Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Top 10 Medical Stories of 2008

Posted by Neill Abayon

Below is's list of the Top 10 medical stories of 2008, deemed most important by doctors and found most interesting by readers.

No. 1: The JUPITER trial

Late in November, the results from the JUPITER trial got so much hype that it seemed scientists had found an actual magic "cholesterol pill."

According to the results, Crestor reduced heart attack, stroke and hospitalization and other markers for heart troubles by 56 percent. The authors of the study concluded that the drug was so effective that it should even be given to people whose cholesterol was normal but had high C-reactive protein levels, a signs of inflammation in the body.

Not all doctors were as sold on the results. Many said exercise and diet changes were more effective than drugs, and obviously do not carry any side effects. Some questioned whether the numbers really supported such a high effectiveness.

No. 2: Birth From a Whole Ovary Transplant

On Dec. 10, a baby girl was born from the first-ever full ovary transplant.

The baby's mother had lost her fertility when she went into early menopause at age 15 because of another medical problem. Later in life her twin sister (the baby's aunt) donated a working ovary so that she may conceive. At age 38, she gave birth for the first time.

Dr. Sherman Silber of the Infertility Center of St. Louis said the technique of transplanting frozen ovaries may one day be used to lengthen a woman's fertility across her lifetime. "If she's 40 or 45 when she has it transplanted back, it's still a 25- or 30-year-old ovary, so she's preserving her fertility.”

No. 3: The ENHANCE Trial

In January, early news of the anticipated ENHANCE trial surprised doctors and drugmakers looking for confirmation that the blockbuster cholesterol drug Vytorin worked.

The ENHANCE trial pitted the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin against the popular combo-drug Vytorin, which had both simvastatin and ezetimibe (Zetia).

But instead of proving the power of the combo, early data showed that Vytorin was no better at reducing the thickness of blood vessel walls than simvastatin alone.

The news hit so big, both the Food and Drug Administration and the American College of Cardiology felt compelled to respond, worried that patients would give up on taking their statins.

"We already know that people tend to stop taking all long-term drugs, including statins, when they're on them. And I'm very concerned that aspects of the Vytorin discussion will lead to people becoming indifferent to an extremely important measurement -- LDL cholesterol," Dr. Robert Temple, director of the Office of Medical Policy in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

No. 4: Malaria Vaccine

Although scientists have long discovered how malaria is transferred and know how to prevent it, nearly 1 million people die every year from the disease, according to international estimates. Malaria largely strikes the young, first infecting the liver with the parasite and quickly traveling to the whole body causing delirium, fever and chills.

On December 8, the first results of a malaria vaccine that shows promise hit international news. Early reports showed the vaccine was more than 50 percent effective in preventing malaria among infants and toddlers.

No. 5: Continuous Glucose Monitoring

In September 2008, researchers in Florida unveiled the first glucose monitor that measures blood sugar around the clock -- literally 24/7 every five minutes.

People who have Type 1 diabetes have lost the ability to produce insulin on their own, need insulin to survive and rely on glucose monitoring to keep their blood sugars from plummeting or skyrocketing. Some Type 2 diabetics also rely on insulin treatments, but many can manage their disease with diet and exercise.

Managing blood sugar levels can be tricky for Type 1 diabetics. Even if the patient can avoid serious short-term complications (such as a coma or death), he or she may suffer long-term complications including blindness.

The researchers in Florida hoped allowing the patients to check their blood sugar frequently would help overall management.

Read the full story here.

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