Our news predictions for 2017

Behind the Headlines

Friday December 30 2016

What news will the new year bring?

New Year newspapers are chock-full of predictions

Climate change continues to impact on public health

Despite what many commenters have said in 2016, climate change is real and is ongoing. That's the thing about science. Just because you don't believe in it, it doesn't go away.

In 2016 we have seen evidence of the impact of climate change in a number of different ways.

There was an anthrax outbreak in northern Russia as warm weather caused the release of previously frozen deadly anthrax spores.

And many experts think that the spread of the Zika virus across much of the Americas was made possible, in part, by changes in temperature that created environments in which the A. aegypti mosquito could survive.

It is hard to predict what further effects could occur in 2017. One possibility is that changes to the seasonal temperature in England could increase the length of the "pollen season", increasing the misery for allergy sufferers in this country. 

HIV vaccine is proven to work

There is a real possibility that a vaccine that prevents HIV from taking hold of a person’s immune system could be proven to be effective in 2017.

The vaccine – known as SAV001 – is designed to work by exposing the immune system to a safe, "deactivated" form of the virus. This then "teaches" the immune system to produce antibodies that can fight HIV.

Phase 2 trials – involving around 300 people – in order to see if the vaccine works as hoped are planned for 2017.

Virtual reality triggers real-world consequences

Many commenters predict that 2017 will become the year of virtual reality (VR). VR headsets and associated equipment are becoming cheaper while, at the same time, more powerful.

Like any technology, VR could lead to both health benefits and health risks.

For example, VR could be used to deliver "exposure therapy" to people with phobias. People with a fear of flying could experience the sensation of taking off in a plane without actually going to an airport. And if it gets all too much then there is always the "off switch".

VR could also be used in mindfulness training; placing users in a tranquil environment. 

We would also not be surprised if there were a number of reports on the negative impact of VR: people experiencing nausea; others getting carried away and tripping over wires; and possible claims that some heavy users have retreated from the real world entirely.

Crowdfunding research goes mainstream

Crowdfunding – where people are encouraged to provide financial support to projects they like – has flourished in recent years. Websites such as Kickstarter and Patreon have helped support a wide selection of projects, ranging from podcasts to multimillion pound video games.

There is now evidence that the same model is beginning to be applied to medical research. One website – Experiment.com – lists hundreds of projects that are seeking funding.

It may be a way to get support for what are known as orphan conditions – rare medical conditions that attract little funding from the larger research institutes.

Celebrity-based medicine continues to flourish

It seems in our celeb-obsessed media world, medical qualifications count for little. It's all down to whether you have ever been on the telly.

In 2016, former Page 3 girl Melinda Messenger was given over 1,500 words by the Daily Mail to argue that the cancer-preventing HPV vaccine was dangerous.

The Mail Online also included an interview with the daughter of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, who informed us that chemotherapy for cancer was bad for you and that apricot seeds were an effective treatment for breast cancer.

Hope you have a safe and happy New Year and see you in 2017.

 

Edited by NHS Choices. Follow NHS Choices on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.

Edited by NHS Choices

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