survival: “A lot of what we do doesn’t affect life expectancy. This does.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Deborah Heart & Lung Institute


25. How to Treat: Liver Cancer
TheraSphere at Aria Health Torresdale Campus

Liver cancer is traditionally treated with chemotherapy. But when regular chemo doesn’t cut it, interventional radiologist Aaron Shiloh goes radioactive, using a catheter to guide miniature glass “seeds” impregnated with Yttrium-90 into the hepatic arteries that supply such tumors. The radioactive Y-90 decays, emitting beta particles that kill the cancer cells but leave normal cells unharmed. “We’re delivering radiation from the inside out,” Shiloh says. “There are very few options and very little hope for liver cancer. Now we can say: Here’s something we can offer you.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Aria Health Torresdale Campus


26. How to Improve: Hip Replacement
The Hana surgical table at Abington Hospital

An anterior, or frontal, approach has advantages when surgeons are replacing hips, but it’s hard for them to get a clear line of sight to set the prosthesis. Enter the Hana surgical table: Movable graphite spars let doctors maneuver the patient into place and take x-rays as they work. “We don’t need to cut muscles,” says orthopedic surgeon Andrew Star, “and a minimum of ligaments and tendons get cut.” The result: fewer complications, faster discharge times, and almost no post-op restrictions on driving or crossing one’s legs. “We teach a lot of other doctors to do this,” Star says.

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Abington Hospital


27. How to Treat: Lung Cancer
A “sniff test” at Fox Chase Cancer Center

Maybe you’ve heard about dogs who can sniff out cancer? Scientists have figured out how to mimic the amazing feat. Researchers here are conducting the first-ever pilot of a “sniff test” for lung cancer. Subjects breathe into a bag whose contents are then exposed to gold nanoparticles that react to certain volatile organic compounds. Lung cancer creates a signature “read.” Pulmonologist Michael Unger, who’s leading the study, says the technique can also distinguish patients with colon and breast cancer: “It’s an early, minimally invasive test that we need to validate.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Fox Chase Cancer Center


28. How to Treat: Scoliosis
Anterior vertebral body tethering at Shriners Hospital for Children

Up to now, kids with severe curvature of the spine have had daunting treatment choices: Surgical fusion halts growth; growing rods require repeat operations; external braces bring social stigma. Because scoliosis has a strong genetic component, parents who themselves underwent such treatments face the wrenching prospect of signing off on them for their children. Neurosurgeon Amer Samdani offers another option: minimally invasive surgery that screws a flexible tether to the vertebrae, then tensions the tether to even out the unequal growth causing the spine to curve. He’s performed 15 by now—more than anyone else in the country—and has been “very lucky”: “The children are doing remarkably well.”

Philadelphia hospital behind this medical breakthrough: Shriners Hospital for Children

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