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January 2002

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Health-care Information    Canadian Medical Association     American Medical Association


Update on the Top Ten Medical Advances of Y2K


By Bethanne Patrick

 

Before the Times Square ball dropped last New Year's Eve, Health reporters detailed Y2K's 10 most exciting medical advances. Before the ball dropped this year, we took a closer look: are they still the latest word? Some answers may surprise and others may disappoint, but all show how modern medicine can improve our lives.

 

A Map of All Our Genes -- Still-Uncharted Territory

The mapping of the human genome has proceeded so quickly that its projected finish is now 2003. In late December, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced completion of a third chromosome, the first finished since last spring's announcement that the map was 97 percent finished.

 

A Promising Fix for Diabetes -- Insulin-Rich Islet Cells

Replacing islet cells that regulate insulin production was a revolutionary idea for diabetics. Researchers continue to try and find a way to produce enough islet cells for transplant purposes. Until that can be done, Type 1-diabetes sufferers will remain dependent on insulin for their health.

 

A New Reason to Skip Refined Carbs -- Whole-Grain Truth

Last year, researchers at the Boston School of Public Health found that women whose diets consisted of foods with a high glycemic load were 85 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack. Female couch potatoes should skip mashed tubers, white rice, and low-fiber cereals in order to reduce risk of ischemic stroke. But scientists haven't yet found a way to make a healthy heart as appealing as a bag o' chips, so carb consumption is still too high.

 

A New Priority-Pain Relief -- Better Standards for All

Chronic pain can lead to depression, a weakened immune system, and complications after surgery. New rules made by the national commission that accredits hospitals and other care facilities make pain the fifth "vital sign," along with temperature, pulse, pressure, and respiration, offering relief for everyone. It became mandatory in 2001 for 20,000 hospitals and other health-care services through the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

 

A Mystery of Sleep Unraveled -- How Narcoleptics Nod Off

While new findings about the causes of narcolepsy are exciting for many, there still isn't an effective treatment for the disease. Researchers at the Stanford University Center for Narcolepsy are pursuing a cure, while military scientists are using this data to develop a sleep-deprivation pill to keep service members awake - it also may help insomniacs.

 

Robots in the Operating Room -- Hands-Off Surgery

Specific cardiac applications of robots have still not been approved by the FDA, notes Intuitive Surgical Systems, makers of the daVinci Surgical System. However, in 2001 surgeons around the world have performed new abdominal procedures aided by robotic systems.

 

A More Discerning Cancer Diagnosis -- A Chip off the Old Block

In May 2001, the National Institutes of Health announced that gene chips had been used to accurately tell the difference between several closely related types of childhood cancer. Gene chips are on their way to providing better diagnoses -- and that means better treatment.

 

A New Strategy to Build A Strong Heart -- Feel the Heart Burn

The most important muscle strengthened by weightlifting is your heart. We now know that building muscles builds cardio strength, but "People just aren't doing it," says George Kelley, Ph.D., of Boston's MGH Institute of Health Professions. "Here's the killer: the percentage of people exercising drops with age, just when they need exercise most to maintain the 27 risk factors physical activity reduces."

 

A Comforting Way to Lose Weight -- Finding the Solution

Laurel Mellin's weight-loss program, The Solution, encourages exercise to quell cravings. It offers no bells and whistles but continues to show results. "Our dropout rate is virtually nil," says Mellin, "And our program appears to be effective for all: smokers, drinkers, workaholics --and most surprising in 2001, we have quite a few men joining."

 

Fresh Hope for Rewiring Injured Brains -- Cruel to Be Kind

Stroke patients may now have their injured arms strapped to their bodies - a revolutionary idea that involves restraining the healthy arm or leg to force the impaired one work harder -- but questions remain about who can be helped by constraint-induced movement therapy, how to select candidates, and length or therapy. However, it seems that no matter how a patient has been incapacitated, results are the same: nervous systems "re-wire" without being allowed to rely on the "good side."

 

(Source: Time Health Media Inc.)