MARIJUANA RESEARCH GETS SERIOUS
Eight states voted to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use in 2016, putting the total number of states with some form of legal pot at 28. In states where it is legal, doctors already prescribe it for things like pain, depression, migraines and PTSD–but research has been limited by federal drug laws. A growing quorum of scientists is calling for legitimate research into marijuana’s potential as a form of medicine.
A MAJOR HIV-VACCINE TRIAL LAUNCHES
Thanks to highly effective drugs that can render an infected person’s viral load so low as to be undetectable, HIV is no longer a death sentence. And in the largest trial of its kind, scientists hope to test and approve a preventative vaccine as well.
SUPERBUGS BECOME A SUPERTHREAT
In 2016, global leaders promised to address the growing issue of drug resistance–meaning bacteria that can no longer be treated with antibiotics–during a historic meeting at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. Major progress is yet to be seen, but companies like McDonald’s have vowed to phase out antibiotics in their chicken, and scientists are hunting for new drug compounds in places like caves and the ocean.
CRISPR TACKLES CANCER
CRISPR is the most hyped technology in medicine for good reason: it allows scientists to easily and inexpensively edit any piece of DNA from nearly any species. Chinese scientists recently claimed they used CRISPR to treat a person with lung cancer, but the report hasn’t been verified. Meanwhile, U.S. scientists are about to launch the first human trials using CRISPR to treat cancer stateside–the first of what will surely be many studies like it.
CLIMATE CHANGE AS PUBLIC-HEALTH THREAT
Climate change and pollution are contributing to the spread of infectious disease, less nutritious food, asthma and dangerous heat waves. In response, the U.S. and other nations have committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by as much as 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. It remains to be seen if President-elect Donald Trump will honor that commitment, but scientists say the issue is only growing more critical.
This appears in the December 26, 2016 issue of TIME.
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