The Top 10 Medical Advances of the Decade

The first decade of the 21st century brought a number of discoveries, mistakes and medical advances that influenced medicine from the patient's bedside to the medicine cabinet.

In some cases, these advances changed deeply rooted beliefs in medicine. In others, they opened up possibilities beyond what doctors thought was possible years ago.

ABC News, in collaboration with MedPage Today, reached out to more than 800 specialists for their suggestions. More than 125 experts in various fields and specialties responded. Their suggestions were then sent to the American Association for the History of Medicine, which narrowed the pool down to an authoritative list of 10 medical advances this decade that have had the most impact.

1. Human Genome Discoveries Reach the Bedside

In 2000, scientists with the International Human Genome Project released a rough draft of the human genome to the public on the Internet. For the first time, the world could download and read the complete set of human genetic information and begin to discover what our roughly 20,000 genes do.

Mapping the human genome was a race involving time and money in the 1990s, with two competitors at the lead. Starting first in 1990 was the government-funded Human Genome Project, which released data to the public daily as it built technologies and mapped animal genomes. The group completed a draft of the human genome in about 10 years using about $2.5 billion in taxpayer money for all activities and $300 million for the human genome.

At the end of the decade the human Genome Project had a competitor -- a private company, Celera Genomics, which used a different "shot gun" sequencing technique and spent $100 million on mapping the human genome, according to Dr. Craig Venter, the chief scientist behind Celera Genomics.

Both groups announced drafts of the human genome at a June 26, 2000 press conference with President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"It's one of the major landmarks that rank up there with going to the moon. Obviously people think I could be a little biased, but I think historians will agree with me," said Dr. Francis Collins, who was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute when the genome was mapped.

"I think when people look back in 100 years, and look at what was the most significant advance in medicine and all of scientific research in this decade it will be the human genome," said Collins said, who is now the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

In 2003, a "final" draft was released by researchers, and in 2007 more updates to the genome were published.

"It's the precursor for lots of medical advances," said Venter, now chairman and president of the non-profit J. Craig Venter Institute.

"That was absolutely the hope for it, that it will begin to change things," said Venter, who was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Obama last month for his work on the human genome.

Collins said he expects the knowledge of the human genome to slowly influence medical achievements considering the time it takes to test medical theories and how much scientists have left to learn about the genome.

But some advances are already underway.

"Certainly in the area of cancer, it is in fact routine for people to find out their own genetic risk and to modify their surveillance," said Collins. The fields of breast and colon cancer have seen significant gains in this sort of genetically-personalized medicine.

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