The Top 10 Medical Stories of 2008

Controversy surrounds the question of whether an early pregnancy test would or should encourage parents to abort Down syndrome infants. According to reporting by ABCNews.com, about 90 percent of women who learn they are carrying a child with Down syndrome end their pregnancies.

No. 9: Stem Cell Trachea Transplant

Claudia Castillo, a 30-year-old woman living in Barcelona, was the first person in the world to receive a full trachea (or wind pipe) organ transplant grown entirely from her own stem cells.

One other person in 2005 received a similar transplant, except that person had a combination of donor tissue and their own flesh.

Castillo's surgery meant that she never had to go through immunosuppressive therapy or live with the risk that her body would reject the organ and attack it as a disease.

According to the AP, only a handful of trachea transplants have been done.

Castillo had suffered from tuberculosis for years and lost her wind pipe after complications from a severe collapse of her lung.

"This technique has great promise," Dr. Eric Genden, who did a similar transplant in 2005 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York that used both donor and recipient tissue, told the AP.

The technique regrew Castillo's windpipe over the frame of a donor windpipe using bone marrow stem cells collected from her hip.

"They have created a functional, biological structure that can't be rejected," Dr. Allan Kirk of the American Society of Transplantation told the AP. "It's an important advance, but constructing an entire organ is still a long way off."

No. 10: Face Transplant Breakthroughs

For U.S. transplantation experts, 2008 may forever be known as the year of the country's first-ever face transplant.

In early December, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic embarked on a marathon, 22-hour procedure in which they transferred 80 percent of a face -- including eyelids, bone, teeth and a nose -- from a cadaver to a living female patient.

Reconstructive surgeon Dr. Maria Siemionow, who led the team of eight surgeons that performed the operation, said that the recipient of the new face had sustained a major facial trauma years ago that left her missing "major parts of her face" and robbed her of her ability to smell and taste, as well as sight in one eye. She had also experienced difficulty speaking.

While three other such procedures had been performed in China and France before this latest surgery, the operation might be the most extensive yet of its kind.

However, not all of the face transplant news of 2008 was good. On Dec. 22 -- less than a week after reports of this advance -- Scientific American noted on its blog that the Chinese patient who received the world's second face transplant had died. According to the blog, the man's surgeon told Agence-France Presse that the man died because he had been taking herbal medications instead of his anti-rejection drugs.

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