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Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs

Interesting list on medical breakthoughs – with my comments in red. – Ilene

TIME’s Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs

By Alice Park at TIME

stem cell created mouse - TIME And the top ten are:

  1. New Mammography Guidelines
  2. AIDS Vaccine
  3. Funding Ban Lifted on Stem-Cell Research
  4. H1N1 Vaccine
  5. Stem-Cell-Created Mice
  6. Prostate-Cancer Screening
  7. New Research on Autism
  8. New Drug for Osteoporosis
  9. New Alzheimer’s Genes
  10. Brown Fat in Adults 

New Mammography Guidelines

It usually takes a Washington scandal to put the discussion of women’s breasts on political agendas, but in November it was a routine update of breast-cancer-screening guidelines by a government panel of medical advisers that stirred up a furor. Based on new calculations weighing the risks and benefits of routine screening, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s new recommendations advised women to begin routine mammograms at age 50 instead of 40 and to switch from yearly to biennial screenings; it also advised women to eliminate breast self-exams altogether… 

That might be a bit of a relief to those of us who have been less than perfect in following the previous requirements, these new ones may be easier and less guilt-generating.  And we all know stress is unhealthy.  

AIDS Vaccine

In a field that has seen more failure than success, experts received the news of an effective new AIDS vaccine with a fair share of skepticism…

31% effective – but that’s about as good as it gets so far.  

Funding Ban Lifted on Stem-Cell Research

It was eight years in coming — which felt like eons to some researchers — but on March 9, President Obama rescinded his predecessor’s Executive Order prohibiting the use of federal money to fund research on stem cells. A congressional law still prevents scientists from using government funds to create new lines of embryonic stem cells,..

The less politics is involved with science the better, maybe now we can move on? 

H1N1 Vaccine

…In many places around the country, there was not enough vaccine even to cover members of priority groups targeted by the government, including young children, pregnant women, health care workers, parents of infants younger than 6 months and those with underlying conditions such as asthma or diabetes. And yet according to the latest polls, 55% of Americans said they would not get the new vaccine — which was created and tested in record time after H1N1 first appeared last spring — because of worries about its safety.

First, we can’t get enough of it, and now we’re swimming in excess.  Is the threat over?  I don’t think so, but time will tell.  For my latest update on swine flu, click here. >>

Stem-Cell-Created Mice

Breeding an entire mouse that is itself capable of reproducing — as the mice did in one of the Chinese labs — is a strong sign that iPS cells may be as useful as embryonic stem cells for a potential source of treatments for disease, scientists said.

Am I wrong to be a little skeptical?

Prostate-Cancer Screening

…Based on this and other studies, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said there was insufficient evidence to assess the balance of benefits and harms of prostate-cancer screening in men younger than age 75. The task force recommended against prostate-cancer screening in men 75 and older.

This is really not new information, the benefits of screening for prostate cancer have been uncertain and unproven for years, and that is still the case.  I cannot tell from this write-up whether the details of the study provide more specific information on which to come to any conclusions.  I should probably read the study.

Autism, TIME New Research on Autism

Some blame vaccines, while others target mercury. But the truth is that nobody knows what causes autism or what exactly accounts for the recent rise in cases. According to new data released by the Federal Government in October, 1 in 100 American children is now affected by an autism spectrum disorder, up from the previous federal estimate of 1 in 150. The roots of the increase are still unclear, but researchers this year identified one possible genetic clue: variations on a region of chromosome 5, which appear to play a crucial role in about 15% of cases of autism. Working with the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange — a DNA database of more than 2,000 families affected by autism, and the largest genetic study of the disorder ever attempted — researchers zeroed in on variations in genes that code for proteins involved in forming connections in the brain. Differences in these particular genes are extremely common — present in more than half of healthy people — but they are even more common in people with autism, affecting 65%.

I’ll make my prediction regarding autism and causes: genetic susceptibility, harmful environmental influences, and epigenetic mechanisms will be found to contribute to the still growing numbers of kids with autism spectrum disorders.

For those with interest in autism and alternative therapies, I wrote a brief article on that here.>>

New Drug for Osteoporosis

…But a new compound under review by the FDA tackles the problem in a different way — by curbing the formation of the bone-gnawing cells. That tilts the balance in favor of bone-building. In two studies published in August, the experimental compound denosumab was shown to reduce the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women as well as men being treated for prostate cancer, the two largest patient populations at risk for bone loss. What’s not clear, however, is how the new drug, if approved, would compare with existing osteoporosis drugs like Fosamax, Boniva and Reclast.

New Alzheimer’s Genes

…Two groups of researchers, working separately, homed in on three genes linked to the late-onset form of the disease, the type that hits people in their 60s or later and accounts for 90% of Alzheimer’s cases in the U.S. Two of the genes are known to interact with the amyloid-protein plaques that build up in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients and eventually cause nerve-cell death and cognitive problems. The third affects the junction of nerve cells, where various neurochemicals work to relay signals from one nerve cell to another. It’s not clear yet exactly how the genes increase Alzheimer’s risk…

Brown Fat in Adults 

When you’re struggling to button your pants around your ever expanding waistline, it probably doesn’t occur to you to wonder whether your body fat is brown or white. But perhaps you should. Researchers have long known that brown fat, so called because it is packed with dark-hued mitochondria (the engines that feed cells with energy), actively breaks down sugar into heat and consumes a lot more energy than white fat does. In other words, brown fat burns energy instead of storing it. However, researchers also known that while brown fat is abundant in rodents and newborns, who need it to keep warm right out of the womb, those brown-fat stores shrink and white fat emerges as people age…

I wonder if anyone is working on finding a chemical, which could perhaps be turned into pill form, that converts white fat to brown fat!?


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  1. Regarding the "Ban Lifted on Federal Funding of Stem Cell Research"; it would be nice to remove politics from news reporting.
      The Bush administration has been funding stem cell research on existing lines of embryonic stem cells and unlimited lines on adult stem cells.  Despite what the MSM states there has been tremendous progress on the research in the past decade.  I refer you to a CNN article from 2001

  2. Bush restricted the use of embryonic stem cells to about 60 (the entry below from wiki says 21) cell lines, and there were problems with many of those cell lines. Whether the federal government is funding stem cell research is one issue, but if it is, then I believe it should fund it across the board and allow the scientists doing the research to decide which cells they are going to use.  

    This is from Wikipedia:   President Bush announced, on August 9, 2001 that federal funds, for the first time, would be made available for hESC research on currently existing embryonic stem cell lines. President Bush authorized research on existing human embryonic stem cell lines, not on human embryos under a specific, unrealistic timeline in which the stem cell lines must have been developed. However, the Bush Administration chose not to permit taxpayer funding for research on hESC cell lines not currently in existence, thus limiting federal funding to research in which "the life-and-death decision has already been made".[34] The Bush Administration’s guidelines differ from the Clinton Administration guidelines which did not distinguish between currently existing and not-yet-existing hESC. Both the Bush and Clinton guidelines agree that the federal government should not fund hESC research that directly destroys embryos…

    [edit]U.S. Congressional response

    In April 2004, 206 members of Congress signed a letter urging President Bush to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research beyond what Bush had already supported.

    In May 2005, the House of Representatives voted 238-194 to loosen the limitations on federally funded embryonic stem-cell research — by allowing government-funded research on surplus frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics to be used for stem cell research with the permission of donors — despite Bush’s promise to veto the bill if passed.[36] On July 29, 2005, Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist (R-TN), announced that he too favored loosening restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.[37] On July 18, 2006, the Senate passed three different bills concerning stem cell research. The Senate passed the first bill (Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act), 63-37, which would have made it legal for the Federal government to spend Federal money on embryonic stem cell research that uses embryos left over from in vitro fertilization procedures.[38] On July 19, 2006 President Bush vetoed this bill. The second bill makes it illegal to create, grow, and abort fetuses for research purposes. The third bill would encourage research that would isolate pluripotent, i.e., embryonic-like, stem cells without the destruction of human embryos…

    Bush vetoed another bill, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007,[41] which would have amended the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research. The bill passed the Senate on April 11 by a vote of 63-34, then passed the House on June 7 by a vote of 247-176. President Bush vetoed the bill on July 19, 2007.[42]

    On March 9, 2009, President Obama repealed a ban enacted under President Bush, [43] thus allowing federal funds to be applied beyond what was authorized for funding under the previous president. Two days after Obama reversed the ban, the President then signed the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, which still contained the long-standing Dickey-Wickerprovision which bans federal funding of "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death;"[44] the Congressional provision effectively prevents federal funding being used to create new stem cell lines by many of the known methods. So, while scientists might not be free to create new lines with federal funding, President Obama’s policy allows the potential of applying for such funding into research involving the hundreds of existing stem cell lines as well as any further lines created using private funds or state-level funding. The ability to apply for federal funding for stem cell lines created in the private sector is a significant expansion of options over the limits imposed by President Bush, who restricted funding to the 21 viable stem cell lines that were created before he announced his decision in 2001.[45]



  3. I can’t post the material but here’s the link: (starting at orgins, about 2/3s down the page).

  4. Okay, that was weird – I now see all the attempted posts that didn’t show up last night, so I deleted the excess ones.

    Questions for Pharmboy:

    1) Will removing the ban help researchers now – i.e. will many choose to work with previously disallowed cell lines?
    2) I was going to ask if there are any interesting investments in any of these areas currently that you know of off-hand? (Not a research assignment, just in general).
    3) My feeling with stem cells – and this is just hypothetical since I’ve never worked with them or even read much about the details – is that the more genetic manipulation involved in getting the cells to where you want them, from their original state, the more problems and unforeseen events to go wrong. Is that true in practice? Is there any preference for not using long-standing cell lines that have been in existence for a long time?



  5. Simply the best place to take stem cells is from a furtilized egg that has differentiated enough in vitro (in a test tube), but is not implanted.  These cells can then be separated and differentiated to several different cell types.  That is the controversy. 
    The real challenge is to put in the right ‘things’ that help these cells turn into kidney, lung, liver, neurons, etc. 

  6. Ilene – to answer your questions:
    1.  I believe so, although I am not a law expert.
    2.  There are at least a half dozen companies focused on the stem cell arena, but this is an area I know little about.  Without researching the science (most of it is proprietary), it would be hard to give them a fair shake.  Any company can say they have ‘cured’ something in a rat, mouse, etc, but until they get proof in humans, it is all pie in the sky.  To me, the companies are so early in the game, much like DNA/RNA companies of 20 or so years ago where things are just starting to come out to the market e.g., ISIS.  I think what WILL explode in the coming years is medical devices and testing.  The DNA/RNA is getting smaller, faster and less expensive, so Dr.s will be able to run a simple test and know what is going on within minutes while in the office.  Cutting out the lab services companies.  I think I have noted it before on the site – anything that gets reimbursement my medicare/medicaid will do well, b’c Dr.s can charge against it and get incremental revenue.
    3.  Again, I am not an expert, so I can see things go wrong where a liver is growing in the brain, etc.  I believe though one the cells have moved down a path, then it would be very hard for them to change their course.  As for long standing cell lines, from my experience, I have used cells that have been frozen in liquid Nitrogen for > 7 yrs, and they are fine to bring out again.  Supposedly the cells will last for many, many more beyond that, so I don’t see a problem for time.  # of passages yes (by passages I mean the number of times the cells are split into new cells) but don’t know how many it is too many.