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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.
Medical discoveries great and small made the news in 2011. Here are our top 10.

1. Microfluidics to run medical tests with drops of blood instead of vials of blood.

If you have ever had a physical, you almost certainly have had the experience of waiting in a tiny office for a phlebotomist to come and draw blood from your arm, or, if your veins are invisible, your hand. One, two, three vials or more may needed for the most routine blood tests, but they won't be for long.
Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of  Technology (MIT) have developed a chip that can conduct tests on a single drop of blood. The chip has channels that direct tiny amounts of blood back and forth, to the right and to the left, for measurements that can be available in seconds instead of hours. MIT engineers anticipate that most of the tests you have to have done at the doctor's office will be done at home in the 2020's.

2. Smart ultrasound.

The advantage of using ultrasound for medical diagnosis is that it is noninvasive and does not require the use of radiation. The disadvantage of using ultrasound for medical diagnosis is that it tends to produce fuzzy pictures.

Now engineers have developed "smart ultrasound" that may deliver images with the clarity of an X-ray without having to expose the patient to radiation. Ultrasound can be used to generate dozens or even hundreds of pictures of organs and tissues without any added risk to the patient.

3. A spit test for chronological age.

Even the crack scientists at American television's CSI can't do an exact determination of a person's age. Now scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles have come up with a way to make an exact determination of a dead (or live) person's age by testing the DNA in saliva.

Scientists have known for many years that certain genes get "switched on" or "switched off" by exposure to environmental influences such as stress, diet, UV radiation, and pollution. Without knowing a lot about a person's lifestyle, however, they could not use measurements of how much DNA had been changed by life events to make an estimate of age. The UCLA research team has located segments of DNA that change at a regular rate throughout life without regard to environmental influences, and has created a basic technology for measuring age by testing saliva. Commercialization of the device, however, is at least several years away.

4. A blood test for rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that can come on very suddenly. People can go to bed feeling fine and wake up the next morning with extensive joint destruction. A new blood test for the anti-CCP factor, developed at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, gives doctors a way to test for rheumatoid arthritis before it manifests devastating symptoms, giving them a chance to help their patients save mobility and prevent pain.

5. A New Treatment for Brain Aneurysms

One in 15 people in Australia, North America, and Europe will have a brain aneurysm. Many will suffer devastating strokes or die. A newly approved surgical treatment called the pipeline stent allows doctors to remove weak tissue in the lining of blood vessels before it breaks.

Five More Medical Discoveries from 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.
The dogs are not able to communicate their olfactory understanding of the biochemistry of lung cancer, but researchers believe they detect volatile compounds of sulfur that are unique to the decay of cancerous tissue.

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.

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.

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