Breakthrough Cures - Revolutionary Answers to the Deadliest Diseases

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And with or without reform, the Obama administration has an ambitious program aimed at converting paper records to electronic health records. There is no national smoking ban in the U. In a report issued last October, the Institute of Medicine said those public smoking bans have cut exposure to secondhand smoke, which, in turn, has contributed to a reduction in heart attacks and death from heart disease. In terms of the greatest good for the greatest number, there can be no doubt that the decline in smoking through various means has had the greatest impact," said Humphreys. While public smoking bans protect people from secondhand smoke, doctors say they also motivate people to quit.

Those looking for dramatic improvements in public health need look no further than the world of heart disease.

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A mere 25 years ago, when a patient came to a hospital with a heart attack, the best that could be done was to put the patient in a darkened room, give him or her morphine for pain and lidocaine, which doctors believed would prevent dangerous irregular heartbeats, and hope for the best. Heart attacks, called infarcts, were "big" and the damage to the heart muscle was often catastrophic, leading eventually to heart failure and death. By contrast, today treating a heart attack is all about speed: speed the patient to the hospital so that a clot that blocks the life-saving flow of blood can be "busted" with drugs like the genetically engineered tissue plasminogen activator or tPA.

Or, if the problem is a vessel narrowed by buildup of plaque, a tiny flexible tube called a stent can be guided from an artery in the groin or the forearm up into the heart, where it is used to prop open the vessel to allow blood to flow normally.

The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel

Still other patients are sent to surgery, where surgeons have learned sophisticated techniques to sew new vessels into the heart to bypass diseased arteries. Moreover, drugs that didn't exist 25 years ago -- chiefly statins like simvastatin, Lipitor, mevacor, and Crestor -- are now routinely used to slow the progression of atherosclerosis, the medical term that describes the build-up of the hard, waxy substance called plaque that narrows arteries.

We actually realized this goal by and have seen continued improvements in the reduction of deaths due to coronary heart disease and stroke," said Clyde Yancy, MD, of Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

Yancy said research shows about half of the gains in heart disease came from new treatment interventions, the other half up to 60 percent are due to prevention. Probably no area of research has so fired the public imagination and so ignited the fires of public controversy as that of stem cell research. In reality, this area has generated more political action than reproducible clinical advances -- the much-publicized ban on Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was rescinded this year.

But the clinical advances with embryonic or adult stem cells -- even when they have come from pilot studies -- have been tantalizing. For example, European researchers genetically manipulated bone marrow cells taken from two 7-year-old boys and then transplanted the altered cells back into the boys and apparently arrested the progress of a fatal brain disease called adrenoleukodystropy or ALD, which was the disease that affected the child in the movie "Lorenzo's Oil.

Cases like those fuel the promise of stem cell research, be it embryonic or adult stem cells. As the population ages, the opportunity for 'replacement parts' becomes more and more inviting, and I'm counting on stem cell research to give me, at least, new cartilage for my knees," joked Humphreys.

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New drugs based on stem cells are being developed, and the first human clinical trial based on products of human embryonic stem cells is expected in ," said Daley. Two blockbuster-targeted therapies burst on the cancer scene in late s, and arguably changed forever the concept of cancer treatment, converting what was often a fatal disease into a chronic illness. The first, Herceptin, is a drug that targets a type of breast cancer that is characterized by a specific cancer gene -- an oncogene -- called HER Women whose cancers express HER-2, which is estimated to be about 25 percent of women with breast cancer, will respond to Herceptin even when other powerful chemotherapy drugs have failed.

Kimberly Blackwell, MD, of Duke University Medical Center, said doctors received a standing ovation when they presented the results of Herceptin drug trials. More important, these drugs represent highly effective agents that target the cancer, not the patient," said Blackwell. The other drug, a cancer pill called Gleevec, targets genetic mutation called bcr-abl b.

Timeline of Discovery | Harvard Medical School

These two breakthrough agents opened the door to a number of cancer drugs that target specific molecules that control not only cell growth, but also the blood supply that feeds tumors. Moreover, this "cocktail" approach to treatment where drugs are combined in different ways or different sequences has become a model for treating other diseases ranging from lung cancer to heart disease.

Now they all live. And most of them look great.

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They just need to take the meds. In more than a decade since the emergence of HAART , researchers have constantly refined the regimens to improve results, with evidence now emerging that some combinations may be more effecting patients with more extensive disease. It was the first and still is the most effective prevention strategy we have. Ten years ago a patient would typically be left with a inch scar when a doctor removed a kidney, but in late the surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic began removing kidneys through a single incision in the patient's navel.

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And earlier this year, a Cleveland Clinic surgeon removed a diseased kidney from a woman using a technique called natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery or NOTES. In the case of the woman the kidney was removed through her vagina-an approach originally developed for hysterectomy. Tiny metal hands carefully manipulating sutures deep inside the heart seems like a scenario pulled from "Star Trek," but the reality is that robotic surgery is occurring daily in a growing number of centers across the country.

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I f shown to be effective in larger trials, the first drug to prevent dementia could be available in just a few years. The effect size of this drug is unprecedented.

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The group with a high degree of amyloid removal were basically stable. There are currently , people living with dementia in Britain, a figure that is expected to rise to one million by and two million by T he last Alzheimer's drug licensed in the UK became available more than a decade ago.

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Current treatments can reduce symptoms to some extent but doctors have nothing that can halt or slow progression of the disease. Not only does the new study suggest a treatment for the disease, but shows that the build-up of amyloid plaque in the brain is likely to be to blame. They then cloned it in large numbers for the new therapy, which is given intravenously just once a month. I n the trial, which was reported in the journal Nature , scientists tested varying levels of the drug over a year, as well as giving one group a placebo.

They found that more amyloid was removed as the dose increased. Brain scans of those given the highest dose shown virtually no amyloid left at all.