The Top 10 Medical Stories of 2008

The news hit so big, both the Food and Drug Administration and the American College of Cardiology felt compelled to respond.

"There should no be reason for patients to panic," read a Jan. 15 statement posted on the American College of Cardiology's Web site. "The overall incidence rates of cardiac events were nearly identical between both treatment groups, and both medicines were generally well tolerated."

Vytorin had proven itself to be effective at reducing the "bad" LDL cholesterol, and if it could prove to reduce the thickness of blood vessel walls it would be one more sign that the drug could cut down on the big scares -- heart attacks and strokes.

The news of the ENHANCE failure had the FDA worried that patients would give up on taking their statins.

"We already know that people tend to stop taking all long-term drugs, including statins, when they're on them. And I'm very concerned that aspects of the Vytorin discussion will lead to people becoming indifferent to an extremely important measurement -- LDL cholesterol," Dr. Robert Temple, director of the Office of Medical Policy in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, posted on the FDA's Web site.

No. 4: Malaria Vaccine

Although scientists have long discovered how malaria is transferred and know how to prevent it, nearly 1 million people die every year from the disease, according to international estimates.

Insect nets and other measures to control the mosquito population that spreads the illness have virtually eradicated the disease in some countries, but dire poverty prevents many of these programs from getting off the ground in the most affected areas.

Finally, Dec. 8, the first results of a malaria vaccine that shows promise hit international news.

Early reports showed the vaccine was more than 50 percent effective in preventing malaria among infants and toddlers, according to reporting by The Associated Press.

Malaria largely strikes the young, first infecting the liver with the parasite and quickly traveling to the whole body causing delirium, fever and chills.

"We are one important step closer to the date when malaria will join diseases such as smallpox and polio, which have been either eliminated or controlled through vaccines," Christian Loucq, director of the nonprofit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which helped to conduct the study, told Reuters.

The study only focused on two countries in Africa, but a longer and larger study is expected to start in 2009.

No. 5: Continuous Glucose Monitoring

This September, researchers in Florida unveiled the first glucose monitor that measures blood sugar around the clock -- literally 24/7 every five minutes.

Doctors told that the invention had dramatic implications for managing the most difficult Type 1 (or juvenile) diabetes cases and that it may one day be used for severe cases of Type 2 diabetes.

People who have Type 1 diabetes have lost the ability to produce insulin on their own, need insulin to survive and rely on glucose monitoring to keep their blood sugars from plummeting or skyrocketing. Some Type 2 diabetics also rely on insulin treatments, but many can manage their disease with diet and exercise.

Managing blood sugar levels can be tricky for Type 1 diabetics. Even if the patient can avoid serious short-term complications (such as a coma or death), he or she may suffer long-term complications including blindness.

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