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From training dogs to detect cancer to body parts grown in the lab, here is a roundup of the top 10 medical discoveries of 2011.
Not every medical breakthrough in 2011 involved high technology. One involved man's best friend.
6. Dogs that can detect lung cancer.Scientists in Germany have trained dogs to detect lung cancer by sniffing people's breath . Canine diagnosticians were able to detect cancer in 71% of samples of air exhaled by lung cancer sufferers and to correctly identify 93% of breath samples from people who are cancer-free .
7. An antibiotic treatment for colon cancer?The human colon is home to over 2000 species of bacteria, and quadrillions of individual bacteria. About 10 species of bacteria are clearly protective of human health, and about 10 species of bacteria are clearly detrimental to human health. Recent studies have linked bacteria of the genus Fusobacteria to the development of ulcerative colitis , which is a risk factor colon cancer, and to colon cancer itself. Fusobacteria seem to like to grow on and in colon cancer cells .
It may be possible that some strains of colon cancer might be treatable with the right antibiotic, or with a probiotic that encourages the growth of competing strains of "friendly" bacteria.
8. Body parts grown in the lab.Dr. Frankenstein raided graves to get the parts of his monster. Modern technology makes it possible to grow some new body parts from the patient's own cells.
Dr. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina in the USA grew a functioning urethra for a patient in his lab. Creating a biodegradable scaffolding for healthy cells scraped from the patient's bladder, Dr. Atala grew the urethra in the shape of a tube and then implanted it into his patient. The lab equipment for this procedure costs as little as US $5,000, less than the cost of implanting a plastic tube.
Read more: Top Medical Breakthroughs of 2010
9. HIV treatment as HIV prevention.There is currently no approved vaccine for HIV. Researchers at the University of Washington and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, have conducted two clinical trials that have confirmed that people who use antiretroviral drug Truvada (a combination of the HIV drugs emtricitabine and tenofovir) are 63 to 73% less likely to catch HIV from their HIV-positive spouses or sex partners . Since most new HIV infections in the world are from one partner in a heterosexual relationship to another, this medication is thought to be useful prevention for partners who do not always use condoms. It is not, however, a guarantee against HIV infection.
10. A first-ever malaria vaccine.Malaria infects tens of millions of children every year. This cruel disease is most likely to kill the healthiest children —malnourished children are more likely to survive because their nutritional deficiencies also stunt the malaria parasite. The ongoing cycles of malaria and nutrition sap life and energy and indirectly keep hundreds of millions of people in poverty.
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation , scientists at GlaxoSmithKline have developed a successful malaria vaccine. It's not a magic bullet against malaria. Only 56% of children respond to the vaccine at all, and it only prevents 47% of the most severe cases. Millions of children, however, may lead much healthier lives due to the introduction of this vaccine.