Biotech

This Resistance Fighter Invented Dialysis in Nazi-Occupied Holland

When Willem Johan Kolff invented dialysis, the "father" of artificial organs was just getting started.

One of the Netherlands’ most famous pieces of pop culture is “Soldier of Orange.” It’s the title of the country’s most celebrated war memoir, movie and epic stage musical, all of which detail the exploits of the nation’s resistance fighters during World War II.

Willem Johan Kolff was a member of the Dutch resistance, but he doesn’t rate a mention in the “Solider of Orange” canon. Yet his wartime toils in a rural backwater not only changed medicine, but the world.

Kolff had been a physician less than two years before Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. He had been engaged in post-graduate studies at the University of Gronigen but withdrew because he refused to accommodate the demands of the Nazi occupiers. Kolff’s Jewish supervisor made an even starker choice: He committed suicide.

After his departure from the university, Kolff took a job managing a small hospital in Kampen. Located 50 miles from the heavily populated coastal region, the facility was far enough away from the prying eyes of Germans that not only could Kolff care for patients, he could hide fellow resistance fighters and even Jewish refugees in relative safety. Kolff coached many of them to feign convincing terminal illnesses so the Nazis would allow them to remain in the hospital.

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Ron Shinkman
Ron Shinkman is a veteran journalist whose work has appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine publication Catalyst, California Health Report, Fierce Healthcare, and many other publications. He has been a finalist for the prestigious NIHCM Foundation print journalism award twice in the past five years. Shinkman also served as Los Angeles Bureau Chief for Modern Healthcare and as a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Business Journal. He has an M.A. in English from California State University and a B.A. in English from UCLA.
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For patients with macular degeneration, new hope for restored sight

An implant, combined with the glasses and tiny video camera modeled in this photo, could improve the eyesight of millions of people with degenerative eye diseases in the coming years.

Daniel Palanker

For millions of people with macular degeneration, treatment options are slim. The disease causes loss of central vision, which allows us to see straight ahead, and is highly dependent on age, with people over 75 at approximately 30% risk of developing the disorder. The BrightFocus Foundation estimates 11 million people in the U.S. currently have one of three forms of the disease.

Recently, ophthalmologists including Daniel Palanker at Stanford University published research showing advances in the PRIMA retinal implant, which could help people with advanced, age-related macular degeneration regain some of their sight. In a feasibility study, five patients had a pixelated chip implanted behind the retina, and three were able to see using their remaining peripheral vision and—thanks to the implant—their partially restored central vision at the same time.

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Robin Donovan
Robin Donovan is a science journalist based in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in Vice, Neo.Life, The Scientist, Willamette Week and many other outlets.
New Cell Therapies Give Hope to Diabetes Patients

Researchers are developing new cell therapies that could cure Type 1 diabetes and make constant management of the disease a way of the past.

For nearly four decades, George Huntley has thought constantly about his diabetes. Diagnosed in 1983 with Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, Huntley began managing his condition with daily finger sticks to check his blood glucose levels and doses of insulin that he injected into his abdomen. Even now, with an insulin pump and a device that continuously monitors his glucose, he must consider how every meal will affect his blood sugar, checking his monitor multiple times each hour.

Like many of those who depend on insulin injections, Huntley is simultaneously grateful for the technology that makes his condition easier to manage and tired of thinking about diabetes. If he could wave a magic wand, he says, he would make his diabetes disappear. So when he read about biotechs like ViaCyte and Vertex Pharmaceuticals developing new cell therapies that have the potential to cure Type 1 diabetes, Huntley was excited.

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Carrie Arnold
Carrie Arnold is an independent public health journalist from Virginia.