The Top 10 Medical Stories of 2008

"Getting better control of diabetes using continuous glucose monitoring is almost certainly likely to equate with fewer long-term complications," Dr. Roy W. Beck, from the Jaeb Center for Health Research in Tampa, Fla., told HealthDay. "This will have substantial long-term benefit on quality of life and reduce health care costs," Beck said.

No. 6: Stem Cell Genes and Alzheimer's

Solid, good news in Alzheimer's research is often hard to find. But in January, scientists at the University of California, Irvine, announced they had discovered an early step that could one day lead to a stem cell therapy for Alzheimer's disease, not to mention other neurodegenerative diseases or brain injuries.

The scientists had discovered the gene, called Lhx2, that tells cells in the developing embryo's brain to form the "thinking center" or the cerebral cortex, which controls language, vision and decision-making, according to a HealthDay report.

"This new understanding of Lhx2's role in cortical development can potentially be used in stem cell research efforts to grow new cortical neurons that can replace damaged ones in the brain," Dr. Edwin Monuki, an assistant professor of pathology at the university, said in a statement.

Now that researchers have found Lhx2, scientists in Monuki's lab will next try to turn on the gene and grow the "thinking center" cells at will -- yet another step toward treating irreparable brain damage in Alzheimer's and other diseases.

No. 7: Progress on Parasites

This year marked a great achievement at eradicating a painful, systemic parasitic disease called Guinea worm.

In 1986 3.5 million cases in 20 nations were reported. In 2008, the number fell to 4,410 cases in six countries, thanks largely to the work of The Carter Center and funding by the British government and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Our record on Guinea worm for the last few years has been steadily and rapidly downward," former U.S. President Carter told the AP.

By 2009, public health officials hope to officially eradicate the disease, making the Guinea worm one of a few diseases (such as small pox) to officially be eliminated from the world.

People ingest the Guinea worm as larvae in contaminated drinking water. In a year's time the worm can grow to be three feet long before slowly burrowing out of the skin.

According to reports by the AP, the disease is not fatal but can cause excruciating pain for months.

No. 8: Early Blood Test for Down Syndrome

A controversial and emotional medical advance this year may one day allow parents to test for signs of Down syndrome as early as 12 to 13 weeks into the first trimester.

The noninvasive blood test called SEQureDX, developed by the San Diego-based company Sequenom, can be administered as early as 12 to 13 weeks into the first trimester.

Current tests may be carried out at around 18 weeks of pregnancy, but carry a higher risk for the mother and the baby. An estimated 87 percent of all women carrying a child with Down syndrome don't learn the news until delivery.

One in every 733 babies -- or around 5,500 each year -- is born with Down syndrome, the most common genetic condition in the United States, causing an array of physical and mental challenges for both child and parents.

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