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Ten Medical and Scientific Breakthroughs of 2021 at Mount Sinai

This year the medical and research advancements from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Mount Sinai Health System ranged from COVID-19, to PTSD, to the first ever successful trachea transplant surgery. Our doctors and researchers were not only at the forefront of the pandemic providing expertise and new studies surrounding the virus, its symptoms and effects, but also excelling in revolutionary surgeries and progressive research to continue showcasing Mount Sinai as a top medical institution and medical school in the country. Here are some of Mount Sinai’s breakthrough stories of the year:

1. Ketamine Infusions Found Promising for PTSD  

A team of researchers led by Dennis Charney, MD, Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine, and Adriana Feder, MD found that repeated intravenous ketamine infusions appeared efficacious in reducing symptom severity among individuals with chronic PTSD. Their study was published in The American Journal of Psychiatry. “We want people suffering with PTSD to know that hope is on the horizon, and we are working diligently to collect the information that will help bring them the relief they so desperately need,” said Dr. Feder.

  1. Speech Changes Predictor of Schizophrenia Risk

Researchers hope to use speech changes to predict which adolescents and young adults are at high risk for schizophrenia and may go on to develop the disease. In a new study published in The Lancet journal E Clinical Medicine found that the artificial intelligence program predicted, with 75 percent accuracy, who would get Alzheimer’s disease. Cheryl Corcoran, MD, explains, “It’s been a lot of small studies finding the same signals.” At this point, she said, “We are not at the point yet where we can tell people if they are at risk or not.” 

  1. First Successful Trachea Transplant 

Eric Genden, MD, and Sander Florman, MD, led a large team to perform the first successful transplant of a trachea, giving hope for patients throughout the world and future treatments of those who have been on ventilators. Dr. Genden said, “Although it seemed like a pretty straightforward thing, because at first sight it seems just like a tube, it turns out it’s a highly complex organ system. 

  1. New Cancer Vaccine a Game Changer for Young and Old Patients

Thomas Marron, MD, PhDis developing a personalized cancer vaccine that was tested in a phase one trialDr. Marron and a lung cancer patient in the trial, a 74-year-old retired attorney, discussed the promising outcomes  in a news report. “The cancer vaccines try to teach your immune system how to recognize your cancer and eliminate it,” Dr. Marron said. “Our initial data suggest that, after getting all 10 vaccines, patients can be very strongly immunized against their cancer.” 

  1. Apple Watch Used to Measure Resilience in Health Care Workers

A new study led by Robert Hirten, MD, and Zahi Fayad, PhD, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Researchshows how using wearable devices can track health care worker resiliency during the pandemic. Researchers from Mount Sinai gave 361 health care workers from seven hospitals across New York City Apple Watches to measure their heart rate. The study’s participants also downloaded a customized app to complete surveys each week that measured resilience, emotional support, stress, optimism and quality of life. Dr. Fayad said, “The experience of this pandemic has been especially stressful for health care workers, and as a community we need to be able to support them, especially as the virus persists. Our study is one of the first to document not only the toll the pandemic has taken on our health care workers, but also the importance of resilience and social support as specific paths toward efficiently and effectively directing support.” 

  1. Launch of Department of Artificial Intelligence and Human Health 

Thomas Fuchs, DSc, and Dennis Charney, MD, Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine, announce the first-of-its-kind Artificial Intelligence and Human Health Department at the Mount Sinai Health System. Dr. Fuchs said, “If you are serious about this, then computer scientists have to work together with the physicians in the trenches. One reason why big tech has failed in health care is that even with all their talent, if you’re just throwing artificial intelligence over the fence into a hospital, that doesn’t work. It has to come out of systems like ours.” 

  1. COVID-19 Vaccine Less Protective for Multiple Myeloma Patients

A new study led by Samir Parekh, MBBS, and published in the journal Cancer Cell shows how COVID-19 vaccines may be less protective for multiple myeloma patients. “[This research] suggests that booster shots are looking extremely promising for people with multiple myeloma,” said Dr. Parekh. “Patients who haven’t received them should do that immediately.” 

  1. Long COVID Has Long-Lasting Impact 

A study published in the American Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine and led by David Putrino, PhD, showed that the impact on everyday functioning in patients with long COVID lasted at least a year after initial infection. “Our work and the work of others has shown that this affects people’s abilities to make plans, synthesize information, and do their daily activities of work,” said Dr. Putrino. “They suffer from a lot of memory loss and inability to form new memories, as well as difficulty with speaking. This is a very debilitating condition with serious cognitive conditions.” 

  1. Cannabis Use in Pregnancy

Women who use cannabis during their pregnancies could be putting their children at risk of developing mental health and behavioral problems, according to a new study by Yasmin Hurd, PhD,  and published by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I do think that pregnant women and their physicians need to have more discussions about cannabis use, just like they have in terms of alcohol,” said Dr. Hurd. “Then they need to be given the resources to be able to get help for themselves and their children. This is not about stigmatizing women. It’s the opposite. It’s about the more knowledge you have, the more power you have.”   

  1. Lung Cancer Screening Saves Lives

Early detection and the increased use of screening for lung cancer are saving lives, according to a study published on JAMA Network Open. Screening patients using CT scans and following up on potential cancers helps physicians identify precancerous and early cancer tissue growth to surgically remove, leading to a decline in lung cancer deaths, Mount Sinai Health System researchers report. Raja Flores, MD, the study’s lead author and Chair of Thoracic Surgery at the Mount Sinai Health System, said, “If we find lung cancer early, we can cure it with surgery. Early screening is the key.”