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Wrote several of the items in this medical package for the March 2008 issue of Reader's Digest.


MEDICAL BREAK THROUGHSNew hope for cancer, diabetes, dementia and more


Every year, we wade through reams of medical research, attend physician conferences, pick scientists brains, take doctors to lunch and even scrub up for the ORall to nd the most amazing discoveries, devices, tests and potential cures out there. In the past, we watched doctors repair a heart with tiny tools inserted through three small incisions, with no chest cracking. We witnessed a big blood clot being pulled out of the brain of a stroke victim almost like a cork from a bottle of wine, followed by a comchannels on his TV and open his curtainsjust by using his thoughts. These advances seemed mind-boggling at the time, but theyre becoming state-of-the-art treatments. This year brings more excitement. From skin cells transformed into tissue beating like a human heart to a simple checklist thats saving thousands of lives, it was another banner year for breakthroughs. Some are available now; some need more work before theyre ready for prime time. But all will make you say wow. 03 /08I L L U S T R AT I O N S B Y D O N F O L E Y

plete recovery. And we saw a paralyzed man draw pictures on his computer, change the

A ne w look at t he brain

Better breast exams

An ar tificial lung

24 /7 blood sugar monitor

Younger vaccines


SEEING INTO THE BRAIN Believe it or not, you make new brain cells all the time. Its called neurogenesis, and for the rst time, scientists have watched a living human brain growing these cells. The discovery was made by researchers at Stony Brook University In Germany, researchers have developed a new technique to see the entire neural network of a mouse brain in 3-D for the rst timewithout having to slice it apart with a scalpel and reconstruct it on a computer. The method, which uses uorescent molecules and lasers, may help shed light on how well drugs work against degenerative nerve diseases such as Alzheimers. It may also provide useful information about how human brains change over time and in response to disease. Now With the worlds most powerful magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, doctors may soon be able to tell in days, instead of weeks, how well a cancer treatment is working. The device, called the 9.4 Tesla and developed at the University of Illinois at Chicago, can show whether cells within a brain tumor are dying long before the tumor itself begins to shrink. 3-5 yearsNeena Samuel

MEMORY KEEPERSSome 1,200 Americans develop Alzheimers every day. Dozens of drugs to ght the devastating effects are in clinical trials. Two look especially promising: PRX-03140 Designed to treat memory loss and other symptoms, this drug from EPIX Pharmaceuticals changed the brain wave activity in trial patients. In just two weeks, they scored better on memory tests and were more engaged. One was even able to speak in full sentences again. 5 years Flurizan This one, now nishing clinical trials, may attack the underlying causes of the disease. From Myriad Genetics, it reduces proteins that form plaque buildup between brain cells, possibly slowing or even stopping further damage. 1 year Researchers expect future treatments to be a combination of drugs that attack the disease at different stages, much like the current approach to ghting AIDS and cancer.Bridget Nelson Monroe

T he bi r t h o f b rai n ce l l s

Medical Center, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory using hightech magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Watching the process could one day help diagnose and treat disorders like Parkinsons disease, multiple sclerosis and depression, in which neurogenesis is disrupted. Now 142



NANO TUMOR KILLERSSoon there may be a treatment for liver cancer that works from inside the tumor without damaging neighboring tissue, thanks to tiny nanotubes. In early experiments with rabbits, scientists at the University of Texas and Rice University implanted the carbon tubes into liver Na n ot ubes tumors. (Theyre so small that 75,000 of them lined and he at c an up side by side would be about the width of a human zap cancer cells. hair.) Then the rabbits were exposed to radio waves. The nanotubes produced heat, which ultimately destroyed the tumor. The researchers hope this method has potential to treat other types of cancer too. 5+ years Kathryn M. Tyranski

FINDING OVARIAN CANCER EARLIERThe symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague, and theres no early screening test. Some 15,000 women die from it each year, and the survival rate hasnt changed in 30 years. But a simple urine test now in development could change that. Researchers at the University of South Florida and GeoPharma found that the level of a protein in urine called Bcl-2 is ten times higher in women with ovarian cancer than it is in healthy women. Plus, levels increased with the growth of cancer and declined after tumors were removed. 3-5 years Nancy Coveney


When it comes to the heart, two devices could mean the difference between life and death: The CPRGlove by Atreo Medical talks you through giving CPR, telling you how hard and fast to compress the chest and when to give breaths. It even reminds you to call 911. 3-4 years The Chronicle IHM (Implantable Hemodynamic Monitor) stays on alert 24/7 for patients who suffer from congestive heart failure or other chronic cardiac conditions. If your heart gets into troublefrom, say, increased uid accumulation the IHM will send a message wirelessly via the Internet to your doctor, who can adjust your treatment accordingly. 5+ yearsKathryn M. Tyra nski

The CPRGlove

24/7 BLOOD SUGAR TESTDiabetics may be able to say buh-bye to ngerpricking when checking blood sugar. New monitors, like the one being developed by The w a tch Gerard Cote at Texas A&M, require rea d s a n no blood and offer more certainty. In Cotes model, impla nt an d a sheath of tiny uorescent particles, smaller than a strand show s g l ucos e le ve ls . of human hair, is inserted into a diabetic patients wrist. The sheath is invisible, but when you shine a small laser on it, it glows and changes colors in response to deviations in blood sugar. A wristwatch-like device provides a digital readout of glucose levels and alerts the person to dangerous dips or spikes. Houstonbased BioTex is also developing a model using similar technology. 5 years Tara Conry

TARGETED ASSAULT ON MELANOMAThe skin cancer melanoma is treatable when caught early but often deadly if it has spread. New hopes: Doctors at the National Cancer Institute remove cancer-ghting cells from late-stage patients, grow more and then give them back. So far, this immunotherapy has shown it can shrink tumors in about 75% of the patients. Now The myeloma drug Velcade seems to put skin cancer cells in overdrive so they self-destruct, according to docs at the University of Michigan. Even better, it kills only the cancerous cells. Next up: seeing how actual patients react to Velcade, as this research was done only in a petri dish. 5+ yearsPatricia Curtis

YOUNGER VACCINES FluMist Recently approved for the ages 2 to 5 crowd, the nasal spray vaccine takes the sting out of u prevention. Thats a good thing, as 226,000 people are hospitalized each year, and 36,000 die. Now Menactra Though rare, bacterial meningitis can be deadly. The FDA recently expanded the age range for this vaccine to include children 2 to 10 (original approval in 2005 was only for people 11 to 55). Now Deirdre C asper 144

Meningitis protection for kids



>> BREAKTHROUGH OF THE YEAR STEM CELL STUNNERIn November, University of Wisconsin biologist James Thomson, PhD, and his research team amazed the world by creating cells with the same chameleonlike characteristics as embryonic stem cells but derived from human skin. With this discovery, achieved simultaneously by Japanese researchers, Thomson may have shortwere created simply by identifying four genes that, when inserted into skin cells, reprogrammed the DNA. Then the iPS cells began reproducing steadily, which means that scientists should be able to produce an unlimited supply. The rst task is to create cells carrying diseases to learn how to prevent and cure them. Just 12 days after mixing a sample of iPS cells with a cocktail of proteins in a petri dish, the scientists watched as clumps of newly formed cardiac cells started beating like a human heart (see an amazing video of it at The iPS cells even have an advantage over embryonic: Since theyre derived from the


( 1) A layer ( 1) (2) (3) of skin cel l s f rom a 3 6- yea r-o l d wom a n; ( 2 ) two col onie s o f iP S cell s d er i ve d f rom the sk i n ce lls; (3) a magnified vie w showing ind ividual iPS cells.

circuited the very debate he helped trigger. Yes, Thomson was the rst to extract stem cells from human embryos back in 1998, unwittingly kicking off the heated controversy that has bedeviled scientists, politicians and the American people for a decade. The new induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, as theyre dubbed,

The ultimate goal is to use the cells to heal diseased and damaged organs. The Japanese team, led by Shinya Yamanaka, demonstrated that with a little coaxing, the iPS cells, like embryonic stem cells, could transform themselves into different types of human tissue. First they manipulated a cluster to create nerve cells. Then they tried for heart cells.

patients own cells, theres no risk of rejection. Amid the heady optimism unleashed by their